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Diagnosed 10 years ago and dismissed it. Now having severe episode abroad.


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I was diagnosed with Bipolar I a little over a decade ago while taking a very heavy course load at a competitive college. I took various meds for a few months, then decided to ditch the diagnosis, decided that psychiatry was a lie, etc. and obv went off the meds. My abusive mother was a big part of this decision; she said the diagnosis was “psychobabble” and proceeded to cut me off financially and severe ties with me during a major manic episode followed by a deep depression, and that forced me to withdraw from school for a semester. My boyfriend paid for my rent and food. I actually completely forgot all about the diagnosis and this entire chapter of my life until this week, as I am currently living/working in a foreign country and am clearly having an episode of some kind, including a lot of suicidal ideation and obsessive thoughts of death.

 

I have been unstable since 2014 but attributed this to a series of traumas that resulted in me being diagnosed with PTSD twice. I went to graduate school in the UK in 2010 and met a young up-and-coming politician from another country, and after finishing my program, moved with him to that country. We got engaged. Shortly thereafter I had an experience which changed my life forever. I suddenly felt like I was floating, and that I was the person who needed to apply a specific set of creative talents to make peace in the region we lived in. I proceeded to work for between 48-72 hours straight, without sleep, every week for several months. When I launched said creative project, my life also changed in a very surreal way because it was very critically acclaimed and viral internationally. Suddenly people who’d been my heroes were congratulating me, and I went from being a shy person who never spoke in class to being a semi-public figure in my field and in media overnight.

 

In 2014, my fiancé and I were at the center of a tabloid scandal in his country and the wider region. The pressure on us was immense and in the end my fiancé chose to leave me very publicly in the middle of all the media attention. It was a huge axe blow to my sense of trust and I lost his family as well which had been my main support network. Nonetheless I continued to work nonstop as I now had a small audience that expected new material. I would not sleep for days at a time and felt like I could not stop because my work was of immense importance to the world. I started doing things that were very out of character for me: whereas I’d always been a serial monogamist and abhorred any kind of cheating, I engaged in a string of affairs with public figures, including a government minister and a much older writer whose best-selling books have been made into Hollywood films. I had a series of one-night stands. I would buy plane tickets to countries experiencing revolutions the night before the flight. I lived in five different capitals and was invited to attend film festivals and lecture at universities. From the outside my life looked exciting and like a success. But I was running on fumes, had been in this elevated state for a very long time, and was starting to crack. I’d also never gotten over the loss of my relationship.

 

A series of traumatic incidents started in motion what has led me to this moment. About 1.5 years ago I was recognized at an airport, pulled aside by a security guard and taken to what turned out to be a men’s bathroom for airport employees. I narrowly escaped being sexually assaulted. When I arrived at my destination (a country where there is currently a war), where I was to be focusing on my next piece of work, I was strangely euphoric. I sent my team a series of very long emails outlining plans for world domination. But the incident at the airport had somehow triggered something and I started drinking a ton. I had sex with married men and much younger men and much older men. On several occasions I had terrible incidents in public where I’d become so overcome with terror and panic that I couldn’t get back to my apartment. I made a few phone calls to my ex-fiance, whom I hadn’t spoken with for nearly two years at that point, in the middle of the night. I would call him crying, unable to speak. I often became so disoriented I didn’t know where I was. I became paranoid and wrote emails to members of my team accusing them of various things. I then emailed them and told them I wanted to stop working entirely, that I was killing the project and wanted a more private life back, that I could not handle the pressure of being in the public eye in even a minor way. The next day I would email them changing my mind, reaffirming the absolute necessity of our work to the world. One day the entire team emailed me saying I needed some kind of mental health treatment, probably treatment for PTSD (they were aware of some of the traumas I experienced in the previous years) and that they wanted me to transfer legal ownership of the thing I’d created to them in the meantime. I became enraged and fired them all. I felt I had ruined my entire professional reputation. I attempted suicide, then I flew home to my mother’s house and stayed in bed for several months.

 

I was supposed to be undergoing treatment for PTSD and did EMDR over Skype, but my mother again did not support me getting any therapy and would frequently interrupt the sessions (my family including my mother has a massive history of drug abuse and mental illness; my father died of a heroin overdose when I was young and had attempted suicide numerous times in his life; my mother is an alcoholic and drug addict). Things reached a head around Christmas when my mother accused me of ruining the holiday and kicked me out of the house while very drunk and high. I stayed in a hotel. I flew back to Europe, determined to get my career back on track and establish a healthy support network. Instead I became extremely depressed, not getting out of bed for days, and completely isolating myself from everyone. I was paranoid and refused to own a phone. In May, I began snorting heroin daily. I did not want to get high. I wanted to die. I kicked in late September on my own. I decided to try Wellbutrin right before I had to attend two major festivals in Europe and the trip along with the Wellbutrin seemed to work, at least initially. I felt a bit of motivation come back and could actually imagine a future again. But then this feeling started getting a little out of control. I went from isolating completely for weeks at a time to going out for 48 hours straight for events, festivals, clubs and after parties. I’d leave the house Friday night and come home early Monday morning. I did a ton of speed and MDMA. I believed that everyone loved me and I loved everyone. On a whim, I bought a plane ticket to visit a family friend (of my mother’s) in the US for the holidays, someone I hadn’t seen in years. The city was in a part of the country I’d never been to. Things quickly soured when I realized my “friend” had changed significantly. Though she had two small children, she and her unemployed boyfriend with a history of assaults and child molestation were using meth and stole my debit card. I was frequently left with the children while my friend took my debit card, leaving us without food for the entire day. She spent thousands of dollars on my card, promising to pay me back before I flew back to Europe. I frequently went hungry because there was no food in the house and she would take my wallet. I got angry with the situation and left to go stay in a hotel and filed a report with child support services. In retaliation, my “friend” sent me a correspondence she’d been keeping with my mother the entire time I was there, in which my mother said I was a bad seed who lacked an empathy gene, that my friend should tell me to shut up about the food and learn to wait, and that I had plenty of money and that if I demanded repayment, my friend should call 911 on me and say that I was mentally ill. I was deeply troubled by seeing my mother’s words. I spent New Year’s alone walking along the river in a city I’d never been to, contemplating jumping off a bridge.

 

I got back to Europe and slept for days. I took cold medicine and klonopin because I did not want to be awake. I started obsessing about death. My anxiety was so severe, beyond anything I’d ever experienced, that I needed several milligrams of klonopin to not feel like somone was about to murder me. I sent texts to friends quoting poets from the country I’m now supposed to be making my next work in, all of whom had committed suicide. Earlier this week I drank a bottle of wine, took a package of klonopin and a box of cold medicine at 6 am and had a taxi driver take me to a bridge. I wandered around a cemetery at 5 am in the snow a few days ago. But I also felt more motivated. I completed several projects I’d been unable to work on the previous year. I joined a gym. I went shopping and bought a bunch of clothes, even though I was stressed out about all the money my friend had not paid me back. I flew to Berlin for the weekend to go partying. I got back and bought everyone in the restaurant last night drinks. Then I came home and paced all night crying, and thinking that my life was over, that I was old, that I couldn’t think or write or work with the same clarity or creativity I once could, that I would always be alone. I didn’t sleep at all.

 

So that brings me up to date. I’d forgotten all about my Bipolar diagnosis. I don’t know if that’s what I’m experiencing, as there are clearly a lot of external stressors present. Do traumas and stress trigger mania in bipolar disorder? I never experienced a mixed state before, but I feel like I’m in a very dangerous one now, where I need very little sleep, and am both sped up and extremely depressed at the same time. I’m in a country where the mental health care system is notoriously bad, yet returning to the United States or home is not an option now as I do not have health insurance. I also do not feel much like I can move. I have a few friends here who’ve been helpful. I know not everyone here is a doctor, but I’m mostly alone here in a foreign country under an enormous amount of work stress, personal stress, etc. and feel like I need to know if this sounds like the Bipolar I diagnosis I received and forgot about all those years ago to you? I always thought my troubles were a result of PTSD. Can they be co-morbid? What’s going on? Any help would be appreciated. I am sorry this was long. I literally have no one to talk to about it and I’m afraid.

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Do traumas and stress trigger mania in bipolar disorder? They can
...if this sounds like the Bipolar I diagnosis I received and forgot about all those years ago to you? Yeah
I always thought my troubles were a result of PTSD. Can they be co-morbid? AFAIK yeah, I think genetic is the highest but there's also high rates of co-occurrence between PTSD and bipolar disorder
What’s going on? Not sure, but it sounds like you are cycling between mania and depression pretty fast right now. I'd try to see a doc or head to a hospital for a few days to get meds.

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I have both Bipolar 1 and PTSD diagnoses. In addition, both of my parents are addicts.

Not sure if I can be very helpful, but I can relate to how you feel as I experience the same. 

I am perhaps more fearful, and while I definitely exhibit risky behaviors, and have obsessive thoughts about death, I am still in the "serial monogomist" phase, and aside from marijuana, have stayed away from drugs... I have a huge fear of becoming a bad addict or being promiscuous... the desires are definitely there.

Anyhow, you're not alone. 

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19 hours ago, henrietta101 said:

I don’t know if that’s what I’m experiencing, as there are clearly a lot of external stressors present. Do traumas and stress trigger mania in bipolar disorder? I never experienced a mixed state before, but I feel like I’m in a very dangerous one now, where I need very little sleep, and am both sped up and extremely depressed at the same time. I’m in a country where the mental health care system is notoriously bad, yet returning to the United States or home is not an option now as I do not have health insurance. I also do not feel much like I can move. I have a few friends here who’ve been helpful. I know not everyone here is a doctor, but I’m mostly alone here in a foreign country under an enormous amount of work stress, personal stress, etc. and feel like I need to know if this sounds like the Bipolar I diagnosis I received and forgot about all those years ago to you? I always thought my troubles were a result of PTSD. Can they be co-morbid? What’s going on? Any help would be appreciated. I am sorry this was long. I literally have no one to talk to about it and I’m afraid.

 

Wow. You have quite a traumatic history and so many heavy things going on - sounds worse than a dark film plot. I can only imagine how trapped and/or helpless I would feel if I were in a comparable situation/history, having mental health issues in a foreign country etc.

I honestly don't know what advice I can provide for you. I can agree with the above people (many people here would probably agree) that any kind of stress & trauma (even simply lack of sleep, for me) can trigger episodes (depressive, manic, mixed, psychosis, PTSD...all of the above, etc) You could very likely have PTSD and also Bipolar (co-morbidly) Your behaviors sound like both ...but you also have so many external stressors/events on top of this that would cause any "normal" person to have a severe mental health crisis. Also, I wanted to note that with your parents having major MI issues - there is def some genetic part to this.

Is there any nearby resource or clinic were you can get psychological help and meds? Or a low cost social worker that can offer some help/advice? It sounds like you need to get yourself out/away from some of the above stressors to a safe place so that you can recover and heal (I don't know where this place would be for you). I don't know what country you are in (I'm assuming UK, England or Europe?) Do you have a past friend/coworker that you can trust that could offer some help? Are you currently taking any regular medication to keep you stable? Keep us posted, this is a very supportive community.

Edited by cloudmonger
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Sorry I couldn't read the whole thing, but I skimmed it and the first thing I would say is to ditch your Mom.  Sorry but she is probably the cause of your psychic ailment to begin with.  She sounds like a toxic person to you.  I know this is easier said than done and I understand because I have a similar love-hate relationship with mine, but mine is a little more supportive (marginally).

Other than that, the previous posters covered it.  Maybe just cut back on the stressful situations.  Good luck.

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20 hours ago, larali said:

Sorry I couldn't read the whole thing, but I skimmed it and the first thing I would say is to ditch your Mom.  Sorry but she is probably the cause of your psychic ailment to begin with.  She sounds like a toxic person to you.  I know this is easier said than done and I understand because I have a similar love-hate relationship with mine, but mine is a little more supportive (marginally).

Other than that, the previous posters covered it.  Maybe just cut back on the stressful situations.  Good luck.

All of this is horrible, but I would not say it is the cause of one's bipolar by any means, even though it very likely made things much worse.

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Thank you for your responses. I've since noticed most people's posts are much shorter and will try to keep things more to the point in the future, but right now I'm in that in-between place where I do not have any professional support and am in a country where I have only a rudimentary grasp of the language, so having this forum to share feels really important to me right now. I also apologize that I've talked so much about my own situation and hope to be more supportive of others once I'm out of what feels like this acute crisis situation and this damned country. 

CaptiveGypsy: Thank you for the commiseration. I admire your strength in staying away from drugs and some of the riskier behaviors. I'd always been the same and never ever thought I'd try heroin or sleep around with married people until recently. I was always afraid I'd become an addict because of my father's history and his death made hard drugs almost unappealing to me. The good thing is I haven't done heroin or felt a desire to do it at all since September. It's also really important for me to hear that there are other people with both Bipolar I and PTSD diagnoses, because I suspect it can make it harder to disentangle what's going on. It also seems to me that some PTSD symptoms (insomnia, isolation) could contribute to triggering both manic and depressive Bipolar episodes.

To Cloudmonger: Several of your thoughts really resonated with me. I agree that the external stressors really muddy the waters here -- I'd probably be experiencing some kind of depression now even without these diagnoses because the last few months/years have been so surreally shitty (though occasionally very good too). I do feel that something has changed in the last two weeks though, that the lows and are getting lower and the highs are getting higher and my anxiety is off the charts. Complicating things is the fact that I'm an American citizen and I'm currently in Russia where I'm supposed to be working on a creative project for several months and have many people counting on me. From what I understand, the old Soviet system of psychiatry is still in place here, and it's far different than the American or European systems. I'm really not willing to check myself into a psychiatric hospital here. It's also the middle of winter and relations between the US and Russia are bad; all of this adds to an already stressful situation. I did find one psychiatrist who has worked in the UK and was recommended through the grapevine, but I can't get into see her until the end of next week. I do not yet feel well enough to travel out of Russia, and even if I did, I do not know where I'd go as I've lived in so many places in the last few years and isolated so much that nowhere feels like home anymore. 

To Larali and Closure: Yes, my mom is a toxic person and the only therapist I've seen for any length of time was sure she has narcissistic personality disorder (this is not to stigmatize anyone with a personality disorder as inherently toxic). He recommended that I have no contact with her. Part of what is really hard right now is that I got roped back in after she was "caught" telling my "friend" who stole from me over the holidays that I was a "badseed" and my mom actually apologized -- getting my hopes up for the possibility for reconciliation by saying she didn't feel she'd always been the most supportive mother, etc. just things I'd never heard her say. I was so hopeful that this time it would be different that I wrote her back a long letter telling her I loved and missed her and needed the family now more than ever as I'd just been stolen from, starved, and had been feeling so low I had period of suicidal ideation. She never responded to that email. That was all I needed to know to stay away. My father was bipolar with substance abuse issues his entire life, spent a lot of time in the hospital, etc. but also had long periods of remission during which he was very high functioning, able to have a successful career, and be a very empathetic and caring father. His influence is probably partly why I'm still hanging on by a thread right now.

Concrete questions: while in the last country I was living in, I started taking Wellbutrin (300 mg). I have been on it since the end of September. I have occasionally gone out and consumed a lot of alcohol while on it, which has definitely been a very bad idea. Do I stay on it until I can see the psychiatrist? I've heard being on an anti-depressant while in a manic or mixed state can make things worse. When I was first diagnosed over a decade ago, Celexa sent me into a terrible dysphoric mania. I know Wellbutrin is not an SSRI, but I'm still wondering if I should continue taking it.

I'm trying to come up with a plan to minimize any possible damage in the next 10 days before I can see a psychiatrist. So far I've got: try to sleep even if it means temporarily taking more klonopin, delegate work tasks to others to reduce stress, try to see the (very) few friends I have here, and eliminate alcohol. I'm really worried about isolating, as my few friends here are currently out of town now, or will be leaving in the next few days, so I will definitely be alone. I have friends from home and other countries who check in on me. I'm blowing off anything media-related. Is there anything else you'd recommend when you do not have access to medication or adequate psychiatric care?

Another long one. I apologize. Thank you all again so much. This is really helpful for me right now. 

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Greetings Henrietta, 

Of course wellbutrin does different things for/to different people in different ways; it made me ultra manic, hypersexual, and even some anxiety. Hang in there until you see your pdoc, and it's great to see the clear awareness you have of what's going on for you. Depakote + Lamitrogene happen to be working well for me (and the occasional Xanax), and hopefully you won't be on the meds recipe merry-go-round very long. 

It's a safe bet to dial back the alcohol or stop completely if you can. Also, you are among many here who have stopped their meds and then paid a price eventually, welcome to the club! Take care

Ps: try to stay on a regular schedule (meals, bedtime), and try hard to rest if you can't get quality sleep. If my eyes pop open early (like 3-4am), for instance, it's better for me at least to not get up and start going mach 3. Maybe listen to music or something else relaxing for awhile.

Edited by jekyl in hyding
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