Monday, September 4, 2017

Ten months of depression (and my turning point)

I've been writing quite a bit this year about doing things that make me happy. And it's been awesome--I feel happier than I have in a very long time!

I recently had an interview with Heather on her podcast "Half Size Me". I'd been a guest on the show three times previously, and I've always enjoyed it. Heather is very easy to talk to, and having lost a lot of weight herself, she really gets where I'm coming from.

These are my episodes:
The Half Size Me Show: Episode 040 (Nov 2012) 
The Half Size Me Show: Episode 126 (Jul 2014) 
The Half Size Me Show: Episode 247 (Oct 2016) 

I have been a listener since the beginning, and listening to the guests' stories has gotten me through many long runs.

Anyway, I was honored that Heather invited me onto the show again. My life has changed so so much this year, and I feel in a very good place right now to be able to talk about it. During my last interview with her, I was in a deep depression, and I felt terrible about myself. It was kind of exhausting trying to sound like everything was normal. (I've not listened to any of my own episodes, so I have no idea if it could be heard in my voice.)

I actually don't even remember much about that interview. All I remember is that I felt like a phony--and that I certainly shouldn't give advice about anything, because I was a "failure" (my feelings at the time). I don't know if this is typical of depression, but when I go through a depressive cycle, my memory is terrible. I honestly can't remember very much of the 10 months of my last depressive cycle.

This was right around the peak of my depressive episode

To recap some of the details:

Sometime in May or June of 2016, I crashed after having been on a huge "on top of the world" phase (which I now know was a hypomanic cycle of bipolar disorder). For six months, I felt beyond amazing--like I could do anything. And I had! From about September 2015 until May 2016, I was hypomanic--I lost weight pretty easily, getting down to 121 pounds; I became my speediest at running, going from 11:00/mile pace to under 8:00/mile; and I made all sorts of plans and goals. I was very ambitious! (Textbook hypomania).

At the peak of a hypomanic state

And then, within a matter of a couple of days, my mood shifted into an equal and opposite depression.

The depression got really bad in August. I always downplayed it on my blog, or just didn't talk about it at all, because I didn't want my blog to be dark and depressing. My weight went up a lot very quickly, because I was eating all the time to make myself feel better. I wanted to see a psychiatrist, because it was clear that antidepressants weren't doing anything for me; but it was damn near impossible to get an appointment! I eventually put my name on a nine month waiting list.

(Side note: I had been taking antidepressants for 15 years, and I thought they were helpful--but they actually weren't doing anything for me. When I would have a hypomanic phase, I thought it was the antidepressants working; and then when I was depressed, I thought it was just the "normal ups and downs of life".)

depression
I wish it was that easy!

The rest of the year, I just focused on making it through each day. I was holding out hope that the psychiatrist could help me (eventually). In early February, I had a near-breakdown. I felt like I was drowning, and I had to do something drastic. Out of desperation, I flew to San Diego on a moment's notice (I was literally on a plane within hours of making the decision) to visit a friend and hope that the nice weather would help my mood. And for the few days that I was there, it worked!

In April, I got a call from the psychiatrist's office saying that they had a cancellation, and asking if I was available the following day. I felt so much relief! Before walking into my first appointment, I texted a close friend and said, "This is it. I'm putting all of my eggs in this one basket."

My first appointment would be a huge turning point in my life. That day, that appointment, saved me. It was a lot for me to process, though. Toward the end of our hour and fifteen minute appointment, the psychiatrist hit me with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and I was speechless. I was so sure he was going to say that it was major depression and/or inattentive ADHD, and I was prepared for that. I was not at all prepared for a bipolar diagnosis.



Interestingly, I had seen a psychiatrist in 2007, and was given the same diagnosis; I had brushed it off and thought it was ridiculous. I didn't even entertain the idea. And about a year and a half ago, when I started seeing a therapist (a psychologist), she was sure that I had bipolar as well--but I kept ignoring it, because I was sure she was wrong. My primary care doctor suspected the same thing, and urged me to see a psychiatrist for a correct diagnosis. And finally, my current therapist that I've been seeing for over year suggested it right off the bat, but still--I was in total denial. It took five professionals to finally get me to accept it!

This time, I had no other hope left inside of me. I had told myself that I would accept whatever the psychiatrist diagnosed me with and I would try the medication he recommended--even if it was a bottle of "weight gain pills" (i.e. more antidepressants). I still didn't really believe his diagnosis until he explained to me what a hypomanic episode is. And when we talked about the cycles in my life, I realized that it was textbook bipolar disorder. (I usually have 1-2 hypomanic phases and 1-2 depressive phases per year. In 2016, I had one of each.)

That day, my life completely changed (for the better). I started my new medication (a mood stabilizer, which would help keep me from getting too far "up" as well as too far "down"). There are definitely drawbacks to hypomanic cycles--while a lot of it is fun, there are some parts that are not so fun at all (anxiety is a big one).

In addition to the diagnosis and new medication, I started reading as much as I could about bipolar, and the more I read, the more I agreed with my doctor's diagnosis. Funnily enough, the most helpful things I found were actually memes about bipolar. I searched them on Google images and on Pinterest, and I found myself laughing to tears as I related to each of them.

I had felt very alone, not knowing anyone else with bipolar, but reading the memes made me realize that I wasn't alone. There were actually lots of people out there with the same crazy thoughts as me. (While some people dislike the word "crazy", I actually embrace it. I have found the humor in bipolar, which has helped me to accept it.)

bipolar

Right around the time I was diagnosed, I also had a major breakthrough in therapy. I had always wondered what caused me to binge eat. I spent years reading books, filling out questionnaires, taking quizzes, doing anything I could to try and figure it out, and I never was able to--until my therapy with a fantastic therapist. It's kind of a long story, so I'll save it for my next post.

Tomorrow, I'll share about where I am currently, and how the diagnosis and therapy breakthrough have changed my outlook as well as my way of life (including things such as my eating and exercise habits). It's hard to believe that just six months ago, I never thought I would be happy again; and today, I am feeling the best I've felt for as long as I can remember!


12 comments:

  1. It takes so much guts to share your story. It's sad there is still so much stigma on mental illness. I'm glad you are feeling better. Have you explained it to the kids?

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    1. Thank you! And yes, I had a long talk with my kids about it. They are amazing! I also wanted them to learn as much as possible about it because bipolar can be genetic, so if they are ever feeling the symptoms, they know they can come to me. I think they have developed a strong compassion for mental illness, and I love that.

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    2. I think it's great that you shared with your kids. I think it's important. I remember when I was young a mom's friend of mine spent time at the hospital for depression. I remember visiting her with my friend's family. I think this helped me developed a lot of compassion. I've struggled with depression and anxiety myself. Thanks for sharing! The more we talk about mental health openly, the more the stigma will be reduced!

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  2. As always, super proud of you, Katie! I have had my own struggles with depression and anxiety, and finally getting on the right meds, and with the help of an incredibly good therapist, I truly feel like a new person. The weight is finally coming off, and I feel like THIS is finally the real me. You inspire me, girl!!

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    1. I'm so glad that you have found a great combination of meds and therapy and that it's working out so well for you! It's amazing what a difference it can make in our quality of life :)

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  3. Wow - you're so brave for sharing this story -- and I see so much of my own life experiences in what you've written.

    My mom is bi-polar and struggled without a diagnosis for most of my childhood. It wasn't until I was out of the house and on my own that I realized just how hard it was on our relationship -- and how home was never "normal" growing up.

    She'd spend weeks in bed, only getting up to eat -- and even that was rare.
    Then in a moment of what I now know -- thanks to this post -- was a hypomanic period, she'd be painting all the walls in the house a new color... at 2am.

    Understanding is the gateway to compassion and it's something I'm really working on -- so thank you for this post! I feel like I understand my mom better because of it!

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    1. Thank you for sharing about your mom--that must have been very tough and confusing to deal with when you were younger. And I'm sure it was just as hard on your mom! I hope that your mom has found a good treatment plan for her and is doing well. The worst part about hypomania is knowing that it will be followed by depression. I'm glad to have helped you understand it a little more! :)

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  4. Good for you; excellent post and I'm excited to read more. I've just started following your blog and I really enjoy your writing. I had what I thought were baby blues after each of my kids that never really went away--it took my nearly a decade to realize I was truly depressed. Once I got on thyroid medication my life changed for the better to an incredible degree.

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    1. I'm so sorry that you've been dealing with depression for so long. It's such a terrible thing to struggle with! It sounds like you discovered the problem (your thyroid) and are doing much better, so that's awesome!

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  5. So glad you're feeling better again Katie. You've been thru Hell and I didn't even realize it from your blogs. Be well sweet girl. I care.

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    1. Thank you, Pam! I've always been good at hiding the depression, which isn't always a good thing. It just made my anxiety even worse, for fear of people seeing through the fake smile and into the depression behind it. If I start feeling depressed again, I'm going to try to seek extra help before it gets out of control. Hopefully, with my meds, I won't get to that point again!

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  6. Katie, thank you so much for sharing your mental health issue with us. It is so helpful to learn more about bipolar disorders and also helps lessen the stigma if we can talk openly about them! I'm a high school nurse and I didn't know about bipolar II. I try to talk to my students about mental health issues just so they know it's ok to talk about mental health in general. Thanks for being so open about your diagnosis and treatment. You are doing such a great service to all of us!

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I'd love to hear from you! I read all of my comments, and if you have a question, I do my best to respond; sometimes, however, I get busy and forget to go back to reply, so if it's important, just email me! :)

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