Stressors #notjustbipolar – Article from 2011 updated in 2014


reactions to anxiety

The story was: “You have had a faulty brain from birth and it took 40 years for it to show itself as a ‘bipolar brain’.”

I was struggling at work. A doctor without even meeting with me prescribed fluoxetine (Prozac). I continued to struggle and got a prescription for double the dose of fluoxetine. I became increasingly agitated and restless. Eventually I could not sleep and was taken off the fluoxetine, and within 24 hours had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.

On the ward I was given olanzapine (Zyprexa).

Olanzapine is a powerful sedative. I was still just as anxious and restless but now had no energy to complain. The psychiatrist told me the agitation and restlessness were due to a manic episode and that  my lack of energy on the ward was due to depression. I had never been depressed and never experienced agitation and restlessness in that way before.

Everyone suddenly agreed I had always been bipolar – or at least bipolar for many years. Yet, no one had mentioned bipolar before the drugs. I was told I could not be discharged unless I agreed to take lithium tablets everyday for the rest of my life. I agree to do this as I wanted to get out of the hospital.

At the time the possibility that my problems had been made worse by the drugs or this disorder had been created by drugs was not discussed. I believed what I was told. It was all I could do, as it was made clear I would have been ‘sectioned’ and kept in hospital for 3 months had I not agreed with being called ‘a manic depressive’ and taken all the tablets while the nurses watched me.

I came to believe that my brain had always been faulty and it was because of my faulty brain that I had not coped well as my job became bigger and bigger and I had been required to work more and more hours.

The drugs did not just lower my energy levels. Any more than a tiny amount gave me a headache and made it impossible to drive safely. Once out of hospital I needed to cut the Olanzapine into smaller pieces. The headaches went and I was able to focus, get back to work and believe that I was ‘in-recovery’. My bosses were OK with me having a diagnosis and were reassured because I was taking the drugs.

I did not fight against the diagnosis for many years. I kept taking a little of the drugs to keep everyone happy. The trouble was that I was not getting any better. I was getting better at taking small pieces of tablet and better at explaining what bipolar was all about. But I was very much ‘in-recovery’ rather than ‘recovered’.

As well as my full-time job, I got involved with research work which led to meeting people who had been diagnosed as bipolar and were telling us researchers that they had recovered. There were just a few who said they no longer saw themselves as in-recovery, but as fully recovered. My first reaction was that they must be wrong as I had been taught that bipolar was incurable. One psychiatrist had even told me that without drugs it was a degenerative illness and so I was never to stop taking the drugs or even think about full recovery.

Coming off the drugs after 13 years was not a simple thing at all. I did a lot of reading. I talked to a lot of people who succeeded and to people who had tried to come off too quickly and became more ill than they had ever been before. I noted how many people I had met who were no longer with us – people who thought they could manage without drugs and then… died. Coming off psychiatric drugs is not to be taken lightly. Anyone who has been on psychiatric drugs needs to research withdrawal effects and get support. Most of us struggle, but being drug free is a great goal to have. It just needs a careful realistic approach to withdrawal.

My own situation is that I am now off the psychiatric drugs. I have returned to experiencing stress in the way I used to experience stress. It is not always fun! The drugs have left me with plenty of physical reminders of the need to look after myself. I am rarely without pain as even the low doses I took seem to have taken their toll on my body. Overall though, it feels better to feel alive and face the future in a more natural way.

Mistaken and unnecessary diagnosis of bipolar disorder has become a massive worldwide problem.

The way we react when we get stressed tends to decide what we get diagnosed with. Yet, saying it is about ‘stress’, hardly moves us forward at all. As Cary Cooper says, “Everyone knows what stress is, yet no one knows what stress is”. If you have suffered badly from stress, anxiety, a diagnosis of bipolar or anything like this you may need to spend a lot of time figuring out bit by bit what stresses us, what causes us to be unwell and what helps us to stay well.

Eliminating bipolar? – start here

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