Where does it really begin? That’s the million-dollar question. I’m pretty sure the doctors and therapists consider the beginning as the date of diagnosis – which was September 2005. But then some doctors reflect back to my teen years (when I had a rather manic episode) as the origin of the illness. But then again, still, there was that depression of 1997 after my baby died inside me (what they call a missed abortion). And then, finally, there is the beginning that really changed my life. That began in the Spring of 2004, a year and a half before diagnosis – a year and half before meds.
The two years between 04 and 06 were blissful and exciting – for me anyway – but certainly not for those around me. I was manic for two years. True to the textbook. My children were young: 5 and 10, so they went to bed early, 7:30-ish. Once I had them in bed and tucked I proceeded to get ready to go out. Fix my hair, freshen my make-up, maybe change my clothes. I bid my husband good-bye and went off to meet one of my two best friends at the time (that’s a story in itself). I remember a wild trip to New York City where I proceeded to buy $600 in books, struggled to get them into my suitcase, and underwent a personal body inspection by security trying to get back into Canada. There was so much erratic behaviour and so many spending sprees.
My one friend, I’ll call her Susan, and I were writing a book together. It was a non-fiction textbook and was later published and is still used in colleges across Canada. Most nights I would meet Susan – we worked hard on the book. However, as my mania grew so too did my ability to predictably work on it. Sometimes the mania caused me to be incredibly creative and driven, but other times my mind raced from one thought to another so quickly I could not focus. Then the down days started. I was rapid-cycling, actually ultra-rapid-cycling (cycling from day to day). On the down days there was nothing I could do to work on the book. Some days I didn’t even get dressed or leave the house.
I started to miss days at work. It was a fabulous job, and I loved it. It was the perfect job for someone who was manic. It was full of responsibility and authority and I ate it up. The work itself was fast-paced and high volume. And I had all the energy I needed to keep up. I was completely on my game and the office ran like a charm. Then, again, came the down days. I couldn’t focus at work. All I could think about was doom and gloom. I was exhausted. I closed the door to my office and avoided contact with everyone. I barely managed to complete the key tasks of my job. I couldn’t think clearly and it was a challenge to make decisions. Concentrating was impossible. And I just felt so sad. The worst came when I actually started crying at my desk. My assistant, obviously aware of my state of mind, went and got my supervisor. Lucky for me, my supervisor was a caring and compassionate woman, eager to help however she could. She talked me out of my tears and sent me home. That was not the last time that happened. The cycling from mania to depression continued. Somehow I managed to do the bare bones of my job.
On my “good” days, as I would call them, but really they were just pure mania, I was on top of the world and could do no wrong. I was always busy and full of energy. Because of the mania my mind would race and often be confused. My judgment was definitely impaired. My evenings with Susan began to get shorter as my ability to function decreased. After brief sessions with Susan, I would skip out and meet up with another friend, I’ll call Lori. Lori and I would hang out at the local coffee shop – sitting in our car, drinking tea, listening to music and smoking up. We talked and laughed for hours. Sometimes we would take the car out for joy rides. I would drive fast and recklessly – but it was fun to both of us because of the state we were in. Lori was a lot of fun and she fed into my mania. She encouraged me to come out at night and drive around. I was an easy target. As time progressed, I spent less and less time working with Susan and more and more time hanging out with Lori.
Susan became concerned with me and had started doing some research on the computer about me. She was typing in words like “mood,” “up,” “down,” etc. And what she often saw was something called “Manic Depression,” today referred to as Bipolar Disorder. The next time I saw Susan she brought this up to me. I read the material she had researched and had to agree that it sounded like me. To cut to the chase, Susan and I were seated in my doctor’s office where I was referred to a psychiatrist. My first psychiatrist. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve had. This was in September of 2005 and the psychiatrist diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder, started me on a medication regime, and wrote me off work.
It became time to write the edits for the book – I couldn’t handle that. I was either too high or too low. There was no in between. I was ill. Susan did the edits without me and the book eventually proceeded to publication. I continued to party with Lori. The meds took the edge off but didn’t really fix anything. I ended up back at work – on again, off again. And the med changes and adjustments were frequent. I could hardly keep up with them. I was preoccupied with sexuality. I flirted with everyone – especially those that flirted back. My looks changed. My clothes changed. I changed.
Let’s say I was inappropriate at work. My behaviour was off the wall, and eventually came back to bite me. I escaped with emotional bruises and ended up on long-term disability. That was a gift because I was headed toward losing my job. And that would have had a huge financial impact on my family. I remain on disability today.
Then an awful thing happened – what ended up being a huge trigger. Susan emailed me that I hadn’t pulled my weight with the book – but worst of all, that she couldn’t be my friend any more. Susan and I had been friends for 17 years. We were best friends. The kind of friends who sat beside each other on a bed and independently worked away, yet were together. We walked into each other’s houses without knocking, and we spoke several times a day on the phone. Susan was a huge part of my life. She left. I crashed. Huge. My lifestyle changed drastically. I went to bed and stayed there for two years. It was the deepest depression I’ve ever had.
By now, my children were 8 and 13 – a little more self-sufficient. My husband had to pick up the pieces of managing the house and caring for the kids. They would bring me food to my bed. The kids would sit and read with me. The bathroom is an ensuite so I didn’t have to leave my room for that. I only had to leave to go to the kitchen, and that wasn’t very often. Somewhere along the way I lost Lori too. I don’t remember what happened there, (memory is a huge issue) other than she couldn’t handle my illness. I was also devastated about that. I lost most of my friends. It was a sad time. I slept about 18 hours a day. When I was awake, all I did was listen to music. It seemed to numb the pain.
After one psychiatrist closed her practice, and we were travelling three hours to another, my husband finally found me a new psychiatrist – actually the head of psychiatry at our local hospital. Quite the coup. He was a life-saver. He convinced me to stop self-medicating. He started me on a new med cocktail and saw me weekly. Not only did he prescribe medication to me but he counseled me as well. He was a real gem. He tweaked the meds up and down, adding new ones from time to time, until eventually – about five years later – we had fallen upon a cocktail that actually worked.
I was dressing, bathing, eating, and getting out of my room. Then I actually started leaving the house. Over the next year my confidence grew, I lost weight and started writing again. I created a blog where I write about bipolar disorder (www.cynthiaforget.weebly.com). I have written my first fiction novella and hope to have it published. My psychiatrist has moved away, but he left me in the hands of another, one who seems equally thorough and qualified. I know how fortunate I am for that. I also know how lucky I am to have such a supportive family. It’s been a lot of hard work, I’m left with some cognitive impairments, anxiety, and I still have some pretty dark days, but I think I’ve made it through to the other side. I’m starting to see a better life ahead. A better life with Bipolar Disorder.
Cynthia Forget was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005. Since then she has been through a myriad of experiences and treatments and ten years later has finally fallen into a stable state – as stable as one can be with Bipolar Disorder. In March of 2014, she began a blog entitled Real Life with Bipolar Disorder. The purpose of her blog is to bring awareness to Bipolar Disorder and support to those who suffer from it. She has written over 25 blogs on a variety of topics relating to Bipolar Disorder. Through Facebook, Twitter, and her on-line blog, she is a strong advocate for those with Bipolar Disorder.