Disclaimer: Reading this story could trigger traumatic memories. If this happens, please contact your therapist.
I suddenly and unexpectedly became severely irritated and angry 5 years ago. I was working full-time as a production manager for a manufacturing company, with a responsibility for 10 employees and the timely delivery of half million-dollar orders.
Initially, I had days when I was just intensely irritable with my job, employees, family and suffered from periods of anxiety and severe headaches. I just attributed this to the stress of the job and the often-longer hours that came with it. Then one day while driving into work I decided it would be appropriate to crash my truck in an attempt to end my life. Though I didn’t follow through on this, it was the start of very strong suicidal thoughts and impulses that would randomly pop into my head unwarranted and required extreme mental energy to resist acting them out.
In the meantime, I was also having difficulty working, at times literally dragging my deeply fatigued body and equally befuddled brain from minute to minute. I was lashing out at employees for things done that didn’t require a response or correction. On other days however, I found my work to be a useful distractor from the milder symptoms of my perceived depression. Then again, at other times I was so full of energy, over-joyed by the simplest of things and continually eager, looking for things to do.
Gradually, I noticed that working these longer hours and managing the stresses of employees and workload was becoming intolerable, which I initially put down again to be a stressful position I was in rather than believing I may be ill.
As my mood fluctuated so widely and on a day-to-day basis it was difficult for me to see that I needed help. I refused to admit that something wasn’t right, I didn’t want anything to be wrong, but down deep I knew something was.
Then on a Thursday morning I was informed via a phone call that my employment was being terminated for a poor decision I had made and for other minor incidents during this period of unsettledness. I had asked one of my employees to no longer park near a garage door of the manufacturing facility, he thought it wasn’t a problem he was parking there and through my clouded vision I decided it was and took it upon myself to remedy my perceived problem with his parking space.
I hopped upon the fork truck we used for using materials around the manufacturing floor, drove it outside and proceeded to pick up his truck and move it to a spot I deemed appropriate. While I did no damaged to his vehicle, the possibility existed that I could have given my poor irrational decision. This began a spiral of poor choices and at times extreme mood swings.
I began the search for my next job right away but found it difficult to process where I felt I would fit in. I applied for so many jobs that I felt I was qualified for even though often I wasn’t or didn’t have a clue about what the job might entail. On several occasions I was offered an interview but would blow it off assuming I was underqualified and didn’t stand a chance at landing the job.
The financial burdens were starting to pile up at this point as the unemployment checks fell well short of the salary my life had grown comfortable with. It wasn’t long before the bill collection calls became non-stop and the process servers became regular visitors to serve me the next set of paperwork.
I started seeing a counselor at this time for what I assumed was depression at the suggestion of my soon to be wife. This made me feel weak and very much a failure for not being to “handle this like a man”. I remember being so nervous during the initial consultation that I was shaking and about blacking out from my elevated blood pressure. The appointment went better than I had expected but still I told myself “I don’t need these appointments, I can figure this out for myself’.
As my mood continued to fluctuate from a euphoric state to one of absolute despair, I went about my days by not wanting to get out of bed to wanting to take on the world. Finally, I got a call from my current employer that they would like to meet for an interview. I figured what the hell, just go an embarrass yourself. What do you have to lose. So, I put on my blue jeans and a well-worn red polo shirt and headed out for the interview, typically not something somebody would wear for a job interview.
The interview went well, but still I didn’t feel I would get the job. Initially I was right, they had selected another candidate, but that person declined so I was offered the position. I jumped all over it without asking what it paid or if there were benefits, I didn’t care, I just needed a sense of purpose at that point.
This job offered me a short-lived reprieve from the mental fluctuations, but they were soon to return and return worse than ever. I was becoming increasingly hostile, angry, depressed and hopeless.
One night I decided enough was enough after an argument with my wife about going to a movie at the theatre. I was tired of fighting the struggles of daily life, tired of fighting my life and so I thought it’s time to say goodbye. Though goodbyes were not going to be given. I grabbed my Ruger SR.40 pistol, made sure it was loaded and crawled into bed with my dog Shea. She tried her best to comfort me knowing I was upset, like all good dogs she could sense it. But at that point it wasn’t enough, I placed the cold stainless-steel barrel to my temple and clicked off the safety.
Then right as I started to apply pressure to its trigger my cellphone exploded to life in that dark room with its bright screen and loud ring. Angry, I picked up the phone to see who was trying to interrupt me in a time like this. The caller id read 911 and I initially thought this a poor timed joke somebody was trying to pull but I decided to answer anyways. The woman on the other end of the line with her calm tone said, “is this Jason?”. I replied yes, what do you want. She said, “I understand your having a bad night and was wondering if you would be interested in stepping outside to speak with a police officer that was waiting?”.
Not thinking straight, I assumed something had happened to my wife and they had bad news for me. So, I walked outside while still on the line with the 911 operator, but nobody was there. She asked, “do you have a lighted area you could walk to?”. So, I walked under the light of my pole barn. The 911 operator said I could now hang-up, so I did putting the phone in my sweatpants pocket. Just as I was thinking somebody was playing a joke on me I heard a loud and stern voice say, “put your hands in the air and walk towards my voice”. Even though minutes earlier I had a gun to my head ready to pull the trigger unafraid, I was suddenly scared shitless by this demand, so I complied. The voice from the darkness again spoke saying “Turn around and keep your hands above your head”, I complied. The voice then said, “Turn around facing my voice, keep your hands above your head and do not move!”. Well damn, I was really scared shitless now even though seconds ago I thought I was.
Out of the darkness walked a man in a blue uniform, polished combat style boots and shiny garrison hat. I was staring down the barrel of a black M4 assault rifle and now absolutely scared shitless. He then did the standard pat down before proceeding with his questioning. He said he understood I was having a challenging night and asked if I would consider going in an ambulance to the hospital for an evaluation. I replied with a “nah, I’m fine. Just a bad night”. Well he knew better and told me I could go in the ambulance or in cuffs in the back of his car, so I loaded up in the ambulance.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was escorted to an emergency room and given the standard check of vitals and such. They said somebody would soon be in from North Country Community Mental Health to speak with me. So, I patiently waited and waited. An hour passed and nobody so I decided I was going to go for a walk. I made it to the door of the room before a deputy posted outside asked me to please go sit back down on the hospital bed and wait.
A nurse came in and asked if I would like anything to eat or drink but at that point I didn’t want anything. She then asked if I would be ok if my wife came in the room and I replied with an I don’t care. My wife came in the room and attempted to talk but I had nothing to say to her, I was angry at her for calling 911 and keeping me from being free of the pain of life. We sat in silence for well over an hour.
Nearly 3 hours after I entered the hospital emergency room, a “specialist” from N.C.C.M.H. entered the room and asked my wife to leave. She then proceeded to ask me very general questions to which she already knew my answers. She left the room, spoke with my wife and then sat at the reception desk for over an hour before coming to tell us that I could now go home. Did it really take an ambulance ride to the hospital and a 4 hour wait to be told by someone that knows nothing about your life that your “fine” to go home. She didn’t have a clue.
I went home, and the following week started increased visits with my counselor and a new medication regime to help with the depression. I was started on Wellbutrin but quickly became easily agitated and hostile. Not long after I found out I had a warrant for my arrest for a domestic violence charge stemming from the night of my suicide attempt. I turned myself in and spent the next 30 hours behind bars, really uncertain of life yet again.
I completed the whole legal process and finally found a medication in Zoloft that was beneficial to my struggles. I thought things were getting better and that my depression was now under control, but that was short lived. The agitation and depressed thoughts crept back in along with the euphoric and endless energy feelings.
At the suggestion of my counselor I sought treatment from a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist asked the standard litany of questions and determined that it wasn’t depression I was struggling with but major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD and anxiety. In other words, I was a mess, I’d been a mess for many years upon reflection. I was a mess because early on I refused to admit I was mentally “off”.
The major issue being the bipolar disorder and the struggles that come along with that. The elevated unrealistic moods, depression, cognitive impairments, extreme irritability, anxiety as well as a lot of other minor issues. I was trapped by my mind and body.
The initial diagnoses of bipolar came as a shock and embarrassment. I was clinically crazy I thought, a lost cause. But this drove me to educate myself about what exactly bipolar disorder is.
Bipolar disorder is an illness much like a cancer, while treatable, there is no known cure or fix all for it. It’s about loss of control over your life. Bipolar disorder is multipolar affecting not just energy levels, but energy and physiology. To onlookers it seems that your whole personality has changed; the person they know is no longer in evidence. At times they can be sucked into believing that the changes are permanent.
My moods can swing from one part of the day to another. I can wake up low at 6am but be high and excitable by 8am. I may not sleep for more than 2 hours one night, but full of creative energy, but by midday be so fatigued it can be a struggle to breathe.
If my elevated states last for more that 24 hours, my spending can become uncontrollable and it take great effort and willpower otherwise I make purchases I later will regret. I remember being entranced by a 100-foot length of orange coiled extension cord on amazon. In my heightened state of awareness, the coils of orange looked exciting are irresistible. I wanted to buy several even though I already had one and had no use for more.
I will sometimes drive faster than usual, need less sleep and can concentrate well, make quick and accurate decisions. At these times I can also be sociable, talkative and fun, which if you know me isn’t me, at least the sociable and talkative type. If the state of elevation continues for an extended period I become irritable and have feelings of violence towards those I love will start to creep in. Concentration and memory really start to wane, and I become hypersensitive to noise.
My thoughts speed up and I can lie in bed for hours at a time watching pictures on the inner sides of my eyelids. Sometimes words are present, and I read them as if engrossed in a good novel. If I were asked to read them out loud they would not make sense. They are a fascinating blur of words, pictures and music. I become impatient with myself and those around me who seem to be moving and talking so slowly.
I frequently want to be able to achieve several tasks at the same moment. I may want to read two novels, listen to music and write a story all simultaneously becoming rapidly frustrated that I cannot do this.
Physically my energy levels can seem limitless. The body moves smoothly, there is little or no fatigue. I can go all day when I feel like this and if my mood stays elevated. But it doesn’t last, my elevated phases are short, mild and generally manageable, but the shift into severe depression or a mixed mood state occurs sometimes within minutes or hours. Indeed, I often lose track of what normality is.
Initially my thoughts become disjointed and start slithering all over the place. I will feel that I am physically trying to pin them down in my brain, trying to run ideas together in a coherent way. They will sometimes remain rapid and are accompanied by paranoid delusions causing an inner tension that can only be relieved to some extent by physical activity such as pacing a room. I start to believe that others are commenting adversely on my appearance or behavior. I can become very frightened and antisocial.
My wife will detect the mood shift early on and become more isolative and angry. My sleep will be poor and interrupted by bad dreams. I will change from being the person who has the ideas – is the decision maker – to not being interested in anything at all.
The world appears bleak and a pointless round of social niceties. I will wear my most comfortable clothes, everything else grazes and chafes at my skin.
I become repelled by the proximity of people, acutely aware of interpersonal spaces that have somehow grown closer around me. I will be overwhelmed by the slightest tasks, even imagined tasks. I will see dirt on every surface, unfinished chores and feel solely responsible for improving these things.
Physically there is immense fatigue: my muscles scream with pain; an old torn rotator cuff flairs up. I ache down to my bone marrow; my joints feel swollen. I become breathless with even the simplest of tasks and have to stop after 2 minutes. I become clumsy and drop things. The exhaustion becomes so complete that eventually I drop into bed fully clothed. Sometimes I will vomit, my digestive processes halted or overly stimulated. I will often sleep without being refreshed for endless hours. At times every muscle in my body will tense up and be totally resistant to relaxation. Sweat will pour off me or I will be caught in an attack of shivering unrelated to the ambient temperature. I will shout over and over again in my mind for help, but never get the words past my lips.
Food becomes a safe haven and I savor every flavor, so I will gain weight rapidly during a long depressive phase. Sometimes, I will crave only sweet foods in large quantities. It will often be difficult to bother to drink adequate water, which can affect my drug levels and my bowels do not function.
I become unable to concentrate to read a novel for pleasure, for escape even though this is something I love. Even a newspaper or magazines become impossible to follow. I start to feel trapped, that the only escape is death. At this point or earlier it becomes a rational decision.
My brain slows right down. I become stuck, unable to answer a simple question, unable to establish eye contact and unable to comprehend what is being asked of me.
I avoid answering the phone or the door. My voice deepens and slows sometimes to the point of slurring. I feel the cold more readily. I will look in the mirror and fail to recognize the person there.
As I begin to slip into a more psychotic state of mind I become unable to recognize something as familiar as the palm of my hand or my child’s face. My sense of space alters and rooms that are familiar appear to have changed dimensions. Simple objects in a room can take on sinister meanings for me.
At this point the world begins to take on a malevolent aspect, which is difficult to describe. Those I love around me become part of a conspiracy to harm me. Their faces will alter, and their voices develop a mocking ring. I will hate my wife and other loved ones.
Images just out of my field of vision will be waiting to pounce leaving me in a constant state of vigilance. I have been under the impression that I was rotting under my skin, that my bones are being gnawed away by evil spirits.
Soon the voices and images in my head start telling me what to do.
Stop taking my medications. Destruction. No other way out.
Ultimately, they tell me that everything would be better if I killed myself.
I am evil, a burden; I deserve only punishment.
Twisted tales and delusions.
I become passionate about one subject only at these times of deep and intense fear, despair and rage: suicide. The suicidal impulses and images can come at any stage of the illness, even in mania, but are at their most intense and irresistible during psychotic phases.
I know my way around guns. I know the fatal dosages of the drugs I take. I have considered railway crossings, bridges over rivers, driving off roads into valleys and electrocution. I have made close attempts on my life.
Sadly, the impact of suicide on my child and wife does not avail me when I am ill. I consider myself to be such a huge burden to them at these times that I believe suicide to be a relief, a final gift to them from a father and husband who can do no more. A person who has reached the limit of endurance.
The fatigue drops from my limbs like shedding a dead weight, my thinking returns to normal, the light takes on an intense clarity, flowers smell sweet and my mouth curves to smile at my son, my wife and I am laughing again. Sometimes it’s for only a day but I am myself again, the person that I was a frightening memory. I have survived another bout of this dreaded disorder.
It’s a continuous round fought on a daily basis. If I’m lucky I will get a few days every few months when I am completely normal and don’t have to make continual allowances for my mood state.
So why am I still here? I don’t know. Possibly luck. Possibly the tiny scrap of humanity that remains even in my most psychotic and suicidal states, which allows me to express the desperation and loss of control that I am experiencing, so that caregivers and treating clinicians can respond appropriately and keep me safe. A little hope. Some denial.
I have lost a job, intellectual stimulation and my social life. Sometimes I wonder how my marriage holds together and I am continually anxious about the effects of my illness on my son and whether I will end up like too many other people with severe bipolar disorder, separated from them permanently.
There have been relationships broken and distorted, and relationships that have held fast and true through the worst of its manifestations. Making new friends has often been too difficult.
It’s taught me that even with the best psychiatric care some people do not respond to medication, do not get better. However, I am grateful that I have had the best care available to me throughout and that I had started my family before the onset of this illness. I am also grateful.
This illness is about having to live life at its extremes of physical and mental endurance, having to go to places that most people never experience, would never want to experience. It has been about having unthought-of limitations placed on your life, your career, your family. For my family it’s been about adjusting to totally altered dynamics, having a husband and father who is often unable to be there for them, for them to have to live with the flux of my moods and the disturbance that comes with recurrent rounds of depression and mania.
It’s about having to rely on others for help when you are feeling at your most vulnerable and exposed. It’s about being stigmatized unfortunately.
It has become about trying to stay alive and living life fully in the brief periods of normality or mild elevation that occur from time to time.
Otherwise, ultradian cycling bipolar disorder is an unrelenting monster. Some like myself understand monsters aren’t just the ones underneath the bed.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put is to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.