Bipolar, or why I’ve been gone so long

I haven’t written about this before, but I’ve been encouraged by Pastor Slack and the Lord to do so. I hope the Lord uses it to bless, encourage or sharpen you.

In March, I was diagnosed with a variant of bipolar disorder called Bipolar II. I had been suffering extreme depression for over a year. Antidepressants really had not helped and despite short periods without feeling too bad, the persistent tone of my life was sadness, apathy and misery.

After a few months of the Lord telling me that things weren’t right and that I needed to go to a psychiatrist, I attended a conference where a pastor’s wife shared about her struggles with mental illness. The Holy Spirit was all over me while she talked, and I knew that I had a serious mental health problem – not a spiritual problem, as I had often berated myself for. That day, I finally listened to the Lord’s leading to seek medical help. A friend of mine (a dear sister in Christ and a mentor to me) recommended a doctor and I went to see her for my depression.

The doctor (let’s call her Dee, to make this simpler) did a long intake with me. For 45 minutes she asked me about my symptoms, how long they had lasted, what I had been like as a teenager, etc. Dee was very thorough. At the end, she told me that she thought depression wasn’t the right diagnosis for me, but bipolar was. This was not what I expected to hear, even though my mentor also had bipolar and I’d wondered if that was my issue too. The picture I had in my mind of bipolar was extreme mania and that mania felt good.

Dee explained that there is more than one type of bipolar disorder and that I was struggling with Bipolar II. Bipolar II is characterized by extreme lows (depression) and milder highs (mania). She also explained that mania can manifest in ways that do not feel good: anxiety, inability to focus on tasks, irritability, agitation, distraction and more.

She said that people with bipolar II can be very accomplished and high functioning when level or manic, but are paralyzed when depressed. That hit the nail on the head for me. The more she talked, the more the Holy Spirit confirmed in my heart that this was the right diagnosis. I went home and researched the condition more, and as I did I recognized so many of the behaviors in my life over the past 17 years. This explained so much.

Dee put me on a mood stabilizer (called Lamictal) which is designed to even out my highs and lows. Fortunately, I responded well to the first medication we tried and didn’t have to search for more, but it is very slow going. Increases have to happen over periods of months. Then there is the waiting to see if the dosage eliminates my symptoms. We still aren’t there yet, and I’ve just discovered that I can’t tolerate a higher dose of Lamictal.

So, now the tweaking of the infinite medication combinations begins. If I didn’t know the Lord, I would truly despair at this thought. How can humans be expected to find the needle I need in the haystack of possibilities? They can’t. But God can. He’s the only hope I’ve got in this, and really in anything.

He’s constantly revealing to me how in control He is in this situation though. Before I even realized that I couldn’t take more of this medication, I was talking to my mentor about her symptoms, etc. and was surprised when, through this conversation, the Lord showed me that I needed some additional/different help.

The reality of the situation is that although this medication has improved a lot of things, there is still so much that it hasn’t touched. Things that I used to be able to do – even want to do – without any difficultly are now almost, if not entirely, impossible, or only come with tremendous difficulty. For example: remembering to pay the bills on time, cleaning/decluttering my apartment, filing important papers, regularly reading my Bible, leaving my house (!!), being with people, especially in groups of more than 3 or 4. And I’m still struggling a lot to make it through the day (hence, no posts in 2 months!).

For a while, I thought these struggles were spiritual: laziness, stubbornness, selfishness, disobedience, rebellion against God, backsliding, etc. Now I am learning that they are so much more. They are the symptoms and results of a physical problem: mental illness.

In that same conversation, my friend said that another friend of ours had found that a very small dose of Lithium has helped her tremendously, with the same problems that I am still having. I researched it, and had decided that if my current medication still didn’t improve the situation, I was going to ask to try Lithium. I planned to work with my neurologist to switch a medication I’m on (for migraines), since it interacts negatively with Lithium, just so that I would have that option if I needed it. I was going to give the latest increase in my Lamictal dosage a chance to work, though. Lo and behold, mere days after the Lord brings me to this place, I had a bad reaction to the most recent increase of Lamictal, and realized that I wouldn’t be able to take any more of it. And God had me completely prepared for this possibility, cushioning the blow and setting things in motion perfectly.

I meet with my neurologist on Thursday. As soon as I can get off of this medication and switched to the other, I’m going to see Dee and ask for the Lithium. Wisdom for my doctor and me is high on my prayer list.

Expect to see a lot more entries about my struggles with mental illness and what the Lord is speaking to me about through it. Comment if you are out there, or if you have questions.

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7 thoughts on “Bipolar, or why I’ve been gone so long

  1. Rachel has struggled with this for longer than any of us realized. As a child she would often get what she called a “funny feeling” that she cloud not explain. I believe that is was anxiety. We failed to recognize it early on.

    This type of illness is the result of chemical issues in the brain. With all the chemicals in the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breath, it is surprising that more people are not suffering from chemical issues in the brain.

    I thank God that He has provided the technologies that has resulted in these medications being available. I consider them a miracle.

    I too have had struggles with depression for most of my life, even as a child. As a pastor and a Christian, I thought that it was a lack of faith and tried to dismiss it. I read that the great preacher Charles Spurgeon struggled with depression so bad, that after a lunatic shouted “fire,” in the middle of church service, four people will killed by the stampede trying to get out of the building. He laid in bed for a week, with severe depression. It was not until his elders came and laid hands on him that he was able to return to his duties.

    While not on medication, I am able by the grace of God to deal with depression but it is a daily struggle.

    If you have never suffered from these issues, thank God for your blessing. Pray for Rachel and the thousands of other Christians like her that struggle.

    I am proud of her and I know that God will use even this in her life as she ministers to others.

    I love you sweetheart so much. I am so proud of you. You inspire me to be a better father, a better Christian, a better pastor.

    “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NKJV).

  2. Wow, dad. I had completely forgotten about that until you mentioned it. Who knows how long this thing has been manifesting itself. It took many years of what could have been obvious signs, much prodding from the Lord and a doctor to convince me!

    It seems to make sense to me that our brains would become impacted by sins ravages in the world, just like the rest of our bodies and even the groaning creation. Together we all long for the day when all will be made new!

    The Lord is so amazing. He’s given us such great saints before and among us with the same struggles, allowing us to learn from and encourage one another. His blessings and wisdom are truly manifold.

    I love you, too, so much! It blows my mind that I’m encouraging you, when you encourage me so much to run the race before me, trusting Jesus to make me finish well.

    Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, ooking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

  3. Hi Rachel,

    Interested to here how goes the struggle with meds, since this is an older post. For me, I’m technically not taking medication anymore. I’m doing a completely natural approach. I do take lithium, but it is lithium orotate as opposed to lith. carbonate which is one of the prescription forms. Orotate is a supplement, therefore no prescription required. I also take Fish Oil(Omega 3 fatty acids) which among other benefits is also a mood stabilizer. I initially started with just the Fish Oil but after a big mixed state manic blow out started taking Seroquel. Responded well to that but it also makes me a zombie. Mood ok and stable but energy level zero and intellectual function quite impaired. Also had started on Lithium Carbonate which seemed to help with a lower dose of Seroquel, but still energy level wasn’t where I wanted it and after 2 months began feeling nauseous from the lithium. I had used a supplement formula that is for help sleeping a few nights the year before while on a trip with a friend, which is who gave it to me. That was where the Seroquel had helped most, turning off the racing angry thoughts so I could sleep. Well as I looked in the catalog my friend gave me, lo and behold there was Lithium Orotate. So I researched and asked my doctor who said let’s give it a try, since I had responded well to lithium except the side effect of feeling ill. So, what is supposed to be better about L. Orotate is that it is 20 times more “bioactive”, able to be absorbed by the cells better. Thus not having to take amounts that make the blood serum borderline toxic to get a therapeutic affect, and no monthly blood serum checks either. $100 a month I can’t afford without insurance.

    So bottomline, Lithium Orotate and Fish Oil have been workin tremendously for me for 6 months now. I pretty much have gotten back to feeling “normal”. I am down a bit, but I think it’s just a normal down especially considering the circumstances that 40 years of being bipolar and not understanding that created. In and out of jobs, bad financial decisions because of short money, and still being unemployed without insurance because of the unstable work history and credit problems it has all created.

    So that’s my meds story. If you are still or end up in a place again where you are still trying to get it right. I hope it might give you and your doctor some other options to think about. The lithium orotate will never get a proper study, very simply because no one will pay for it cause it won’t make them money, can’t patent it.

    But, as it was answered prayer for me in how I felt the Lord leading, that is the key to finding the right mix, looking to the Lord for direction in prayer.

    It will be a great thing to someday be rid of these corrupted bodies and get a new one that is incorruptible.:)

  4. scott: thanks so much for the info! i was doing fish oil for a while but always find it so difficult to stick with it! stupid. thanks for the encouragement to get back on the wagon. 🙂 do you take it with food or without?

    never even heard of the lithium orotate. i’ll have to look into that. i’m fortunate that with my insurance i only pay about $10 per month for my L carbonate.

  5. Rachel-

    Your welcome for the info.

    I split my Fish oil, I take two in the morning after eating and two at night before bed on a relatively empty stomach. Do the same with my L.Orotate. Yes I know what you mean about forgetting to take it. Was originally just taking it all in the morning with food and my vitamins (helps keep the energy level more stable, the vitamins) But I’ve never been real good at that either. It’s taken time and the realization of how important it is to keep the intake of anything that affects mood stable. So keep at it. Over on Bills blog Chosen4Him does have some good suggestions. Our overall health is important to keeping stability.

    Exercise is an important one. I know I feel much better when I even just get out and get a walk. That’s probably been my biggest issue. Getting out and being even marginally active is such a struggle sometimes. But, as I look back I recognize that the times in my life when I had jobs that were more physically demanding I was more stable especially in the depression area. So keep at it. I’ll try to encourage you if you’ll do the same. And you’ll have my intercession for you with the Lord as well.

    On the cost of L.Carbonate side. Try Costco if you have one near you. Even without insurance I paid $24 for a 3 month supply (300, 300mg caps). Not a huge difference, but something to look into. Might even be cheaper with insurance. Don’t know.

    One other note, I don’t know if you drink anything diet(i.e. soda, Crystal Lite)or use sugar substitutes. But aspartame (Equal) will make you manic. Found that out even on Seroquel which is an anti-psychotic. Took me a couple days to figure it out. Was trying to cut down my sugar intake and decided to drink some Crystal Lite instead of my Mountain Dew (by the way that’s where the Dewd in my post name comes from. My wife calls me “dude” and I have always drank a lot of Dew, so the High Schoolers at church thought to spell it that way was funny. It stuck.) anyway, my mind was racing and I had heard that aspartame did this, just hadn’t noticed before and on Seroquel it didn’t at all. So I’m trying to figure it out and then it dawns on me. So I stop drinking it and back to no racing thoughts in a day. Splenda seems to be the best option there. Unfortunately not many products use it yet. Though it’s starting to change.

    Hope I’ve given you some more helpful info and look forward to any experience you can pass along and continuing to read and participate in your blog.

    Scott

  6. Also, hope I in no way ever come across as suggesting that you must take my advice on anything. Only intent is to pass along my own experience. Don’t think any of your comment on BW’s blog was directed toward me. Especially as Bipolar II there is so much variation in symptoms/degree of symptoms that each case must be taken individually.

    In His Love,

    Scott

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