Tough living in bipolar trenches
THERE is a grinding and steel-cutting-like noise. It is loud! I try to talk but my jaws are locked. I cannot open my mouth.
The noise gets louder. I put both my hands over my ears. It gets louder and louder. I want to scream. I start crying. My breathing wakes me up. Was I dreaming? My eyes are moist ? tears from my dream? I sit up, squint at the light, wipe my tears. It is 635am; I have been asleep for two hours.
Before this night, I hadn?t slept a wink in two days. Sometimes I can go up to four days with little or no sleep at all.
I shiver at the thought of walking out of my room. I don?t want to see anybody. My head hurts. Words, words, words! That?s all that comes out of people?s mouths! So much emotion or lack thereof. Fake smiles, contemplating minds. I get tired of listening and smiling when I would rather be screaming, tired of talking when I would rather be silent, of listening to this whisper in my head. Am I trapped inside my mind, I wonder.
This is not an unusual experience for me. I am a 25-year-old single mother. I have bipolar disorder disease. Bipolar is not considered a disease where I come from. that would be I did not tell anyone what was happening. Where would I begin? admitting to a mental illness.! was diagnosed two years ago after years of headaches, mood swings, irrational behaviour and thoughts, and the inability to work or sustain relationships.
After my son?s birth I got a job and moved from the Eastern Cape to Durban. I attributed the depression that followed to missing my newborn. The depression continued, it was hard to fall asleep. This is when that noise began to haunt my sleep. Headaches became a part of my life. I did not tell anyone what was happening. Where would I begin? I cried a lot. Sometimes I drank excessively to help me sleep. I became confused. I wasn?t sure what was real and what wasn?t.
Five years later, my mother called. She had been watching a programme on bipolar disorder. ?Why don?t you see someone?? she said.
?Err ... okay,? was all I could say. I was shocked and in tears after I put the phone down. I knew that I had a problem. I feared waking up, I feared meeting people on the streets,! hated getting stuck in traffic,! hated routine. I feared life! But the thought of seeing a professional never crossed my mind.
I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist. He was a man in his late 50.! sat down in a chair opposite him. He asked me my age and why I was there. ?That?s it! Waste of time,? screamed the voice in my head. I was irritated.
He noticed my unease, pulled out a piece of paper, looked at me with a stone cold face and asked routine questions. I replied in one word answers.
?Do you ever think of killing yourself?? Silence. Then, ?YES!,? screamed the voice, ?LOTS OF TIMES.? I shifted. He put his pen down, removed his glasses. ?Suicide?? he said.
?Yes,? I answered, thinking of those moments with chills down my spme. He replaced his glasses and continued. ?What do you see when you think of the future?? I panicked. ?Darkness,? I replied. ?I only see darkness, I am afraid I am not good enough for my son, my family or my job.? My face was on fire. I felt the tears in my eyes. He kept writing.
I looked around the office. I needed to get out of there. This question and answer session was getting on my nerves.
?You have clear symptoms of rapid cycling bipolar disease.? His words jumped into my thoughts.
I was confused.
?It?s a mental disease caused by a chemical imbalance in the 1 rain.? I drifted.
?I will prescribe some medication for seven days, thereafter come and see me to assess your progress blablabla I took the script and left. Was this it? A mental disease?
I took my medication that night. I woke up in the morning without a headache. It was beautiful. I felt optimistic. I thought of the years of noise and msomnia. Could it be over?
A week later, I was back in my psychiatrist?s office. His face was cold and unwelcoming, but this time it didn?t bother me.
?Do you still ththk of killing yourself?? ?Not so often, but I can at least sleep,? I tell him. He hands me a month?s prescription.
My contract m Pretoria ended shortly after visiting the psychiatrist and I had to move back to the Eastern Cape. For the first time, spending time with my family was pleasurable. I could hold a rational conversation.
After a year and a half of taking medication I decided to stop. I felt okay.
After a week off the medication, the suicidal thoughts started rushing back, life become a chore. I couldn?t get out of bed. I tried to get help from the local hospital, to no avail.
The nightmare was back, the hallucinations, the confusion. I was disorientated, confused.
The fear set in, negative thoughts rushed back, I wanted to die, to disappear. I was tired of living in this uncertainty.
A month later I went to a state psychiatric clinic in Johannesburg ? by now I had been out of work for 15 months. The waiting list was long. My problems had become much bigger. I saw shadows in the corners of my eyes. I could not wake up before midday. I cried often and I felt suicidal.
I had to call my psychiatrist and ask for a prescription.
My self-esteem was at rock bottom.
I have been back on my prescription for three months now.
I am in the bathroom and I want to brush my teeth but I can?t! A cloud of dizziness settles over me. I cannot breathe. All I see are colours flying and dancing h~ front of my eyes. I have to sit down. The noise is back, a static-like noise and it is loud! I take a deep breath.
I took my medication this morning. I did.
The throbbing gets worse. I need to lie down. lam in pain and my mind feels like it is going to explode.
I manage to throw myself on the bed. All I hear is my heart pounding. My heart is beating loudly.
?THIS WILL NEVER END? whispers the voice in my head.
WHAT IS BIPOLAR DISORDER?
BIPOLAR disorder is a physical illness marked by extreme changes in mood, energy and behaviour. It is classified as a mood disorder.
Also known as manic-depression, it is a mental illness involving episodes of serious mania followed by intense depression. The person?s mood usually swings from overly high and irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, with periods of normality in between.
Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. It is often not recognised as an illness, and people who have it may suffer needlessly for years or even decades.
Effective treatments are available that greatly alleviate the suffering caused by bipolar disorder.
CAUSES The exact cause is not known, but it is believed to be a combination of biochemical, genetic and psychological factors.
WHO IS AFFECTED.
About 1% of the population is affected. Men and women are equally susceptible.
IS IT TREATABLE?
Yes, treatment in the form of medication and counselling can be effective for most people with bipolar disorder.
SYMPTOMS Several kinds of mood episodes can occur, including mania (manic episodes) during which the sufferer feels unusually high, euphoric, or irritable (or appears this way to those who know the person well).
At least four -~? and most often all ? of the following symptoms are apparent: Needing little sleep yet having great amounts of energy; talking so fast that others can?t follow your thinking; having racing thoughts; being so easily distracted that your attention shifts between many topics in just a few minutes; having an inflated feeling of power, greatness, or importance; and doing reckless things without concern for possible bad consequences ? such as spending too much money, inappropriate sexual activity, making foolish business investments, extreme irritability and distractibility and abuse of alcohol or drugs. ? The South African Depression and Anxiety Group. Helpline: 0800-70-80-90, www.sadag.co.za
STRUGGLING THROUGH: Single mother Fezisa Mdibi found relief after taking medication, but had a relapse after stopping it when she felt well Picture: THYS DULLAART