On Mood Swings, Disability, and Denial

| Tuesday, April 5, 2011 | |
Two months from now is the one year anniversary of my bipolar II diagnosis, and for the past two weeks  wild moods swings have disrupted my day-to-day life yet again, in all likelihood brought about by writing-related stress and the general feeling that I don't know what I'm doing in life in general. And it screwed up my training schedule too. Methinks Coach will be...uh... displeased.

Still, as I write I'm still laboring through a relatively mild depression, waiting for my updated mood stabilizer dosage to have an effect, and pondering this fiasco at Feministe. I don't want to speculate on the main issue at hand in that particular discussion before I've given the topic the thought it deserves, but for now my main ponderable is: what exactly determines what a disability is, and do I really count as a PWD?

I put in my two cents about midway through the thread and added that I have a mood disorder to keep my opinion from being dismissed outright, but now that I've put some real thought into it, I don't know whether I can call myself a PWD without feeling like a fraud. When my mood is stable I can function at a "normal" level, and outwardly show no signs that anything's "wrong". I'm not in chronic pain, I don't suffer from psychotic mania (feature of bipolar I), and while I do have problems with anxiety, they aren't truly debilitating. It doesn't feel right to me to claim that I have a disability, when there are so many people with conditions and other problems that put mine to shame.

My parents and psydoc, however, disagree.

(Note: I'm extremely lucky that I don't have to deal with any stigma from anyone close to me-- everyone in my immediate family is on some form of medication, and psychiatric illnesses aren't an issue with the people I hang around with.)

Their logic (and the logic of a few friends, with whom I vehemently disagree) goes like this: You are ingesting a total of 700mg of medication a day (300 Wellbutrin, 300 Lamictal, 100 Seroquel). You were hospitalized for suicidal depression. Your last hypomanic episode caused you chronic sleep deprivation and a dangerously rapid weight loss. This is serious.

The logical part of my brain accepts that. It's the rest of it that's confused.

I just don't feel that it's right to call it a disability. I feel that if I claim that, then I'm trivializing the experiences of people in real pain. I know that an out-of-control major depressive episode could very well kill me, but my own bizarre relationship with the disorder makes me at times actually miss hypomania-- my latest three-month-long hypomanic episode arrived exactly on the heels of the suicidal depression that landed me in the hospital to begin with, and single-handedly rescued/began my writing career. With the invaluable aid of the aforementioned Best Agent in the Known Universe, I completely replotted and, essentially from scratch, rewrote The Book, and between mid-November and mid-January put together a new 93,000 word manuscript worlds better than the original.

Kevin, a guy a few years older than me who I met in the hospital, put it best: on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being suicidal depression and 10 being full-blown mania, "If I could function at a 7 all the time, that would be perfect."

I'm of two minds (hah) on the subject: I know that hypomania can lead to dangerous levels of irresponsibility and grandiose behavior (ex. "This weekend I'm gonna learn BASQUE! Wooooo! Ha HAH!") and I know that if I don't maintain a regular sleep schedule it's likely to crash straight down into a Slough of Despond, but it still doesn't feel right for me to claim a disability.


Parents, Psydoc, and Other Concerned Parties: You have a serious disability.

Me: ... But--


For all I know, it might actually be denial. But still, every time I'm in one bipolar forum or another I read about people who've suffered months-long full-blown mania, people whose conditions are so severe that they can't work and sometimes can't leave the house, people who in addition suffer from PTSD, schizoaffective disorders, anxiety disorders, and a plethora of other problems including abusive bosses and coworkers, horribly uninformed family members who go so far as to steal their meds, and friends who have abandoned them. They are people in real, unimaginable pain.

Never mind. It's not denial. It's the unvarnished truth.


And I never did learn Basque.


Coda: the best cinematic example of bipolar II I've ever seen.


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