Once I started to get over the Ex, my summer depression started to lift. As it got closer and closer to the start of school, my mood lifted correspondingly. I stopped going to bed at 7:00 at night (although whether that counts as “night” is debatable, especially because it didn’t really get dark until 9 at night anyway). My marathon training started to pick up and I started to get faster and stronger. The once daunting and stomach-sick, nerves inducing 10 mile runs became challenges I was increasingly eager to take on. I stopped spending so much time in bed, looking out my window on the second story of the house, wondering what would happen if I just let myself fall out.
And then it was time to go back to school. I’ve always liked going back to school, and being in school in general. I’m an extrovert and I thrive around people. At least I used do. But by the time school started again I was feeling pretty good. But I hadn’t forgotten about my despairing depression that occupied the majority of my summer. I was already on the maximum dose of my antidepressant and I wanted to see if adding in something like Abilify would keep the darkness at bay, and maybe something like Xanax for my anxiety, if I was lucky.
I trotted into Student Health and saw the doctor who had been renewing my antidepressant script and asked about adding on something new. Apparently, as a general practitioner, she wasn’t supposed to mess with meds that much and so she sent me upstairs to the Counseling Center.
The Counseling Center*. I had avoided counseling and therapy up to this point and I had absolutely no desire to start now. Apparently at my school, in order to see the psychiatrist, and thus get meds renewed or tinkered with, you had to be seeing one of the counselors in the Center.
(This is the same Counseling Center from “A Warning.” At this point in my story I had no idea how bad my experiences with the Counseling Center would become, but that part comes much later.)
I went through the intake process, which consisted of a very long and comprehensive computer test designed to identify problem areas so that you could be paired with an appropriate therapist. I stupidly answered the drinking questions honestly but lied about my drug use, then limited to occasionally smoking weed, not trusting the confidentiality agreement to keep me out of trouble.
At this point, I was still drinking. A lot. I was that girl who always got too drunk. I couldn’t go out and just have a few, I got drunk-ass wasted. Luckily, I usually wasn’t a crier. Unfortunately, I had a tendency to get pretty aggressive and confrontational. I rarely black out completely so I usually remembered my stupid escapades, although sometimes the details of who I had offended the night before escaped me. I was also a make-out whore. Not a real whore, I was very good at keeping my legs closed, which made me a very effective tease. I was careful to avoid going home with any of my make-out targets, which certainly kept me out of a lot more trouble. By the end of my first year of law school I had made a name for myself as a party girl.
Answering the drinking questions honestly was not such a great idea in the end because it freaked the counselors out. After filling out the computer portion of the intake, I met with a counselor for an initial, sort-of-diagnostic session. After the session, where the counselor would get a feel for my issues and corresponding mental health needs, I was told that the counselors and psychiatrist met and assigned people to counselors. They tried to pair you up with someone who had experience with your unique brand of issues.
I ended up getting paired up with the counselor who did my intake meeting. I actually liked him and it was a good match. Although I still wasn’t thrilled about being stuck in counseling, he did a good job with me and made the whole charade a lot less painful. We got along well and he was from the same area in the South that I am. He was pretty troubled by my alcohol use and wanted me to do an alcohol assessment with one of the drug and alcohol counselors. I didn’t think I had a real problem, and the assessment sounded miserable, so I refused to schedule one.
As school started to get underway, my mood started to lift exponentially. I was out of the snares of my depression and was happy to be alive, trucking onward at an increasingly feverish pace. I attributed my good moods and occasional hyperactivity to the marathon training. I was running tons of miles a week and I was sure that an intense and lasting runner’s high was responsible for my mood.
Not that I minded. I felt like my old self again and it was great to be in a good mood almost all of the time. I kept drinking and getting wasted drunk on the weekends. As the semester progressed I started getting more promiscuous. Which, in retrospect, should have been a red flag. My spending also started to get out of control. I’ve never been great with money but online shopping started to become a real problem. I already owed my little brother two grand and I was putting everything on credit cards that I couldn’t afford to pay off.
I started getting really hyper. I had too much energy for school. I couldn’t sit still, some part of my body had to be moving. I’d always been on the hyper side but this was much worse than usual. At lunch I was talking too fast for my friends to follow and I felt like I needed to run laps around the law school just to dispense with some of my energy, even though I was still in the middle of marathon training. My long runs were steadily approaching the 20 mile mark but the running seemed to do little for my boundless energy. One night I was so hyped up that one of my friends thought I was on amphetamines. And at that point I was more than a few drinks in and had smoked at least a bowl. Two depressants in my system and I was carrying on like the energizer bunny.
It didn’t take that long for my therapist to put two and two together. I went to therapy every two weeks and one Tuesday in October I arrived at my appointment and he pulled out one of those bipolar test/questionnaires. The kind where they list symptoms and you check off the ones you have. If you check off a certain number, like 5 out of 9, then you’re “bipolar.” Well, I checked off a bunch of them. Sleeplessness was one of the only hypomania symptoms I wasn’t having. I’ve always been a big sleeper and I’m thankful for that– I think that’s kept me from getting flow-blown, psychotic mania.
He told me I was probably bipolar. The psychiatrist agreed. They put me on Lamictal and told me to stop drinking. They took my Celexa down to a really low dose– they both agreed that the high dose I was on probably triggered the bout of mania.
And that was it. For awhile anyway. I didn’t tell my parents or my brothers. I told my close friends but the diagnosis didn’t change much about my life.
But I didn’t really believe I was bipolar. I thought it was probably a mistake or coincidence that my symptoms matched up. I’d known people who were bipolar and I didn’t seem like them at all. Sure, I was self destructive, spent all my money, had a heightened sex drive, racing thoughts, started wild projects I’d never finish, and was dangerously impulsive. But that was just the way I was. Surely they had confused my personality for the disorder. I had no problem with my depression diagnosis. I knew I was sad, didn’t have any reason to be, and had no problem taking a pill everyday to rectify my faulty brain chemistry. But to me, being bipolar didn’t seem like a simple brain chemistry thing, the way I had characterized my depression. It felt bigger, serious, and, most importantly, not like me.
I’ve finally started to accept my diagnosis but it would be something that I would wrangle with and resist. That day in my counselor’s office I was in denial. But once the fight began it would rage and burn and nearly pull me down with it.