At the beginning of last year, I started a new full-time job, one that had great health benefits. Previous to this, I had worked jobs that either didn’t offer health care or didn’t offer good healthcare. I’d gone most of my twenties without having insurance, which meant I had zero access to mental health care.
Once I had insurance, I went to my primary care doctor and brought up my issues with anxiety and depression. He prescribed Zoloft to me, and I started taking medication for my mental health for the very first time.
Before we go further, a few things: First, I’ve suffered from depression since middle school, so for nearly twenty years. At times it’s been incredibly severe, even to the point where I’d fantasize about suicide. Second, I’ve always had wild mood swings, sometimes going from happy to depressed within seconds. Third, I’ve also dealt with crippling anxiety, particularly in high school, which has slowly gotten manageable over time. I’ve long known that I needed to be receiving mental health care, but when you don’t have insurance and are working jobs that don’t provide income beyond that which you need for basic necessities, it can be impossible to get the help you need.
Back to the Zoloft. At first, it worked. I noticed that I was generally happier. The changes happened quick, almost too quick. Within a couple months, it completely stopped working, actually making things worse. I became lethargic and depressed, and it got so bad that my boyfriend was skipping work to be home with me because neither of us wanted me to be home alone.
I went back to the doctor, and he then switched me to 20mg of Lexapro. The same thing happened this time around – it started working right away and then stopped, and I was thrown into another period of depression and worsening anxiety.
So then I went back to my doctor a third time. This time around, he cut my dosage of Lexapro in half and added Wellbutrin. And… you guessed it. The same thing happened again.
Finally, I’d had enough. I booked my first appointment at a psychiatric office, which I should have done in the first place. I met with someone who I talked with for about half an hour, and she looked at me and told me straight up that she was 90% sure I was bipolar.
I had heard of bipolar disorder before because I had a high school teacher who was bipolar, but I really didn’t know much about it. At the end of that appointment, I was scheduled for another, to get my actual bipolar diagnosis, when I was told that I had bipolar type 2. Afterward, I started doing research on bipolar disorder, and I was shocked at how every single symptom was something I’d experienced. It felt so good to finally know what was going on in my brain.
My new doctor kept me on the Lexapro and Wellbutrin but added Quetiapine to the mix. So far, everything is working. In fact, I feel the best I have in recent memory. The Quetiapine maintains my mood swings, and I rarely have panic attacks anymore.
Looking back, I’m not surprised by my diagnosis. I’ve been able to pinpoint manic episodes, where my energy levels would shoot up to astronomical levels. I’d stop sleeping, and take up activities that weren’t particularly healthy. In fact, during one of these manic episodes, I lost nearly 100 pounds in a few months because I spent an entire summer being obsessed with working out, sometimes working out for six to eight hours a day. With the help of my doctor, I was able to pinpoint two truly manic episodes in my past.
With bipolar type 2, I’m more prone to hypomanic episodes, which “is an emotional state characterized by a distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least four (4) consecutive days, according to the American Psychiatric Association.” I’ve been learning how to deal with this disorder, and I finally feel that I’m getting the mental health care that I’ve needed.
I’ve been wanting to write this article to encourage other people to get the help they need, and to make sure you’re speaking up about whether or not your mental health medications are working. At times, when the previous concoctions of pills weren’t working, I didn’t notice right away, because the slide into depression happened slowly. The first time it happened, with the Zoloft, the only reason I noticed it was because my boyfriend pointed it out to me.
If you feel as though you need mental health care, get it. If your medication isn’t working perfectly, talk to your doctor. You deserve to be happy.