I Have an Illness, Bonnie Stafford

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I have an illness. I will have this illness for the rest of my life. I will be on medication for this illness for the rest of my life. I will not allow this illness to define me

I have been very lucky to be healthy most of my life. Other than the occasional strep throat or cold, and what I thought to be a mild case of low serotonin, I never had to see a doctor with any real frequency. I went on a low dose of anti-depressant about 6 years ago but only saw a general practitioner once a year to have it refilled. Things were much better than they had been before, so I figured everything was good to go.

After taking my current job, which drains every ounce of my strength, I started having more problems. I finally sought help from my general practitioner about a year and a half ago. They did a broad spectrum blood test, and sent me to a sleep clinic neither of which produced any helpful information.

Continuing to press the point, my general practitioner decided to shake up the meds a little. He put me on a different anti-depressant. Well, this one was great. It gave me more energy. I had motivation coming out of my ears. In fact it bordered on obsession. Unfortunately, although I felt a little better, it didn't fix the problem, it actually made it worse.

A few months later when I come into my general practitioner’s office at the end of my rope, insisting that I had walking pneumonia or mono, but with a list of symptoms that described a textbook case of clinical depression, he finally referred me to a psychiatrist. At my first appointment, a few short days before my 30th birthday, the psychiatrist listened to my symptoms, took my medical history, and diagnosed me with Type 2 Bipolar disorder. I was devastated! This is the same illness that my dad has. This is the same illness that allegedly caused so many of the behaviors that still haunt me to this day. Happy 30th Birthday, you're a monster! Let's just say that I did not weather the milestone birthday with the grace I was hoping for. 

The first thing my psychiatrist did was put me on a mood stabilizing medication. He warned me that I might be more depressed until we got the medication and dosing right, but I was not prepared for the crushing, overwhelming, suffocating, drowning experience that would follow. One of the biggest challenges with an illness like bipolar is that I've never really experienced "normal," so I have no ruler, no standard, by which to compare my moods. When I first went on the mood stabilizer I felt like I wasn't at home in my own skin... like I was consistently trying to crawl out of my skin to be free of the sensation. That subsided thankfully, but it left behind the most suffocating experience of clinical depression that I've ever experienced. If I was not as stubborn as I am, I would not have gotten out of bed as often as I did. 

It took my psychiatrist about three months to figure out that I would not call between visits. I didn't want to "bother" him and figured I could suffer through until my next visit. Once he figured this out, he moved me from coming in every four weeks to every two, and after listening to my complaints; he upped the dose of both my meds. 

Just a few days later... I stepped out of the fog that had been the last three months of my life. Scratch that… the last 30 years of my life.

It's amazing how feeling so bad can make you so appreciate feeling good. I still feel like I have an unsteady hold on my sanity at the moment. Hopefully as the days turn into a week and the weeks turn into months, I'll be able to trust this new feeling of stability.

I have an illness that will affect me for the rest of my life. I will not let this illness define me.

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Bonnie lives in Charlotte, NC with her high school sweetheart and their 3.5 year old daughter.  She is a Social Media Marketing Consultant by day and helps run Babywearing International of Charlotte, a non-profit that helps caregivers learn to "wear" their babies in slings, wraps and carriers.  Babywearing allowed her to thrive as a mother in the face of challenging circumstances, and she is passionate about helping other parents do the same.  She likes to say that she wouldn't trade the world for her husband, her daughter, her iPhone or her Boba baby carrier.


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