(Last updated Jan 2018)
Name is Jinnah Mohammed. I live in Trinidad and Tobago, which is pretty much an island paradise in the Caribbean. I would like to say that I live in idle luxury sipping tea and watching hummingbirds and butterflies and iguanas from a porch in a forest house, but — wait, I do. I used to hold the post of Director, Information in our family’s business but I left at the end of 2017.
I have a Master’s degree in City Planning, but I haven’t used it since 1997 when I had a major depression episode (or nervous breakdown, or meltdown – same thing).
As far as I can tell, I’ve been manic depressive (bipolar) for about 36 years. The onset of my manic depressive mood swings started in about 1982 when I was 16, but I was not diagnosed until fifteen years later in 1997 at age 31. Between 1982 and 1997 the mood swings had interfered substantially with my life, but somehow I survived those fifteen years in a manner that did not arouse major concern from friends or family. Even I never considered the problem substantial because it always went away (though it always came back). And during that time the idea that perhaps I was depressed or having mood swings never really crossed my mind. I was just being me.
However, over those years the mood swings associated with being bipolar became worse and worse until finally in a series of domino like effects from 1996 onwards I lost my partner, then my self control, then my job, and almost my friends. And I tried to commit suicide.
I started going to therapy in 1997. It worked well, but not well enough on its own, and I started taking medication in 1998. The drugs I tried didn’t work very well or produced unexpected and annoying side effects.
For quite a while (measured in years), stopping old drugs, starting new ones, and trying to deal with the ever present mood swings inflicted its own brand of madness upon me. It wasn’t until January 2003 that I finally found a drug (Wellbutrin / Zyban) that worked fairly well in alleviating the depression and the mania.
From about 2003 to 2005, Wellbutrin worked and life was pretty reasonable. It wasn’t normal by any standard; I still had my periods of depression and mania and my days when I could barely get anything done. But it was a lot better than it used to be.
I am a rapid cycler – which means that without medication I spend about one week mildly manic and one week depressed, with no periods of normality. Separate from being either manic or depressed, living on a two week cycle where I was alternately efficient or incapable was quite enough to drive me crazy. Though I learned to live with it (the two week cycle that is, not the being crazy part).
My mania tends to be mild, probably more accurately classified as hypomania. I’ve gotten very sensitive to the onset and symptoms of mania and I can pretty much control it without resorting to drugs. I do use the antimanic Tegretol (carbamazepine) to calm me down if the mania begins to exceed my level of control, though that’s fairly rare.
My depression cycles are another matter. Before 2017, I’d never found anything that could pull me out of a depression episode – none of the antidepressants work. But because my depression cycles were short, I would usually live with them, miss 1-3 days work during the worst part of the cycle, and come out of it a few days later.
That’s not exactly great, but it’s acceptable. You can still pass as pretty much normal to the rest of the world if they can’t contact you for three days every two weeks, and you can catch up on most of the stuff you missed out on. And compared to the early days after my meltdown and diagnosis, when it would take months for me to get back to “normal” after a bout of depression, missing a few days sounded pretty good.
Things changed though. Somewhere in late 2005 and early 2006, the patterns of my mood cycles changed. The depression episodes started to get milder, but they lasted longer – sometimes measured in weeks or occasionally months instead of days. And unfortunately the change interfered with the efficacy of the Wellbutrin and it stopped working well.
Since I had gotten complacent about controlling my mood swings, and because the depression made it difficult for me to rationally look at what was happening, it took me nearly a year to figure out that something was radically wrong, and another year to realise that my old, tried methods of coping weren’t effective.
My experiences in 2008 with two new drugs, Lamictal and Seroquel, were both hilarious failures because of my hypersensitivity to drugs.
As the depression part of the cycle started extending towards 10-14 days or longer, I started missing up to 5-8 days of work. You can’t catch up on so many lost days. And even casual acquaintances notice something is wrong. The years 2006 to 2009 were actually less good than the period 2003 to 2006.
Then, from about 2011 the depression episodes starting lasting about 2-3 months with only about a week or so before the next depression episode started. From 2011 to 2017 things were pretty awful – every part of my life that I managed to put back together since 1997 slowly and completely unraveled in a sort of ongoing horror story that I just couldn’t stop or change.
I suspect that this change in the pattern of depression cycles is a thing that happens during someone’s forties – you know – eyesight gets worse, depression episodes get worse, that kind of thing.
In my mid forties, I hired a personal assistant (expensive) just to get me through the day. I think this worked to delay the worsening of my depression episodes – or rather to delay the unraveling of my life as my depression episodes got worse. Even so, I still couldn’t keep up. In 2015, I handed over a substantial part of my portfolio at work to my brother, just so the work would get done.
By the end of my forties, I was truly desperate. I tried Ketamine, injected, for myself, since none of the psychiatrists in my country would supervise me taking it. This worked to keep me out of depression for quite a few months, but eventually I got the same resistance to it as I usually get for most antidepressants. And I tried MDMA after that – which also works to alleviate depression, but had that little problem attached to it. And finally I stopped taking any drugs at all. I didn’t quite give up, but I was pretty close.
The worse part is that having mood swings doesn’t take away your intelligence – so I knew, knew, exactly how bad things were getting and where this path was trending to.
And then I got lucky. Really lucky – the kind of luck that goes against all logic or hope and which I would never believe if it hadn’t happened to me.
One day in March 2017, I took quite a bit of Tegretol (spread over time, I take drugs safely) to relieve a very very nasty tension headache. And woke up the following morning without depression. Yeah, I have no idea how or why this works, but for me the antimanic Tegretol at a 700-800 mg per day dose stops depression.
I spent most of 2017 testing and checking to make sure the Tegretol works reliably, and it does. So these days I’m stable, with only minor depression, and possibly even mostly normal. I can even do things mostly reliably now.
I’m thrilled with mostly not having depression any more. I’m not so thrilled that my life is still mostly in shambles and I have to rebuild it again. But hey, that’s what bipolar people do – rebuild and rebuild and rebuild our lives. If nothing else, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
At least I don’t stress over stuff like this any more. It’s just comes with the territory.
A year or two after being diagnosed, I had to come to the very difficult realisation that perhaps the goals and dreams I had in my teens and twenties might not be realistic any more. I have gone through the traumatic experience of evaluating each of my goals, determining which ones I probably won’t attain, and discarding them. It wasn’t easy – one of the goals I had to discard was opening my own office as an Urban Planning consultant – but I didn’t have what it takes to be that reliable.
Back in 1997 / 1998 I thought it would be hopeless to try to plan a career, or organise my life. Thankfully, that turned out not to be true and I was able to set new goals for myself. Those weren’t any less ambitious than my original ones, but they were different and it was quite a wrench to change directions.
In my late thirties and early forties that changed somewhat – I had systems and meds and people that kept me on track and a list of long term goals displayed prominently near my computer. The future then no longer felt completely beyond my reach. But because of the depression, even with all my experience, it was still difficult to plan long term, or plan a trip six months into the future, or realistically say I would attend five weeks of classes.
Now that I seem to be able to keep the depression at bay, and now I’m retired, I have to make new goals for myself. Another change of direction – but this time I’m quite looking forward to it. And I’m hoping that I can even make plans that require me to be stable for many weeks – I want to learn Spanish!
Over the years, I’ve made peace with myself and I am no longer consumed with guilt over my failures. I still get anxious about many things, but the anxiety is down from an intolerable level to a manageable level. I’ve developed an easygoing attitude to life and I am happy with myself most of the time. My self confidence, which took quite a beating during my forties, is slowly recovering. In spite of the many setbacks I’ve had and will have, I refuse to lower my ambitions. My life has been pretty darned good. The rest of my life is going to be great.
Meanwhile, I’ve long gotten used to the fact that I will always be manic depressive – and it’s something I’ll have for life. The mood swings are always just there under the surface and if I relax, they come right back. I can appear mostly normal because I constantly monitor for signs of mania and depression and take action to counter any emerging symptoms.
I’m very open about being manic depressive. All my friends and family know I’m manic depressive so they aren’t surprised by my behaviour any more. My mood swings are just one of those things they know about me, just as they know that I am a pretty good cyclist. To them, my being bipolar is nothing special.
I had a partner, but after ten years together, C. and I parted company in 2008. I used to say that it was for reasons mostly unrelated to my being bipolar, but I’ve since changed my mind. I now think that our breakup was my fault and it was bipolar related.
I live a few minutes away from my parents and my brother, and I belong to a Scrabble club. Taken together, they provide me with a network of family and friends that I can call on for support without burdening any single person.
The persons at work knew that I have mood swings, but it took me a long time to tell them the whole picture. I only did it in the latter part of 2008 because I needed others to continue projects when I wasn’t around. But I’m lucky to be in a family business – I don’t get into trouble for missing days frequently – and my boss is my brother.
This website started as an outreach program. After I was diagnosed, I didn’t know any bipolar persons living close by to talk with. The people who e-mailed me prevented me from feeling lonely, helped me out, and kept me sane (well, as sane as I get). The site has since taken on a momentum of its own and I keep it going because there are people who were once in my position. It’s my turn now to provide support.
One last note. I’m a guy – my name confuses many people.
So, there you are.