(Last updated Oct 2016)
My name is Jinnah Mohammed, and I’m fifty years old. 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 in reality I hold the post of Director, Information in our family’s business. 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 34 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 lover, 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 was a rapid cycler – which means that without medication I spent about one week mildly manic and one week depressed, with no periods of normality. Separate from the 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. Until two years ago in 2014, I’ve 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 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.
Even worse, since about 2011 the depression episodes starting lasting about 2-3 months with only about a week or so before the next depression episode started. Basically, the last 5 years have been 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.
At the moment, I just happen to be in an unexplainable window of stability that started at the beginning of August 2016 and has continued for 12 weeks. I’m just using it to restart my life and pick up some of the pieces. I’m just doing the best I can and waiting / dreading the return of the depression episodes.
At present, I’m sort of back to square one in terms of managing my moods. Except that I now have lots of experience in dealing with mood swings and the stress they cause, and lots of experience with drugs as well.
The antimanic drug Tegretol still works on my mania, and sometimes it can work on my depression if I catch the episode at just the right time. I’ve found that Ketamine, injected, will pull me out of a depression episode, and sometimes it will keep me out of the depression for a week or two. But not always.
At the moment I have no drugs to reliably deal with the depression which has become the root problem of all of my other problems. So I am not taking any medicine. I do have a support network of friends, and my job has been adjusted so that I deal with back office research work that can tolerate if I miss a week or two. I get by.
At least I don’t stress over stuff like this any more.
I’ve 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 being manic depressive and take action to counter any emerging symptoms.
I’ve accepted that even under the best case scenario, each year I will spend about three to six months in total being non-functional due to the mood swings or in catching up on tasks not done while I was depressed. It’s a lot of time to lose from my life, but I accept what I have to accept.
I’d love a magic solution that would get rid of the depression, but I’ve tried so many things that I am now extremely skeptical and cynical about any wonder claims for drugs or therapies. I’ll stick to what I know, and add in new things cautiously.
Even after all these years, my mood swings still make it difficult for me to predict what I will be doing or liking or thinking next week or next month with any certainty. I used to say that I lived only in the now, with the future in view but not really accessible.
In my late thirties and early forties that changed somewhat – I had systems that keep me on track and a list of long term goals displayed prominently near my computer. The future felt no longer completely beyond my reach. But even with all my experience, it is still difficult to plan long term, or plan a trip six months into the future, or realistically say I will attend five weeks of classes.
I must admit the last five years in my later forties, watching much of the things I’ve painstakingly built up unravel again have nearly made me give up hope. But that’s what bipolar people do – spend their entire time rebuilding and rebuilding their lives.
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 don’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. These were no less ambitious than my original ones, but they were different and it was quite a wrench to change directions.
I regret that I will not achieve some of the dreams I’ve had since my early twenties, but I’ve learned to accept that and move on. That may be a sign of learning to live with being manic depressive, or perhaps it is just what happens as you grow older.
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 has mostly recovered, though it comes and goes with depression episodes. In spite of the many setbacks I have had and will have, I refuse to lower my ambitions. My life is going to be great. My life is great.
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 in 2016, based on another relationship I had, I’ve changed my mind. I now think that our breakup was my fault and it was bipolar related. Sadly, because the breakup was depression related, I can see myself doing it again with future relationships. I’m not sure I want to inflict that on anyone – it’s not fair on them.
I live a few minutes away from my parents and my brother, and I belong to two groups – a Scrabble club and a cycle 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.
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.
The persons at work now know 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.