A Long Journey Through Our Mental Health System

February 22, 2023 – An Update

As I was going through some of my previous posts, I realized that I never updated this one. And it is too important not to update it. When I wrote this initial post in 2019, I had just been through one of the most horrible crises of my life. In a desperate attempt to seek help, I went to see my family doctor who sent me to a psychiatrist.

Initially, I had been diagnosed with bipolar. However, through a number of medicine changes, therapy and tests done by multiple doctors, I was reassessed and discovered that what I had been experiencing was not bipolar, but was, in fact, a combination of the effects of PTSD, anxiety and a really terrible reaction to the Zoloft I had been prescribed by a previous doctor. She had prescribed it with no follow up, and when I had complained about the symptoms I was experiencing, simply increased my dose. It wasn’t until I changed doctors that I was taken seriously.

So I tell you this update for a couple of reasons. First, without that initial diagnosis of bipolar, I would have continued to take the wrong medication. I would have simply thought I was crazy and there was nothing I could do. It takes courage to go see a medical specialist whenever you are feeling not like yourself.

Trust your intuition.

Second, it is good to ask questions. Find out what is really happening. Get the help you need.

Today, I am no longer on any medications. The treatment for my anxiety and for the effects of PTSD was to talk with a therapist, to learn coping skills and to really get to know myself. I am not suggesting this is for everyone. For many, medications save lives and allow people to access those other tools they need to thrive.

As you read the account from the day I originally wrote this piece, I hope you will keep in mind that telling the truth about who we are, about our struggles and the broken parts of ourselves can only bring healing – for us and for others.

I have a truth to tell. It isn’t that I have lied to you or that I have hidden something from you. It isn’t that I have completely misrepresented myself to you. But as I look back, I see I have mentioned on more than one occasion that I have a story to share. My truth.

I debated sharing this with you. I grew up believing that you don’t share your personal business with others. But after talking with my mom, and hearing her encourage me to share this, to break silence, to begin to shatter stigma, I decided I want you to know this important part of who I am.

I recently learned that I have bipolar disorder.

I have been struggling for the past couple of years. Truthfully, I have probably been struggling my whole life but At a very early age I learned how to push through, get things done, appear to have it all together, be successful. But my struggle forced me to break down some of those walls when my wife got sick a couple years ago. She nearly died and I nearly fell apart. At a time when I just wanted to be strong for her and for our kids, I just couldn’t shoulder it.

My doctor at the time had diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder and prescribed me Zoloft. It never really worked but she continued to increase the dose. I never questioned it because I trusted her.

Unfortunately my anxiety (or what I thought was anxiety) got worse. It got so bad that at one point I considered death to be preferable to living like that. I looked for help and was not taken seriously.

My current doctor and I, and my therapist have been working with a psychiatrist to figure out what has actually been going on. Since I have been off the Zoloft for a few weeks it is a lot easier to assess. I came off it because it interferes with pain medication and my tumour, Tina, was causing me tremendous pain.

The doctor explained to me that what I thought was weird displays of anxiety was actually manic episodes, possibly triggered by the Zoloft but definitely made worse by it. In fact, Zoloft is one drug specifically stated NOT to use for people who have bipolar disorder because it triggers manic episodes.

So, to get to the point…

I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The doctor believes that there may be a genetic link, based on some things I shared, and there is a genetic component. But, I am getting treatment and it can be managed. Now that I am on a more appropriate medication, I am much more stable and feel way more in control.

One thing I can do to empower myself is to share my diagnosis. To tell the truth. Bipolar is a scary word. But it is just an obstacle. I am a successful professional who has overcome two years of the wrong treatment (one that could have killed me) but who is still a successful professional with bipolar.

I am a loving parent, a devoted partner, a dedicated friend, a caring daughter. I am the kind of Principal who seeks first to understand, to help when I can, and to discipline when needed. I was all these things before my diagnosis. I am all these things still.

I feared telling the truth because of stigma. I feared telling the truth because I had been taught to keep our problems to ourselves. I feared telling the truth because I don’t ever want anyone to believe I can’t lovingly parent my children or competently do my job.

But the truth is, the only way stigma is erased, and the only way to help others understand is to tell the truth. The only way to shine a light on the fear people feel about getting help is to shine a light on what getting help looks like.

There are many out there who live with bipolar, who are enduring the agony of mania and the devastating drain of depression who never seek help because of stigma and shame. I am not ashamed. I am strong. I am brave. I am Christine and I am going to overcome this challenge.

To my amazing family and friends and caring colleagues, thank you. Thank you for patiently walking with me through this long and often dark journey. Your love and support mean all the world to me. Because of you, I am here and I will use my truth to help others who are afraid to tell theirs.


One thought on “A Long Journey Through Our Mental Health System

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  1. Christine thank you for sharing. Strangely enough, this is pretty much how I was diagnosed back in 2002. 18 years ago I was on Zoloft to quit smoking, I became a crazy Energizer bunny! Go go go! When I came off of it, I crashed hard. Heavy depression, suicidal thoughts. I gained alot of weight when I quit smoking, and with the depression, went to my doctor and we discussed these things and I went on a medication for weight loss (which is no longer on the market due to side effects). I once again went higher than a kite! Both the zoloft and this weight loss med are anti depressants, I went completely manic on both. When I crashed coming off the weight loss med, I was severely depressed. I was admitted to the psych floor where with the history of the last 5 months, plus my family history of grandfather and brother both having bipolar, there, I was diagnosed. Once mood stabilizers were introduced and 4 weeks in the hospital, I was finally starting to feel better.
    So, I understand your ride! Take care of you Chris!!


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