Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ask Me Anything (Disability Edition)

Have you had any questions you've been too uncomfortable to ask? Ask me anything disability-related and I will answer truthfully (as long as the truth is mine to give).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Bipolar Conversation

I don't talk a lot about being bipolar because it takes a lot of energy that I don't usually have or want to spare. I was misdiagnosed/dismissed as depressed/crazed/an asshole until I was 30 years old. I kept being prescribed antidepressant after antidepressant that did NOTHING. It took a spectacular psychotic break and a stint in "adult voluntary day camp" for someone to get it right. (Thank you forever, Bill, for weathering that with me. I cannot emphasize enough the patience and love a person has to have for someone else in order to do that.) Edit 6/20/17: That's not actually what was happening, but I didn't realize it for a long time. While I don't doubt there was a certain level of love, there was more selfishness and embarrassment at high enough levels that they interfered with my trying to get help from drowning in suicidal ideation. I don't blame anyone for going through these emotions at such a heightened time, but the only reason I ended up in day camp instead of being admitted to the psych ward like I actually needed is that he got extremely upset over what that would mean for him. He was more worried about money and his image. I had to both not to kill myself and triage his feelings. We left the hospital and went home because he couldn't deal.

Edit 6/22/17: I made this edit purely to correct the record.

I was diagnosed as bipolar II, which means I spend more time hypomanic or depressed than manic. No one had told me that being so irritable I lost vision at the drop of a hat was a symptom of mania. I always had to be way too busy in order to function (full-time, high pressure job, classes at three different institutions, band, bellydance, burlesque, suddenly buying a car and getting LASIK, getting married, etc. all at the same time!) I'd always suspected I was bipolar, but hey - I'm not a doctor!

Initially, I was a bit worried that medication would dampen my creativity. I was also in such dire straits that I decided I'd worry about that after I wasn't feeling so many sudden destructive urges. Happily, lithium and lamotrigine worked and continue to work for me. They help me feel like I can move through the world with full access to myself rather than scrambling behind a bunch of b.s. just to get to my actual self.

Over the summer, I borrowed "Marbles", by Ellen Forney, from a friend. (Thanks, Faith! I read it! Completely! My brain could follow her combination of text and artwork!) Forney is a local cartoonist whom I've admired pretty much since I moved to Seattle and first saw her work in The Stranger. "Marbles" is Forney's own personal account of coping as an artist who was diagnosed as bipolar right before she turned 30.  I adore her work. Go look at it.

Here's a helpful page from the book:

Don't let "mild mania" fool you. It still feels incredibly wackadoo. I do experience full-blown mania, just not very often. Mixed states and rapid cycling are also barnacles of mine. We have so much "fun" together!

My bipolar is currently pretty stable and I still have access to my artisticness. I sure do like it that way.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Applying for Disability Benefits - What's the Diagnosis?

Thanks in no small part to my dear friend, Sarah, and her wickedly organized and ambitious brain, the wheels on my disability application bus are squeaking ahead. I've been going through this process with clenched teeth, because, even though I know it is necessary and I have every right, I DO NOT WANT to have to apply for benefits. It feels like a personal failure even though it isn't. I know from watching deserving friends and loved ones go through the process that it is grueling, humiliating, seemingly endless, exhausting, and often fruitless. I'm rounding the corner on three consecutive years of unemployment due to inability to work and have to face the fact that this is my last best option.

Due to my potpourri of chronic illness, part of the initial ordeal of applying for benefits has been figuring out exactly what my official disabling diagnoses are. The formal letter I recently received from Dr. A lays out alllll the sexy.

       Primary disabling diagnosis:
       Idiopathic syncope with mild cognitive deficit, complicated by medication
       induced fatigue.

       Disability related diagnoses:
        Myasthenia Gravis
        Bipolar II Disorder
        Anxiety Disorder
        Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
        Inattentive Disorder
        Asthma (allergic-atopic and intrinsic)
        Reynaud syndrome
        Irritable Bowel Disorder
        Chronic recurrent respiratory tract infections
        Syncope of unclear origin

The letter goes on, not as a comprehensive list of my health problems, but as an inventory of the disabling with the baffling (including phrases like "pO2", "borderline adreno-cortical output", and "multiple diagnostic investigations failed to give clear etiology").

"Huh." - Captain Mal

To finally behold this information in black and white is both relieving and sobering. I will now laugh/cry as I try to pare all of this down into "57 characters maximum" for my disability application!