by request: final girl (tyler shields, 2015)
the handmaiden (chan-wook park, 2016)

bipolar disorder

The Kaiser website for patients offers an incredible amount of information, and makes it easy to get appointments, order prescription refills, email doctors, and the like. It's not very well designed, in my opinion, but if you wander around enough you'll usually find what you are looking for.

One page lists "Ongoing health conditions". Mine has nine items, which sounds worse than it is, since a few of them are related enough that I consider them one condition, not several. There aren't any real surprises on the page. I have high blood pressure, which has been true for decades, although it's under control. I've had asthma since I was a kid, although it's not a very serious case. There's the rather innocuously named "Allergic Rhinitis (Nose Congestion)", which on a daily basis is probably my #1 condition. I had headaches for as long as I could remember, until once an emergency room doctor looked up my nose and prescribed steroid nose spray. I've been taking that spray for almost 20 years now, and I haven't had a single headache. This is miraculous. (I am not symptom free, but when the occasional pain arrives, it's clearly sinus related, and the additional drug of choice becomes a decongestant. Which is thankfully simple, considering the various treatments I had tried over the years for my headaches: migraine medicine with ergotamine, acupuncture, having four wisdom teeth pulled, becoming addicted to caffeine for years on end.)

I have a history of "Renal Calculus", which sounds bizarre but which is just kidney stones. Perhaps the thing I have that frightens most people is a history of methicillin resistant staph aureus, better known as MRSA. It is kinda spooky if I think about it ... I've had two breakouts I can remember, one of which put me in the hospital for almost a week. I feel like a walking infection, and am always "under the weather", which I imagine is related to this somehow.

But none of these are the reasons for this blog post. What got me thinking was when I discovered that one of my listed ongoing health conditions is "Bipolar Disorder".

There it is, right on the page, spelled out and everything.

It was 2005 when I finally broke down and went to the doctor about my mental state. Kaiser has (had?) a system where you saw a psychologist if you wanted therapy, and a psychiatrist if you wanted meds. I wanted meds. I got some, and I got lucky ... the initial choice (Wellbutrin and Depakene) worked from the start (or it had a tremendous placebo effect). I've been taking those meds for a dozen years now ... I remember the doctor at the time telling me that it was possible I'd take them the rest of my life, and I should consider that before I decided to go in that direction.

That first meeting didn't take very long, and I only saw that doctor one more time. She moved to Spain, and I saw a second doctor a couple of times, but I haven't seen him for a few years now. The meds are just part of my pharmacy collection. When we met the first time, the doctor listened to me describe what made me feel bad, and then told me that there wasn't anything particularly special about my case. (It's funny, I somehow want to be special at a time like this, like I'm the only person who has my problems.) She then told me she wasn't much for labels, didn't like to use them, but everything I described fit into the general category of Bipolar II. (For a rather scary definition of Bipolar II, check out the Wikipedia page on the topic.)

I have tried to be honest about this over the years. There should be no shame attached to the disorder. About the only thing I hesitated to do was label myself ... it was as if being Bipolar was just a newly-fashionable disease, and I didn't want to seem like a bandwagon jumper. But eventually I realized it was just another thing, like having a history of MRSA.

And yet, when I saw it listed on my Kaiser page ... well, I was startled. I can remember a time when my pharmacy doctor told me the medical folks didn't have access to my psychiatry files. It was a privacy issue or something. I told her this seemed silly, since she knew every prescription I had (that's why I have a personal pharmacist), and she knew what they were for, so she didn't need access to files to know I took Wellbutrin and Depakene. Now, it's just listed as one of my "conditions".

That is probably appropriate. I guess after all these years, I can officially claim to be Bipolar ... II, that is. It's not a romantic thing, I assure you. Most of the time, it's not even worth bringing up. But that Kaiser page got me thinking.




I'm glad life's better with the meds and I appreciate your honest writing, as always.

Steven Rubio

Thanks. One thing I try very hard to avoid is proselytizing about meds. Worked for me, but everyone is different. I will say that it was pretty stupid that I waited until I was in my 50s, though. It's a legend, probably not apocryphal, that when I was a kid, I was prescribed some kind of "nerve medicine" ... can only imagine what I must have been like to deserve that, although that stuff was more common back then.

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