HOMEPAGE www.danieljvance.com



By Daniel J. Vance


  For this column I'll call him "Bill," 42, an information technology manager for a heavy industrial corporation in the Midwest. He has lived his entire adult life with bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness.

  The National Institute of Mental Health website describes bipolar disorder as "a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function." It affects perhaps two million Americans, mostly adults.

  Bill said recently over the telephone, "Most of the time growing up I would talk fast, have vivid thoughts while laying in bed at night and jump subject to subject in conversation." As an adult, he switched jobs about every two years out of frustration because he couldn't stay focused. Sometimes he felt paralyzed at work.

  Then his condition began worsening two years ago.

  "I didn't know I had bipolar disorder," he said of hitting rock bottom. "I began having radical emotional ups and downs and trying to cope with them at work and home. A doctor treating me for depression was unknowingly making my symptoms worse. It especially got bad after taking weight-loss pills. I was so depressed I'd just lie in bed and not get up to go to work."

  He developed paranoia, and for no apparent reason started angrily lashing out at co-workers, his wife of 20 years and his four children. He was experiencing dramatic and alternating episodes of hypomania and depression.

  Then he sought help. "Our company has a free counseling service. I described everything to them and the counselor unofficially said I had the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I hadn't heard of it. But after reading about bipolar disorder on the Internet, immediately I understood what I had."

  He added, "But in my mind going on to a psychiatrist for help carried a major stigma. My first visit to one made me feel very uncomfortable. Mostly, it was a feeling of shame. I identified psychiatrists with people that were schizophrenic."

  It took two months for his medication of two pills a day to begin working. Today, Bill still has emotional ups and downs, but they aren't nearly as severe. "I'm more in control of my emotions," he said. "Now I'm making new friends rather than avoiding people. And I have a better outlook on life."

  His one piece of advice: Don't hesitate to seek help from a psychiatrist.

  For more, see www.danieljvance.com and www.nimh.nih.gov