Q & A: Is there a known disorder that evolves from manic depression to loss of cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and speech?

That’s an interesting question! Please understand, I’m not a medical professional. Anything I say is strictly from my own personal experience.

That being said…

Anon, please forgive the assumption (and feel free to correct me!) I’m going to guess you’re female. You note that your blood tests are normal, but not what they tested you for. So I’ll give you my best general guesses.

I don’t know if there’s a disorder that evolves from bipolar, but I can describe a condition that makes it much worse. Very generally speaking, manic / depression (aka Bipolar) goes on around a 2 year cycle. Six months manic, six months leveling off, six months depressed, six moths leveling up, repeat. Your mileage may certainly vary – the point is that it’s a long cycle.

My own memory loss was triggered by a significant hormone imbalance which was never caught in a blood test. It tended to mimic Alzheimer’s, coming and going throughout the month. Initially my doctor described my diagnosis as “rapid cycle bipolar” (which is babbling nonsense – there’s no such thing) before I spoke to a female OBGYN, who suggested I had Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD does what bipolar does, more or less. Only it does it in a month instead of 2 years. One week manic, one week level off, one week depression, one week level up, repeat. The intense mood swings aside, the rapid flux of hormones caused at least 4 migraines per month (4 days each) and left me with “hole head”. I could sometimes retrieve memories, but usually if they fell in a hole they were gone forever. It was almost as though I could watch them evaporate. Depending on the time of month even my speech slurred. If you happen to suffer from migraines you may want to look into the effect they have on the brain – in some cases they can actually cause damage and trigger memory loss in the same way a mini-stroke might.

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I started taking .035 mg of progesterone daily to level out the mood swings, but it didn’t do much to improve my memory. My psychiatrist recommended fish oil to combat the worst of the symptoms. He said it was so beneficial he took it himself. It made for the healthiest brain possible with the fewest side effects. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

What made me think of this was your comment that your mother is getting worse. When I started going through menopause, it was the worst period of my life. Every symptom I had suddenly pegged at 10 and stayed there. I thought I was literally losing my mind – I could barely finish a sentence! I feel like I was repeatedly walking into a wall for about 5 years.

The only relief I found was on the other side of menopause. I’ve been post-menopausal for about a year and the difference is amazing. I’m much calmer than I’ve been in ages, the migraines backed off and best of all I’m starting to regain my ability to think clearly. I still occasionally slur my speech but I’m hopeful that may retreat in time.

If your progressing condition is in any way connected to hormonal swings, you might want to have a talk with your OBGYN in addition to your psychiatrist. In the end, she was the one who figured out the most helpful plan of attack. To this day my psychiatrist doesn’t even believe PMDD exists. <smh>

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Today is my Birthday

A few years ago we were encouraged to keep a journal, under the assumption that 12 months later so many unexpected things would happen that the journal would offer powerful insight. 12 months after that challenge was issued, they were right. I was startled by the unexpected results, in that hardly anything happened that year of note. Of course… that was the last year I can say that about, but I digress.

At the moment I feel something similar. One of my primary and least likely goals was to survive 10 years after my diagnosis. Today is the anniversary of that 10th year. During the last decade I tried to imagine this day and always came up short. In many of my therapy sessions they’d ask “where do you see yourself in a week? A month? A year? 10 years?” I could never answer.

So here I sit, trying to somehow take an assessment of the last 10 years and what it all means. And I find that instead of a raucous celebration, I feel an odd sort of numbness. A bewildered sense of “now what”? I have climbed the mountain. What do I do next?

I suppose I should start with the obvious. My diagnosis is, specifically:

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) AKA “rapid cycle bipolar” (ok, I admit it. This is in ADDITION to the Bipolar I diagnosis, not instead of)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Prosopagnosia (face blind)
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Degenerative Disc Disease in 5 disks
  • Possible stroke (undiagnosed)

Looking over this list, my knee-jerk reaction is to strongly advise anyone who enjoys good health to thank God every single day, and never take a moment of it for granted.

But what else?

I’m typing in the dark. The sun is setting but I haven’t opened the windows yet. Everything in this house is designed to combat heat and the Great Oppressor who delights in cooking us daily. Because of this, the only light source currently is the monitor. Looking down, I can see the scars that cover my arms in stark 3-D. The left arm is Much worse than the right, because I’m right handed. There’s a large round scar on the back of my left hand, and criss cross lines moving from wrists to elbow. The darkness does not reveal similar scars covering both legs, from knee to ankle. Most of these were inflicted in the first two years after the diagnosis, which means the freshest is 8 years old. Even still, they’re dramatic. Especially in this light.

Why the hell would anyone do that to themselves?

A mental illness acts on its own accord. Just as a tumor grows and gets larger without asking permission of the body it inhabits, so does a mental illness act without asking permission of the host. The best way to describe it is a parasite that occasionally takes control.

The Beast within makes a person numb, controls the exterior, including speech and motion. One way to bring myself, my lucid self, back to the forefront was by pain. If I could just FEEL something, my true self would react.

In this way, I fought for my life. I brought myself back. And then retreated. And brought myself back again. And on and on. It’s not the story of my life. It’s actually the story of my death. Whatever had been me died ten years ago today. The scars are her epitaph.

What came after? For a time there was the crucible of simple, pure madness. One that proves Nietzsche was right. After that was silence. A stillness of mind and body that, in retrospect, has more in common with death than life. Gestation, perhaps.

What do you think an infant experiences as it’s born? Discomfort certainly. The area is too small, and it can’t breathe. The lights are too bright, and it’s cold. There’s pain, and noise, and a desperate unhappiness that an uncongealed brain simply can’t take in. And so it wails, a piercing sound of confused betrayal.

That’s what happened when I woke up. It was sudden. It came with a question. “Wait, how can that be right? This doesn’t make sense, because …” This phrase ushered in everything I am now. It took maybe six years, and some part of me wonders if I shouldn’t be starting the first grade this September. In a certain way it would make sense.

Ten years. I have survived, and to what end? I used to think that Earth defined the pointless. That humans only existed to breed. A life, a death, the species propagates, and who cares? But now one thing I’ve come to understand is the journey. The part of this which can not be seen, unless gifted with a very special vision.

And that, at last, is the point. The answer to life, the universe and everything. The understanding of the journey, the paths that have been travelled, the promise of the destination, the lessons learned along the way.

Unless I had died, I would have no chance to live. August 17, 2001, was the best day of both my old and new life. It took ten years to understand that. But what is ten years, when on the path?