Case Study: EH’s bipolar development
Please check out the last post for how bipolar disorder may develop. In EH’s own words, “The earliest symptoms I think are less symptoms and more a personality type since as far as I can remember (7yo)— whimsical, permanently happy and carefree, occasionally very existentialist like I understand the whole universe. Disease onset was junior year of college. During the summer before junior year, I had the best summer of my life: doing research at [a hospital], sleeping maybe 4 hours some nights and going back to work on the weekend, when usually I am a very heavy and regular sleeper. I had all the energy in the world to walk 2 miles to the market and carry all my groceries home, then spend all day by the river at a festival, and every aspect of my day was the most fun exciting thing ever. This was extended hypomania which I hadn’t experienced in this prolonged intensity. In the fall I had my first [significant other], who fell into the ‘totally uninteresting category’ until I became totally obsessed to the point that I was skipping school and even failing the majority of my classes half way through the semester. What made this notable for me in retrospect is the fact that I had never behaved this way and it was very unusual for me to obsess like that. My therapist and I now identify it as ‘catatonic thinking,’ or raging thoughts.
“My first clinical depression came in spring my junior year. I cried for basically no reason 6-7 times per day plus I couldn’t sleep, and would skip class to nap or cry for 1.5 weeks. I am close with my mother, so she came down to visit out of concern. After two days trying everything she could to cheer me up, she had to leave because she was so sleep deprived and distressed at my relentless despair that she developed hives. Shortly after this episode, I binged and threw up, both to relieve anxiety, which, in retrospect, was my second clinical symptom. This lasted off and on until I started taking lithium (very weirdly THE DAY I started taking lithium thank goodness!). The final and clinching diagnosable episode was the week I was manic, skipped work for a week, bought a car I couldn’t afford, slept approximately 5 hours each night with lots of energy to bake or go for a run (which is dangerous in my part of the city) in the wee hours.
“None of these things that I have said meant anything to me before my friend from lindy hop dancing lessons convinced me to see a doctor. He was diagnosed that summer with a sudden progression of his symptoms due to a concussion from a car crash the previous spring. The two of us had joked with the same sense of humor, we shared the same intensity regarding dancing, and had similar relationship patterns in our lives. I am lucky that he noticed the same traits in me which turned out to be symptoms because it is not often that bipolar is caught at the early stages that mine was. Many of the terrible things that you hear are from people in their thirties- it’s rare that someone at my age, 26, actually has full blown destructive bipolar. Mine barely stepped over the line into clinical bipolar before it was identified.”