From the time I was 15, I have dealt with mental illness, though I didn't exactly know what it was. I had my first panic attack when I was in high school. It was terrifying and I don't recommend panic attacks to anyone. They're not enjoyable and you should go to the movies instead. I dealt with them because I didn't have a choice. I also experienced crippling episodes of depression the left me wanting to die. I didn't know how to deal with depression at that time, but I learned some techniques later in life through CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy). This helped me with both anxiety and depression.
By the time I was 18 years old, I was exhausted and made the leap to start taking psychiatric medication. The first medication I tried was Prozac. It worked for me for many years. It controlled my anxiety, panic, and depression.
Over the years, different diagnoses were thrown around but my blanket diagnosis was Major Depressive Disorder and Panic Disorder. I knew there was something more going on. When I turned 24, I had already graduated from NYU and I wanted to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. I started taking pre-med biology and it made no sense to me. No matter how much tutoring I got, it was as if the professor was speaking another language. She was speaking in my native tongue and I couldn't get any of it.
Something was wrong with me but I didn't know what it was. I found a clinic where I had a full assessment to determine if I had a learning disability. I had suspected it all along throughout school. The trouble was, if there was a subject I wasn't great at, I would avoid it. I dropped out of chemistry, physics, and failed pre-calculus. But I excelled at English and History, but even those were challenges for me because of the extensive amount of reading associated with them. A 300-page book would be assigned to me and I needed to read it in three weeks. But I mentally could not do it. I got away with skimming books in high school for relevant quotes I could use to look smart in class or parts I could put in term papers. Anything I needed to do to pretend like I read the entire book I would do. And that's the thing, I couldn't read. I was literate, but I would read the same page 10 times and not understand what was going on in the story. Something was definitely wrong, but I covered it up really well.
Fast forward to when I turn 24 and take the leap to get evaluated. The evaluation comes back and things begin to make a little more sense. I have a visual-spatial learning disability and ADHD. I asked my psychiatrist to try Adderall and it doesn't do much for me so I give up.
Over the course of my life, I've tried many medications. These include Prozac, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Lexapro, Celexa, Neurontin, Lamictal, Trintellix, Trazodone, and Ativan. I know so much about psychotropic medications that I could be a pharmacy technician. So many medications, therapy, specialists and yet I wasn't getting better and I didn't know why. I tried Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Psychoanalysis, Gestalt and Family Systems. They are helped to some degree but I still felt that something was missing.
I knew I had anxiety, panic attacks, ADHD, and depression (sometimes) but something didn't quite make sense.
In March 2017, I was taking Lexapro. Things were going extremely well for me. I was doing a reading of my book (The Stigma Fighters Anthology) at NYU along with the other mental health advocates featured in the book. I had a hashtag go viral #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike and I was featured in The New York Times. Needless to say, my life was pretty awesome. I was also feeling a mixture of other emotions because there were personal and family issues I was dealing with. I was both ecstatic and sad underneath this. I repressed the sadness and continued to act like I was on top of the world...until my world started to crumble. The extremely pronounced happiness didn't feel right. I started to feel anxious to the point where I was shaking on my bed.
I called my psychiatrist and said "I think something's wrong with me. Could this be mania? Am I bipolar?" He said it could be, but I would have to come in for him to tell. I sat in his office feeling sad, scared and extremely anxious. I was talking really fast because I have ADHD and interrupting him to try to get my questions answered. He looked at me and said:
"This is mania."
I didn't want to believe it, but he was my doctor so I did. He put me on Lamictal and Seroquel. At first, I started doing well on Lamictal. My depression lifted and I was sleeping better. Then I started feeling anxiety again. I was floating over my body. I asked him for something to help my anxiety. He prescribed me Ativan, which I was hesitant to take because it's extremely addictive. But I was so miserable that I wanted something to help me. Ativan was helpful. It brought my anxiety down and helped me function a little better. Here's an interesting thing, my doctor never asked me how much I was sleeping. The truth is: I was sleeping seven hours a night. So it couldn't have been mania. But again, I trusted his judgment. I told my friends and family I was bipolar. It was hard to accept but I accepted it.
Until my medications stopped working. I was preparing to move from New York to Portland and I couldn't function. I couldn't shower and the Seroquel was so sedating that I didn't dream. I was miserable and I didn't know how to fix it. I thought, oh well, I guess this is my life now. I have to accept these medications.
I moved to Portland still feeling awful. Every time I would contact my doctor about my anxiety worsening he would just up my dose of Seroquel. I was sedated more and more and it didn't really help me much at all.
Finally, I had enough. I found a therapist and we began talk therapy. I described what I was experiencing. I told her about everything that happened over the spring. She looked at me and said, "you don't sound like you're bipolar to me." I told her some of my symptoms and she said: "has anyone ever told you that you might have OCD?" I thought about that but nobody ever had. She referred me to a psychiatric nurse practitioner. She was very professional and suggesting adding an antidepressant called Trintellix to my medication regime. I gave it a shot, but the next day it gave me so much anxiety that I was literally shaking. The only thing that helped me was taking 1 mg of Ativan.
I stayed in touch with her about my side effects and then something devastating happened. She sent me an email after I had contacted her several times via email about my symptoms worsening. She dumped me. That's the easiest way to put it. She said that she didn't have the time to develop an anxiety management plan for me. To be fair I emailed her six times in two days. But, isn't that her job?
To her credit, she referred me to a top-notch hospital and I was evaluated by a psychiatric nurse there in the adult psychiatry unit. She was extremely kind, patient and warm. She answered all of my questions and most importantly, she took me seriously. She BELIEVED me when my doctor didn't. She determined that I was not bipolar. She asked me several questions about my symptoms. She gave me a genetic test to see what medications would work best for me. After a thorough analysis, she finally figured it out. I have OCD, ADHD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I can't explain why I was misdiagnosed with bipolar. I have theories about it. Maybe my ADHD looked like mania or hypomania. I'm not entirely sure. But I knew I was sleeping so it wasn't psychosis. Being misdiagnosed was a difficult experience, traumatic even. But now that I know what I have I can get better. I am on the right medications for my diagnoses now and I feel like "me" again. It's good to be back!
If you're doubtful about your diagnosis, your medications don't seem to be making you better, and you want to get well, advocate for yourself. You don't have to suffer in silence.