There's an implied danger that goes with being greeted by a metal detector the instant you enter a door. After all, why would it be there if someone didn't want to prevent a deranged lunatic from attempting to sneak a weapon into a school or an airport? Or a behavioral health facility.
That's where I found myself -- a behavioral health facility assuring a hulking, six-foot-five guard that I had left my cell phone in the car as the sign in the parking lot instructed. The guard politely pointed me towards the door on the right of the nurse's station as opposed to the thick metal one on the left, which I noticed had a lock requiring the nurse to buzz someone in or out.
Peering through the small glass portal I could see a sterile hall lined with closed rooms. For a moment the option between doors made me feel like Neo choosing between the red pill or the blue pill, and I wondered which would take me down the rabbit hole.
Did the people behind the locked door have a choice?
Beyond the door to the right sat a cheery receptionist who handed me a stack of forms. She apologized for running out of clipboards, which meant I would have to use a magazine in the empty waiting room as an impromptu writing surface. The forms are the standard fare -- insurance info, patient privacy statement, and medical history.
A long period of feeling empty?
Loss of interest in enjoyable activities?
Feeling overwhelmingly tired or slow?
Thoughts of or attempts at suicide?
I've always lied on this question in the past. Admitting to something so drastic, even to one's self, feels overly dramatic. And yet I can still envision the EMTs grinning slightly over my "Life is Good" baseball cap as they load me, restraints and all, into the ambulance. Because, yeah, I'm ironic that way.
Thirty minutes later I'm waiting for the psychiatrist and reading an expose on Ryan Reynolds. I like Ryan Reynolds. I want his abs and quick wit. As I reach the last sentence I hear my name called, and I look over to see a man in a blue poplin shirt and off-the-rack khakis. He looks young, younger than me and the neatly trimmed stubble on his chin does little to change that.
Ushering me to his office he apologizes for having to sit behind his desk during our session.
"I have to enter everything into the computer," he explains.
This makes me think there's an automated form with an algorithm that will generate a diagnosis and recommend a possible cure like some space space-age technology from the Jetsons. I am equal parts hopeful and annoyed over the thought of this. If it can help me out, great, but it also makes me feel less human at the same time.
If I was only slightly annoyed before, I am full-on perturbed once the questioning begins. At first I'm just supplying the highlights -- I'm depressed and have been for a while, I can't function, I'm withdrawn, my meds don't work. And this is when he starts grilling me like I'm being cross-examined by a defense attorney trying to dismantle the credibility of my story.
"You say you have trouble sleeping but then you say you can't get out of bed? Who told you that's what meds you should be taking? At one point you say you had a lot of energy, but now that's not the case?"
In court this might be considered badgering the witness. Some of the questions I have no clue how to answer because they have to deal with things that happened over 10 years ago. All I can recall are vague impressions of how I felt that far back. This goes on for over an hour and his doubtful expression pricks at my suppressed agitation.
The questions stop and the psychiatrist stares at his computer monitor for a long second.
"I don't think you have ADD," he finally says, turning to me.
I'm ready to leave, but I stay to hear him out.
"What you're describing sounds more like a Bipolar II disorder."
This is not entirely surprising. I have been taking a mood stabilizing drug to help with reoccurring bouts of depression. Now however, the diagnosis sounds more official and definite.
The psychiatrist continues with his reasoning, and it sounds logical -- a hypo-manic (as opposed to full on manic) period followed by prolonged, deep depressive states that feel impossible to escape. Bipolar II is cagey and hard to pin down. It's often confused for ADD or acute depression, the treatment of which can often make matters worse.
The only thing I want to know now is what the fix is. I am desperate. I want to be productive again. I want to be involved in my kids' world. I want my wife to not walk on eggshells around me. I want my life back.
The psychiatrist tells me of a new drug, Zyprexa, adding that it's been FDA-approved. The way he throws in the disclaimer gives me the impression there's an element of controversy surrounding it.
"How many people have you given this to?" I ask.
He stops writing on his prescription pad and glances at me. "Well, I've only ever taken someone off of it." Then he pulls out his iPhone. "It's not in my computer program so I have to look up the correct dosage on my phone."
Seriously? There's an app for that?
We discuss the side effects. All I hear is that the medication can make me fat, which is depressing enough by itself. After setting a follow-up appointment I go home to research. What I find isn't exactly encouraging -- meds don't always work, few studies have been done to determine a cause, and it's hereditary, meaning there's a good chance any one of my sons will have to deal with this later in their own lives.
I find article written by others suffering from Bipolar II. They're anything but rosy too -- alienation from friends and family, job losses, hospitalizations, and worse.
"Is this my future?" I wonder, sinking into my chair.
One optimistic post, however, lists the advantages of being Bipolar II, among which is explosive creativity during hypo-manic stretches, a trait shared by Ernest Hemingway, Kirk Cobain, and Sylvia Plath. The author ignores the fact that these people all killed themselves, but never mind that. She gets shredded in the comments for this and other misguided thinking.
I consider the post dumb too, but I can't blame her for trying to find hope in what can be a hopeless state of mind. It's what we all want in living the life of Bi.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
For more on mental health, click here.
For more by Ron Mattocks, click here.