Living With . . .

Despite Treatment's Rigors, A Normal Life Is Within Reach

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An occasional feature in which readers describe how they have adjusted to life with a chronic illness.

When I first was told that I might be bipolar, I didn't want to believe it. I stopped seeing the psychiatrist and chalked it up to her being a quack. But after a period of two months where I was having rapid, severe mood swings, drinking five days a week alone and cutting almost daily, I knew something was seriously off. I was prepared to face that diagnosis of bipolar again when I saw another psychiatrist. What I was not prepared for were the implications.

Being bipolar -- even bipolar type II, which is less severe -- for me meant being on medication for the rest of my life. Taking a few pills every day isn't so bad; many people take vitamins like a religion. The side effects, however, can have a significant impact on one's life.

Not only are there the standard caveats of headache, nausea, diarrhea, constipation and dizziness, but also severe fatigue, extremely low blood pressure, weight gain, hand tremors, high blood sugar and tardive dyskinesia, which means permanent facial twitches.

Another side effect was grappling with the idea that I was mentally ill. On one hand, it felt like a relief to know that, yes, something had been wrong. On the other, part of me took the news as a life sentence of craziness. Fortunately, it is very treatable, and a normal life is within the range of possibility. But it has made me think twice about using the word "crazy."

Kara Emery of Herndon

On a gorgeous summer day, I was taking a run when I stumbled and couldn't lift myself from the ground. As I limped home, I lost vision in one eye. The diagnosis was multiple sclerosis. Over the next few years, the disease was relatively mild and manageable. But I continually made decisions large and small, based on my health. This was particularly true regarding my career.

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