At 5:20 am this morning I began my morning routine. I went to the kitchen, put the kettle on to boil, put a bag of Irish Breakfast tea in a large mug, poured myself a small glass of orange juice, then dried and put away the dishes from the dish draining rack. As the tea steeped, I opened my prescription med bottles, and took my antidepressant and 1 milligram of Klonopin. Then I walked over to the living room window with the tea, opened the window, and lit up my first cigarette of the day. And I prayed. My first prayer always is the same: “Please God, let the fear and anxiety subside quickly.”
I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It has been 17 years since I first began exhibiting symptoms. In the autumn of 1993 I found myself unable to sleep because my dream life was filled with horrible imagery and narratives in which I constantly had to fight for my life. I was anxious during my work day, but hid it rather well…or so I thought. My mood was often sad, and I was prone to bursts of anger. I thought this was connected to my high-stress job as an entertainment executive and a life which had little in it besides work.
My job involved a lot of schmoozing—taking publishing executives and agents out to breakfast, lunch , cocktails in order to convince them that my clients should see the earliest draft of the next “hot” book, or a book which would be “just perfect” to adapt into a movie-of –the-week or a miniseries. I had done the same socializing since November 1990 when I worked for a producer at Warner Bros., and I was good at it. However, I then had to go home and read those manuscripts, get up early, go to the office, write up coverage (a synopsis of the book plus my opinion as to whether the book was suited for adaptation for the screen), hit the phone to see what the other members of the tribe of New York book scouts were drumming up, and try to get that next manuscript.
In October 1993 I began drinking by myself after work, just a few glasses of wine to help me relax and unwind. Since there is a history of alcoholism in my family, but mostly because the drinking made me feel worse, not better, I decided to see my internist Dr. C. He listened with great concern, and said I needed to calm down and get rid of the stress in my life. Dr. C wrote a prescription for Librium.
Librium (Chloridazepoxide), according to Wikipedia, was” the first benzodiazepine to be synthesized in the mid 1950's. It was discovered by accident when in 1957 tests revealed that the compound had hypnotic, anxiolytic and muscle relaxant effects. Chlordiazepoxide enabled the treatment of emotional disturbances without a loss of mental acuity or alertness. Chlordiazepoxide is indicated for the short term (2–4 weeks) treatment of anxiety which is severe and disabling or subjecting the person to unacceptable distress. It is also indicated as a treatment for the management of acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome.”
In 1979 before I took the SAT’s my trusted pediatrician Dr. Nicosia prescribed Valium so that I could relax and sleep before the big test. (I only took one pill, and didn’t like how it made me feel.) I trusted Dr. C, and knew he was prescribing Librium because that was what would help me get through this rough patch. Then the rough patch transformed into very jagged territory which I could no longer navigate. My therapist Jack was very concerned and, shortly before Christmas 1993, he asked me if he could place a call to a colleague, a psychophramacologist. “What kind of doctor is that?” I asked Jack. “He’s a psychiatrist who specializes in prescribing medications.” I wasn’t improving, and my sadness permeated my waking and sleeping life. So I made an appointment with this new type of doctor. Dr. E interviewed me, listened to my answers and diagnosed me with clinical depression. He prescribed Prozac—which was “the” antidepressant of choice in 1993—and Klonopin. Within two weeks I recovered my good spirits, and even enjoyed a ten-day vacation in Los Angeles and Las Vegas in January 1994. When I returned to Dr. E for a follow-up visit on February 14, 1994, I was eager to tell him how much better I felt. Instead he gave me and my mother the very best of Valentine’s Day presents. Dr. E told us that he had been wrong about his diagnosis. My intelligence, my success, my high functioning level, my outgoing personality and my creativity clearly pointed to the fact that I had bipolar II disorder. This, he explained, was a form of what formerly was labeled “manic-depression.” He said, “While you do not exhibit full-blown mania, which is symptom of bipolar disorder, you do, in fact, have hypomania.” Having pronounced my sentence, Dr. E took up his prescription pad and began to write the pages which determined my daily existence for the next 14 years.
Now it is 6:42 am and my heart has stopped pounding in my chest, and I don’t feel as shaky as I did an hour ago. I can go through my day with my usual cheer, good humor, energy and optimism. And hope. While I still fight battles of great proportion in my dreams, I have mastered and reclaimed the territory of my life.