I Go To Extremes

Originally posted on my personal blog on September 14, 2009, a month after I was diagnosed. Lyrics quoted are from Billy Joel’s “I Go To Extremes.”

“‘Darling, I don’t know why I go to extremes. Too high or too low there ain’t no in-betweens,'” I belted as we sailed across Wyoming. I suddenly stopped singing and giggled, glancing over to the Mister. “This song’s like my theme song.”

But the fact is I do know why I go to extremes. For a long time I thought it was my imagination. Or I was simply being dramatic. Or it was the hormones in my birth control. In reality, my extremes have a very solid cause. I have bipolar disorder.

‘Call me a joker, call me a fool

Right at this moment I’m totally cool

Clear as a crystal, sharp as a knife

I feel like I’m in the prime of my life

Sometimes it feels like I’m going too fast

I don’t know how long this feeling will last

Maybe it’s only tonight’

Looking back over the years, I was hypomanic my freshman year of college. I got entirely too little sleep, spent way too much money, and ate a ridiculous amount of food. I hung out with my friends constantly, thinking I was charming, witty and funny, when in reality I was probably more along the lines of loud and obnoxious. I took a wide variety of classes, from ballet to mass communications, public speaking to American Sign Language, chasing after various grand ideas. The year seemed to a great one but when it was done I was left with debt, horrible grades, and 20 pounds more on my frame. My euphoric high came to a screeching halt the day I broke up with my serious boyfriend.

‘Sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I’m shot

Sometimes I don’t know how much more I’ve got

Maybe I’m headed over the hill

Maybe I’ve set myself up for the kill

Tell me how much do you think you can take

Until the heart in you is starting to break?

Sometimes it feels like it will’

There’s no question that I was depressed my sophomore year. I regularly slept in till 11, missing my morning classes. One day, in fact, I literally slept all day, not emerging from my room until 6 pm and only then because I was hungry. I hated myself. I hated my reflection. I chopped my hair in a vain attempt to be happy with my appearance. This produced an even worse image, and my spirits dove because of it. I rarely dated and when I did, I only wanted to make out. I didn’t see my friends much, but luckily I lived with my sister who helped me through this time. I also sought counseling, free thanks to BYU, which helped me recognize my experience and get through it. At the time I thought it was only situational depression. There was no chemical imbalance, or so I thought. With time, counseling, exercise, and my faith, I pulled through. Surely it was only situational.

‘Out of the darkness, into the light

Leaving the scene of the crime’

I was given a respite my junior and senior years. Two blissful years of sanity. I didn’t know well enough to cherish them like I wish I had. I don’t remember much about my mental state during that time, which proves to me it was a time of sane thoughts and healthy self esteem. The Mister and I found each other. We dated. We fell in love. We got engaged. With the oncoming marriage came birth control. I went on the ring, about which the nurse at the health center said she’d never taken anyone off of it because of negative side effects. It sounded like my cup of tea. After the initial adjustment period, things seemed peachy keen. We got married and moved to New York for what I thought would be a summer of love and fun. In many ways, it was. But I had no idea of the tidal wave that was coming for me.

‘You can be sure when I’m gone

I won’t be out there too long’

The poor Mister didn’t know what to do when it hit. I suddenly couldn’t sleep anymore. I cried. Often. I mentally and verbally beat myself up, in typical Kris fashion. I was cranky a lot. I felt listless and not useful. I felt like a waste of space. I was no longer the optimistic, cheerful young woman he’d married. I was someone altogether different. Somehow, we made it through the summer and back to Provo. That fall I was able to dive into a busy schedule of work, school, and LOL (my improv comedy troupe). I lost myself in the business of it all. This isn’t to say I was hunky dory. The Mister had to, more than once, literally pick me up off the floor and tell me that I could in fact pass the test, write the paper, go to class. I put my head down and pushed on. I spoke with the Lord often as I walked to class, sat at work, or entered another late night of studying. On my last day of school, on which I had to take 4 finals, I cried. However this was a healthy cry. I thanked the Lord for carrying me through that time. I cried for the beauty of the setting sun as I drove home to a napping husband. I sat in the parking lot and cried with sheer exhaustion. I was finally done. But now that my mind was no longer occupied with these healthier things, it found time to eat in on itself. On Christmas Day I hit a grand low, as I found myself crying miserably while all around me was love, happiness, my family, and celebration of our Lord. I looked at my mom and told her I’d had enough. It was time to get off the birth control.

We returned to Provo and I met with my doctor, explaining my plight. He immediately recommended I go on the non-hormonal IUD. It sounded like pure heaven to me. The initial physical pain was intense, but the immediate relief I felt emotionally was enough to outweigh it. I was finally free! It had been the hormones all along! Victory!

Unfortunately, not victory. I was OK for a few months. But then my moods started to go crazy again. I lamented to the Mister that my emotional-free days of high school were long gone. I found myself getting depressed again. I would cry at the drop of a hat. I decided to get help. But then hives sprang up and I decided I should see someone about those first. By the time my hives were under control, the depression was long gone.

‘Sometimes I lie awake, night after night

Coming apart at the seams

Eager to please, ready to fight

Why do I go to extremes?’

My family member is the one who suggested that I seek help. I hadn’t even realized I’d needed it. Yeah, I was suffering from panic attacks 3 to 5 times a week, but that wasn’t a big deal. I was very confident in myself. When we hung out with friends, I was witty and charming again. Now as I look back, I see that I was hypomanic and this bout of hypomania was increasing in severity. When I felt like such a fun person around our friends, the Mister told me that I was being a bit obnoxious. I was having fun buying clothing for myself in what seemed like months. And buying stuff for our house. And more stuff for our house. I thought it would be great to run a half marathon. Then to do a fitness competition. And why not go ahead and apply for grad school in a month? My panic attacks were increasing and the thoughts in my head swirled round and round each other. I started to get confused and dizzy multiple times a day. My thoughts were racing so fast I didn’t know how to attend to them, let alone gain control. Then my family member said I was “showing signs of mood instability” and that I should see a professional. I realize now that family member saved me. I saw a doctor who put me on lithium. All sad thoughts instantly disappeared. But I was suddenly angry most of the time. Some of the worst fights the Mister and I ever had were in this period. I told my doctor, who put me on zyprexa. The rage was gone. But I was still feeling manic. So she upped the lithium dosage. This was the visit when I asked my doctor what my diagnosis was. “Bipolar two,” she told me. I was floored.

Even though it was scary to hear something like that, it was also a relief. After all, it’s an answer. All of the experiences I wrote about, I had no idea what they meant. It is only now, as I learn more about this illness I suffer from, that they are making sense. The diagnosis is also like a solution. I can now take medication to treat my symptoms. Sometimes I get sick of being medicated. I spend my days sedated and there are times when I want to throw my pills in the trash. At those times, I force myself to remember what it’s like without the pills, what it’s like with the confusion, racing thoughts, and panic. Sure, the highs are intoxicating but I can’t experience them without the detrimental lows. As I embark on life with this new perspective, with the aid of modern medicine, I find myself relearning emotions and relying on the Lord more than ever.