I will start my first blog post with a discussion board assignment from my human biology class about “Drugs on the Brain”. I have combined multiple posts and edited them for clarification. My personal journey to self-discovery about bipolar disorder began with trying to quit smoking.
It is common knowledge that prescription drugs have negative side effects. Numerous commercials, magazine advertisements, and package inserts for many medications warn to consult a physician if a patient has a history of depression, experiences a change of mood or behavior or thoughts of suicide. The main concern regarding these side effects is that often times, these medications are prescribed to individuals with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Aug. 2010.
Antidepressants raise dopamine levels and can worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder, causing a manic episode. Manic behaviors include poor judgment. This may manifest in risky or negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, poor business or investment decisions, and spending excessive amounts of money that they do not have. One in five individuals with BP commits suicide; it is theorized that while in a manic state they make serious mistakes. When they come down from their "high" and crash into depression, they feel guilt and think that death is the only answer. About two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder smoke; it is suggested that they self-medicate with nicotine to regulate their moods. Pfizer, the company that manufactures Chantix, was forced by the FDA to issue a black box warning about the effects of their drug on bipolar disorder. Currently, there is a class action lawsuit against Pfizer due to the negative side effects caused by the drug, including wrongful death.
In late December of 2012, I began taking Chantix to quit smoking. I was undiagnosed bipolar. By mid-January, Chantix started to drive me crazy. I quit taking it, but the effects lasted for months. My husband started going to a psychologist to seek counseling because my behavior was affecting our marriage. He mentioned that he thought that Chantix was the cause because my symptoms manifested shortly after I started taking the medication. His psychologist told him that Chantix was a "miracle drug" and it could not possibly be the reason for my change in behavior. After our first visit as a couple (the session did not go well), the P-Doc called my husband on the phone, implied that I was "a b*tch", and suggested that he should leave me. We stopped seeing him.
I had just turned 40 and interpreted the experience to be my midlife crisis. I decided to go back to college because I felt like I had to do something positive with my life. I took an abnormal psychology class during spring quarter of 2013. Although the professor warned us about "medical student syndrome" and to avoid thinking that we, or someone we knew, had any of the disorders we were learning about, I diagnosed myself with bipolar disorder. When the instructor informed us about the role of dopamine and its effect on the bipolar brain, I had an "a-ha moment".
I used to think that I was not truly depressed because my depressive episodes were short lived. I blamed it on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and postpartum depression (I have seven kids so I was pregnant often). I would often think, "I can't have depression, I am too happy!" It is now clear that the periods of time that I was not in a depression, I was experiencing the stages of normal mood or mania. My manic episodes where mild (hypomania). When I took Chantix, it sent me over the top into hypermania. Reading the symptoms of bipolar disorder, I could easily make excuses and justify my "bad" behavior until I took into consideration the effects of Chantix and how it affected me. I got an official diagnosis by a psychiatrist in July of 2013.
It still makes me shake my head when I think of the psychologist's ignorance regarding the effects of Chantix. I learned this information in a community college psychology course. The doctor is a professional. When I talked to my psychiatrist and other psychologists about the situation, they tell me that when my husband mentioned Chantix, it should have been a red flag. A HUGE ONE!
I know that there is stigma regarding mental illness. I don't mind sharing my story. I find it empowering. I want people to understand that bipolar disorder is just a mood disorder. Before I educated myself about the subject, I thought people with bipolar disorder were a bunch of crazy psychos. Information is a powerful tool. I graduated from Olympic College on June 15, 2014. I want to further my education and either get my Ph.D. in psychology and start my own private practice or research mood disorders and its effect on the brain.