Welcome to the first episode of Bipolar Barbie-Q.
The problem with being bipolar some of the time is the intense desire to do everything all at once to its greatest extent, like opening a seed from a twenty five cent package, throwing it into a cup of water and expecting it to grow into a fully bloomed plant within minutes. Your plant could be a geranium, a cornstalk or a banana tree but at the end of the day you still sit there staring at that seed, wondering at all the things you could do with the flowerings.
I listened to a podcast that rocked my very soul, I decide how badly I want to have a podcast of my own to entertain one thousand people. I see a movie that tickles my imagination and I decide I could write a movie in one or two sittings and maybe one editing, or an entire TV series that I can then have my pick at a cast of little known actors to make history. I like anime and video games so I decide I want to turn the other cheek at sewing because somehow I’ll construct a cosplay out of pre-made articles of clothing that fit perfectly and will get me tons of compliments at a convention, though I may not even want to strike up conversation with a stranger or have my picture taken. In fact there are times there’s not enough Klonopin in the world to fair well asking for a diet coke in the McDonald’s drive through. But it’s this air of royalty that I surround myself with and the riches of labor that’s one hundred percent doable but overly ambitious.
I’m not always in a hypomanic state when I’m feeling grandiose, but it’s surely my number one symptom aside from lack of sleep. A racing mind and a tired body is a vicious combination that I’ve been suffering from for going on two months now this time around. Grandiose thinking, distractability, unstable plans and poor judgement including how to spend my money. Now I’m biting my nails financially, coming up with every negative situation I could get myself into, repercussions to not keeping plans and flipping a coin as to if I’ll fall asleep and how many hours I’ll get of it which is usually not that many.
So here is my dilemma. How can a beeper like me put together a podcast? That’s after all what I’m obsessed with tonight and the past three nights which has upped the ante in my emotional conflict. Where do I start? The podcast that inspired me was episode 5, “Help!” of “A Life Well Wasted” of which there are only seven episodes. The music was composed by the interviewer who had the three most amazing stories to share. One was about a ridiculous charity game run from Penn and Teller’s “Smoke and Mirrors” game that never was released, but leaked, and became the most exciting 8 hour drive where nothing happens, ever. The second was about a guy who gave up video games for a year and what he did after, and the third was an interview with Steve Richie, the king of pinball machines and his very real life which was magical in its own way, especially for me because my dad worked for William’s Electronics when he was my age. He even told me he worked on a pinball game but didn’t remember much about it, he didn’t even want to, but “the problem with that company was that they wanted you to do everything.”
I like to tell people that I was proud of my dad, in his youth, who made arcade games for William’s, created the game Sinistar, and worked on Star Wars. The obvious big deal story is the Star Wars one and it’s also my favorite to tell. Sinistar is a multi-directional shooter for up to two players that was released in 1982.
He and two other guys sat around for hours trying to gauge how the mouth of Sinistar would open and close. Considering how far video games have come it seems so archaic but still makes me glow to tell people. My first gaming console was an intellivision. I learned to type on Mario Typing and learned basic math in Treasure Mountain. Video games were a part of my life growing up. Watching dad play DOOM and Wizard’s Quest also influenced my degree of adult nerd that I am now. We have five arcade games in the laundry room of all places, none of which are plugged in and no one but I seem to care about their future. I think I might send Joust, Centipede and Star Wars to college.
Dad was in school when they were working on the first Star Wars movie. It was a pretty low budget production and they were looking for free work, which they found. My dad’s college professor knew a guy who was working on the film who offered to trade them new high end computers under the table for a graphic. The professor grouped together seven of his best and favorite students to make the graphic of the Death Star which can be seen when Luke and the crew are preparing for the final battle, strapping up in their orange suits. My dad did that and I will tell people until Star Wars is just a name which kids know is famous like Gone with the Wind or Casablanca.
Dad was no help when I went back to him to ask for more stories to theme this podcast with. Nothing in his Williams days he felt was exciting enough to share, and though my passion for video games and lifelong hobby is worth more air time, this podcast seems like a perfect time for time travel instead.
So with my seed lingering in the cup I decided it’s time to go public for the first time in a decade about what brought me to be bipolar, to have grandiose ambitions and to risk bearing my soul with something I live with quietly every day. It started with a bite.
No one knew when it happened or could have guessed how an active fifteen year old whose only problem was under control with migraine medication would turn into a vegetable. I was just leaving my summer program that I was invited to at Piven Theater Workshop in Evanston, IL. The elite class of thespians had just preformed duo scenes from curious plays and showcased select directorial work, one of which being my own.
Brett and Rob were the actors assigned to me, and through theater games and narration, we hushed an entire auditorium re-telling the scene in The Count of Monte Cristo where Dantes meets Abbe Faria in the prison of the Chateau D’If. I was to face my own prison beginning only a month later, and to this day, though Brett and Rob have likely long forgotten me, I can’t let go of those memories of my youth, as they were the last of all normalcy I would come to know.
On my sixteenth birthday that August I was on a week long vacation with my parents in the Wisconsin Dells. We had one of the best vacations in family history aside from my bouts of uncalled for tears over things like the vacation ending or how happy I was, yet still, I felt sad for some reason I didn’t know. When we got home things only got worse. I dropped my toothbrush once and started bawling, I was an emotional wreck. This was about the time I came off of my migraine medication and the doctor shrugged his shoulders.
I had just been back in school for a couple weeks when I was in intense pain all the time and a blubbering pile of emotions. My joints would snap and crack and the arthritis was out of control, but what was worse was the muscle pain all over my body which ranged from my neck and shoulders to triceps and forearms to thighs and calves. Even my feet were in pain, and then came the itching.
As if someone had dipped a paintbrush into a violent allergen and gone Vincent Van Goh under my skin, there was nothing that could calm the itch, and I had ripped apart my skin some nights to try to ease it. It was as bad as having the chicken pox with no marks or rashes to blame.
All of these symptoms kept compiling and I was taken out of school and sent to the hospital one morning. I was terrified but my entire family was hoping to find some fast answers why I was falling apart. I was completely healthy only two months ago and suddenly I thought my life was going to end. I saw a full range of doctors from rheumatologists to psychiatrists and with no answers, on the third day I lost my ability to walk. I developed ataxia within a matter of 24 hours and left the hospital with no answers in a wheelchair.
Blood tests galore, we finally struck gold with a positive test proving that the Lyme bacteria was in my DNA. My parents were the ones who had played detective round the clock, feeling that this obscure disease they read about may be my mystery diagnosis. The pediatrician rolled her eyes at my parents but ordered the test for us and when it came back positive the office staff was very quiet. Yet still we got no help from the doctor. We searched through hospitals, and individual practitioners for infectious disease, and yet no one wanted to help.
Mayo Clinic was a bust and the worst part was that the psychiatrist we went to see by suggestion of the pediatrician in addition to several other doctors thought it was all in my head. My mother still hasn’t recovered from the gush of outrage she felt that day when the doctor looked her in the eye and told her that. I can’t even imagine that he opened a DSM for depressive symptoms let alone whatever he thought I was imagining. He told my parents with a straight face that I was creating a big fuss because I didn’t want to go to school.
I had hated psychiatrists with a passion from that point on, and my view of the mental health industry has only slightly brightened in past years. This is far before any sort of mental health diagnosis was made. In fact, it’s likely that the Lyme Disease shook me so forcefully biologically that either it created the bipolar disorder from chemical imbalance or it was genetic and it only came to pass after the brunt of my treatment years later.
The day we went to University of Chicago I could barely move I was in so much pain and I cried when the doctor turned us away. He had even gone into the back room with my dad to GOOGLE what Lyme Disease was.
Our last hope was someone off the Illinois Northern Lyme Association. Her name was Susan Busse. Before she retired she saved my life. She gave the official diagnosis of Lyme Disease in January of the next year and told me she was going to get me better. After years of antibiotic therapy I finally met my match with Post Lyme Syndrome, which means that I’ve never gone into remission, but have symptoms mild enough that I can manage a regular life, as if I have a physical tenitis of sorts.
I took handfuls of pills a day. Not only did Dr. Busse use western medication but also holistic methods such as giving me Milk Thistle supplements to keep my liver clean during treatment. There’s still only so much a sixteen year old girl can handle even if she was recovering, and that led to me hiding my pills in socks and throwing them away in the bathroom. I had to be clever about it because I still couldn’t walk for the majority of my treatment run, so my mom would help me walk to the bathroom and help wash me like I was eighty years old.
Eventually one day while I was taking a detox bath, which is a very hot bath filled with epsom salts and hydrogen peroxide to pull out toxins in the body, she saw an antibiotic on the floor. Suddenly she went searching and found mounds of pills I had hidden and tossed and it took nearly a decade to live down some of the shame from doing it. Why? I felt like I couldn’t take all of those pills anymore. I knew they were helping me but at a certain point the taste of them on my tongue made me want to vomit. Even the smell.
My parents took me to face the doctor who was very kind with me and asked me if I wanted a PICC line in my arm, to which I finally said yes to IV antibiotics which I did for about a year when my PICC line became infected and needed taking out. I still have the scar, a ‘tattoo’ of sorts I hope never goes away. I couldn’t get the PICC line wet, I had to have the bandages changed by a nurse every week who would come to the house and I had to make sure I didn’t get air bubbles in my IV bags or heprin injections after each medication administration. It became a part of life after the first month and I do not regret having made the choice.
IV antibiotics made treatment much easier, and eventually around the time that the PICC line expired, so did my doctors run. She wrote letters to all of her patients saying she was retiring, not much detail included in the letter, but likely it had to do with the politics of long term antibiotic treatment. It saved my life and the lives of countless others at Dr. Busse’s clinic, yet is still controversial in America, and many doctors have lost their licenses for practicing it.
Dr. Busse saved my life, invited me to her wedding and is lost to me now, if she ever hears this podcast I want her to know I miss her very much and owe my life to her.
I went back to school during treatment. I was on IV antibiotics at the time and met the love of my life and one of my best friends to this day. Though my symptoms improved and eventually even after not being on antibiotics for some time I was still an emotional wreck from time to time. Once I had made as full a recovery as I ever would, and life was ‘back to normal’ so to speak, I would have occasional hypomanic and severe depression outbursts which I treated as major depressive disorder, seeing a psychiatrist for. I have changed psychiatrists a handful of times since. It was when I was 20 I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type II which was re-diagnosed in the winter of last year as type I after a full blown manic episode. That’s all it takes to label you Bipolar I.
Since then I’ve fought two years of agoraphobia, lost semesters at school, lied to my parents about them, fought with administration for administrative withdrawals and changed majors from marketing to psychology. I have one class to finish before I get my bachelor’s degree and can begin working in the field that I live in.
This has been Bipolar Barbie-Q and you’ve just had a history lesson. Next episode I’ll be re-directing the tone with interviews and a new theme. Thank you so much for listening. Any feedback to improve this podcast is welcome and I hope you’ll stick around for episode 2. My name is Bipolar Barbie, signing out.