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When I started writing Avatar, Interrupted in November 2010, it was as a Living Prologue to the book I want to write, a way

of finishing it (or starting it) and although that project ended up being put on hold, it hasn't been abandoned. I lost a short piece I wrote for this site when I moved it to Posterous. The old 2010 content is in tact, under Archived Site. The piece that is missing was called Label Me Bipolar and was a direct retaliation against criticism I received personally because of my Bipolar diagnosis. The article never mentions it was a retaliation, but it was. Some people see Bipolar Disorder as a bullshit diagnosis, something that is over diagnosed and that the condition is a label to hide behind, an excuse for bad behaviour if you like. If you accept your diagnosis, your label, some people consider you weak, and feel you are not facing up to your problems like "normal" people have to. You are looking for excuses for your problems, rather than accepting responsibility for them. The missing Label Me Bipolar piece addressed how I felt about that. I started consulting doctors about my bipolar-esque symptoms towards the latter part of 2008. I know this because one of my internet shopping accounts was hacked shortly after I purchased the Cyclothymia Workbook online. That was in November 2008. When I first went to a GP at my surgery for help, something that took a lot of courage to do, he told me that if I pursued a diagnosis and treatment I would be stigmatised for life and my employment prospects would be compromised. He promised to help me, but these were promises he never kept. I made an appointment to see the GP I am registered with and complained. Making any kind of complaint in person is hard when you are suffering from a potentially serious mental illness. At the absolute minimum, I was suffering from severe anxiety. My GP had an observer with him, which I consented to, but he dismissed her when he realised what my consultation was about. He decided I was probably Cyclothymic and I was pretty much left to rot on the National Health Service (NHS) unmonitored until 2011. To be fair to the NHS, I always attend my annual asthma review, 3 monthly appointments where I am administered Depo Provera, 3 yearly cervical cancer screening, and annual well woman screening appointments and influenza vaccinations. I do co-operate so was never going to be a huge concern. During my unsuccessful and protracted efforts to pursue autism screening on the NHS from March 2010 until September 2011, I got sick of being fobbed off by my GP and confronted him. I mentioned his Cyclothymia theory of 2008 and rather than accept my complaint had foundation, he decided to invoke my mental health "problem" to avoid addressing the issue I was there for. I knew that was what he was doing but had no problem with being referred to mental health specialists. I was referred to a Link Worker, a Community Psychiatric Nurse who works out of my surgery one day a week. He didn't do this in 2008.

One thing I learn, time and time again, is that no one ever thinks I am Bipolar on the first meeting. Towards the end of the 30 minute session with the Link Worker (Richard) something I said must have been a classic Bipolar indicator because I was referred to the local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) for a full assessment. The Link Workers opinion was that a full assessment may unlock a higher tier of NHS funding to support me. There is only so much benefit computerised telephone cognitive behavioural therapy will give someone and I had already accessed that on the NHS in 2008. That was all that was on offer without a formal diagnosis. In September 2011, with the referral made, I saw probably the most unstuffy Consultant Psychiatrist imaginable, called Sassy. I imagined someone not unlike an older GP, but scarier. The first appointment resulted in a diagnosis of Bipolar 2 rapid cycling and the recommendation was mood stabilisers. I was sent away to get blood tests done to check I was healthy enough for the drugs. I was advised to research anti psychotics, lithium and anti convulsants. Specific mention was given to Sodium Valproate but that it was not the first choice for women of child bearing age, although it was still on the table. I was asked to keep a Mood Diary to set a baseline. The second appointment with the Consultant Psychiatrist was to decide on my mood stabiliser. This appointment happened in October 2011 and each appointment lasted 50 minutes. I asked about oxcarbamazepine and topiramate but was told there was insufficient evidence of their efficacy in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder. I was offered anti psychotics, lithium, carbamazepine and sodium valproate. I was also offered Lamictal. I declined all of those medications on the grounds of their individual side effect profiles and my own individual medical history. This left no drugs remaining. We discussed PRN (as needed) drugs but it was the same drug menu on offer Anti psychotics and anti convulsants. This did not really feel like a solution to me. After this appointment, I began investigating diet supplementation as a means of levelling out Bipolar symptoms. I read that Omega 3 was often something that gave some relief from symptoms, but only the fishy kind. Having been a vegetarian from the age of 13 (I am 35 now), I decided principles do not trump Lithium and started force feeding myself Omega 3 tablets. I also started taking a multi vitamin, Soya Lecithin and Taurine. I visited my GP, even though prior experience should have told me that would be 10 minutes of my life I am never going to get back again. Being cash strapped, I had heard you can get Omega 3 prescribed on the NHS for certain health conditions so I went to see him to ask if it was an option for me. When I eventually exited his office, I had no Omega 3 and I had been told in no uncertain terms I should be on sodium valproate, that life is too short and I should be on something that works, he told me I wouldn't get the side effects and refusing to take drugs is wrong. I haven't been back.

I was referred to another member of the Community Mental Health Team by the Psychiatrist, a Community Mental Health Nurse called Christine. She called me in for a similar length appointment to the ones I had with the Consultant Psychiatrist, 50-60 minutes. By now it was November 2011. We discussed drug free management of Bipolar Disorder. The obvious ones being to keep a mood diary, sticking to a sleep routine, meditation, vitamin B complex and D, and Omega 3. We did talk about PRN drugs and I was offered Seroquel in a low dose, to be taken as needed (no dosages specifically mentioned). I said I would think about it and I return on 9 December 2011. The Nurse recommended a book called Mind Over Mood (CBT based) and asked me to keep a Mood Diary. So, in a nutshell, it has been 3-years since I first sought medical advice until I received my formal diagnosis, and it was something I made happen, albeit unwittingly towards the end. If the NHS had been left to their own devices, nothing would have happened at all. There are Bipolar Bloggers around, with varying degrees of usefulness, but very few maintain their sites with any degree of regularity, perhaps understandably. The thing with Bipolar Blogs is they tend to represent two poles, pardon the pun. The all-drugs-are-evil pole and the I-need-a-drugcocktail-of-357886454-drugs-to-get from-bed-to-sofa-each-day pole. You may feel like my saying this is unsupportive of "my kind", but the fact is that neither pole fits my own particular story, and while both poles are equally valid, neither one addresses my own particular (or peculiar) needs fully. Before today, I was in danger of being all talk and no action. I kept saying I would maintain a website about my bipolar treatment, and my findings, but never got around to it. Well, here it is. I hope that reading about me helps you to understand Bipolar disorder has many facets, and people who suffer from it have different needs. It is not normally what people believe it to be. Manic Depression? I should be on anti depressants right? Wrong, I nearly died in July 2003 from ill advised Prozac usage (10 minute consultation with a GP). Mania or hypomania is great fun? Not always. You can be irritable and manic. I have never been hospitalised and work full time. I have a good sick record. I live independently, pay my taxes, and pay my mortgage. I don't look like Catherine Zeta-Jones and don't have suicidal thoughts. I do not have an ageing lothario movie star husband. Does that make me a mild Bipolar sufferer? Not necessarily, but it is a spectrum. I am functioning in a dysfunctional way. There are several theories why I can "pass" without drugs. My diet is pretty good (I have off days), I only drink once a month and not excessively, I quit smoking in 2006 and I try to meditate regularly. A more radical theory is that, being an undiagnosed dyslexic until age 30, I may have more finely honed mechanisms for concealing my abnormalities than most people.

The fact is, I have no doubt I would benefit from a PRN drug, but I am sensitive to pretty much every medication except Paracetamol and Penicillin. Where I go from here is something that is constantly under review, and decisions need to be made. This is what this website is about. Josephina Bonetto