At first glance, when you meet me, you’re likely to think I have a #bestlife, primed and ready for Instagram stories.
You’ll find a successful business sustainability consultant, women’s empowerment leader, and Shadow Work coach.
Since 1993, I’ve led large systems change initiatives at more than 50 enterprises including Nike, Ford, the Federal Government and more. Eileen Fisher is a client of seven years. I live on a dozen acres—organic garden, solar panels, trout stream, sugar shack — in the woods of Western Massachusetts. We had two feet of snow this morning, and when I finish writing this, I’ll strap on my skis and head out the front door for a romp. I’m a mother of grown twins, recently launched to college and have been married to a “stand-up” guy for 27 years.
Come closer though and I’ll ell you this: I’ve suffered from a debilitating brain disorder for four decades.
Like Persephone in the underworld, I have been caught in the grips of an overpowering force. For months on end, prisoner of the darkness, a relentless, burning, terror.
Twenty-five years into this struggle, I learned that I have a brain pattern known as “Bipolar II.” The Roman numeral “II” here is the key distinction. Because Bipolar II presents itself clinically as “normal” depression it is mostly undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
The results are deadly, as the standard meds for clinical depression–SSRIs such as Prozac and Lexapro–are like poison for the Bipolar brain. Now picture the psychiatrist who is convinced that what you have is “regular” depression. He prescribes you the poison meds and sends you off. Only to find you sicker the next time you come to his office. “More depressed,” he thinks, “let’s up your dosage of the SSRIs.” It’s a vicious cycle that could leave you psychotic, psych warded, electric shocked, suicidal or worse
Lucky for me the fifth—yes fifth—psychiatrist I found when I was hanging to this life by a thread, Dr. Michael Perlman, is an expert on the Bipolar spectrum. During my first appointment, he gave me Dr. James Phelps’ Bipolar Diagnostic Test, a simple 14-question protocol. With this tool, it took all of twenty minutes to diagnose what had eluded the medical world for a quarter century. “We know what to do,” Dr. Perlman said.
Dr. Perlman was unequivocal in his diagnosis that I had Bipolar II.
This form of Bipolar disease doesn’t manifest in mania—I never had the characteristic wild highs, shopping sprees, sex adventures. But it does show up in dark, persistent, debilitating depression. And because it shares the symptoms of typical depression—low mood, weight change, loss of memory, no joy in life—it is most often diagnosed incorrectly as unipolar depression. Dr. Perlman’s clarity and the meds he prescribed, Lamictal and later Lithium, saved my life.
It also gives me empathy and insight for the millions suffering from depression of any kind and insights that I can offer here to help, especially during a time when the world’s mental wellness is under attack.