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How Military Demands Led to My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

The year was 2008. I was serving in the military at the time and until that point doing exceptionally well. I was awarded several times for exemplary service and received top marks in my evaluations. I was rewarded by a nomination to attend Officers Candidate School (OCS) and be meritoriously promoted from an enlisted rank, in which I had served for six years, to an officer.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Needless to say, this is a very big deal, but something lingered inside me, waiting to break free if given the chance. Its name was bipolar disorder. I struggled up until that point with occasional mood lability, but nothing too severe to warrant medical attention. My family saw oddities, but just thought they were rare anomalies, as these did not occur on a regular basis. So, in January 2008, off to OCS I went. There, I struggled with the stress of my new environment. The demands were tough and standards were high, but it was nothing I could not handle. I was receiving high marks in all my subjects and garnered the attention of my instructors. However, in order to meet said demands, I would frequently stay awake at night to accomplish my tasks laid upon me throughout the day, such as studying and preparing my equipment for the following day. The problem lay in the fact I was only getting around two or three hours of sleep at night… for five weeks straight. Here my bipolar disorder saw its opportunity. I became very ill and did not know what was wrong. I lost the ability to function and concentrate. I told no one except for my wife by means of letters to home, but she was 1,000 miles away and could not help me except by means of support. So, with this in mind, knowing something was very wrong, I decided to request to be released from training. This too was a big deal. I’m not sure how often it had been done, but no one understood. Reluctantly, I was sent home.

Once I arrived back at my home station, I still did not feel well. I struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts. What was once a manic episode had turned into my first depressive episode. I can remember late one night, on a weekend, calling a supervisor whom I trusted. I explained the situation and what was going through my mind. He had a master’s degree in Psychology. He informed me that my next steps were to report to the medical clinic on Monday morning. I did.  Once there, I met a nurse practitioner who, once hearing my story, thought I had an anxiety disorder and prescribed me an antidepressant. Unknowing what lay beneath this caused major problems for my underlying disorder. Within days, I became manic again. I began hallucinating and acting erratically. Thankfully, I had been referred off-base to a psychologist trained in treating severe mental disorders. Shortly after my referral, I had an appointment with this new practitioner during my severe manic episode. She immediately recognized what was transpiring and sent me straight to an inpatient behavioral health facility. I was immediately diagnosed with bipolar disorder (type 1) and placed on mood stabilizing medications and atypical antipsychotics. This was officially the beginning of the end of my career in the service.

Once released from the hospital, I was treated vastly different. I could no longer train with my counterparts or participate in required training activities, including anything with weapons. This was understandable. My days were filled with therapy appointments and trips to the psychiatrist. I was hospitalized repeatedly for recurring manic and depressive episodes for weeks at a time as my mood fluctuations were uncontrolled. Apparently, not sleeping for five weeks is not good for one’s mental health. It took me months to recover and several medication trials. Finally, after much turmoil, I was medically retired and released from duty in early 2009, after roughly nine months of struggling. Little did I know, my journey with this severe disorder had just begun. It took a total of roughly 15 more hospitalizations to become stable and put me in a position of where I am today.

As of now, I have not been hospitalized in almost two years. I am a successful husband and father. I have been on the same medication regimen, which I religiously take, for five years. Yes, I still have ups and downs, but hopefully — with successful medical treatment — the worst is behind me. I am very grateful. Hope is kindled.

If you need support right now, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. Or send a text message to 838255.

Pexels photo via Lukas

Originally published: April 11, 2018
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