I first realized I was probably suffering from chronic depression when I was up one night watching An Angel at My Table in my freshman dorm room. I was in a really good mood; I was alone at school that weekend, I had our double-occupancy room to myself, I'd gone to the library to check out a movie we'd talked about in film class. And then I started watching it, and I began to feel profoundly uncomfortable. It's a true story, about writer Janet Frame, and how she was institutionalized for what was, if I recall correctly, just chronic depression. And the funny part was, it wasn't even the electroshock parts that made me uncomfortable--it was very simple things, like Frame not being able to get out of bed, or just her affect in general. It made me so uneasy, I realized later, because I recognized myself in it.
(A few weeks later, I left a message on my mother's work voice mail, saying, "I'm crying and I can't stop and I don't even know why. I think I need to see a doctor." I was nineteen and I've been on antidepressants ever since.)
So I'm reading up on hypomania and I notice that I'm starting to feel uneasy again. I've always explained "good days" as being part of my menstrual cycle. Not to get TMI on you, but the roadsigns I look for are deep, pitiful depression (a couple of days, roughly seven days before), creativity (the actual week before, and possibly the week during), and then, later, a "fallow" period of not being able to work, feeling bored, but not feeling too bad about it that probably corresponds with ovulation. Thus, I related it to hormones. But I have a number of up or down weeks that don't really correspond to that cycle at all; they last longer, or overlap, or show up in the middle. I don't always feel depressed a week before; I don't always have that fallow week.
The other thing is, I'm kind of obsessive-compulsive. And I go through periods--went through periods, particularly when I was a teenager, when I became absolutely fixated on a number of things. A book, a TV show, a song, a music video, a movie--I had to see it a hundred times, I had to see it every time it was on TV, I had to read everything there was to read about it, I had to listen to nothing but that song for two weeks. Once I got on medication, that subsided... somewhat. I think being on the internet has blurred the compulsive aspect a little bit--when particular books (coughharrypottercough) or movies come out, everyone's obsessed with them for a few weeks. You post things about that movie in part as a social gesture: it's what people want to talk about, so we post about it. I don't find myself actually obsessed with Snakes on a Plane, for example. I think it's fun to track it as a social phenomenon, but I pretty much don't think about it unless I actually come across an article or a link, which I then pass on to y'all. But if there's some historical period or subject I want to learn about, I go through this impulse of wanting to conquer it--wanting to know everything possible about it, wanting to own it. And these are usually up periods--I'm motivated, I'm interested, I'm engaged. I tend to look forward to them, because at least I'm happy when they're here. The same goes with writing: I'll think of something, and I'll write until I don't have anything left. I wrote 20,000 words last week, and I'm just as interested mentally in the story as I was before, but I feel kind of empty now--perplexingly so, because I still want to write but I can't figure out where all my inspiration went. I actually said "I have to make hay while the sun shines" to my mother, and suddenly that idea takes on a new dimension.
Was that a hypomanic episode? I'm starting to think that it was. After all, my sister's definitely bipolar, and I'm going to ask Mom about my father, who may or may not have been--I know he was something, but I never saw anything but the curt, sullen side. (Well, there was one really strange incident I may tell y'all about later.) I know some kind of biochemical shenanigans run on that side of the family, and it seems more likely that I would also be some kind of bipolar, rather than unipolar, when you look at it that way.
And hypomanic episodes, unlike manic ones, are apparently regarded as positive experiences. I'm pretty sure that I must have written "Van Helsing in Fifteen Minutes" in a hypomanic episode, because I wrote and wrote for six hours and didn't--couldn't--stop until I was done. The same happened with "Troy." The only other parody I wrote in largely one sitting was "Phantom of the Opera" (I'm not sure about "V"); the others have taken two or three, and sometimes up to six, days and it feels like pulling teeth. (Dear God, I was ready to stab something by day six of "Prisoner of Azkaban." And none of the book parodies were written in anything less than a week when the effort was concentrated, I don't think; I frequently worked on them altogether on and off over a period of a few months.) If I wrote those three in hypomanic episodes, it would explain why I've had so much trouble writing all the others: because slamming them out in six hours isn't normal. It's not my fault for struggling, in other words--I just had a coincidental biochemical push on those three, and they were actually exceptions rather than examples of the way I'm "supposed" to work. And it explains why I haven't been able to write any parodies this summer: because I've been so incredibly depressed.
Lamictal, as a few of y'all pointed out, seems kind of unnecessary for unipolar depression. But if those were hypomanic episodes... if this is, in fact, bipolar II... suddenly Lamictal seems like a more valid suggestion. From Wikipedia:
On the one hand, mild hypomania may be a legitimate baseline for many patients, requiring either no medications or only low doses of medication. Medication should simply "take the edge off the edge," in Dr Gartner's words, rather than sedate the personality out of a patient. Dr Gartner contends that clinicians who overmedicate in these situations risk having their patients becoming noncompliant.Which was one of my concerns, actually, once I started considering hypomania as a possible diagnosis. Really, if I were to go to my doctor (I'm supposed to call her in two weeks anyway) and say, "You know, about that manic-depressive thing--maybe it's bipolar II," I would not want to chase the hypomania away. If these are, in fact, hypomanic episodes, they're the times I think of as being happy and productive. What I would want to do is prevent any movement towards an actual, future manic and/or psychotic episode, which is apparently a possibility for some people, and to even out the valleys of the not-hypomanic periods.
I'm still going to give 150 mgs of Zoloft a two-week trial period to see if going back down a little helps, because I really did feel good when I was at that level. On the other hand... maybe that was a hypomanic period unrelated to the medication. Having just come off one, apparently, I might be able to see how 150 works by itself.
And if that doesn't work... bring on the mantis medicine.