My name is Dasha, I am 26 years old. I am a pediatric dentist, I am not currently working temporarily in my specialty, as I am in the legalization stage in the USA and I am preparing to enter an American university to confirm my qualifications, to finish my studies and to continue working in my specialty.
My story will be about bipolar disorder, which I was diagnosed with after six months of living in the United States, and what problems you may have when you are in another country without insurance.
How I felt the first symptoms
I started preparing for the immigration process back to Russia, to Moscow. I watched a lot of bloggers on YouTube describe their problems when they moved to another country, about difficulties in relationships with loved ones. Therefore, I started visiting a psychologist in Moscow six months before the trip, I also tried to deal with sleep problems and a rash on my hands, which I had amidst stress at work.
The psychologist advised me a friend, the cost of admission was 5500 rubles. I always wanted to sleep, I slept for 12, sometimes 15 hours a day, and he explained it simply by wanting to get away from reality, he advised me to move more, to look for some kind of entertainment for myself, to leave home .
2 months after my husband and I moved to the US, I felt an irresistible longing for bed again, I slept all day and did not want to get up, I was in a depressed mood, I did not know what I wanted. Everything was aggravated by suicidal thoughts, I wanted my life to end. I had practically no appetite, I ate only to exist. The food I cooked disgusted me. I did not remember and did not understand where I was, I did not know which of the three buttons in the elevator to press and I forgot the names of the people. I stopped taking care of myself, I rarely washed my hair, I did not dye at all.
Looking back, I almost do not remember December 2021. On December 31, I did not know how to get out of bed, go to a party and smile at everyone when I just want to die.
When I first discovered the symptoms of depression, I wrote to my ex-boss in Moscow, whose friend is a good psychiatrist. I did an online consultation with her, she immediately diagnosed me with a depressive episode.
How did you start the treatment?
The most difficult part was finding medicines for treatment. Through acquaintances I managed to buy escitalopram in Moscow, an antidepressant from the group of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and send it to me in the US. I waited a month for medication. After starting the dose, nothing has changed, as the drug starts to work only after 2-4 weeks and I started, as it seemed to me, a long waiting period for action.
Gradually increasing the dose, I felt good, and after a few weeks, not just good, but just wonderful. As I fell asleep, it seemed to me that rainbows and unicorns were springing up from inside me, as if they were about to explode fireworks, like in the Walt Disney screensaver with a castle. I stopped sleeping at night, I really wanted to drink alcohol, I laughed, sometimes I just lay on the floor laughing, I was very angry that others could not share the feeling of fun with me, that it was too late.
These symptoms, which I did not always fully describe to my doctor, as I really liked my condition, were that they warned her a lot and insisted that I start reducing the dose of antidepressant. An important diagnostic criterion for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is the reversal of the phase from depression to (hyp) mania while taking antidepressants. The doctor advised me to switch to another drug – mood stabilizer, with the complete abolition of antidepressant, but the question was how long I would wait for him from Russia and how many more nights I would spend in sleepless euphoria.
In the meantime, the symptoms got worse and I started moving around a lot, cleaning the apartment until I was happy with the result, I could not sit still, I looked at the girls through a sexual prism and I liked absolutely everything in them. Then came hallucinations – it’s unusual when you look surprised and from a certain point in your head a voice said a few short phrases loud and clear, at first it scared me, but I assured myself that these were manifestations of illness and it would all pass. I had 3 acoustic hallucinations in total. Then I decided to look here for treatment, without insurance.
Through acquaintances I found a Russian-speaking psychiatrist. It is worth noting an important nuance because I was looking for a Russian-speaking doctor – not knowledge of the language, but a different mentality and view of the problems could create an obstacle and lead to a misinterpretation of the symptoms of the disease.
I managed to make an appointment with the doctor in 2 days, the doctor takes once a week. Admission is $ 300. At the appointment he listened to me carefully, asked questions, talked via video link with the doctor who is leading me and they decided to start the treatment with the appointment of an informal antipsychotic – quetiapine.
An important nuance is that generics in the US are cheaper than the original drug, so the doctor prescribed it. The doctor writes an online prescription, enters the address of the pharmacy, from where it would be convenient for me to pick up the medicine. Admission also includes 3 free drug updates that you can pick up at the pharmacy. A jar of 30 tablets for 1 month costs $ 40.
The side effects of such a drug are intense: drowsiness, senescence – a feeling that a mole lives in the intestines and pulls them, nausea, bloating, stomatitis. I told my doctor that I could not get so many side effects and asked to be changed to another medicine. Another trip to the doctor cost me $ 100, a week and a half waiting and $ 30 for a new drug.
How do I feel now?
Until I got into the break – a conditional rest period. But light intervals, when you are the same as before the disease, are becoming more common. A mood stabilizer helps me to keep my mood in balance – not to jump on a plus and not to get depressed, but unfortunately it does not normalize sleep, so I am currently in the process of choosing the minimum effective dose of an antipsychotic for sleep.
I was lucky that the two doctors immediately found a common language, there were no disagreements in the diagnosis. I am lucky that I do not receive treatment in Russia, where it is possible that if I went to an inexperienced doctor, the first thing I would be diagnosed with was schizophrenia due to auditory hallucinations. I’m glad I live in California, where I get enough vitamin D, which directly affects the production of happiness hormones.
How did my relatives react to my situation?
My husband is my partner in the fight against the disease and in controlling my condition. It is very difficult to accept the fact that the wife has a disorder of neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain, a substance hidden from the eyes, when it is impossible to say and show what exactly hurts.
Some relatives said I made it and I have nothing. I believe that the stigma of mental illness is to blame. Of course, few will be happy to learn that their relative is chronically ill. While I myself am in the process of accepting this fact. But I am very grateful to my friends, whose attitude towards me did not change after the diagnosis, and to my husband, who supported me even more.
How did the disease affect my life?
Unfortunately, while I’m not working officially, I do not have the opportunity to go on sick leave, as I have to make a living. It’s difficult, the side effects interfere with normal life.
Certainly bipolar disorder has changed the way I feel about myself. I quit night work, stopped drinking alcohol completely, started exercising, tried to maintain a daily routine, did not take stimulants: coffee and energy drinks and tried to eat healthy foods whenever possible.
As a doctor, I certainly began to respect my colleagues from another field – psychiatry – even more for their delicate posture, for the fact that I never felt sick or crazy, for tact, for accepting the most terrible symptoms – the hallucinations . And for sympathy for my problem.
I would like to wish health and a long and lasting break to all those who have faced this disease, lack of stigma and support from loved ones, and if not, then from support groups and people who have already gone through it.