Chicago Tribune Feature – Published Sun., Aug. 26

No rhetoric; no sublime style; no lexicons or etymology.  Pure and simple disclosure of disquieting issues.

Please, REPOST THIS ON YOUR BLOG.  Personally, I prefer privacy over publicity; I exposed my life in the hope that the stigmas of mental illness, obesity, and homosexuality might be reconsidered to be human conditions worthy of respect and empathy.,0,3948031.story

Bipolar II disorder: Another Chicagoan’s story

Like Jesse Jackson Jr., Harlan Didrickson has the illness and has had weight-loss surgery

 Harlan Didrickson poses outside his Rogers Park home. (Chris Walker, Tribune photo / August 17, 2012)
By Barbara Brotman, Chicago Tribune reporter, August 26, 2012
Harlan Didrickson was a model of middle-class stability.He lived with his partner of more than two decades in a handsome Victorian on a leafy North Side street. He worked as manager of executive and administrative services for a high-powered architectural firm, where he made hospitality and travel arrangements for large meetings and oversaw budgets that ran into millions of dollars.He was not the kind of person who would go to lunch with friends and come home having spent $4,500 on a puppy and a month of obedience training.

Or who would get up at 2 a.m., go to Dunkin’ Donuts, then drive to Indiana and back, snacking on Munchkins.

But that’s who he became.

Four years ago, his life was upended by bipolar II disorder, the same illness recently diagnosed in U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

This is not Jackson’s story. People with the disorder — nearly 6 million in the U.S. — have unique experiences with the illness, which cycles between moods of manic energy and deep depression.

“The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be very different from one person compared to another,” said Dr. John Zajecka, a psychiatrist with Rush University Medical Center who specializes in mood disorders.

Manic states leave some people euphoric, others irritable. “There are people who can function their whole lives in these hypomanic states,” though they may lose marriages, jobs and money, Zajecka said.

Depression, too, can appear in a variety of ways. Some sufferers stay in either mania or depression for decades; others cycle between them many times a day. And people respond differently to treatment.

But Didrickson’s struggle provides one look at how bipolar II disorder and its treatment can affect a life.

And he does have one key factor in common with Jackson. Like the congressman, Didrickson, 54, had weight-loss surgery before being diagnosed with bipolar. He had a gastric bypass procedure; Jackson had a duodenal switch.

It became a serious complication in his treatment. The weight-loss procedure, which causes the body to absorb fewer calories, prevented him from absorbing the full dose of his antidepressant medication.

Didrickson’s illness began when he started feeling extremely stressed at work. He considered himself skilled at his job but felt beleaguered by office politics.

“I felt as though I was fighting a lot of fights on different fronts in my life, and that I didn’t have the wherewithal, the energy,” he said. “I was profoundly unhappy.”

He changed jobs, twice. He still felt miserable. And he also felt trapped, having to do work he now found unbearably stressful.

More than 60 percent of people with bipolar engage in substance abuse as they try to self-medicate their inner pain. Didrickson was among them. At night he would wash down some hydrocodone, an opiate he had been prescribed for a back injury, with beer. He would stay up till 4 a.m. watching TV, then take Ambien to fall asleep.

“At 6 o’clock I woke up, got dressed and went to work. I was probably still high,” he said. “Then somewhere around noon, I would crash. I would go to the men’s bathroom, go sit on the toilet and fall asleep.”

His partner, Nick Harkin, a publicist with an entertainment and lifestyle marketing firm, had no idea how deeply troubled Didrickson had become.

But then Didrickson didn’t show up on time for a planned out-of-town getaway. When he arrived the next day, he was morose, secretive and exhausted. “It was a very abrupt shift,” Harkin said. “It was quite obvious that something was very seriously wrong.”

Didrickson was thinking of ending their relationship, he told Harkin. And he wanted to move to California’s Death Valley. He wanted to start a new life.

“I was falling apart,” Didrickson said. “It was this desperate: I will do anything to get out from under this pressure.’ It was like having a heart attack, and if you don’t get out from under it, it will kill you.”

Back home, he called a friend who had once been his therapist. She asked if he was suicidal.

“I was, like, ‘Of course I am. I think about it all the time,'” he said. “‘It’s the only comfort I have.'”

She told him to see a psychiatrist. He did, and was told he had depression — a common initial diagnosis for people with bipolar, who generally seek treatment during a depressed phase of the illness.

The antidepressant the doctor prescribed didn’t work. Didrickson developed memory problems, to the point where he forgot how to do simple tasks like using a phone.

“I could not take a shower, because I couldn’t recall the sequence of activities … turning on the water, stepping into the spray, getting wet, washing,” he said.

He lost 40 pounds and neglected bathing and grooming. And yet there were also times when Didrickson felt powerful, energetic, nearly like a superhero. He could do anything he wanted, no matter how dangerous or destructive, with no consequences.

He ran red lights. He drove the wrong way down one-way streets. “I felt like I was back to being in charge, like I was back to saying, ‘It’s going to go like this because I said so,'” Didrickson said. “I felt kind of emancipated.

“I thought, Wow, this (antidepressant) Paxil is really working.'”

But it wasn’t. A psychopharmacologist gave him a new diagnosis: bipolar II disorder, a form of bipolar disorder with less extreme mood swings.

His new doctor told him to stop self-medicating — Didrickson said he hasn’t had a drink or abused a drug since — and put him on a mood stabilizer. And then began the painstaking process of trying to find the right antidepressant: six weeks getting to a therapeutic amount of a drug, then six weeks being weaned off when it didn’t work, again and again.

“My symptoms came back. I just felt terrible,” he said.

He was still manic, once getting up at 4 a.m. to drive to Lake Shore Drive to look at newly fixed potholes. He spent money recklessly. He spent hours obsessing over the paper stock to use for custom stationery.

The manic states always turned dark, ending with him lashing out at people — usually Harkin.

“When I begin my mania, it’s a great party,” he said. “But when it gets to be months into it, it gets uglier and uglier and uglier, to the point where you really are a monster.

“Mania isn’t happy; mania is crazy,” he said.

No antidepressant worked. Then a friend with bipolar recommended Adderall, the stimulant often prescribed for attention deficit disorder.

His doctor prescribed a standard amount. It did nothing.

So Didrickson took another dose. And he felt a little better.

“I started to feel buoyant,” he said. “I always talk about feeling underwater. I felt like I was finally breaking the surface.”

He didn’t know why he needed a higher dose. But then he came upon online message board postings by people who had undergone gastric bypass surgery and then found that their antidepressant medicines stopped working.

The gastric bypass surgery he had undergone years earlier to lose weight, he concluded, was keeping his body from absorbing the medicine.

Indeed, Zajecka said, gastric bypass surgery can change how people absorb medicines given for bipolar disorder.

The Mayo Clinic statement announcing Jackson’s diagnosis also noted that the weight-loss surgery he had “can change how the body absorbs food, liquids, vitamins, nutrients and medications.”

Didrickson’s doctor would only marginally increase his dosage of the notoriously abused amphetamine. It wasn’t until he switched doctors because of a change in his health care coverage that he got what he found to be an effective dose.

His longtime internist, Dr. Eric Christoff, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, gradually increased Didrickson’s dosage, with weekly appointments to check his blood pressure.

The depression lifted. He has been on the higher dosage for a year and a half.

“We have never seen any evidence of drug toxicity or high blood pressure,” Christoff said. “He’s really not absorbing much of any dose he’s taking.”

Many people with bipolar disorder are able to resume their previous lives.

“It’s one of the most treatable illnesses we have in medicine,” Zajecka said. “If it’s diagnosed properly and treated appropriately, there’s no reason they can’t get back to resuming a normal lifestyle and their normal goals in life.”

But Didrickson has been unable to go back to work and still has periods of depression and mania, though much milder ones. He manages the house, cooks and has taken up woodworking.

“Going out in the evening can be very, very, challenging for him,” Harkin said. “If we go to a concert or a dance performance and it’s too noisy, he’ll have to leave. If … there’s someone in a film who’s violent or cruel, that’s very upsetting to him too.”

“It’s nothing like I thought my life would be,” Didrickson said.

“The good thing, I guess, is that I don’t hold on to yesterdays,” he said. “That’s a blessing, I think, frankly. But I also don’t have tomorrow. My life isn’t about tomorrow.”

He has gone back to writing, which he did in college. He writes a blog about his experiences with bipolar, under the name T.M. Mulligan. The moniker stands for “Taking My Mulligan.”

“I’m having my do-over,” he said. “I’m taking the second chance.”

Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune

An Open Letter to U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Mayo Clinic Physicians

Dear Dr. So-and-So, et. al.:

I read with tremendous interest and a degree of de ja’ vu the front-page story written by Ms. Michael Sneed in the Sunday, August 5, 2012 Chicago Sun-Times which reported that U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. recently collapsed and had become completely debilitated by depression.  Upon reading the story, I experienced a staggering degree of recognition, for I too, have (and continue to do so) hit the same kind of wall as Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.: A crippling mental illness diagnosis, specifically major depression (changed later to Bipolar II) following gastric by-pass surgery.

The story reported that Ald. Sandi Jackson (wife of Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.) doesn’t know if her husband’s depression is connected to his weight-loss surgery.  As a person who finds himself in a very similar situation the development of major depression after elective gastric by-pass surgery) I would like to suggest that determining the cause of this on-set of depression is irrelevant and nearly impossible to determine.   Based on the past four years of failed orally administered pharmaceutical treatment attempts, I strongly suggest that you titrate the dosing levels of psychotropic therapies dramatically (50%-75% higher) or increase the potency of the psychotropic therapies to compensate for the substantial degree of malabsorption (the basic tenet of Duodenal Switch Surgery) caused by the significant reduction in stomach volume (up to 70%) and the dissection and rerouting of a large percentage of the small intestine (which is largely responsible for caloric absorption).  If the goal of the Duodenal Switch surgery is to limit volume and reduce absorption of food ingested orally, then common sense suggests that anything ingested orally will greatly lose its effectiveness (especially if the drug’s efficacy during clinical trials was based on subjects that did not undergo weight-loss surgery).  Except now we want the body to absorb what it’s ingesting!

I endured two needless years of trial and error attempting to discover pharmaceutical regimen which would lift me from depression and put a lid on my mania.  My psychopharmacologist knew I’d undergone gastric by-pass surgery a decade earlier yet refused to consider malabsorption as the cause of the ineffectiveness of every single prescription.  Frustrated by my psychiatric team’s myopia, I returned to the care of my internist; he was the first doctor to consider that my body’s ability to absorb oral treatments had been reduced by as much as 75%.  If an increase in dosage is impossible, then a different delivery system (IV, inhalation, transdermal patch, suppository) must be manufactured.   Please don’t waste Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.’s time prescribing the usual litany of drugs at their recommended doses: It’s akin to trying to stop a charging elephant with a water pistol.

Morbidly obese patients who were diagnosed as depressed and were being treated successfully through oral medications prior to gastric by-pass surgery discovered that post surgery their depression worsened and their pre-surgery oral medication treatment failed to reproduce the expected degree of pre-surgery success and relief.   Your patient is in crisis; your patient is experiencing a major depressive episode; your patient’s natural ability to absorb what he ingests has been compromised to the degree of ineffectiveness; your patient needs an extraordinary, preposterous, wholly unimaginable antidote, not a boilerplate solution. 

I salute the Jackson family for supporting Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. through this difficult period and wish them all God’s speed.

By-(pass) & Bi-(polar)

Please note:  If you know of someone who has had gastric by-pass surgery and is having similar experiences as I’ve described, please share this post with them.  They can send a note to:

Fact:  We cannot predict the future.  Fact:  Life has no guarantees.  Fact:  New ideas can be both liberating and debilitating.  Fact:  Those offering a service resulting in permanent physical modification should fully understand the immediate impact as well as future consequences.

Myth:  The Medical Community at-large fully understands the alternative treatment options researched and developed by medical professionals specializing in gastric by-pass surgery due to the post-gastric by-pass patients insufficient absorption of oral medications.

It’s been ten years since I elected to undergo the radical Roux-en-Y gastric by-pass surgery and permanently remove most of my stomach and a length of my small intestine.  The alienation of these two components produces significant weight-loss because: 1) You can’t eat much; and, 2) You can’t absorb much.  Yes, there is a fair amount of adjustment, but the weight literally falls off and stays off with an average regain of ten percent.

Remnants of the “old you” are carted to resale shops or, in my case, high-end tent and boat sail manufacturers.  Everything is absolutely wonderful until you hit a bump in the road say, like a complete mental breakdown. Psychiatrist’s whip out the antipsychotics and antidepressants like they were six-shooters; their effects are hardly immediate; many take as long as six weeks to burrow into your blood stream; still crazy?  No problem, the psychiatrist’s reach for the tommy-gun and another six-weeks pass; nothing.  Up and up and up we go until finally the two of us are sitting in a missile silo and his finger hovers above the launch button.  Dabbing his ever-perspiring brow with a cotton kerchief he mutters repeatedly, “this is unnatural, this is unnatural. . .”

It is unnatural!  Post-gastric by-pass patients have been modified, re-engineered; fundamental human mechanics, basic organ responsibilities, broad physical and chemical hypothesis tested and tried and approved by the FDA have little (if any) effect; we’re the svelte yet queer abomination of opportunistic, profit seeking surgeons that prey on the desperate obese willing to do anything to permanently lose weight.  Malabsorption is the snake oil the surgeons are hawking.

If I sound particularly harsh toward the bariatric profession it’s because I firmly believe that they have abdicated a large chunk of their responsibility not only to their patients, but to their fellow medical colleagues as well.  In  the ten years since I had gastric by-pass surgery, I have learned from a very reputable source, a doctor of some notoriety in the field of obesity, that to his knowledge, no one is, nor anyone has bothered to explore and/or discover and educate the medical community as to an alternative method of transporting medications into the body when oral absorption is impossible or only 25% effective (as is my case).  Or perhaps they could propose a mathematical equation which other medical colleagues could use to increase a gastric by-pass patient’s daily dosing.

The only medication that provides any relief from my mental illness is dextroamphetamine salt prescribed in a volume that aroused the suspicion of local pharmacists who publicly (in the presence of their staff and other customers) strongly suggested that I was either A) An addict or B) A pusher, then flatly refused to honor my doctor’s authorized prescription.

I suffer from a mental illness that kills 40% of those diagnosed by suicide; the commonly practiced treatment of prescribing oral antipsychotics and/or antidepressants is impossible because I elected to undergo gastric by-pass surgery ten years ago; if I become one of those 40% because the doctor’s that promote, promise, and perform these procedures have abdicated their responsibility to provide an effective treatment alternative in ten years, do me a favor: file a class-action lawsuit against every last one of them for their gross negligence!