Kenyan lawyer in US Reveals her struggles with Bipolar disorder-Personal Confession

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Regina NjoguA few years ago, I burst into the scene with energy, brio, and a conquering spirit. Around late 2011 to 2012 and part of 2013, I had everything going for me. I was healthy fortunate, and my law practice was doing quite well. In fact, I was doing so well especially because of ingenious advertising, that I became a household name among Kenyans in the US Diaspora.

As time progressed and the pressure from my work and family circumstances mounted, unbeknownst to me, things started bursting at the seams. I slowly began getting sloppy, reckless, and indulging in excesses. Odd things were happening to me but they were the least of my concerns. When people close to me pointed them out, I insisted that everything was fine. I was still incredibly productive but I was increasingly seeking relief from the pressures of life by indulging in alcohol.

I had my first DUI in 2011 after 15 years of being in the US. Before that, I did not have even a parking ticket!. In 2013, I got another DUI. It did not bother me any bit. I felt as if I was riding high and I did not care. My moods were becoming more and more erratic to the point that I did not feel my essence though I did not have the mind to decipher that things were ‘off’. I began by seeking treatment for anxiety and depression for which I was put undermedication.  I also increasingly used alcohol to self medicate, My mood swings did not improve with medication and instead got worse.

Those who met me around 2012 and 2013 could tell that I was out of line or that I was acting weird. Sometimes I would be bubbly, over excited and my speech would be fast and loud. When drunk, I tended to be argumentative and to start a conflict. Oh, and I did not mention that I quit going to church in early 2011, yet before then I had been a committed and faithful member of a local church.

I also had this feeling of invincibility, always insisting on driving when I was too drunk to drive, which led to DUIs and other undesirable consequences. I was impulsive and turbulent. My driving when sober was dangerous. I would hit curbsides or drive off the road and think it was fine. My parking was ridiculous. I rarely parked within a parking space. Weirdly, I did not notice all this. They were always pointed out to me by others and I did not acknowledge them.

In 2013, my mood and behavior became so erratic that almost everyone in my life especially those that knew me before told me that there was something wrong with me. In response, I reluctantly visited a psychiatrist and told him what was happening.  He out rightly told me that it sounded like I had Bipolar. I did not know what having bipolar meant or what it really was.
I was put on a regimen of medication which was slow to kick in. Then I had to deal with the consequences of my reckless conduct and error of judgment that I had accrued while I labored under the symptoms of my illness. I also started googling to understand what Bipolar is. The googling helped me understand my past conduct and disposition. I was also shocked to learn that some of the symptoms of bipolar if not all would be considered character defects. These are behaviors that would ordinarily attract judgment and condemnation of family members and society.  Society would notconsider them beyond the control of an individual but which are in fact beyond the control of a bipolar sufferer.

Basically, I learned that bipolar is a mood disorder consisting mainly of mood swings ranging from mania to depression. During the manic phase of the disease a person with bipolar exhibits symptoms that include; increased energy, activity, and restlessness    excessively “high,” overly good, euphoric mood, extreme irritability, poor judgment, racing thoughts, talking loud and very fast, jumping from one idea to another, distractibility, lack of  concentration, needing little sleep, abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications, beingprovocative, intrusive, or aggressive and denial that anything is wrong – See more at: http://ibpf.org/about-bipolar-disorder#sthash.88p92a5d.dpuf

The depressive phase of bipolar co0nsists of symptoms such as  poor appetite or eating too much, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, nervousness and worry, loss of interest in and withdrawal from usual activities, feelings of sadness that don’t go away, irritability or restlessness, lack of energy, feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt, inability to think or concentrate, repeated thoughts of death or suicide, chronic pain or other physical problems that don’t respond to treatment, increased risk-taking behavior, including reckless driving or substance abuse – See more at:http://ibpf.org/about-bipolar-disorder#sthash.88p92a5d.dpuf

By the time I was diagnosed with the illness, I had done quite a bit of damage through recklessness and poor judgment. For example, I got in trouble with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission/Bar for a case in which I got involved in a business deal with a client by getting her to register my car in her name so that I could save money on insurance.

The case was concluded last October. I admitted the facts of the allegations, explaining that what happened was during a time when I was suffering under symptoms of bipolar and was beyond my control.  A Psychologist commissioned by the Grievance Commission examined me and my medical records and concurred with my explanation. As a result, The Attorney Grievance Commission with my consent, agreed to have me indefinitely suspended from the practice of law in Maryland until I am able to provide certification from a physician showing that my illness is under control.

The suspension could be two weeks, two months, or two years or more….. The New York Bar has not made a similar decision despite having the same facts. I have been on medication for over fifteen months. My illness is under control and I am now just managing it. I do not drink and I am not letting bipolar be my waterloo. No one should, there is hope. If anything look at it like this: bipolar is a condition like any other – like diabetes. People can live with it as long as they are on medication when they need to be.

Bipolar requires long term treatment and self-awareness. It can strike anyone at any age.  There are many successful, productive, and working people that live with it. For many psychiatrists, bipolar is the ‘best mental illness’ to have because it is highly treatable and those that suffer from it can lead normal lives with treatment. According to some psychiatrists everyone has bipolar – it is only the degree that differs.

On a serious note, if you suspect that you might have bipolar, talk to your doctor before it gets out of hand like it did for me. Treatment is easy and recovery starts early although it could last long. Also, no one is going to deny youemployment because you have bipolar. There are thousands of people – doctors, business luminaries, engineers and the like that have bipolar and work productively. Do not worry about stigma and judgment from people. Those who stigmatize or judge people because of mental illness are ignorant bigots who are living in the 18th century. Do what is best for you; people will judge you either way.

If you want to reach out to me for moral support, email me atn ungaripaul@yahoo.com. I welcome correspondence with those that have any other form of mental illness.

Lastly, to the community at large, please do not be quick to judge nor stigmatize those suffering from this or other mental illness – you never know if it will affect you or your family member(s).  If you choose to celebrate because your adversary is suffering a particular illness, that is between you and God.

In my case, some people went into public records and got part of the information on my Maryland Bar case and sent it to The Daily Nation and other newspapers in an attempt to make my personal misfortunes and tribulations news.  And if anyone chooses to use them to malign me, please give out complete information. But I highly doubt that any newspaper would consider my issues newsworthy.

By Regina Wanjiru Njogu | Nungaripaul@yahoo.com

-jambonewspot.com

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