Q: Questions re: Blackouts
My name is Justine and I was diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorder 8
years ago and was medicated for depression 2 years prior to that diagnoses.
although I must be a pro by now I have a question about "blackouts". all the
articles I've read about bipolar blackouts its usually in a fit of rage, but mine
are very real and very driffrent. when I have what I call a bipolar "episode" which
either happens if I forget to take my meds or if I'm building an immunity to
them my blackouts can last hours, days, or like when I was younger and not
properly medicated weeks, months, or years. I'm not going to say that I don't get
enraged sometimes but most of the time I'm not.
I cant remember half of my life, do to these blackouts. we know that something
is wrong when I cant remember what I did that day and only know I did do
something because there is evidence that I did. I also get upset easier, and
overreact, so the two put together and I figure out that something is wrong and
I need to call my doctor. why do I have these types of blackouts? Are these so
called "normal" for someone with bipolar disorder? Why do I get them? It's bad
enough that I have to live with these horrible diseases that have affected my
life so terribly that I cant even work. it would be good to learn at least one
thing answered for me so I might understand my disease a little better. Thank
you please write back.
Dear Justine --
A doc' couldn't be sure just what's going on without a lot more information than
we could expect you to be able to provide here, but there are couple of
explanations you might want to learn more about, and perhaps eventually (when
you know more, so can see for yourself whether these ideas make sense for you or
not) ask your doctor about.
The word "blackout" is very strong. Your story here
makes it pretty clear that you really do mean that somehow, you're not "there":
you don't have a memory for what was going on, and you discover later that you
were doing something (by finding evidence of your action; for many people, this
can be something they bought, or something someone says that they said or did).
I can't tell if you mean you "see things go black"; it sounds more like you mean
there's just a big chunk of time that you don't remember. Here are two common
ways that people can miss a chunk of time.
First, you could be having a type of seizure that
doesn't make you fall down and shake (those are called "grand mal" or
generalized seizures), but rather one that makes you unaware of what's going on
(a common version of this type is called "petit mal" or partial complex
seizure). If someone who knows you reports that during one of these times you
were doing some odd, sort of automatic behavior like smacking your lips, over
and over, that is a clue which can suggest that you might be having this kind of
seizure. Learn about partial complex seizures and then, if that seems to fit,
ask your doctor about investigating that possible explanation.
Second, you could be having "fugue states", or what is
now called "dissociation". When this is dramatic, people can lose a huge chunk
of time, certainly at least many days (months or a year, that would be much more
unusual). They find things they bought, like dresses in their closet, but can't
remember buying; or they can meet a person who seems to know them, obviously
you've met before, yet the person looks like a perfect stranger to you. Learn
about "fugue states" or "dissociation" and see if that fits your experience.
When this kind of experience is repeated over and over, we might say the person
has "dissociative disorder", so that's another term to search to learn more.
As you can see, if I'm interpreting your description of
this experience correctly (really "not there"), then we might not be talking
about "bipolar disorder" here. Such an experience as this is not commonly
recognized as part of bipolar disorder. Of course, you could have bipolar
disorder and one of the conditions I've described above. That might sound
like really bad luck, to get two different mental conditions; one would be bad
enough. Statistically it might seem very unlikely to be unlucky enough to get
two. But these conditions are actually related, somewhat, to one another, so
it's not that unusual to have dissociation and bipolar disorder; or bipolar
symptoms and partial complex seizures. I hope your doctor can help you evaluate
these possibilities after you've learned more about them.
Published March, 2006