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Invisible Illness Week – Bipolar Disorder

14/09/2010

*This post is republished in celebration of Invisible Illness Awareness week.  Take the time to tell those you know suffering with a chronic illness you care.*

invisible illnessI don’t watch the news because it depresses me.  It just happened to be on the other day while I cooked dinner.  The lead story made me so sad.  It was this story out of Boston about a psychiatric patient with Bipolar Disorder who stabbed his psychiatrist before being shot to death.  While I felt awful for the psychiatrist I was annoyed with the coverage the media offered.  The sole focus of their report was a “crazy” Bipolar patient attacking his doctor and this was common among “bipolar people.”  Instead they should have focused on the fact that this patient was not complying with his doctor’s orders, therefore putting himself and others at risk.  NO doctor can force a patient to follow his or her advice.

What disturbed me most about the coverage and often the media in general is “selling the story.”  The most sensational portion of a story is often chosen to be the lead of the nightly news and the important parts are forgotten (such as the health of the doctor or why the patient acted out).

What irks me most about the story is the impression is leaves of people who struggle with bipolar disorder.  Crazy, attacking, dangerous are the first things that will come to mind.  You won’t think of the hundreds and thousands of people who are diagnosed in a year.  You won’t think of the people who faithfully take their medications, working with their psychiatrists to maintain health and stability.  You won’t think of the people who know the difference in the quality of life with proper medical treatment.

***Basically you forget ….ME!***

bipolar

Yep, this is the face of Bipolar Disorder.  To look at me you’d never know I’ve had symptoms since childhood and have been properly medicated since my late teen years.  You’d never know that I had been hospitalized three times for various conditions related to my mental health, each stay lasting at least one week.  You’d never know my sole reason for graduating early from High School was my mania fueled speed studying of all my assignments.  Honestly, you wouldn’t know at all about my Bipolar Disorder useless it came up in conversation.

Actually, I’m not BIPOLAR… I am a person living with Bipolar Disorder.

With Bipolar Disorder being one of the new buzz topics with commercials, news reports, and magazine articles, I thought it would be good to give more information about the condition with a personal perspective.  Knowledge about anything is power.

From WebMD:

  • What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that is characterized by extreme changes in mood, from mania to depression. It can lead to risky behavior, damaged relationships and careers, and even suicidal tendencies if it’s not treated.  Women are more likely to suffer from Bipolar Disorder and it can be diagnosed to children as young as 6.

I wasn’t diagnosed until age 16.  In discussions with my first psychiatrist she determined childhood behaviors indicated I probably had early onset Bipolar disorder.  My actual diagnosis came after a manic episode on Super Bowl Sunday right after my 16th birthday.

  • What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

The primary symptoms of bipolar disorder are dramatic and unpredictable mood swings.

Mania Symptoms

Mania symptoms may include excessive happiness, excitement, irritability, restlessness, increased energy, less need for sleep, racing thoughts, high sex drive, and a tendency to make grand and unattainable plans.

Depression Symptoms

Depression symptoms may include sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of energy, uncontrollable crying, change in appetite causing weight loss or gain, increased need for sleep, difficulty making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide.

My symptoms are pretty bad.  When manic, I’m extremely angry and irritable.  I feel like my mind is racing a mile a minute and I can’t keep up.  It is extremely annoying while trying to hold conversations or do work.  When depressed, I can’t get out of bed and struggle to make decisions.  I often sleep for hours on end and life doesn’t seem worth living.

  • Are there more than one type of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar I

A person affected by bipolar I disorder has had at least one manic episode in his or her life. A manic episode is a period of abnormally elevated mood, accompanied by abnormal behavior that disrupts life.

Bipolar II

Bipolar II is similar to bipolar I disorder, with moods cycling between high and low over time. However, in bipolar II disorder, the “up” moods never reach full-on mania.

Rapid Cycling

In rapid cycling, a person with bipolar disorder experiences four or more episodes of mania or depression in one year. About 10% to 20% of people with bipolar disorder have rapid cycling.

Mixed Bipolar

In most forms of bipolar disorder, moods alternate between elevated and depressed over time. But with mixed bipolar disorder, a person experiences both mania and depression simultaneously or in rapid sequence.

Cyclothymia

Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder) is a relatively mild mood disorder. People with cyclothymic disorder have milder symptoms than in full-blown bipolar disorder.

I have a rapid cycling Bipolar I diagnosis.  I’ve had extreme manias in my past but my highs and lows can be within hours or  minutes of each other.  My version is actually called ultra radian cycling because of the extremely short periods of time between cycles (as short as 10 minutes).

  • What are the treatments for Bipolar Disorder?

Medications

If you have bipolar disorder, you will probably need medication. In reality, you may need bipolar medication for the rest of your life.

Therapy

Along with medication, ongoing psychotherapy, or “talk” therapy, is an important part of treatment for bipolar disorder. During therapy, you can discuss feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that cause you problems.

Treating Bipolar Mania

If you are suffering from mania, your doctor may initially treat you with an antipsychotic drug, benzodiazepine, and/or lithium to quickly control hyperactivity, sleeplessness, hostility, and irritability. Your doctor will also likely prescribe a mood stabilizer.

Treating Bipolar Depression

Today, the recommended treatments for bipolar depression may include lithium, an anticonvulsant, an antipsychotic medication, or a combination of these medications — all with the goal of modulating moods without igniting a manic episode.

I’m a firm believer of better life through chemistry.  When first diagnosed, I was not happy with the medications because they made me sick and therefore didn’t take them as prescribed.  During a semester break from college to work solely on therapy and medications, my psychiatrist found a combination that worked for my specific combination of symptoms.  Each person is unique with how medications affect them and which cocktail will work.  Since gaining stability with medications I have little to no symptoms.  Occasionally my medications are adjusted if symptoms flare.

I continue to do therapy sessions weekly to help me sort through my life and how it affects my symptoms.  These sessions help limit stress that aggravates my symptoms.  Honestly I think anyone, diagnosed or not, could benefit from a little therapy.  Who doesn’t want someone to listen to all your problems and help you solve them? Money well spent in my opinion.

  • Are there non-medical things that can help with Bipolar Disorder?

It’s important to realize that medication and therapy are the best treatments for dealing with Bipolar disorder.  However there are other healthy living habits that can make it even more manageable.

  • Exercise. Studies show that regular exercise can help improve mood whether or not you have bipolar disorder. It can also help you sleep better. Talk to your health care provider about what kind of exercise routine you should try. Start slowly. Take walks around the neighborhood with a friend. Gradually, work up to exercising on most days of the week.
  • Eat a healthy diet. No, there isn’t a miracle diet for bipolar disorder. But a good meal plan can help you feel better and give you the nutrients you need. Avoid fad diets that force you to cut out food groups. Instead, focus on the basics: Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less fat and sugar.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Being over tired can trigger mania those with bipolar disorder. So get into good sleep habits. Go to sleep and get up at the same times every day. Relax before bed by listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a bath. Don’t sit up in bed watching TV. In fact, experts recommend you make your bedroom a calming space, and only use it for sleep and sex.
  • Relax. Anxiety can trigger mood episodes in many people with bipolar disorder. So make a real effort to relax. Lying on the couch watching TV isn’t enough. Instead, try something more focused, like yoga or meditation.
  • Reduce stress at home and at work. Ask for help with some of the stressful things in your life. See if your spouse, family, or friends will take care of some of the housework and other hassles. If your job is proving to be too much, think about ways of scaling back some of your responsibilities. Do what you can to simplify your life and make it easier.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drugs. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can keep you up at night and possibly exacerbate your mood. So cut back — or cut out — soda, coffee, and tea. Alcohol and drugs can affect how your medications work. They can also worsen bipolar disorder and possibly trigger a mood episode.
  • Get on a schedule. Many people with bipolar disorder find that sticking to a daily schedule can help control their mood. Incorporate all of these things — exercise, healthy meals, relaxation, and sleep — into a pattern that you more or less stick to every day.
  • Once I was properly medicated I still didn’t have a good handle on my health.  I wasn’t experiencing symptoms but my health stunk and my weight meant to higher dosages of medication.  Once I found my healthy weight through diet and exercise my mental health further improved.  Now in addition to medication I use non-medical treatments such as reducing stress, avoiding caffeine (except my 1 cup of coffee), and getting a good night’s rest.  I never used drugs and don’t drink.  I feel off if I happen to miss one of theses things even for a few days.  That’s my big flashing light to get back on track.

    If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer to the best of my ability.

    *I’m not a doctor but this is my disorder and can answer from my perspective.  If you think you or someone you know is struggling with Bipolar Disorder seek out the care of a doctor.

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    14 Comments leave one →
    1. 14/09/2010 9:41 AM

      thank you for sharing your story with us, drawing awareness, and for outlining drug AND natural ways to help tame bipolar disorder. Have a great day!!

    2. 14/09/2010 9:56 AM

      Thank you so much for writing about this! People tend to equate bi-polar with crazy, which is unfortunate. I have type 2, so I was entirely functional all through college and law school and didn’t have any noticeable issues until I was already working as a lawyer… But being properly medicated makes all the difference in the world! My brother has type 1, and after 12 years, he has never found a medication (or combination) that works well for him.

      • 14/09/2010 5:36 PM

        It is entirely possible to be functional with BP 2. I have a family member that wasn’t diagnosed until recently and now is working to get the right combination of medication. Thank you for sharing your story.

    3. 14/09/2010 10:02 AM

      Thanks for sharing this. It is a very brave and wonderfully written post. You’ve inspired me to share my experience with anxiety at some point in the future, a topic that I always keep to myself.

      • 14/09/2010 5:39 PM

        Thank you for the compliment. It was difficult to write but people need to know and understand even just a bit more.

    4. 14/09/2010 12:55 PM

      Oh my God. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post!!!!!!!!

      My dad suffers from Bipolar 1, with his cycles generally about 3 years apart. Right now he is suffering from mania, and we are struggling to keep him on medications. People just do not realize how real and heartwrenching this disease is for so many Americans. It doesn’t mean you are crazy, it doesn’t mean you should get less respect. It is just a sad fact of life, and it wreaks havoc not just on the sufferers, but for their families and friends.

      Thank you for opening up and speaking about this.

    5. 14/09/2010 1:17 PM

      Thanks for sharing this with us! I think it will open a lot of peoples eyes.

    6. 15/09/2010 12:56 PM

      Great post. Thanks for this! 😀

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