Living with Bipolar Disorder
I Have Bipolar Disorder
I have Bipolar Disorder. I was diagnosed about ten years ago, and hope that my experience and knowledge will help you understand this difficult disorder.
In my opinion, there are three things that are crucial to treating Bipolar Disorder:
The Unpredictability of Bipolar Disorder
Sometimes, no matter what I do, my brain decides to be depressed.
It doesn't matter if my medicine was working great last week, or if I have many things to be grateful for.
My brain chemicals just mess up sometimes, and depression ensues.
My depressed symptoms: Negative thoughts, no motivation, no enjoyment, low self esteem.
Depression is hard to get out of, but I try to work my way through it. I try to still do somewhat normal things, and I do a lot of self-talk and tell myself that it's the depression that makes me think these negative thoughts. I try to remind myself of what feeling positive is like.
I also try to take medicine to make my depression get better. Sometimes vitamin B-12 helps me feel a bit better.
Sometimes stress causes my brain to go manic instead of becoming depressed.
Sometimes my brain just starts feeling manic for an unknown reason. Maybe it's a change of the seasons, change in my environment, or just some strange neural wiring glitch.
This can happen, even if I've been taking my medicine faithfully.
My first symptoms are usually fast thoughts, talking loudly and excitedly, feeling absolutely wonderful, things look glowy or bright, having strange thoughts......... Impulsive thoughts.
If it gets worse, I might get really scattered... If I don't stop myself, I might act on my impulsive thoughts...
Fortunately, I generally am aware enough to tell my husband that this is happening, and we work together to make the episode go away. Maybe take more/different medicine, lay down in a dark room, or do something else to try to slow myself down.
Why Me? - Why do I have this Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is annoying because the symptoms come and go.....
The hypomanic side (being mildly "up") is a creative mood that I often enjoy. I am full of ideas, hope, aspirations, dreams, creativity. There must be a positive side of bipolar disorder, and I think that learning to control and live in this hypomanic world is it.
Yet there are so many difficulties. It can go too far. The brain can go from creative and happy to obsessed, paranoid, scattered, or suicidal.
Why do I have a smart yet troubled brain? Don't you ask that same question about yourself (or about the one you love)? So many intelligent people have this disorder.
I see people who appear to have the ambition, drive, creativity that is associated with hypomania but who are not Bipolar. Their mood doesn't go too far........ Or does it?
Hypomania is good for success, isn't it?
Medicine for Bipolar Disorder
#1 Most Important Thing
Every day I take medicine. Without it, I wouldn't be doing nearly as well.
Bipolar Disorder is a brain disorder. Neurotransmitters (and probably other chemicals) in your brain cause your moods.
If you're like most people, there will likely be a lot of trial and error... The first medicine you try might not work at all, or the dosage may have to be adjusted before it works. It is also possible that it works initially and then stops working. Medication combinations are common.
It is also possible that it might take awhile before you find the right doctor for you.
Bipolar Disorder is usually first treated with a Mood Stabilizer, such as a Lithium or Depakote, which are common first line drugs for it. Other drugs that your doctor may try are Carbamazepine, Seroquel, Risperidone, and Geodone, just to name a few. There are many to choose from, and your doctor will decide what to try based on your symptoms and how you respond to medication.
If you are suffering from depression, you also may be described an anti-depressant. There are dozens of antidepressant medications to choose from. Most of these change the level of Serotonin in your brain, and some of them also change the other neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Norepinephrine.
Often people with Bipolar Disorder also have anxiety, and if that's the case, you may be prescribed something for anxiety. However, sometimes the antidepressants and mood stabilizers also help with that.
Doctors generally don't prescribe antidepressants by themselves if you have Bipolar Disorder because antidepressants can cause mania and rapid cycling - which means faster mood changes!
Medication for Bipolar Disorder - It can get complicated - here are some links.
Awareness of Symptoms - #2 Most Important Thing
I constantly monitor how I'm feeling and I adjust my meds and activities based on how I'm feeling.
The trick to controlling Bipolar Disorder is to recognize when a mood episode is starting up and to do something early to try to stop it from getting worse.
Since each person is different, your symptoms aren't going to be the same as everyone. There are many books that will help you to understand Bipolar Disorder, but this one below is one of my top recommendations.
"Invaluable for people with bipolar disorder. Dr. Basco clearly lays out the 4-step plan to See It Coming, Take Precaution, Reduce Your Symptoms, and Check Your Progress. There is an excellent discussion of the issues that people face in coming to terms with the diagnosis. This excellent book will help people understand that getting the correct diagnosis is an opportunity to make sense of the past and prepare for the future. The Workbook is filled with excellent and easy-to-use forms that will be helpful in recognizing mood shifts, developing a plan of action, challenging unrealistically positive and negative thinking, and reducing the risk of acting out. People with bipolar disorder will find this to be a daily reminder of how much they can effectively help themselves live happier and more productive lives."--Robert L. Leahy, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Create a Low Stress Environment for Yourself
#3 Most Important Thing
I know this may be easier said than done. There will always be bills to pay, people you don't get along with, and the unexpected turn of events from time to time.
However, you can do things to cushion yourself a bit and protect yourself from stress. Stress is the biggest de-stabilizer. Even if you've found the right medicine, a stressful time can cause breakthrough symptoms and might require a med adjustment.
Here's what I've found about HOW to create a low stress environment:
1. Pick your battles wisely. Think about the importance of the battle, and about your emotional state before getting involved in a situation that may take up your emotional energy.
2. Create a routine for yourself. Do some of the same things every day, in the same order. It helps make life less predictable. Knowing what's coming next will help you to control your moods.
3. Sleep and eat regularly. Not sleeping can induce mania. Not eating can cause mood problems related to blood sugar.
4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drugs. This differs from person to person. For me, avoiding caffeine is especially important.
5. Save up money so that you can get through rough times. Financial stress is one of the biggest stresses. Figure out a way to save some money. Putting your change in a jar is one way. It might not seem like much but it can really add up.
6. Have positive relationships. If you are having relationship trouble, see a therapist to work through it. If there are toxic people in your life, consider limiting their contact with you. Develop friendships with people who understand your Bipolar disorder and who will look out for you.
7.Be Honest about Bipolar Disorder. Some days I think that my bipolar disorder is cured, and now I can go back to school and become an emergency room doctor. I think I would love the thrill of making life saving decisions...... But wait a moment. I have bipolar disorder and stress makes things worse, not better! So as I consider my career, I have to be honest about what kind of work is low stress. If I didn't have bipolar disorder, I might go for a stressful job, but I know that would make my disorder flare up. It's hard because I know that I am smart enough to do some jobs but my brain isn't well enough.
The Best Website on Bipolar II - Bipolar II is Mood Swings without Mania
Dr. Jim Phelps's website "Psych Education" is by far the best resource on the web for learning about Bipolar II disorder. I've spent hours reading it and highly recommend the book. (See below).
This is the book version of the above website.