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More than likely, at some point in our lives, there will be someone who will ask us what it is that we have and/or how does it affects us. How we answer could have a big impact on them and how they view us and mental illness. Our answer can feed the fear and stigma or take away some of its power.

If someone asks, “What is bipolar—what is it like?” our first reaction might be to go on a rant as to how awful it is, how it can cause extreme mood swings, impair our judgment therefore we might do foolish or dangerous things, how it has robbed us of a normal life or even how it might have disabled us. But that doesn’t explain what it is and what it does in our brain to cause the chaos. That kind of an answer just promotes more fear about a mental illness that causes havoc in someone’s life.

I think we should educate ourselves about our illness as to what seems to short-circuit and what part of the brain is affected. When we can respond with scientific/medical answers explaining the reason for the disorder in as simple terms as possible, we will be contributing to educating the public and removing some of the fear and stigma.

One simple answer that is sometimes given is that the neurotransmitters (or chemicals) along the neuropathways to the mood center in the brain become disrupted. This results in the mood swings and the cognitive difficulties that go along with them. It makes our brains different in the same way any other malfunctioning organ in the body is different. It doesn’t make us any less of a human being with dignity and hopes and dreams.

I appreciate what various mental health organizations are doing to help stamp out stigma and we need them. But we are our own best advocates and how we present ourselves to the world speaks volumes more than those organizations ever could. I work very hard to lead as normal a life as possible and if I’m going to be judged that should be what is measured, not the name of my disorder/illness.

What would be your answer to avoid perpetuating stigma if someone asked you, “What is bipolar and how does it make you feel”. I’m interested in your views on this.

I’ve heard of physician-assisted suicide also called euthanasia. In the U.S. the procedure is reserved for those people who are terminally ill as well as in a great deal of pain. It is legal in Vermont, Washington (state), and Oregon. It is allowable in Montana only by a court ruling. In the U.S. the procedure is reserved for those who are terminally ill as well as in a great deal of pain. It has come to my attention that overseas the procedure has been taken to another level.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, doctors are also allowed to assist with suicide for people with non-terminal cases of severe distress including psychological cases. Some of the people approved for doctor-assisted suicide suffered from manic depression (bipolar), anorexia, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis and Alzheimer’s. This list is just a sampling of how far a reach this now approved procedure has.

I find this very disturbing because severe distress and psychological issues can change for the better over time. I have been in that terrible pit of depression. It was so deep and mentally an emotionally painful it tore at my soul. I wanted to die because I didn’t think I could endure it anymore. At that point I could no longer see any light or hope. I couldn’t believe it would ever be over. I felt it would never end.   Many people with severe depression experience this in addition to any other unique ways their minds torture them. But whether we believe it or not, it is a temporary state and there is always hope that our doctors will find the right drug(s) to alleviate or even rid us of the depressions in the future. After 6 years my doctor finally found a combination that works for me and life is good again.

It is my fear that in the not so far off future the laws in many U.S. states will relax and follow the lead set by the Netherlands and Belgium. People who are afraid of trying to commit suicide themselves for whatever reason will find a doctor to do it for them without any chance of failure. What kind of world are we living in where we can just dispose of people who have a chance of living well? Euthanasia for the terminally ill frightens me but this new twist alarms me.

Had I killed myself, I would have missed being well again. I’d have missed out on a future with my husband and our family. I wouldn’t hear my grandsons laugh again. I’d miss all the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I am grateful to be alive with a promising future ahead of me. I have found joy after severe bipolar depression.

I pray you hold on. There is definitely hope.

I’ve now enjoyed 10 months of stability. I finally know what “normal” feels like aside from the side effects of the drugs I’m taking. When I’m feeling good I often think that perhaps I don’t have bipolar at all. I blame myself for making bad choices to cause the mood swings. In reality, that thinking is hogwash. I had mood swings even when I made wonderfully good choices.   At times like now, when I’m feeling very well, I sometimes think that it would be an awesome thing if researchers actually came up with a test for bipolar and other disorders. Perhaps I’d find out I don’t have bipolar at all! My mind will run with that thought in spite of the mood chart I’ve kept for the past 6 years that documents rapid cycling mood swings. I’m told this kind of thinking is a normal occurrence among those of us with bipolar.

I’m sure that many of you have experienced wishing that a definitive test would be discovered to correctly diagnose us.

The Test is in the Works

A blood test is being worked on that would identify a biomarker in psychiatric patients.   This test could pave the way for improved treatment. Imagine what a great tool this could be for diagnosis and treatment. Xianjin Zhou, PHD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine along with several colleagues is doing this study. You can read more about it here: http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/mood-disorders/new-biomarker-earlier-detection-mental-illness-women/article/422105/

I would like to see that test perfected and approved for use soon for others who need a diagnosis or to confirm or disprove one already made.

I will continue to keep myself grounded when my mind takes the “I don’t have bipolar” trips. I know from my mood chart and my journal notes that my psychiatrist got the diagnosis right.

 

 

Can We Take Charge of Our Lives?

There are some people who believe that those with bipolar disorder or some other serious mental illness can’t change. They believe we can’t control our mood swings and therefore can’t control our lives or ourselves. I’ve met a few of these people, both the ones with the illness and their loved ones as well as those who have a difficult time believing in mental illness at all. I’ve met them in support groups, through friends, at work and at church.

It is true that there are some people with bipolar that either don’t connect their behavior to their mood swings or they feel they are at the mercy of the swings—they believe they have no control.   Who has told them that lie? Sometimes it is loved ones who make excuses for “Johnny” reinforcing the idea that he’s sick and can’t help himself.   If our loved ones don’t believe in us then we must be hopelessly prone to acting out in some way during our cycles, caught in a never-ending loop. WRONG.

We Must Believe in Ourselves

We must believe in ourselves. We can learn how to respond to our mood swings and the things they make us feel like doing. Rather than immediately reacting to the swing and the thoughts and emotions that go with them, we can give thoughtful consideration to what the correct response should be This takes time to learn. It means becoming aware of the signals leading up to a mood swing, which takes time. It’s a slow process but pays big dividends in the end. Learning this skill can even shorten or stop a mood swing from taking place. It gives us some control. It helps us funnel that energy into a positive behavior rather than allowing it to bloom into a negative behavior, thought or feeling. Drugs are helpful but can’t totally eliminate all of our bipolar symptoms. Learning these skills can help to stabilize us where the drugs can’t do the whole job.

Real Stability, Finally

I find this to be helpful in my own life. I have been drug resistant and using awareness and a positive response to the signals and the mood swings for several years. It has been a tremendous help. Recently we (my doctor and I) found a drug combination that helps me by slowing down the cycles significantly(I’ve been an ultra rapid cycler). But I still need the tools so when swings do come I can ward them off or keep them from rocketing too high or dropping too low. I’ve been more stable now than I have been for most of my life. I wish this for you too.

 

 

 

 

It is very important for someone with bipolar to have routines for daily living.  

Equally important are keeping stress levels down and getting enough sleep.  I’ve been doing very well in these areas but the past three days have been a reminder of how hard it is for parents, especially for parents with bipolar or another mental illness.
We had the privilege of babysitting our two grandsons in our home for three whole days.  They are very well behaved but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a challenge.  They are seven and nine years old and full of energy.  The challenge was keeping them entertained and answering the questions with which they peppered us.  We took them to a park, bike riding around our development, played a board game and gave them a contraption building set to use with the action figures they brought to play with.  They did have a few times where they entertained themselves with the building set and action figures but the noise and chatter never stopped.  And I’m not saying  it should have.  It’s just that I had forgotten what went on when we were raising our own three boys.  It didn’t seem quite so exhausting when we were young with children.  Now we’re older and out of practice.  They wore us out but it was worth it.  We love them and cherish our time with them.  And hopefully our bonds are stronger.
My routine was shot to pieces and the noise and constant activity all contributed to feeling stressed.  I was determined to not let it set off a mood swing.  I forced myself to stay focused on each moment through mindfulness.  And I reminded myself that the situation was not permanent and would end soon.  I would get my orderly life back.  When I would feel guilty for feeling that way during our grandsons’ stay with us, I would tell myself what I would tell someone else going through the same situation, “I have a mental illness that I control by keeping daily routines, planning for activities outside and inside the home, keeping the house clean and free of clutter and avoiding loud noise at home (it’s hard to do outside the home).  Maintaining these things is essential for my well being.  Disruption of these areas causes stress and anxiety which are triggers for mood swings.  I need to care for myself to stay mentally healthy and strong.”  But my coping skills were in place and I used them well.  There were no mood swings.  And I was able to enjoy the boys while we had them.  I wasn’t as outgoing as I would have liked to have been but I’m an introvert anyway.   

It’s been nearly 9 months and I have maintained a normal mood state. I am very grateful. I didn’t realize the amount of energy it took to keep myself functioning at as regular a level as possible while dealing with bipolar mood swings. It’s wonderful to live on an even keel without an enormous effort. Of course it’s not just the skills I’ve learned that keeps me so steady now but finally getting the right mix of meds too.

The dilemma I find myself in now is how much do I give up to maintain this wonderful state. There are side affects to these medications. I have fine tremors in my hands which make writing difficult. My beautiful handwriting is gone. My kidney function is down a bit – not at all enough to worry yet but enough that my primary doctor wants to run tests every 3 months to monitor whether or not it progresses. Then there’s the problem of me losing my voice. It started after taking these meds. It is a known side affect though not as common as the others. My primary doctor wants me to see an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) to find out if it’s due to another reason. It could be and I hope it’s reversible. It’s sad because I can’t sing anymore. Sometimes I can barely talk. I am constantly hoarse. If I drop and change any of these meds, I am risking upsetting this balance I’ve finally achieved after 6 years of trying different mixes of them. I am reluctantly willing to sacrifice my handwriting and have a slight tremor. I am willing to live with a very slight decrease in kidney function as long as my primary doctor keeps monitoring it. But losing my voice, if it is due to the meds, is difficult to accept. I need my voice to communicate with the world. It’s tiring to try to speak up when you are hoarse. People ask what’s wrong with my voice. If I tell them it’s my meds they’ll wonder why I just don’t stop them. How do I explain?

But then I look back and realize I need to keep everything in perspective. I suffered severe depressions far more often than hypomania and a few of those depressions were dangerous. I don’t want to go back to that so I can understand why my psychiatrist is against changing anything. He weighs what I have to give up against finally achieving balance and normalcy after so many years. He doesn’t want to put me at risk again. Giving up my voice is a tough one, though.

 

But in spite of the difficulties, I am very grateful for a normal life. Finally.

 

I’ll let you know what the ENT discovers.

It’s a New Year.  It’s a time for reflection on the events of the past year, how I handled them and then evaluate how I can improve during this new year.

What are my goals for this year?

I want to keep working at self mastery as far as bipolar disorder is concerned; controlling my thoughts and not allowing myself to ruminate helps to control and/or prevent anxiety’ which is a trigger for me. This is something I’ve already been working on but I want to perfect it.

I want to pursue strengthening friendships with a few people. I find relationships outside of my immediate family difficult so this will take a lot of effort to prevent anxiety from building and being a possible trigger. Some people might say , “Then why try to accomplish this?” Because having friends is important to me and to my husband. Friends enrich our lives and hopefully we do theirs. My disorder doesn’t affect only me. If I say I can’t have people over, my husband doesn’t get to do it either and he thrives on interaction with people. So I’m trying and will make a greater effort this year.

Every year that I work hard at strengthening and expanding my control and capabilities, the more improvement I see in my life.

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