Thursday, December 7, 2006

Bipolar Acceptance

A reader took the time to send me an email about their personal experiences with Bipolar Disorder. How nice. Thank you!

Some of the things in our exchange got me thinking about a post I had been mulling around for a bit so now seems an appropriate time to write it. I think this a great topic that everyone with Bipolar can relate to and I could probably go on about it forever but I'll try to keep it brief. And I'm a little fuzzed out today so...well, let me just give it a go.

Stage 1: The Diagnosis

Oh my god, I'm Bipolar! What the hell does that mean?! If you didn't suffer panic attacks before you just might start now! Welcome to Identity Crisis (Part I.) Congratulations! You've now been affixed with a label that you may proudly (if you dare?) wear for the rest of your life. You get to ponder what the stigma of it all means and how to disclose this new information about yourself. Who do I tell? Do I tell?

Relax. Slow down (if you're still not a whirling dirvish of manic cycling) and breathe. You can and will get help. Find a good psychiatrist and therapist (if you feel necessary--although, I've always been a believer in utilizing both therapies: meds and psychotherapy) and do talk about it with people you are close to that you feel you can trust. Develop a good support system. Get to know what to do in a crisis. Don't be afraid to use hotlines or telephone support numbers or even 911 if you need it! There is nothing wrong with you. You have an illness, not a character flaw.

Stage 2: Meds

Welcome to the med-go-round! Unfortunately it is very rare to find the "magic bullet" right off the hop with Bipolar. In fact, there may not even be such a thing. You'll always need to be wary of triggers as Bipolar is something you are going to have live with for the rest of your life. That's right! There is no cure. You will no doubt need to try several or many medications in order to find the right one or combination (yes combination) of drugs in order to ease your symptoms. Oh, and you will need to stay on these medications for the rest of your life. And they will probably cause you a multitude of side effects ranging from mildly annoying to downright sickening to sometimes even freakishly bizarre. Oh, the fun never stops!

Med compliance is extremely important with Bipolar Disorder. I've heard of so many people who went off their meds and really regretted it. I don't advise it. I never would go off my meds.

Stage 3: Stability (aka The Holy Grail)

...or not? Welcome to Identity Crisis (Part II.) For me, and perhaps a lot of other people with Bipolar, this is the hardest part of having the disorder. It's the last part. It's Limbo. It's this weird no-man's-land, sort of oblivion that you're left in while you manage this life long disorder.

Bipolar comes in many flavours. I'm not a big fan of the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria as it seems too stringent and the ICD-10 seems to take things a little bit further, nonetheless, (as an example) when you've been swinging from the rafters for a long time and now you're medicated, calmed--even flattened--down, no longer behaving as you once were... The questions inevitably arise:

Where did I go?
Who am I?
Who am I now?
Was that the real me?
Is this the real me?
What happened to all of that energy/spark/creativeness (fill in the appropriate noun)?

Feel free to keep asking yourself more questions. I know I still do.

What I keep reminding myself of, though, is all the havoc I wreaked while unmedicated. I mean, sure, it's easy to remember the *fun* times but in reality, they weren't so much fun. If I look through more clear eyes, I can see that my euphoria always came with a hefty price tag--either financial, emotional or both. And that was just the euphoria. There were also periods of self-destruction and harm during the crazy mixed state times.

So, if trading off some of that "spark" (or whatever it was that I thought I had) means finding something else within myself now that I am properly treated and managing this disorder...perhaps that means acceptance?


Rob said...


Thanks for visiting my blog!

Regarding this post, I think there is a degree to which we need to accept our weaknesses as part of us as much as we do our strengths. You don't overdo it by identifying yourself by your disease, but you also don't ignore who you are, faults and all.

I have personally found that it is more important for me to know and accept what I am bad at (while still trying to improve them), than what I am good at. We give kids the idea that "just try hard enough and you can accomplish anything you want." I think that is harmful. We all have limitations and that is OK. Usually our weaknesses are a flip-side to our strengths.

Anyway, thought I would return the favor and visit your fine blog.


Patient Anonymous said...

Hi rob, thank you for stopping by!

Very wise words--and some I should probably heed. Many times, people have said that I am too hard on myself while I give them way too much slack and judge them to a lesser degree, should the shoe be on the other foot.

Thank you as well to adding me to your list of blog sites. I shall return the favour as in reading about your site, you sound like someone I can definitely relate to!

- brydz - said...

wow i wish someone had shown me your post when i was diagnosed with depression, to see the stages written like that is really helpful thanks

Patient Anonymous said...

Hi -byrdz-, I'm glad you found the post helpful. I tried to write it with a sort of tongue-in-cheek tone and yet, still try to convey at least some or the "simple" points of dealing with being diagnosed with Bipolar. I guess I wanted to try and inject a little bit of humour as that is how I try and deal with my illness a lot of the time (even though I know it's not always a laughing matter.)

Always striving for balance, I guess...