Beginners Guide to Bipolar Disorder

beginners guide to bipolar disorder
Class is in session. It’s time for the beginners guide to bipolar disorder. Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder or depression is scary. You’ve probably known something just hasn’t felt right for most of your life, but weren’t sure why. Now you know. For me the diagnosis was both scary and a relief. I was relieved because I finally had a name for what was going on, but I was scared because it proved I was “different,” I was “crazy.” Well, you’re not crazy, but you will need to adapt, which isn’t necessarily easy. At the time I was diagnosed 5 years ago, I wish someone was there who could tell me what to expect after my new diagnosis. Therefore, here’s my words of wisdom to you:

There is No Reason to Feel Shame

You’ve probably heard this already, but I’ll say it because it’s true. There is no shame in having heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. The brain is nothing more than another organ in your body and just like any other organ it doesn’t work properly sometimes. In fact, if you think about it, the brain is an unbelievably complex organ. As I see it, that would make it more prone to dysfunction than the others.

Be Patient When Trying New Medications

It disturbs me when I see someone struggling and they tell me they stopped taking a new med because it made them feel sick or uneasy after only a few days or about a week. Some meds can take over a month to kick in. If you don’t feel comfortable after taking a medication, please speak with your psychiatrist to determine whether you should go off the med or give it more time. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to dramatically improve your life by stopping a medication too soon.

Establish a Routine

This can be a tough one in the beginning. Hell, I still struggle with it. If depression or mania is making it hard to maintain a routine then start as simple as you can – perhaps just ensuring you take your meds at the same time every day. (I have my phone programmed to remind me.) As you get more stable, add more things to your schedule as you are able to.

It’s Okay To Switch Doctors

My first two psychiatrists were terrible. One of them was a downright mean person. My first psychologist would spend my appointments telling me how the staff members in her office were conspiring against her. She was in serious need of help, I now have a psychologist I love. My psychiatrist and I don’t always see eye to eye, but he’s a good man and I know he has my best interest at heart. If you just don’t mesh well with your doctors, or you don’t feel they are listening to you, then make no hesitation to move on.

There Are Others Who Understand

You may have people in your life who try to understand, but just don’t get it. That’s not their fault. It is a good idea to reach out to others who understand what you’re going through. I went to Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) meetings which are peer lead. Being with others who shared their experience was invaluable. Another peer lead group is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I never participated in their program but I’ve heard great thing about them. The links to each organization offer the ability to search for local chapters in your area.

Everyone is an Expert

Do you know the following facts?

Psych meds are a conspiracy to earn money for the pharmaceutical industry.

You can eliminate bipolar symptoms by taking large doses of vitamin B.

If you’re depressed it’s because you don’t have the right attitude.

Bipolar is just a fad.

Happiness is a choice.

If you haven’t heard these yet, just hold on. You’ll hear these and many more and it may seem like everyone thinks they’re an expert. As I said in a previous article – my psychiatrist went through 4 years as an undergraduate student, then 4 years of medical school, then 4 years as a resident psychiatrist, and another 2 years of specialty training. I think in most cases that trumps those who like to think they have all answers for you. In no way am I saying that psychiatrists are infallible. In fact, 50% of all psychiatrists graduated in the lower half of their class. What I am saying is be careful who you listen to.

It’s Okay if You Can’t Work

Did you know that newscaster Jane Pauley has bipolar disorder? Did you know Carrie Fisher, who plays Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga, has bipolar disorder? 75% of all people with bipolar disorder are able to work. I am one of the 25%. Both my psychiatrist and my psychologist agree that I am unable to work at this time. While many of my fellow mental health bloggers do work, many do not, which is what allows them the time to write their blogs. If you aren’t ready then enjoy your break and you have no reason to feel shame.

Tell Your Doctor if you Decide to Try Alternatives

I’m not a fan of natural or homeopathic remedies, but that’s because I’ve had great success by using psych meds. Many disagree with me and that’s okay. We each must find our own path. If you decide to try alternatives be sure to let your psychiatrist know. He or she may become frustrated and perhaps even angry, but the final decision is yours. It’s important to tell them because many alternatives can have a negative impact if you are still taking psych meds. For example, one of the most common recommendations you’ll hear is to take St. John’s Wort for depression. St. John’s Wort is an herb and can have serious side effects when taken with some meds. This is something you may not know of you don’t communicate this with your doctor.

That’s my list for now. I can think of more, but I’ll save them for another day. How about the rest of you out there who were diagnosed awhile back? Any additional words of wisdom for the beginner?

15 comments on Beginners Guide to Bipolar Disorder

  1. Hi Bradley. Like you I was diagnosed a little over 5 years ago, can no longer work, though I’d like to since I still have some really good years left at 62 — I’m a “young” 62. When I was diagnosed I read dozens of books, scoured the internet and found a counselor in addition to my psychiatrist. When I had questions about what I had researched I brought them to my psychiatrist who loves to teach those who will listen. He works with a local DBSA and sometimes lectures at a local university. When someone is looking for a psychiatrist, asking their local DBSA who they recommend, someone who listens and teaches, might be a good idea. Just a thought. Thanks for another good post.

    1. Your right. I’ve seen several people at DBSA meetings who were able to find a good psychiatrist or therapist by asking in the meetings for recommendations. DBSA meetings are the best.

  2. As usual, I find what you have to say sensible and helpful. I have just one quibble. There were a few years a while back when I couldn’t work. It didn’t feel like a “break” and I couldn’t enjoy it. Or anything else, really. It was one of my lowest points. I didn’t feel shame, just overwhelming misery and massive anxiety about how we would pay the bills. But, as I always say, YMMV.

    1. Oh, I understand it’s not easy, Janet, but, if one is able to make the best of it, I believe they are better off.

  3. This is a wonderful post for the newly diagnosed, and those around him/her. Routine is still a challenge for me as well. Sounds like that doctor you had was a sandwich short of a picnic.

    1. A sandwich short of a picnic? I love that and will probably use it some time. Thank you for stopping in, Charlene

  4. Great post Bradley. I do think it’s shame that so many people think being bipolar or depressed or whatever is something you can cure with willpower. It doesn’t work like that for a broken leg. Why would it work for Bipolar disorder?

    All the best and keep up the good work.

    1. It’s great to see you understand, Big D. Too many don’t which is why it can be difficult for those who are newly diagnosed.

  5. Bradley, I was diagnosed just last Apri with bipolar. I am 45 years old going on 46 years next week. I spent a week in an inpatient psych unit, fortunately it was a very nice and calm unit with a supportive staff working there. Funny thing is, I am an RN and have been on both sides of the fence now. After seeing others suffer from mental disorders and I myself suffering miserably this last spring I really feel for those who have to go through these mental disorders. Willpower alone can’t fix these disorders and just as there are good psychiatrist, there are bad ones as there are bad RNs. But there still are many caregivers that do care and understand what you and others are going through–some of us get it!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Marc. You made me realize I should have included a section that’s specifically stated there are those who do care. I’m sorry for the suffering you had to go through and hope you are doing much better.

      I hope to see you back. Comments from someone on “both sided of the fence” are most definitely welcome.

    1. I eventually I plan to create a blogroll again. When I do I’ll be sure to add this to the list

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