Breaking Bipolar

There is something I have noticed about my busy bipolar brain. I’ve noticed that it seems obsessed with multitasking. It almost seems to not allow me to do one thing at once. If I sit down to watch TV, for example, I can’t stop myself from also picking up my computer or playing a game on my cell phone. When I sit down to write an article, I have to constantly also be checking in on my social media at the same time. People always wonder how I can be everywhere at once. That’s easy. I’m everywhere at once because my brain is everywhere at once.
Bipolar moods vary in duration by person but typically, an untreated bipolar mood can last months or even years. All a bipolar disorder diagnosis requires is the presence of one manic/hypomanic mood episode and one depressed mood episode. This means that a person could be in a year-long depression and have only experienced one week of mania, a year ago, and still qualify for a bipolar diagnosis. This is much to the surprise of many as there is a pervasive belief that bipolar disorder is about frequent “mood swings.” However, simply “being moody” is not indicative of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a scary illness, but sometimes even scarier is the idea of treatment. Logically, going to the doctor, getting a diagnosis and getting help doesn’t sound scary, but if you’re the one faced with psychiatrists, personal, probing questions, destroying what you know and treatments that might make you feel worse before you feel better, you might find the concept daunting. But what do you do if you’re a loved one of a person with bipolar (or another mental illness) who is refusing treatment?
When I speak to kids about my experience with bipolar disorder, really, I have a series of failures to explain. I tell them how treatment after treatment failed. I talk about drug failures, the failure of the vagus nerve stimulator and the failure of electroconvulsive therapy. I lot of my sentences have the word, “unfortunately,” in them. And after one of my presentations last week, one person asked what I would say to someone who was going through a similar experience. I thought that was a very important question. So here’s what I would say to someone who’s experiencing treatment failure.
I recently finished an 8-week mindfulness meditation course. I went into it not knowing why I was there, other than the fact that my doctor had recommended it. I went in not knowing what the outcome was supposed to be. When we were asked to write goals for the course, mine were blank. I had none. I really just wanted to see if there was any benefit to all this mindfulness meditation stuff. Turns out, I believe that there is benefit in mindfulness meditation. And here’s some of what you might find in a course.
A reader recently contacted me and asked me about psychomotor agitation. Psychomotor agitation is actually a symptom of bipolar hypomania and bipolar mania (and depression) and yet few people know what this means. In fact, according to this study, it is poorly defined and measured even within the medical community. Psychomotor agitation is often translated into “restlessness,” which doesn’t seem overly descriptive to me. So here’s my take on psychomotor agitation: how it feels and what we know about it.
I first started receiving psychiatric treatment when I was 20 years old. At that time, I was pretty separated and not very attached to my parents. Nevertheless, they and their opinions did have an impact on me. And when I told my mother I had bipolar disorder her reaction was akin to not believing me. She was entirely ignorant about mental illness (and to be fair, I had been too) and mental illness treatment. She, naturally, wanted me to treat this problem with herbs and other nonsense. And in spite of the fact that I was detached from this woman, her lack of support affected me. At the time, all my energy was being used to fight bipolar disorder, and now I had to fight her too. It was kicking me while I was down. Way, way down. And while she didn’t see it that way, I can attest to the fact that it sure as heck felt that way. But luckily for me, I was not under her care. Luckily, even though she eventually pressured me into trying out alternative nonsense, I still got the real, medical help I needed. Had I have been younger, this might not have been the case. And unfortunately, some youth are in this position right now. Some youths feel they have a mental illness and are in the charge of their parents’. And some youths have even told their parents that only to be met with a wall of disbelief or told they’re “overly dramatic.” I feel for these youths. They’re in a really tough spot. But there are things youths can do even if a parent doesn’t believe their son or daughter has a mental illness and refuses to support their desire to get help.
A get questions from all sorts of family members and friends of people with mental illnesses and, luckily, many of these people want to help. The trouble is people feel intimidated by a diagnosis of mental illness. They don’t even know where to start to help. This is completely normal. A probable lifetime diagnosis is enough to make anyone feel powerless. But you are not powerless. If you love someone with a mental illness, there are many things you can do to help.
Recently I have been taking a mindfulness meditation course. This is pretty amazing seeing as I’ve always felt my brain was not still enough to meditate – not to mention, I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in all this new age stuff (although, technically, meditation is very, very old age stuff). But I went anyway because mindfulness meditation has been shown to be beneficial for all sorts of mental illnesses (not surprisingly, particularly anxiety) and I try to be open to anything that may help-plus, bonus, no side effects. And one of the things I had heard is that when you meditate you need to not think. Your mind is supposed to go blank. You become absent of thought. But this turns out to be false.
Today I tuned into a webcast on managing bipolar depression. I wasn’t sure what to expect although I was aware the webcast was designed for doctors so I knew the level of discourse would be high. And I must say it was a great hour. Granted, I knew the vast majority of what was being presented but the nuggets of new items here and there definitely made it worthwhile. What’s more is that this view on managing bipolar depression is evidence-based and they present the numbers behind what’s recommended. They make clear which studies are drug company-funded and which are not. It’s the kind of information that I wish every doctor knew. And, if you have bipolar, especially bipolar depression, it’s the kind of information you should know too.