Bipolar Disorder, it’s a real thing.

Bipolar Disorder, it’s a real thing. August 3, 2019

The Assessment

We were sitting in my office talking. A couple had come in because the husband was seeking mental health treatment. It started the typical way with a lot of words pouring out and then, “She says I’m bipolar but I’m not bipolar. I need someone to properly diagnose me”. He was there to go through a mental health assessment. He was talkative and tangential. One sentence bled into another and I often had to interrupt him to keep the assessment moving forward.

Obstructive Denial

He struggled to get to the point. Even when he did get to the point, he would ramble on incessantly. When he spoke about his child, he fell apart and started crying every time. I knew he was bipolar within five minutes of him being in my office. That wasn’t the issue, his denial of having bipolar disorder was a blockade to his treatment.

Image original-NAMI, edited by PK Langley

“Oh, Yer Bipolar!”

In our society, we often dismiss people who have bipolar. The stigma against bipolar is so negative that people don’t want to be “bipolar”. It’s almost as bad as a diagnosis of cancer. When someone believes they might have bipolar disorder, they also have to face the fact that they may never be “normal”. When looking ahead, one must also find hope for healing.

Bipolar can be PTSD

I must also tack on here that people who actually have PTSD have been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. Crossover symptoms can make diagnosis hard. People with PTSD have triggers that affect their mood, but people with bipolar disorder will shift moods without a trigger. When we distinguish the difference, treatment often follows. When someone with PTSD is treated for bipolar disorder or vice versa, improvement can be hindered. If you are not achieving results, look at your symptoms again and consider that you may have been misdiagnosed.

Treating Symptoms

Psychiatrists treat symptoms primarily, and they don’t always become overly concerned with diagnosis. They look at what the symptoms are and match that with their diagnostic and pharmacological knowledge. If you don’t convey the proper symptoms, sometimes their diagnosis can be off. Make sure you find a provider who has been in the field for a while and will also spend time talking to you. If you leave your psychiatrists office and feel like you do when you leave McDonalds with some fast food, find a new provider. We should be as picky with choosing a psychiatrist as we are a surgeon.

Medication Dance

I won’t lie to you, finding a medication that works with your particular brain chemistry is a challenge. For one, diagnosis is based on your relationship with your provider. If the diagnosis is wrong, you will not get results. Make sure that you take time to write out ALL your symptoms before seeing a provider so that you don’t forget anything. The better you convey what you are going through, the more apt you are to get proper treatment.

Stay the Course

Our number one issue with bipolar disorder is patients that do not want to take their medications on a consistent basis. I have taken medications in the past and had severe side effects. When they occur, let your provider know right away and stop them with their supervision. Don’t become weary with the process and make sure to do your own research. You are your own best advocate, so keep searching for your answer!

Amazing People

The way we combat these issues is with education. When I am talking to clients, I try to normalize the disorder as much as possible. This is often how it goes:

“One of my best friends has bipolar disorder. I want to give you a list of bipolar traits that I think are positive.”

1. People with bipolar disorder can be more intelligent than the average person.

2. People with bipolar disorder are creative and talented at right brain expressions, like music, poetry, crafts. They can create beauty and often are expressive with their creativity.

3. People with bipolar disorder are entrepreneurial. They will take risks that others won’t. This makes them the life of the party, when they are in the mood to party. They are filled with business ideas and ways to make money. Hollywood is packed with people struggling with bipolar disorder.

4. People with bipolar disorder are faithful. When they make a friend, they will stand in front of them in a zombie apocalypse and give their lives for their friends.

5. People with bipolar disorder can clean and organize like nobody can. When they get a burst of energy, they will get everything done!

By the time I get done with my encouraging list, some stigma falls away. It helps people to remind themselves that they are human beings and not a “disorder”. Having bipolar disorder does not discount your voice as a human being and it doesn’t make you a “bad” or “broken” person. You are a person in need of love, support and encouragement, like the rest of us.

The Spectrum of Bipolar Disorder

Please understand that bipolar disorder is on a spectrum. Those that society recognizes with bipolar who are at the far end, struggle immensely with their emotions. They cannot have a conversation without the rapid cycling of those emotions. People with mild bipolar disorder can work a normal job and live a normal life, but are considered, “moody”. Society sees someone who is bipolar as a monster, like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.

Bipolar is Not Your Fault

When I finish and destigmatize bipolar disorder to help people understand that the cause is genetic and is aggravated by trauma and substance abuse, it often helps people to understand that it isn’t their fault. I also encourage them that proper diagnosis leads to proper treatment. If you are misdiagnosed, you won’t get the help you need. If you reject your diagnosis, you won’t get the help you need either.

Love Brings Acceptance

People struggling with any mental illness need to hear that they are accepted, loved and that someone is there to help. We also do them a great disservice if we leave their care to “only” their faith, expecting them to neglect ever seeing a psychiatrist. If we do that, we fail to consider the whole being that is not just spiritual, but mental as well. Let us allow treatment in the realm of faith and in mental health.

When I finished speaking to the man in front of me, I saw an opening in his dark clouds. He was actually warming to the idea of bipolar disorder. For him, feeling like someone understood him was helping him to accept himself. Hearing that people with bipolar disorder are intelligent, insightful human beings encouraged him. He had moved one step closer to treatment and stabilization.

Resources: If you or someone you know is struggling to understand bipolar disorder, here are some resources that might help (click on the pictures to check them out):

Bipolar  Bipolar  Bipolar Bipolar

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  • Vucodlak

    For me, being diagnosed was a relief. I’d known for 10 or 15 years that something wasn’t alright with my head, but as teenager I was powerless to do anything about it. My parents, both of whom worked in mental health, refused to listen. I was “lazy” and “making excuses.” When I was 15, they took me to see a psychiatrist friend of theirs of interviewed me for all of 45 minutes… with my mother sitting in the room. I wasn’t about to talk honestly about my symptoms with my mom sitting right there. He declared that there was nothing wrong with me, but put me on Zoloft because it “couldn’t hurt.” There was no follow up, and I stopped taking the antidepressants several months later without telling anyone. I couldn’t stand the way I felt on them.

    Finally, when I was in my mid-twenties, I went to see a different psychiatrist. I was falling apart; I’d dropped out of college to try to get it together about a year earlier, but I was only getting worse. This time, I was fortunate to find a decent doctor. He actually listened to me. Diagnosis was still difficult because, in addition to bipolar disorder, I also have PTSD and ADHD. I wasn’t ashamed or afraid when my doctor suggested mood stabilizers. I was just so grateful that someone was actually taking me seriously.

    I’d suspected that I might be bipolar for a long time, though I wasn’t certain. I knew I didn’t act like the bipolar people on TV. My moods would swing wildly for no apparent reason, but I wasn’t dramatically out of control. Sure, I’d be up for days followed by a hard crash into a deep depression, but I never hijacked a bus or robbed a bank or anything like that. All I really knew was that I was reasonably sure that most people’s brains didn’t work like mine. I called myself crazy, as did my schoolmates, but that’s not exactly a diagnosis.

    Now I take three different medications now, a combination that took me years of working with my psychiatrist to find. It still needs to be tweaked every now and then, but I can actually have some kind of life now. It was occasionally scary getting to this point. One of the medications I tried triggered a psychotic episode, for example. But I stuck with it, and it was worth it. I can sleep, most nights. I can actually accomplish things, sometimes. I don’t always feel like I’m on the verge of falling (or flying) apart. I don’t get the highs, which were admittedly sometimes great, but I don’t crash nearly so hard or often either. The crashes were never great.

  • Hello Vucodlak, thank you so much for your comments here. Your story is not unlike so many others. There is often such a struggle to find the medication that works “for you”. I would like to know what medications you are currently taking if that is something you would share? Perhaps it can help someone with the same symptoms that you struggle with. All the best, PK