Sunday, June 3, 2007

How We Deal With Bipolar Disorder (Part 1)

My purpose in the last few posts regarding hypomania was to learn the following: What symptoms do you have when you're hypomanic? How do you deal with them? I appreciate hearing from those people who responded and I would hope to hear from more of you. (As I mentioned, I'm swamped until Monday after my class and won't be able to respond to your comments until Monday night.)

My reason for asking these questions is to see if my symptoms are common, to learn if other people have different symptoms that I may not have identified (or perhaps I don't have), and to learn about other coping strategies.

What fuels my questions is my philosophy about this illness. When I was first diagnosed (25 years after my first depressive episode), I was somewhat relieved to learn that there was a biochemical reason for my depressions. Later, I realized that whether this illness has a biochemical basis or not (and I'm still not convinced that it's the full story), like everything else in life, I believe I have to assume responsibility for myself.

In my case, the medication didn't work and so I needed to find other ways to "cure" myself. However, even for those people for whom it does work, I believe we all have to assume responsibility for our own healing.

For years, what I so disliked about what I read in books, websites, and later blogs, was the lack of empowerment (I'm not sure if this is the best word) for bipolars (BIPS). What I felt doctors and other BIPS were saying was "there's nothing you can do about this illness except take medicine. And if it doesn't work, all you can do is to try new medicine or hope that something new will be developed."

I felt I was spending my entire life waiting...and getting sicker and sicker. Finally, I had enough. I realized that this was not a philosophy I adhere to in any other aspect of my life. Why would I accept such a passive role in trying to heal myself?

After a lot of thought, research and prayer, I believe there are dozens of things we can all do every day to feel better. I'm not saying that we can end a depression by positive thinking. Nor do I believe we can end a hypomania by utilizing self-control but I think our daily actions can make a huge difference.

I know that if I can identify hypomanic symptoms, and develop strategies for coping with them, I will feel better. I know that if I can identify the triggers that cause depressions and resolve them, I can stave off a depression or lessen its impact.

I also know that there are positive actions I can take to seek wellness, including exercise, spending time outdoors, seeking counsel when something bothers me, finding methods of reducing stress, choosing not to spend time with people whom I consider toxic, participating in creative outlets and the list goes on.

What I'm trying to find out is whether other BIPS agree or whether they feel that they must accept the limitations of this illness. I am interested in finding out about coping mechanisms that I may not be aware of, healing techniques that others have found effective, and the ways in which BIPS are empowering themselves.


Terry said...

Hi Susan,

The word "empowerment" is absolutely correct. We need to take responsibility for those things we can control. You have a great list of things we can do.

A question - Does anyone feel they don't get "attention" from their doctors unless things are bad? Can we be subconsciously manipulative to get this attention?


marja said...

I very much believe in not playing a victim where bipolar is concerned. There's a lot more to dealing with this than taking medicine and waiting for it to work. There is action we can take and attitudes we can develop to help ourselves.

I don't usually plug my book on the blogs, but I'm going to do it now. "Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders" (Northstone, 1999)deals completely with this topic: what we can do beyond taking medications.

"Dootz" said...

Susan, referring back to the comment Terry made above (and I think she hits on something important), a larger question is the type of relationship we have with our doctor/provider. I had a lousy doctor first, who misdiagnosed me, then a good doctor who diagnosed correctly but basically just did meds, then an awesome doc who allowed me to be a part of the solution (unfortunately, he developed cancer and had to quit his practice), and how I have a nurse practitioner who also sees me as a partner in determining steps to wellness. So, the big picture is: get someone who sees us as a partner in our health and not just another patient or client.

Cindy said...

Marja--I'm glad you plugged your book! It's one I've not run across, and it sounds like exactly the sort of thing I look for regularly. Thanks.

Susan--For several years now, I've been actively paying attention to what helps and what triggers and to what extent my own choices and actions are able to impact my mood swings. To my relief and (occasionally smug) satisfaction, I've found the answer to be considerably if not (sadly and not so smugly) completely. Still, I'll take considerably any day.

Some things that have kept me off medication for 13 years: walks in solitary green places, meditative prayer, enforcing "quiet" time when I'm winding up, limiting intake of specific foods, practicing mindfulness, slowing down (literally, physically) the pace at which I move--forcing myself to do tasks very slowly and deliberately, and even a bit of aromatherapy, especially in the bathtub (I'm afraid to admit it, but I will).

Jon said...

I'm not comfortable with the term "accepting limitations". It's not so much limitations as it is knowing how to live with what we have.

For a hypomanic analogy, we're riding a bike. We come to a hill, and we coast down the hill, feeling the rush of speed, the wind in our face, the ease with which we move. As people with bipolar disorder, we can't leave it at that. As a result of that downward hill, we'll be struggling uphill very soon. We need to be constantly thinking about how much energy it will take to make it up the next hill, how long it will take, how much momentum we can gain by working harder now, and many other factors. And we need to figure out how to do it without losing the enjoyment of the downhill ride.