I am a journalist and author, not a clinician. I am far more comfortable sharing information with inviduals than I am telling people how to run their lives. I regard myself as a go-between. My standard practice is to pick the brains of the experts - and this includes patients and loved ones as well as leading researchers and clinicians - and faithfully report my findings to the people I think may benefit. Yes, my writings have been filled with practical advice, but it has tended to be other people's wisdom, not my own. When I have spoken from experience, it was generally in the context of my own failings, such as living in denial until age 49.
Then, after seven-and-a-half years, things changed.
In late 2006, soon after the publication of my book, "Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder," I began speaking in public, mainly to local NAMI and DBSA groups.
My NAMI audiences tended to be family members struggling with grown kids who were not faring very well. A high-functioning patient was a novelty to many of them. The message of my talk was not as important as the act of me giving a talk. They wanted to know how I did it. What got me well and kept me well? they kept asking. What techniques did I use?
I also spoke to local DBSA groups. These were fellow patients. A lot of them were doing well, but a good many were on the cusp. Wellness was within their reach, but so was the likelihood of being steamrolled by the next life catastrophe. Many were stuck, trapped in a kind of dispiriting clinical holding pattern, unable to move their lives forward. In me, they saw one of their own who seemed to have his life together. Again, the message of my talk was unimportant. They, too, wanted to know how I did it.
My standard talk was an extension of my writings to that date - a journalist reporting on cool stuff from psychiatric conferences and professional journals. Then came Q and A. Here, the audience demanded that I step out of character and act as if I were Dr Phil.
"I have a 20-year-old son with bipolar," one middle-aged man asked, or words to that effect. "But he denies he has bipolar and he won't take his meds. What can I do?"
Ask me about brain science or the fine points of diagnosis and treatment, I could only think. Then I can quote an expert.
"What do you do to manage your own illness?" one patient enquired. Oddly enough, the producer of BipolarConnect had asked me that exact same question.
Why are you asking me? I could only think. If you only knew I messed up I truly am.
Nevertheless, I found myself engaging in what I can only describe as the recovery dialogue. I talked about how my cats made me laugh, how missing a decent night's sleep messed up my day way more than accidentally missing a meds dose, how the practice of mindfulness was my real mood stabilizer, how simply stopping to smell the roses did wonders for getting me through the day, and a million and one other things.
After one talk, a lady rather untactfully remarked that I was far more on my game during the Q and A than in the prepared portion of my presentation. In other words, I was better at being Dr. Phil than John McManamy.
This Recovery Feature for BipolarConnect is the result of what I have learned from you. From listening to your concerns on the road to facilitating and participating in support groups for the last seven out of eight years to reading your posts to corresponding with you to forming fast personal friendships. You are patients and family members and concerned friends. You come from all walks of life. Each one of you is unique. But you all have two things in common:
First, you are the true experts. You live with your illness every day. You have been very generous in sharing with me what works for you. Your wisdom and insight has contributed mightily to my thinking.
On the other hand, you are telling me you want to learn more. Your lives are at stake.
This conversation is a two-way street. I may think I know how this recovery feature will develop. But as I learned from my foray into public speaking, you undoubtedly have different (and far better) ideas.
Let's talk ...
Part I: Recovery is Responsibility
Published On: November 13, 2007
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