Ten Things You Should Know About Bipolar Disorder

Patient Expert

Last week, as a Question of the Week, I asked:

If a newly-diagnosed individual asked you what ten things he or she needs to know about his or her condition, what would you tell that person?

The answers I received should be printed out for distribution to everyone newly diagnosed with bipolar. Those of us well-versed in our diagnosis can also benefit from a timely review. Many thanks to Julian,** Baptistbo**,** Nonethewiser**,** M**,** Lori**, and** Lisa**. Following is an amalgamation of their penetrating insight and wisdom (with minor edits and additions), in their own words:

1. Acceptance

Be kind and gentle to yourself and forgive yourself because it's NOT YOUR FAULT. Don't assume you will feel this bad the rest of your life. It's easy to think if your mood is in the bottom of the pit, it will stay there. Our moods shift, and a depression always lifts. Don't be discouraged.

You will not always like what the psychiatrist or therapist says.  On the other hand, sometimes the truth just plain hurts.  Accept the fact that the euphoria of a good mania is probably over. Be ready to apologize a lot. Be patient with yourself. Accept that your family and friends won't understand what you are going through, unless they, too, have bipolar.

2. Become Your Own Expert - Know Your Illness, Know Yourself

Become an expert in bipolar disorder and medications. Educate yourself, read, read, read. Arm yourself and the people closest to you with all the information that you can get. Bipolar will not fix itself, and medication will not fix it alone. This will take years, and even after that you will still have bipolar.

Try to gain a certain degree of objectivity when you "see yourself" behaving certain ways. Try stepping back and observing your own thoughts. Instead of "being the gears in your head," step back and watch them turn. Pay attention to your daily, hourly mood. Talking therapy is very useful for learning how to deal with your highs and lows.

3. Know Your Meds

Be meds smart. When you are first diagnosed, and after major episodes, taking a certain type (or level) of medication that "dampens" your emotions can be a good thing. However, feeling like a zombie all the time is not sustainable. Also, be sure to talk to your doctor about other possible medication (including combinations) if you feel that you are constantly disconnected (emotionally) from the world.

4. Find a Psychiatrist You Can Work With, Then Work With Him or Her

Find a psychiatrist that works with you - not against you. Keep going to the psychiatrist and be honest with  him or her.  That is the only way he or she can truly help you.  Be honest about how you feel and what you are experiencing.  Nothing about how you feel is dumb, crazy, or less important - they are just symptoms.  Take your medicine as directed and don't stop it till you and your doctor talk about it. If you are having a side affect that you don't feel is right call the doctor immediately - don't wait.

5. Pay Attention to Fundamentals

Resolve to take your meds on time. Resolve to exercise regularly. Resolve to eat healthier. Resolve to sleep on a regular schedule and bring routines into your life. Resolve to manage stress. Know your triggers, set limits and boundaries. Resolve to get control of destructive behaviors such as jealousy and anger. Remember to take time out to take a big breath and regroup.

6. Stay Connected

Isolation kills. Find plenty of friends you can call on at a moments notice, and don't be afraid to call them. Involve yourself in support groups. Help others, serve in your community. If you believe in God, read scripture, pray, attend services. If you do not believe in God, think of formulating your own brand of faith.

7. Recognize Your Strengths; Find Your Own "Normal"

Bipolar is not entirely an illness. The "illness," horrific as it may be, may also awaken you to your greatest strengths. Through an openness to learning, you can grow into a truly amazing person. This takes time, and it can seem impossible to imagine a positive outcome sometimes. Some doctors have it in mind that you should be "normal," but you need to be whatever comes naturally to you. If you are not allowed to shine in one way or another (such as in art or work) then you are constantly battling yourself and the world around you. Be passionate about something, and that passion can become a support for you.

8. Pets

Cats and dogs make great counselors (as long as they're not actually speaking to you).

9. Keep Hope Alive

Remember you're not alone. Yes, this is an inherited disease, yes, stress can trigger an episode, but you can function very well when you have all the tools available at your disposal.

10. Finally

Don't throw and break your dishes...they get very expensive to replace!