Living with Bipolar Disorder

Everybody has moods. Why do bipolar people need a special diagnostic category, medications,
support groups and numerous scientific studies to deal with moods?

Bipolar disorder is not something that can be treated and left behind. It is something that can be treated and lived with.

Bipolar disorder is not, currently, something that can be treated and left behind. It is something that can be treated and lived with. I am fortunate enough to respond well to Lithium. But Lithium alone cannot keep me stable — and Lithium alone certainly can't solve all my problems.

I have found several things that are helpful in addition to Lithium.

For about three months after I started taking Lithium, I felt better than I had ever felt in my life. I was aware of what was going on around me; I was able to build real relationships; I was able to complete tasks and projects; my personal growth surged. Then my guts turned into octopi. I was so wired with anxiety that my skin tingled with it. I felt like crying at absurd things like Frito commercials. It wasn't a drug reaction or a bipolar state. It was forty-five years of emotions that had never been dealt with because I was distracted by either mania or depression, saying "Oh, goodie. You're awake. UNFINISHED BUSINESS!"

About two years of counseling and personal work untangled those knots. The current problem I am dealing with is that I have the lifetime habits of living like a manic depressive — the mood swings are treated, but the habits are still there. I am not used to routine — I'm used to running until I drop. I'm used to over-committing myself in seven directions from Sunday, because I have to use the energy while I have it — I know I'm going to crash. After seven years, I still emotionally fear that one day my feet will disappear out from under me and the Great Gray Fog will roll back in. Sometimes, in spite of everything, it does. So everything has to be done now.

I have to work with a counselor to make myself slow down, take time for self-care, build a routine. There are different issues for each person — but each person will have issues to deal with that aren't instantly settled by bipolar medication.

Whatever the effectiveness of your medication or your counseling or your self-development program, you will have mood swings anyway. One of the most difficult adjustments to make is to learn to distinguish symptoms that require contacting the doctor for a possible adjustment in your meds, from the normal ups and downs of life. Granting yourself permission to feel excited or sad, to feel like dancing or like curling up with a book, to let yourself have a range of responses to life, can take courage.

If you are used to having your body run wild with you, you may be tempted to keep it on a tight rein. If your wife is used to seeing you throw furniture through the windows, she may get nervous when you cuss at the news on TV. Learning what a healthy mood range is for you is going to take a lot of work, and a lot of talking with your family, friends, and others who live and work with you. Make time for this.

Getting diagnosed and treated gives you more time. The health and life expectancy of people treated for bipolar disorder is much higher than those going without treatment. I have had less physical illness of all kinds since I began taking Lithium — a fact I remind myself of whenever I get cranky about the extra weight.

And cranky is normal, after all. Everyone has moods.

All Rights Reserved. © by Anitra L. Freeman


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Last updated July 13, 2005