Celebrate World Bipolar Day by Taking Control of Your Mental Illness

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website, here.

Are you bipolar? There is a day on the calendar to celebrate your struggles with the disorder.

World Bipolar Day (WBD) is celebrated each year on March 30th, in honor of Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday, as he was posthumously diagnosed as probably having bipolar disorder.

The day–an initiative of the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), the International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD), and the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD)–means to combat stigma and raise awareness of bipolar disorders.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is marked by abrupt changes in mood, energy, and executive function–the ability to accomplish tasks on a daily basis.

Celebrate World Bipolar Day By Taking Control of Your Mental Illness - CassandraStout.com

Bipolar disorder comes in several forms.

People with bipolar I suffer from manic episodes–periods of increased energy, euphoric mood, and decreased need for sleep–depressive episodes–periods of intense, pervasive sadness–as well as weeks of relative stability. People who suffer from bipolar II deal with even more severe and lengthy depressive episodes and hypomania, a lesser form of mania. There’s also cyclothymia, or bipolar III, where people have lesser forms of depression and hypomania, but cycle more rapidly between the two.

Episodes of bipolar disorder are not the usual ups and downs that everyone goes through. This is a lifelong condition which interferes with day-to-day functioning. The prevalence of bipolar disorder has been estimated to be as high as 5% of people around the world.

There are several causes to bipolar disorder, including genetic components, environmental stresses, childhood trauma, and other factors.

International groups like IBPF, ISBD, and ANBD support global efforts from scientists and advocates to investigate causes of bipolar disorder, methods of diagnosis, coping strategies, and medications to successfully treat the mental illness. World Bipolar Day was created to celebrate these efforts, acknowledge the struggles of people with the disorder, and raise awareness and sensitivity.

You can celebrate World Bipolar Day by taking care of yourself. But if you have bipolar disorder, how do you cope with the day-to-day challenges the mental illness brings? There are several strategies:

Take Your Medications

Your medications are there to help you. If you don’t take them on a regular basis, you won’t know if they work. Figuring out the right cocktail of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds–as well as electroconvulsive therapy–requires a lot of patience, as the testing process takes time and a toll on your body.

But there is hope. Bipolar disorder is one of the most manageable and treatable disorders. You can find a correct combination of medications or electroconvulsive therapies to treat you. For a post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.

Attend Therapy

Talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is one of the best ways to learn coping skills to handle the challenges of daily life. An unbiased, sympathetic therapist can help you understand patterns of your behaviors and help you correct said patterns. Attending therapy is essential for daily functioning when you have bipolar disorder.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Practice Self-care

Self-care is not limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. It’s taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. Self-care involves sleeping enough (but not too much), eating a healthy diet, spending time outside and with other people, exercising, and drinking plenty of water.

Practicing these tenants of self-care on a day-to-day basis is crucial for you to feel better. Even if you can’t do all six everyday, try to eat, sleep, and drink enough water. Your energy levels and mood may improve immensely.

Final Thoughts

World Bipolar Day, celebrated every year on March 30th, is a great time to take stock of the strategies you’ve used to cope with your mental illness. If you have bipolar, taking your medication, attending therapy, and practicing self-care will go a long way towards improving your ability to handle your condition.

There is no shame in having bipolar disorder. It just means your brain functions differently. Make the effort to treat your mental illness on World Bipolar Day.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How to Address Behaviors of a Friend or Loved One with Bipolar Disorder

How to Address Behaviors of a Spouse with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief mention of suicidal ideation. If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone from the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Confronting a loved one about their recent behaviors due to their mental illness can be dicey, especially if the disease is something like bipolar disorder.

If you find yourself needing to confront a friend or loved one about, say, their manic spending spree, approach the person with compassion and empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes.

Above all, try to separate the person from their mental illness. Attempt to recognize that their unpleasant behaviors are part of the disorder and not a part of them. Most of the time, they don’t want to act out of control.

Here are some tips to help you address the behaviors of a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder.

When They’ve Been Manic

If your friend or loved one is manic and is acting out, do not hesitate in getting them the help they need. Ask them if you can call their psychiatrist or therapist. Ride the wave of their mania, but try not to contribute to their episode by agreeing to help them with wild, obsessive projects.

As tempting as it is to address their behaviors in the moment, they won’t understand you or be able to respond appropriately. The time to confront them is after the manic episode is under control and they’ve become stable again.

If your loved one has been cheating on you due to a hypersexual manic episode, explain to them how you feel about that. You may feel betrayed and unwilling to trust them. You may feel sad, as if you were not enough to satisfy their urges. You may feel a plethora of negative emotions, many of them directed at your partner and not their mental illness.

Again, try to separate your friend or loved one from their illness. It may be difficult to do at first, but do make an attempt. Unless your relationship was already failing, your partner didn’t mean to hurt you.

Dealing with hypersexual feelings can be extremely difficult, especially in the heat of the moment. People on a manic high tend to be pleasure seekers. They’re always looking for the next good feeling. Flirting and sex is just one way to feel great about yourself.

When the manic episode is over, then the remorse sets in. People coming off of a manic high usually feel terrible; the crash of depression often follows manic episodes, and for good reason. They wonder how they ever could have hurt their spouses or loved ones, and wonder how they’ll be able to make it up to them.

Usually, people suffering from bipolar disorder don’t have the tools to help them rebuild trust.

Explain to your loved one how you feel, and also tell them what they can do to help put your mind at ease. Maybe you need them to check in with you at night so you know where they are and what they’re doing. Maybe you need space to figure your feelings out. Try to set parameters that you both are comfortable with.

Similarly, if your loved one has gone on a manic spending spree and blown through their financial cushion or your joint bank account, explain how that behavior made you feel.

Manic spending sprees come from the same place that other forms of infidelity come from: the inability for the bipolar person to see the consequences to their actions when in the throes of a manic episode.

Tell them that you can’t trust them with money anymore when they’re manic, and that you will be keeping a close eye on your shared finances. If you need to carry the charge card rather than your spouse while they’re manic, then do so.

When They’ve Been Depressed

Confronting someone about the things they’ve done when they’re depressed is a difficult prospect. You want to be careful to blame the disease and not the person for their behaviors, as that might set off a wave of remorse and trigger another depressive episode.

Unlike dealing with a person in the midst of a manic episode, you can tell a person suffering from a depressive episode how you feel, but do be careful to separate your feelings about the disease from your feelings about the person.

Fortunately, depression is usually less harmful to spouses than mania. But there are still behaviors that people suffering from depression do that can be difficult to handle.

For example, people who are depressed may engage in self-harm or suicidal behaviors. You may have felt scared and helpless. Explain to your loved one that you would miss them terribly if they died, and that you felt scared for them.

This is the extreme example. Not all people who face depression hurt themselves. But depression is a very selfish disease. People who suffer from a constant barrage of negative emotions, ranging from guilt to anxiety to hopelessness–and even anger–tend to withdraw into themselves and think only of themselves.

Tell your friend or partner that you love them, if you do, but that it’s hard to love someone who doesn’t love themselves. Not that they are hard to love, but that the disease is.

Explain to your partner exactly what you need. Perhaps you need them to ask you how you’re feeling more often, and geniunely listen. Maybe you need a weekend off from their complaining about their anxieties. Perhaps you need to take some time to yourself.

Whatever you need, don’t be afraid to tell the depressed person that you need it, but be compassionate.

But do recognize that even a simple request for space might end up with your spouse feeling rejected. Reassure them that it’s not about them, but your inability to handle the disease for extended periods of time.

Final Thoughts

Telling your friend or loved one how you feel is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship. Communicating with them how you’ve been impacted by their behaviors is the first step towards their acknowledgement that they’ve hurt you. Often times, we need that acknowledgement to forgive them.

Confronting someone in the middle of a manic episode about their behaviors is generally a bad idea, as you will often be rebuffed. Similarly, confronting someone in the middle of a depressive episode may be a bad idea because it might send them on downward spiral of guilt and shame.

So try to address the undesirable behaviors after the person is back to what you consider to be normal–a stable mindset. Tell your friend or loved one how their behaviors made you feel. But do separate the person from the disease.

Communication is one of the most difficult parts of a relationship, but it is crucial for the mental health of both partners. You can support your spouse while making your feelings heard. You can forgive them, and address the disease as a team.

You can do this.

How to Address Behaviors of Friends and Loved Ones with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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The Truth About Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder

People who suffer from bipolar disorder are more likely to develop eating disorders.

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Trigger Warning: This article discusses eating disorders in depth, and could be a trigger for anyone suffering from an eating disorder or related disorders.

This may come as a surprise to you, but the rate of eating disorders running concurrently with bipolar disorder is relatively high.

According to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, more than 14% of people who suffer from bipolar disorder also suffer from an eating disorder. To add insult to injury, these people tend to have worse symptoms of eating disorders. And people with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop eating disorders.

The Truth about Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Sunday, February 22 through Sunday, February 29 is the international Eating Disorder Awareness week in 2020. T0he week is a time to counteract the myths and disinformation floating around about eating disorders, and to encourage people who suffer them to get help.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, just over 4% of the U.S. population suffers from eating disorders. Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million adults in the U.S., or just over 3%.

Both eating disorders and bipolar disorder affect people of both genders from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, though eating disorders tend to affect women more frequently.

The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Eating Disorders

The eating disorders most linked with bipolar disorder are:

  • Anorexia nervosa. People who suffer from anorexia tend to avoid eating in order to lose weight. When they do eat, they may obsessively count calories. They also often exercise in extreme amounts. Anorexia nervosa is not as closely linked to bipolar disorder, though some studies have associated the two.
  • Bulimia nervosa. As a contrast to people with anorexia, people with bulimia devour food and overeat, then immediately “purge” themselves by puking up the contents of their stomachs. They often also use laxatives to induce a purge. Bulimia is the eating disorder which is the most linked to bipolar disorder.
  • Binge-eating disorder. People with binge-eating disorder are often compelled to overeat, but unlike people with bulimia, binge-eaters don’t purge afterwards. They often feel guilty when they eat, and tend to eat very quickly, and often alone. Just under 10% of people with bipolar disorder binge eat. Some bipolar medications encourage binge-eating. Bipolar disorder also manifests differently in people who binge eat. People with bipolar disorder who binge eat are more likely to develop other mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and substance abuse..

One study found that people who suffer worse symptoms of bipolar disorder are more likely to develop bulimia or bulimia combined with anorexia.

The Challenge in Treating Both Bipolar and Eating Disorders

Treating both bipolar disorder and an eating disorder can be tricky.

Antidepressants are often employed to treat eating disorders, but tend to encourage manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Prescribing mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics is also complicated, as these medications tend to trigger binge-eating episodes.

The best treatment available for people who suffer from an eating disorder concurrently with bipolar disorder is talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is known for treating anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating.

Final Thoughts

If you suffer from bipolar disorder and an eating disorder, you are not alone. Developing an eating disorder while suffering from bipolar disorder is very common.

But there is hope. There is no shame in seeking help.

Talk to your psychiatrist about possibly adjusting your medications. It’s possible that with the right combination, your doctor can treat both disorders.

And talk to your therapist about targeted therapies to address your eating disorder and your bipolar disorder. (For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.) You can develop coping skills and start the road to recovery from your eating disorder.

I wish you well in your journey.

The Truth about Eating Disorders and Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Sunshine Edition

Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Sunshine Edition! Thanks so much for dropping by. 

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How are you? How’s the weather been? How are the kids? What have you been struggling with? Are you managing to perform self-care? Let me know in the comments!

First, I apologize that this post is so late. It’s more like a Saturday Afternoon Mental Health Check in, haha. I forgot to write the post yesterday (Friday), which is what I usually do.

When I signed on to my website this morning, I found it wasn’t working, so I needed to troubleshoot it. I was frantically working on that, and then my kids woke up and wanted to cuddle with me upstairs. I figured my kids are more important than a website (sorry!), and cuddled with them.

Then, at 10am, we had a toddler group (like a co-op preschool, but one day a week) class, as a make-up class for a snow day we’d had in December. I also forgot about that. So that’s why this post is so late.

My Week

My week has been a blend of ups and downs.

The sun finally came out this week, so I spent a lot of time just sitting in sun puddles and soaking it up, like my cat did. The therapy boxes and the higher dose of Wellbutrin, my antidepressant (plus an new anti-anxiety med) seem to be working. So I’ve had more good days than bad this week, a welcome change.

On Tuesday, I felt great, but stayed up until 2am working on my new fantasy story. I thought I would be tired the next day. But on Wednesday, I jumped out of bed at 7:30am, feeling great. I rode the high all day.

Thursday was objectively terrible. I woke up groggy and depressed and stayed that way until 4:30pm, when I finally mustered up the energy to get out of the house. I took Toddler in her stroller to a nearby coffee shop, and we had a mother-daughter date. That was nice.

On Friday, which was Valentine’s day, I felt great again, so I cleaned the house and made lasagna (my husband’s favorite meal, which was one of my presents to him).

Today, I feel great again. So this week has been excellent, and I think it’s because of all the sunshine we’ve been getting. There was no sun for all of January. It rained continuously every day. That was a dark time for me, both literally and metaphorically.

if you are bipolar (or even if you aren’t), I hope that you, too, have been conquering depression lately, or just haven’t had to deal with that part of the disease in a while. Thanks for listening.

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How to Communicate with Family During the Holidays When You Have a Mental Illness

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A picture of a mother, father, and their three children peeking out between white frames, as a family photo. Credit to flickr.com user Louish Pixel. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

The holidays can be a source of great joy for many people. But the season of celebrations can also be fraught with tension, especially when families get together. But if you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder, then navigating the heated conversations at the dinner table can be triggering and difficult. Read on to find out how to communicate effectively with family during the holidays when you have a mental illness.

1. Know Your Limits

One of the most effective ways to communicate with difficult family members starts with you knowing yourself. Before you find yourself pushed to your limits, advocate for breaks for yourself. Excusing yourself for a brief walk or a breath of fresh air will do wonders for your disposition. There’s no shame in seeking time away to ground yourself. If you suffer from bipolar disorder, check out this post on common bipolar triggers and how to manage them to avoid falling into a depressive or manic episode.

2. Redirect the Conversation with Humor

When you find yourself facing people asking probing questions about anxiety-producing topics like your reproductive plans, try gently redirecting the conversation using humor. Don’t answer the question if you don’t feel like doing so, but do try to give the asker a witty (and possibly self-depricating) comment. This is easier said than done, of course, and if this puts more pressure on you, use the next tip instead.

3. Firmly Establish Conversational Boundaries

Some family members may have the unfortunate tendency to expound on their offensive political opinions to others, especially captive audiences around the dinner table. Don’t take the bait and argue with them. Instead, firmly establish conversational boundaries. Try saying something like, “Aunt Mildred, I understand that you feel that way. But I don’t want to talk about X, Y, or Z tonight. Let’s just enjoy the party, please.” If Aunt Mildred continues, then use tip one and gently extricate yourself from the conversation to take a break.

4. Enlist the Help of a Trusted Family Member

If you have a loving spouse or partner, or even a beloved family member you are close to, enlist his or her help in managing other more divisive people. Check in with your partner and ask them to check in with you every half hour or so during parties or other family gatherings. If needed, develop a signal between the two of you so he or she can rescue you from unpleasant conversations.

5. Lean on Existing Support Systems

If you are traveling and won’t be able to meet with your usual therapist or psychiatrist, then make sure to have crisis hotlines or warmlines programmed into your phone. If you’re bipolar, one national warmline provided by Nami Orange County can be called at 877-910-9276. Online support groups can help as well; try HealthfulChat’s room focused on bipolar disorder.

6. Avoid Alcohol

This isn’t a fun tip, but alcohol can add fuel to the fires of family conflict. Staying sober will reduce the chances of your saying something you regret. If you do choose to imbibe, then know your limits, and drink plenty of water to avoid having a hangover the next day.

7. Eat Properly and Get Plenty of Sleep

This tip is similar to tip 1: take care of yourself. Try to avoid sugar as much as possible, stick to your normal, healthy diet, and go to bed at reasonable hours. If you take care of your body, then you will be better equipped to handle family members who talk your ear off. Also, take your meds.

Final Thoughts

Communicating with your family during the holidays when you have a mental illness isn’t an insurmountable task. Just make sure to take care of yourself–removing yourself from conversations if necessary–avoid alcohol, get support, and establish firm boundaries.

You can do this.

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