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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COVID-19: 7 Ways to Combat Anxiety about the Coronavirus

Learn how to manage anxiety due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in this post by the Bipolar Parent! 7 practical tips!

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7 ways to combat anxiety about the coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

You have to maintain distance in social situations. You have to work from home. Your kids’ schools are canceled. Churches are canceling services. All the major stores are out of toilet paper, masks, and hand sanitizer.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has declared the outbreak a global pandemic. The U.S. government’s response has been less than inspiring. Nursing homes are showing major rates of infection.

The frothing panic about coronavirus hasn’t quite reached its zenith, but everyone’s life is already drastically affected.

Some people, already anxiety-prone, are facing a great deal of terror about impending infections or death.

Here are some practical tips on how to manage your anxiety levels during the coronavirus outbreak.

1. Don’t Inflate the Risk

There is still so much unknown about the coronavirus. Because of that, a pandemic like this is more frightening to people because it’s unfamiliar, unlike the flu, which infects millions more and kills 1% of them.

As of this writing, the novel coronavirus has infected 115,000 people globally, and killed about 5,800. The W.H.O. reports a death rate of 3.4%.

While these sound like scary numbers, they are not as scary as the SARS outbreak, which has a mortality rate of 9.6%.

The infection rate of 115,000 people is insignificant compared to the 7 billion people on the planet. Even if millions of people are infected, the likelihood of you catching the infection is fairly low, especially if you wash your hands properly.

Also, at least 75,000 people of those infected have recovered; 80% of those infected will only suffer mild symptoms similar to a cold.

2. Recognize What You Can Control, and Let Go of What You Can’t

If you’re having trouble with feeling like everything is out of control in your life, try this exercise. Take a piece of paper, and draw two circles on it. Label one, “What I Can Control,” and the other, “What I Can’t Control.”

Write down your worries, and categorize them into one of the two circles. Here are some hints to get you started:

What I can control: My actions and reactions, how much news I consume and from what sources, whether I wash my hands properly and avoid touching my face, how much my children understand about the outbreak…

What I can’t control: Infection rates and deaths among the elderly, whether the coronavirus spreads in my neighborhood, the news cycle, other people’s actions…

After you write down what you can and can’t control, try to let go of what you can’t.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Taking precautions like often washing your hands properly (sing the ABC song twice, or count to 20) and avoiding touching your face is only sensible in the face of a global pandemic.

There are other ways to take care of yourself. A healthy immune system is one of the best ways to fight the virus once you’re infected. So make sure you get enough sleep and >eat a healthy diet to support your body’s natural defenses.

If you are over the age of 60 or are immuno-compromised, then stay home as much as possible. Ask your younger family and friends to grocery shop for you, and utilize Amazon deliveries for household supplies such as hand sanitizer.

4. Go on a Media Fast

If listening to coronavirus news is making you depressed and panicky, consider going on a media fast. Block news apps from giving you notifications on your phone, and avoid reading news websites.

Limit your consumption of the daily media circus, and try to avoid thinking about the coronavirus and the chances of infection. You don’t want to stick your head in the sand, but you do want to go about your daily life with as little interruption as possible.

5. Journal, Journal, Journal

If you just can’t conquer your worries, write them down in a journal, online or off. Writing your fears down may help you recognize that they’re (mostly) about things you can’t control, so you can let them go (tip #2).

Above all, don’t ignore or try to stuff your anxiety. Give yourself space to be worried, and try to put into words exactly what makes you nervous. Don’t ignore the physical symptoms of stress, which can include a racing heart and shortness of breath.

Express your feelings in writing and allow yourself to be concerned about a concerning situation.

6. Be Prepared for an Outbreak

If you don’t yet have an outbreak in your community, prepare yourself for one. Ask your boss about your work-at-home options. Figure out your childcare options before your kids’ schools are closed. Tap into your support network to see what your friends’ plans are, and see if you can still check in with them over the phone if not in person.

Preparing as much as humanly possible for an outbreak in your community will help you see what you can control and let go of what you can’t (tip #2).

7. Seek Professional Help

If your anxiety is paralyzing you in your daily life, it might be time to pull in the big guns. Seek professional help. Some therapists will meet in online sessions with you, so you should be able to avoid getting sick or getting them sick.

Lean on your treatment team. They’re here to help you. A good therapist can help you cope with rational and irrational fears.

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

Final Thoughts

These practical tips may help you curtail your fears about the novel coronavirus. Don’t inflate the risk of infection, let go of what you can’t control, take care of yourself, go on a media fast, keep a journal of your worries, prepare for an outbreak, and seek professional help if your worries keep you from enjoying day-to-day life.

Above all, give yourself space to worry. A global pandemic is a genuinely scary situation. You are allowed to be concerned. Just don’t let it destroy your ability to interact with your family or take pleasure in the little things.

I wish you well in your journey.

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6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate

How to become your own mental health advocate – 6 Steps from Cassandrastout.com.

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Whether you have a diagnosis of mental illness or are seeking one out, becoming your own mental health advocate is crucial. Many people don’t have the support of others when dealing with mental illnesses. Sometimes, the only people who will advocate for them is themselves.

Becoming your own mental health advocate isn’t a difficult process, but it is a process. There are things to do and things not to do when traveling along that road.

Here are 6 steps for advocating for yourself:

6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate - CassandraStout.com

Step #1: Accept your Symptoms

The first step towards becoming your own self advocate is to accept that your symptoms point towards a mental illness. For example, if you find you’re not sleeping but still have a ton of frenetic, pressured energy, you could be suffering from a manic episode of bipolar disorder. Make a note of your symptoms and take them into a professional.

Step #2: Build a Treatment Team

In order to acquire a diagnosis of mental illness, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you must build a treatment team. You need a therapist at the very least, and if you find your mental illness can’t be managed without medication, you’ll have to find a psychiatrist.

You want to find a team of professionals who can treat you holistically. Ask your primary care physician for referrals to psych doctors.

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

Step #3: Educate Yourself about Your Mental Illness

Once you have a diagnosis, find reputable sources to read about your mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a fabulous resource on all manner of mental health conditions.

If you have bipolar disorder, there are also books like An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (not affiliate), by Kay Redfield Jameson. Ask your treatment team for resources. They’ll be happy to provide.

Step #4: Be an Expert on Yourself

You know yourself better than anyone else. So capitalize on that. Keep track of your symptoms via mood chart, sleep journal, and/or a symptom tracker app.

You’re not a doctor, so don’t try to be one, but providing information to your treatment team can only help you. Rely on your treatment team to best interpret the information.

Step #5: Practice Self-Care

You won’t be able to help your treatment team take care of you if you’re worn out. Look after yourself. Practice daily self-care.

Get some sleep, eat several small meals, drink enough water, socialize with real people, go outside, and move your body for at least 30 minutes per day. These six self-care tenants, outlined by a post on WellandWealthy.org, will help you feel better if you do them more frequently than not.

Step #6: Express Yourself Calmly

Sometimes, when advocating for yourself, you will face resistance and stigma.

If this happens, then try to remain calm. Take deep breaths and center yourself. Tell yourself that getting angry won’t help you, and control your knee-jerk reactions.

Once you’ve got a handle on your emotions, express yourself calmly. Explain what you need and what you expect from the people you’re explaining this to.

If you can’t express yourself in the moment, take a break, and write down what you need to say. Come back to the people who resisted or stigmatized you and read from your writing.

Final Thoughts

Becoming your own self-advocate is a process, one you can master. Accept your symptoms, build your treatment team, educate yourself about your mental illness, be an expert on yourself, practice self-care, and express yourself calmly in the face of resistance and stigma.

If you practice these steps, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming your own self-advocate.

I wish you well in your journey.

6 Steps to Become Your Own Mental Health Advocate - CassandraStout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s (Belated) Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Keto Edition

Hello, hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s (Belated) Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Keto Edition! Thanks for stopping by.

First, I apologize for this post being late. I completely forgot to write it on Friday, and on Saturday, I was ridiculously busy, which I’ll go into below. Sorry about that!

Secondly, how are you? How’s life treating you? Do you attend religious services? Are you on a diet, like me? How are the kids? What are you struggling with? What are your parenting challenges this week? Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to get to know you.

The Bipolar Parent's (Belated) Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Keto Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

I started the keto (extremely low-carb, moderate protein, high fat) diet with my husband to help us both shed some extra weight we’ve been carrying around.

I am currently 190.4 pounds, and have lost 2 pounds since Tuesday. But, since my weight tends to fluctuate over the day, I am not counting the loss until I lose at least 6-8 pounds.

The last time I tried the keto diet, I ended up with massive headaches and brain fog for the first week. A while back, my sister recommended magnesium supplements for headaches. As I don’t absorb magnesium through supplementation very well, I was elated to find out that pumpkin seeds, which have 0g net carbs due to their high fiber content, give me 50% of the recommended daily value of magnesium for a 1/4 cup serving.

Now, eating the pumpkin seeds, I have had very few headaches, and am snapping out of the brain fog much more quickly. It’s such a relief.

As for being busy on Saturday, I cleaned the house because my husband and I planned to go on a date that afternoon, and I wanted the house to be nice for the babysitters, a trusted couple from our church.

The whole family pitched in to clean the house, and we got it done in time for our date at 1pm. I should have spread the cleaning out over the week, but I’ve been dealing with depression/exhaustion/brain fog from the change in my diet.

But it hasn’t been a bad week, not at all. I’ve been able to maintain a positive attitude, which helps immensely. Hopefully next week will be even better.

How was your week?

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When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates

Dating with a mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, can be a minefield to navigate. You need to find someone who will support you in all aspects of life, including your struggles with your mental conditions.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates - CassandraStout.com

Finding such a person can be daunting. A lot of people who have little experience with mental illnesses tend to think that people with bipolar disorder are “crazy” and out of control. Stigma and awful stereotypes are very real. Some people may bolt as soon as they hear the word “bipolar.”

You have to communicate honestly with your significant other about your disorder, but first you have to disclose to them that you have one. But when do you disclose to your dates that you have more to deal with than a neurotypical person?

Honesty is the Best Policy

You may have a million questions when it come to dating. For example, when do you disclose your illness? Will you be honest on the first date or will you wait until you’ve gotten to know your date before letting them know? If you can’t work and are on disability due to your illness, how do you explain what you do? When do you let your date know if you’re on meds?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Dating looks different for everyone regardless of their mental conditions. When you disclose should always be up to you.

If you are just dating casually, disclosing your mental illness isn’t that important. But if you are looking for a long-term relationship, disclosing that you suffer from mood episodes should be your highest priority.

If you can hide your illness and let your boyfriend or girlfriend know months into a relationship that you’ve been keeping something so big a secret from him or her, then he or she might feel betrayed and break up with you, or worse.

When it comes to dating with an illness that is hard to hide and impacts your life every single day, then honesty is the best policy. Letting your date know on the second or third date, before either of you has invested too much into the relationship, is better than waiting until you’ve moved in together.

Tell your date about your disorder before you make any long-term commitments to that person. Explain what he or she can expect when you suffer a mood episode. Let them know what steps you usually take to manage your disorder, and the treatment team you have in place.

This way, your partner won’t be shocked when your moods and behaviors suddenly shift, and may even be prepared to help you through your mood episode.

Final Thoughts

Explaining your mental illness to your dates before you make a long-term commitment is crucial for your relationship to thrive.

Some people may run for the hills when you disclose your struggles. Let them. They wouldn’t have been capable of supporting you or committing to the whole you anyway. Find someone else who you know will be able to remain strong in the face of your mental illness.

Dating with a mental illness can be difficult. But if you are honest with your date about your mental condition before feelings start to grow, then you avoid the risk of alienating them and suffering from a hard breakup.

I wish you well in your journey.

When to Disclose Your Mental Illness to Your Dates - CassandraStout.com

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

How are you? I genuinely want to know. My week has been busy.

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Hello, hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Lightbox Edition!

How are you? Have you been getting some sun this week? How’s the weather holding up for you? How’s your mood been this week? What are you struggling with recently? What challenges have you been facing in parenting? Please let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Heatlh Check in: Lightbox Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

My week has been busy.

On Tuesday, I had an appointment with my primary care physician, who ordered blood tests to see if there are physical causes to my depression. I wasn’t fasting (I’d eaten snack at toddler group with my kiddo before the appointment), so I couldn’t take the blood tests until Wednesday, which I did.

On Thursday, I saw my psychiatrist. He boosted my dose of antidepressant (Wellbutrin), prescribed an anti-anxiety med (which starts with a B, but I can’t recall the name), and told me to get a lightbox, as I probably have seasonal affective disorder. He said the lightbox will probably cost $150-500 and may be reimbursed by insurance.

I told my husband about the lightbox, and his immediate response was, “Okay, I’ve ordered one on Amazon. It should be here tomorrow.” He told me that the one I needed (with 10,000 lux, or units of light) was on sale for $30. A second lightbox was on sale for $25, so he bought that one, too. So now I have two, one for my bedroom and one for my desk. I adore my husband.

On Friday, I walked to the store, pushing Toddler in the stroller, to pick up my prescriptions. Apparently the pharmacy only received orders for the antidepressant. I called my psych doc and left a message asking the office to re-fax the prescription order. I always play phone tag with them, which is extremely frustrating.

Taking care of my mental health is so difficult and expensive. There are multiple doctors involved, and our insurance has a high deductible which just reset this January. The antidepressant prescription was $51. So, with the addition of the lightboxes, that’s over $100 spent just this week, not to mention the cost of the doctor’s appointments.

I’ve also eaten out for lunch every day this week. Not because I couldn’t plan ahead and pack sandwiches, but because I’m depressed, and one of the ways I find myself trying to feel better is going to restaurants. It works in the moment, but afterwards I feel buyer’s remorse as each fast food meal is forgettable, unhealthy, and expensive.

Spending this much on myself makes me weak in the knees. My husband would say that I am worth the cost, and “it’s just money.” Having grown up below the poverty line, I am struggling with prioritizing my own wellbeing.

But I need to, if not for me, then at least for my kids. They deserve a mother who is sound in mind and body. I need to prioritize my own contentment. And stop going out to eat unless it’s a special treat, like our family Sunday brunch.

Wish me luck.

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Ice Edition

I cover my week being cooped up in the house, and ask you about yours!

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Hello, hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Ice Edition!

How are you? Is it snowing where you are? Have you been stuck in the house? How cold is the weather? What about your self-care routine–have you been sticking to it? Let me know in the comments; I genuinely want to know!

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Check in: Ice Edition - CassandraStout.com

My Week

My week has been utterly depressing.

I am used to a certain routine of preschool on Mondays and Wednesdays (where I meet with a friend from my writing group to write and clean the house, respectively), and toddler group on Tuesdays, which I attend with my kiddo as a co-op preschool.

Then the snowpocalypse hit. There’s still ice on the roads in our neighborhood. As I’m a anxious driver who has crashed in icy conditions before, I am very reluctant to drive.

School has been canceled for both my kids pretty much all week and we’ve been cooped up in the house. We all are suffering from cabin fever.

We normally go to a park or an indoor playground every day, even after toddler group on Tuesdays. I am ill-tempered due to nature’s inconsideration of my need for routine. My toddler has watched all sorts of random Netflix shows this week.

But it’s not all bad; we could be dealing with a power outage, like we did last year.

Luckily we live within walking distance of a grocery store, so my husband has been hoofing it there to pick up milk and bread. I am thankful that he was able to work from home.

So that’s been my week. How’s yours been? Have you, too, been cooped up in the house? Let me know in the comments!

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Bipolar Genes Linked to Autism

Many psychiatric diseases share genetic roots. A new study, run by researchers at three different laboratories, suggests that rare genetic variations linked to bipolar disorder are also linked to schizophrenia and especially autism.

The study, by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, is among the first to demonstrate the overlap between bipolar disorder and autism.

Despite bipolar disorder’s demonstrated inheritability, pinpointing genes relating to the disease has been exorbitantly difficult. But advances made in medical science recently have allowed scientists to start to figure out which genetic variations affect patients with bipolar disorder.

The researchers behind the study linking autism with bipolar disorder combined a case-control approach with “family-based exome sequencing” to try to discover which genetic variations contribute to bipolar. Case-control approaches look at genetic variants in people who have the disorder compared to people who don’t to figure out which genes increased susceptibility to the disease. The key to this approach is large pools of data.

Family-based exome sequencing is more difficult to perform. Scientists compare all the expressed genes in a genome (known as the exome). The researchers first examine the DNA that encodes proteins (known as exons), and then put that DNA into sequence using computers. This allows technicians to see variants that “travel with” the disease, especially in cases where the disorder is passed from parent to child.

This two-pronged approach identified 84 rare variants in 82 genes that traveled with bipolar disorder. The research team then examined these

Test tubes and other recipients in chemistry lab
Credit to flickr.com user Horia Varlan. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

84 variants in three case-control datasets of 3,541 individuals with bipolar disorder and 4,774 control patients to figure out which variants predicted the disorder.

 

Nineteen genes were over-represented in bipolar disorder patients compared to the controls. However, while the data on these genes wasn’t enough to specifically pinpoint the genetic culprits of bipolar disorder, several of the genes were linked to autism and schizophrenia, with autism being especially prominent.

The findings suggest that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism have similar roots, and are simply different manifestations of similar diseases. The researchers from the study hope that by linking these diseases and finding which genes are responsible, new treatments will be discovered for all of them.

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