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

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How to Talk to Someone Experiencing a Bipolar Mood Episode

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief discussion of suicidal ideation.

Bipolar patients suffering from mood episodes often make no sense. If they are depressed, they may say things like, “I’m a failure. No one loves me. I want to die.” On the flip side, if they’re manic or hypomanic, they might say things like, “I can fly! Let’s deep clean the house at midnight! It’s all so clear now!”

Telling the depressed person that he or she is not a failure and that people love him or her may fall on deaf ears. Similarly, trying to engage with the manic person’s delusions might be futile. So how do you talk to someone suffering from these issues?

Let’s dig in.

How to Talk to a Depressed Person

In order to talk to a depressed person, you need to address the root problem: the illness. You need to offer sympathy, understanding, and possible solutions.

For example, one thing you can say in response to his or her negativity is this: “I hear you. I understand that you’re depressed. This is normal for your bipolar disorder. I know it sucks. I’ve seen you like this before. Maybe you could take a long, hot shower; we know that helps you feel better.” This response addresses the real issue and communicates that you are there for the depressed person.

talking
A woman with very red lips on a cell phone. Credit to flickr.com user Anders Adermark. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Depressed people may also suffer suicidal thoughts, which are dangerous. If they express these thoughts, you can say something like, “Thank you for telling me. You mean a lot to me, and I am here for you.” Then suggest that the depressed person call his or her treatment team and let them know that he or she is suffering from these thoughts.

How to Talk to a Manic Person

Similar to talking to someone suffering from depression, when talking to a manic person, you need to respond with patience and understanding. He or she will try to talk over you, and will not be able to stop talking. Be careful about being swept up into the conversation, as it can be overstimulating for everyone.

If the manic person ends up overstimulated, his or her mania or hypomania might worsen and he or she may become agitated. Despite their confidence, people with hypomania or mania are very sensitive in their elevated mood, and may take offense easily. If you are overstimulated, you might not be as effective at helping them remain calm. Make sure that the manic person is in a safe place and walk away for a break.

When you return, answer questions briefly, calmly, and honestly. If the manic person proposes a project or goal, do not agree to participate. You can keep tabs on them during the project and remind them to eat, sleep, and generally take breaks.

In my own experience, I was manic shortly after giving birth. I clapped my hands repeatedly and demanded that we–myself and the woman from church visiting me–clean the house, rather than let me recover. I was focused on getting my projects done, and ended up devastated once my goal was thwarted. Prepare to deal with that devastation–or frustration.

If the manic person tries to argue, remain detached. Talk about neutral topics. If you need to postpone the discussion, say something like, “I see this means a lot to you. We definitely need to discuss this, but let’s do so in the morning after I am no longer upset and tired.” You can also try to redirect his or her behavior, saying something like, “Would you prefer to take a walk or watch a movie?”

Final Thoughts

Communicating with people suffering from a mood episode, be it mania or depression, can be difficult. They often believe things that aren’t true. So taking care of yourself in the situation is paramount. If the manic or depressive person is critical of you, tell the person that you understand that he or she is ill and upset, but that you will not tolerate being spoken to in that way. Then find a way to exit the conversation and reconvene later. Be firm, but kind.

Above all, as with so many strategies for dealing with bipolar people, be patient. They are suffering from a mental illness that they cannot control. It’s not their fault. If they must deal with the consequences of their actions, try to present those consequences after they come out of the mood episode, when they are back to their rational selves.

Good luck!

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My Manifestations of Bipolar Mania: Crafting and Frugality

Different people have different manifestations of bipolar mania, but they tend to be consistent. Hypersexuality, overspending, not sleeping–all are symptoms and manifestations of mania. When I’m manic or hypomanic, I have two different types that appear most frequently: a desire to craft, and an obsession with frugality, both of which go hand in hand more often than not, but can sometimes conflict each other. Let’s take a closer look.

I love craft projects. Paintings, wreaths, cross stitch–you name it. DIY is my cup of tea.

Unfortunately, I am also bipolar. I’ll bet you can tell where this is going. One of my first signals that I’m going hypomanic is a burst of creativity. I get delusions of grandeur, and think I can handle any DIY regardless of my skill level. I tend to rush through projects, not using the right tools or waiting for paint to dry, and the crafts end up looking terrible. I’ll also stock up on tons of unneeded craft supplies “just in case” I think of a future project.

spray paint
Credit to flickr.com user Daniel Naish. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

That’s how I ended up with a massive shelf of spray paint in my garage, with many, many colors ranging from navy blue to black to forest green. Nobody needs that much spray paint. Nobody.

During a recent hypomanic episode, I purchased four more cans of white spray paint, as well as other painting supplies and a second hot glue gun, for a total of $111. This might not seem like an exhorbitant amount compared to other people’s manic spending sprees, but the items were all unnecessary. I didn’t have a project in mind; I just wanted the stuff.

Another reason I think that’s a large amount to spend is the other manifestation of my mania: an obsession with frugality. I normally read personal finance blogs and keep a tight rein on my spending, but when I’m hypomanic, I’ve done things like Dumpster diving for an infant’s room decor (using items broken beyond repair) and hoarding food to the point of rotting.

I even grew my own container “garden” from seed out of soil I bought at a farm for pennies, planted in sauce cans. While I was manic, I overwatered the plants. After the mania ended, I sank into a huge depression and didn’t water them at all. Nothing grew, of course, except for some tiny, shriveled carrots, which at the time was devastating. Despite my husband’s high-paying job, I was convinced that my family would starve because I failed as a gardener.

All of these thoughts–from my thinking that I can handle any craft project to my worries that we would starve–are irrational. I know that now.

But mania is a hard dragon to slay. I used to get wrapped up in crafting to the exclusion of anything else, like eating. I decided when my second child was born to keep myself from crafting entirely in order to prevent my neglect of her. She’s a toddler now, and I’ve realized that this idea of mine turned out to be a mistake. Crafting feeds my soul, just as much as writing, and I’ve missed it just as much as I’d miss a missing finger.

So what did I do? I decided to try to have both a healthy amount of parenting time and the ability to craft DIY projects. With her in the room, I glued burlap and pinecones to a wreath form. This project only took ten minutes, and I was pleased with the result. The week after that, I wore her in my Ergo front-pack baby carrier

cherry-blossom.jpg
A painting of cherry blossom branches on a teal background, by Cassandra Stout. Protected under a Creative Commons license.

and painted a large canvas with some cherry blossom branches, which took thirty minutes.

So I’ve found a way to strike a balance with crafting. In the future, I’d like to continue to work on projects and be frugal without going overboard. So I’ll set alarms on my phone to take a break every twenty minutes during a craft project. I’ll set limits on how much  I can get done per day. I’ll stop reading personal finance blogs when I’m hypomanic, and wait until I’m on a more even keel to look over budgets. I’ll repeat self-affirmations to control my urges to craft or engage in overly-frugal activities.

And I’ll keep taking my meds, keep a good handle on my sleep, and try to nip delusions of grandeur in the bud, before I commit to buying anything or spending an inordinate amount of time. All I can do is manage my bipolar disorder, and try to prevent hypomanic episodes. Wish me luck.

How does your mania manifest?

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Pot Smoking in Teens Linked to Bipolar Symptoms

Researchers at Warwick University found that cannabis use in young adults is linked to future development of hypomania, a state in which people deal with feelings of euphoria, irritability, increased sexuality, and competitiveness-–but less than someone with full-blown mania.

Led by Dr Steven Marwaha, a clinical academic Psychiatrist, the research analysed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and found that teenage cannabis use at least 2–3 times weekly is directly associated with suffering from symptoms of hypomania in later years.

However, the relationship between cannabis use and hypomania was so direct that any use increased the risk of developing the bipolar symptom, but less powerfully.

The Warwick team is the first to examine the link between cannabis and bipolar symptoms while controlling for other factors such as psychosis.

Cannabis is one of the most commonly used substances of abuse in

cannabis
Credit to flickr.com user DJ Kettle. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

western countries. Problematic use in the general population is as high as 9.5% in the United States, while 2.6% of the UK population report having been cannabis dependent in the last year.

 

The research, Cannabis Use and Hypomania in Young People: A Prospective Analysis, is published by Schizophrenia Bulletin.

The Warwick researchers hope to use this study to encourage interventions for teenagers who are cannabis dependent.

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