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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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.

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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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Does Inflammation Cause Bipolar Disorder?

joint.jpg
A rope-wrapped, rusty pipe bent at an angle with small nails driven into it. Credit to flickr.com user jurek d. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Inflammation, or swelling, is a very important medical condition that affects many parts of our bodies, including our brains. It’s the body’s protective response to infection. In some autoimmune diseases, like arthritis, the body’s immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there are no bacteria or viruses to fight off. This means that the immune system damages normal, healthy tissues, as if they are somehow infected.

But what does all of this mean for bipolar disorder? Several things, actually.

A 2013 study conducted in Denmark posits that mood disorders could be the brain’s response to inflammation. Researchers found that people who suffered from an autoimmune disease were a whopping 45% more likely to develop a mood disorder. The report found that people who were treated for inflammation also had improved moods, and that the effectiveness of antidepressants in these people increased.

Similarly, a 2011 study in the Journal of Neuroinflammation found that high levels of quinolinic acid, a byproduct of inflammation, are associated with suicidal tendencies and chronic depression.

Even lithium,  the gold standard in treating bipolar disorder, might have anti-inflammatory properties in the brain. No one knows exactly how the drug works, but recent studies point towards lithium reducing inflammation.

Similarly, there is some evidence that other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may improve the effect of bipolar medications, at least in bipolar depression. Mania doesn’t seem to be impacted.

All of this is interesting news, but the causal link between bipolar disorder and inflammation has yet to be fully established. No one knows if inflammation causes bipolar disorder or if bipolar disorder causes inflammation. And mania doesn’t seem to be affected at all, just depression, and no one knows why. There are several possible causes of bipolar disorder, ranging from genetics to environment to childhood trauma. The true causes of bipolar disorder are multi-factorial, meaning that there are many reasons why you might develop the psychiatric condition. Inflammation is just another piece of the puzzle.

So the answer to the question of whether inflammation causes bipolar disorder is a solid maybe. Inflammation is related to bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, but no one knows exactly how yet. While reducing inflammation is generally a good idea to promote optimum health, it won’t cure your bipolar disorder.

Ways to reduce inflammation include taking turmeric capsules, eating a healthy diet including plenty of vegetables, nuts, and fruits, and getting plenty of exercise. Talk to your doctor before engaging in any dietary change or embarking on an exercise program.

I wish you luck in your journey.

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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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