Managing Bipolar Full-Time

Early Signs

"I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder when I was 15. I always had been a strong-willed child and definitely a strong-willed teenager, but when it got to the point where I wasn't functioning, we knew there was something more going on. There were periods when I was so despondent that I was sleeping all day, and was not able to leave the house or attend school. Then there were times when I would be so wired I couldn't sleep or get anything accomplished. I would start things but couldn't finish them. These periods weren't always prolonged, but going back and forth exhausted me. I didn't understand what was going on, and it was so unpredictable I never knew what to expect. My family was great. We had to dedicate ourselves to seeking better treatments, even if that involved changing doctors, switching medications and doing whatever it took to find a successful combination."

Becoming My Own Advocate

"Adjusting my medications and finding the right ones took years. It was a very difficult process. For a while I was on a regimen where I was at baseline functioning. I could have said, "Well, I guess this is it; I'm going to be like this forever," but I did research because I felt that there had to be something better. Five or six years ago, I started a different medication and it changed my life. I was able to increase my level of functioning. I graduated from college and now I'm working toward my master's in public policy. I wouldn't have been able to do all of that if I hadn't kept pursuing wellness. I look back now and realize how sick I was. I still have bipolar disorder and still struggle, but the struggle was so much more intense then. You have to be proactive when you have bipolar disorder, just as you would while managing any other chronic medical condition. If I had diabetes or a heart condition, I would go through similar steps so that I could live successfully. It's a day-to-day, constant approach to managing your health, being proactive and aware of your symptoms, and seeing how well your treatment is working."

Getting Help

"I don't think you can do it alone. In fact, I think not trying to do it alone is important. It's not a question of will or strength. Things happen and sometimes you need that extra help. When I start to feel depressed, I take an active approach rather than waiting until it's full-fledged. I tell my mom and my doctors so they can work with me to do things that I can't do at that point. I can't necessarily stop whatever is going to occur, I have to roll with it, but I get people involved so that it doesn't get as bad as it would have gotten had I just been all by myself. I have a great boyfriend who is very understanding, but I think that's partly because I've been willing to talk openly about my illness. I didn't discuss it with other people I dated because we never got to that emotional level. Bipolar disorder is not a first-date topic."

A 24/7 Full-Time Job

"You can't treat bipolar without medication. It is a biological disease. There's no shame in getting help and talking about it. That's huge—just communicating. When you're initially diagnosed, and you haven't found that right combination of medications yet, that's when pretty much everyone needs therapy. "I take steps to be healthy because I want my medications to work the best that they can. I don't do things that are going to interfere with them. Keeping a regular schedule is really important: I take my medications at the same time every day and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time. I try to eat a healthy diet with lots of veggies. I don't drink alcohol. That's a personal choice, but I also don't want it interacting with the medications. I don't smoke or do illegal drugs. I have a [special] prescription light that I turn on that helps keep me from getting depressed, especially during the winter. I'm often told, "You don't look like you have bipolar." I don't think I've ever met someone who looks like [they have bipolar]. But even if you look perfectly fine on the outside, it doesn't mean that you're not working really hard on the inside to be at your best and to complete the day. You're battling to be well. Some days it might be harder than others but you certainly have to make an effort every day. You don't just glide. You have to work at being well. It's a 24/7 full-time job."

 

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