I N T R O D U C T I O N
The most common misconception made by people on the whole, when they discover that one of their fellow life travelers suffers from BI-POLAR DISORDER, is that they immediately assume that the person suffering from the illness is mentally deficient.
In many cases, this simply is not true. Being BI-POLAR simply means that, just as a diabetic suffers from a chemical imbalance in their body, a person suffering from the bi-polar disorder suffers from the shortage of certain chemicals in their brains.
The bi-polar condition causes the person suffering the illness to experience rapid, and often inexplicable, mood and emotional changes, changes which can, admittedly, sometimes cause them to act out of normal character. It does not in any way denote their mental acuity.
In fact, some of the world’s greatest artist’s, author’s, musician’s, statesmen, thinker’s, and yes, even actor’s in today’s modern world, all either did suffer, or do suffer, from this illness.
Abraham Lincoln was a great president, but he suffered from this illness his entire life. And he is only one among many. This is not only true of those afflicted with this particular illness, but it also includes schizophrenia and other forms of emotional or mental illness.
Though, admittedly, I do not know as much about the schizophrenic side of my particular illness, having been diagnosed as schizo-effective (I sometimes hear things that are not really there, but only on rare occasions, usually when I am in a hyper manic phase, do I ever see things which are not really there.), rather than fully schizophrenic, as well as being diagnosed as bi-polar two (an explanation for the difference between bi-polar one and two will following in a separate section), I none the less, do know a little bit about being bi-polar, and the stress it can cause just getting from day to day.
And it is from this vantage point that I have composed this, what I guess could be called “a mini-help guide”, to explain what living with this illness has taught me.
This little piece of my life that I am sharing with the world is called, rather aptly ”INTO THE LIGHT”, for the simple fact that I am hoping that perhaps some of the information contained within these pages, may help another fellow sufferer into the light of somewhat self reliance, and out of the dark of total imprisonment by their illness. These pages will contain information on the importance of learning everything you can about your illness.
Some of the things which will be covered in this article are…..
*About facing the truth that your illness is real. This is the first and most crucial step in being able to gain some modicum of control over your illness. Only when you face the reality of the situation will you be able to institute steps to cope with it.
*About the importance of not only faithfully adhering to any medication schedule you may be on, but of knowing what medications you are currently taking, their side effects, what each medication is for, and what medications, or yes, even foods, that might be taken, or eaten in conjunction with, the medication regime a person might currently be on, that could cause an adverse reaction,
*About various ways you can learn to recognize and watch for things that act as ”triggers” (I will be discussing ”triggers” later on in this article), to an episode,
*About ways you can learn to monitor yourself for indications that you may be about to be headed for an episode. This means looking back and analyzing what you were feeling, emotionally, and yes, even physically, right before you started feeling bad. This is extremely important if you are to learn to know when to begin instituting your coping skills…..
*About various coping skills (these will be discussed and explained later in this article), that might be tried, (or developed individually, for no single coping skill works the same for any two people, and sometimes not even the same way twice for the same person), that can help the afflicted person to get through the episodes when they occur, or even, in some cases, prevent them from occurring at all,
*About how your attitude, how you feel about yourself, can have either a positive or a negative, effect on your illness. If you have a low self image, you will find it much more difficult to cope, as you will already be in a negative frame of mind. It is far easier, and much less stressful, to fight, say, severe/clinical depression, if your thoughts and attitude are already somewhat positive, at least then you will think, and feel, that you are worth the effort required to institute means of trying to help yourself.
*About the importance of having faith in SOMETHING, even if it is only yourself, that you are worth making the effort to stay well,
*And last but by no means least, about the importance of the power that positive thinking can have on how one reacts to an episode, and to their illness in general.
The power of the human mind is an incredible thing. It has been proven, in actual clinical tests, that, when two separate groups of people, all suffering from the same illness, were given both a real medication to help with the symptoms of the illness, and a placebo, the group that was given the placebo actually had a portion of the group that recovered.
Their minds were so convinced that they had received the actual medication, that it produced actual, tangible, physical results…..they got better.
And thus is it the same in the case of a mental illness, a person who has a positive mindset will do far better at being able to help themselves, than someone who has a negative mindset.
How, you might be asking yourself, can this lady write about something of this nature. The answer is simple, I am fifty one years old at the time of this writing, and I suffer from bi-polar/schizo-effective disorder. I was diagnosed in 1995, but the illness goes back much further than that.
One thing I will tell you now, you are not to blame for your illness. This illness, both the bi-polar and the schizophrenia, can quite often be hereditary.
So let your minds be at ease on that point at least. It is not something to be ashamed of, and it can be controlled, to a certain degree, through faithful adherence to medication schedules and dosages, to coping skills utilization, and to many or all of the things that will be, or have been, mentioned in this message to the world.
The most important thing for everyone to remember is this, you are a person too, and you are worth making the effort to stay well. You can, by utilizing some or all of the things I will mention in the following paragraphs, be capable of leading a somewhat normal life.
F A C I N G T H E T R U T H
This is the first, and perhaps hardest, thing you will ever do in your journey towards learning to live with, and function with, your illness….facing the truth that it is real. Until you are willing to face the truth of the situation, you will never truly be able to learn to deal with the situation.
Just because you turn your back on a snake, does not mean it is not there, and will not bite you, and it is the same with your illness. Just because you refuse to admit its reality, does not mean it is not real.
As long as you refuse to face your illness’ reality, you will never be able to find, and effectively utilize, means by which you can cope with it.
Once you have faced the reality of your illness, the next step is learning how to live with it. There are some very important steps that can be utilized to accomplish this.
M E D I C A T I O N S
I will begin with medications, for they are the center around which all the other things I will be addressing revolve. They are also the main key to a person suffering from this illness to be able to function from day to day. This information, when learned and instituted, can, in many ways, put the person suffering the illness back in charge, instead of the other way around.
The first thing I would like to make very clear, is that being on medication does not stop at simply taking it. There are many other factors involved. The major ones are as follows:
BEING MEDICATION COMPLIANT: This means that you take your medications exactly as prescribed, both in dosage levels and on time…..
KNOWING YOUR MEDICATIONS: This is important on several levels, the primary one being that if you ever have to go to the family doctor, you will be able to tell them what medications you are currently taking, so that they can work to find something to help you with the problem for which you sought them out, without the medications they might prescribe conflicting with the ones you are currently taking.
It is also very important to know your medications, names, dosage size, dosage levels, and frequency of usage, should you ever have to go to a pharmacy for any reason to get over the counter medications. Then the pharmacist will be able to advise you on what you can safely take.
LEARNING THE SIDE EFFECTS: This is extremely important. Only in knowing what side effects might occur with each of your medications will you know what to watch for should something out of the ordinary occur either in your physical, emotional, or mental well being.
Many medications share the same or similar side effects. Knowing what these are could not only save you expensive, time consuming trips to the doctor, but they could give you warning signs ahead of time that there might be something wrong.
The more you learn about the side effects possible through any and all medications you take, not only those you take for your illness, but also any across the counter drugs as well, could save much trouble in the future.
Remember, forewarned is forearmed.
And one further thing, though it is not commonly known, some foods, especially highly acidic ones, can cause serious complications with certain medications.
The best thing to do is to read all literature that is provided when you pick up your medications, or you can request information on each medication you take from your pharmacist.
The better you educate yourself about your medications, the better off you will be.
KEEPING A MED JOURNAL: This means that you record each time you take your medication. There are several good reasons for doing this…..
The first, and perhaps most important reason, for keeping a med journal is to let you know when you have already taken the medication so that you do not repeat a dosage. Always put down the date and the time you take each dosage.
By keeping up with your medication, you will also be providing a record for any home health or home nursing personnel you might happen to have, so that they will be kept up to date.
Also make note in the medication journal of any unusual changes in your physical or emotional state each day. These notes, when your provider or doctor (you should always carry the journal with you to any doctor’s visits so that he is aware also of what is happening), review them, it will better enable them to know if you need any medications titrated, changed, or, in some cases, completely discontinued.
This is one of the primary reasons it is necessary for you to learn as much as you can about the side effects that might be caused by the medications, for the more aware you are of those possible side effects, the better you will be able to work with the doctors and providers.
BEING PREPARED: Get a small notebook, one that can be carried in a jeans or shirt pocket. Put the following in it:
social security number
any insurance policy information
person to contact in case of an emergency
the name and phone number of your counselor and doctor who are in charge of helping you with your illness
the name and phone number of your family physician
the name of the hospital (both physical and psychiatric), where you usually go when things get bad
the name/names of the doctor(s) who usually attend to you there
and last but not least,
a list of any and all medications you are taking, for your illness,
any that your family physician may have prescribed,
and any across the counter medications you may be taking at that time.
Carry this little information booklet on your person at all times, it could very well save your life.
Nearly all of the time, in the event of an accident, or if medical personal are called in for an emergency where you cannot communicate on your own, one of the first things they usually do is search you for any identifying information.
By having all of your important information in that little booklet on your person, they will have nearly everything they need to care for you.
And it is very important that you keep this little book updated if your medications change.
T R I G G E R S
”Triggers” are things that, in certain situations, can either aggravate or accelerate symptoms when a person suffering from the bi-polar disorder is either in a ”hyper-manic” (bi-polar two, suffering from both hyper mania and/or severe/clinical depression) or ”severe/clinically depressed” (bi-polar one, suffering primarily severe depression), phase of the illness.
Persons in a hyper-manic phase, when confronted with the ”trigger” often display extreme reactions to the occurring event, and can sometimes act out aggressively, while person in a severe/clinically depressed phase can slide even further into depression, so much so that they might even think of harming themselves out of the belief that there is no hope.
Some of the primary triggers that can cause these accelerated reactions are…..
FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH MEDICATION SCHEDULES
NOT GETTING ENOUGH REST
NOT EATING RIGHT
STRESS, BOTH MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL, WHICH CAN BE CAUSED BY BOTH INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL FACTORS
CONSTANT STRESS FROM OUTSIDE FORCES OR SITUATIONS
People suffering from this disorder can sometimes be very volatile and unpredictable in their reactions to certain situations. There emotional responses to things are very accelerated and heightened.
In the manic phase they can often be very impulsive, which can result in actions that could prove harmful to not only their physical well being, but their emotional and financial as well. They may act impulsively and out of normal character, they are easily excitable, and are often easily angered, which could prove harmful to both their own well being and the person with whom they are angry.
Good judgment often falls by the wayside in a person suffering from hyper mania. Because their thought patterns are so scattered, common everyday tasks such as paying bills, managing their checkbooks, and other such functions can often become too overwhelming for them to stay focused on (and I speak from experience on this point, for I have to have an assigned payee to handle my finances, or my bills would probably never get paid!).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, for someone suffering from severe/clinical depression, it can often seem that just breathing requires more effort than they have to expend.
They have a tendency to let both their environment and their own personal selves go, they lose interest in just about everything around them, and all too often try to withdraw as completely from the world as they possibly can.
They tend to withdraw into themselves, shutting out everything around them in an attempt to hide from the unutterable sadness that seems to go soul deep and which seems to have literally no end.
They often lose their appetite, their energy level, their interest in anything around them, and all to sadly, the interest in even living.
Many suicides have been caused by depression, especially in preteens and teens, due to peer pressure and social expectations. It can also be found in adults due to social and economic factors., as well as the simple act of trying to survive.
A person suffering from severe/clinical depression’s main goal will be to seek to find a way to end the pain that seems to swallow their very souls.
For them, hope is merely a word, not a reality. Their world is one of darkness, a world which, to them, will never see the light.
They are often caught up in dwelling on the past to the extent that the present is a living nightmare in which they see no future They often, quite literally, lose their very will to live.
In order to recognize what might act as triggers, you must first be willing to examine in close detail what was occurring just prior to the onset of the episode.
Were you overtired?
Were you overworked?
Were you physically ill, thereby weakening you and exposing you to the possibility of an episode occurring?
Were you upset about something?
Had you been in a high stress situation for an extended period of time?
All of these these, and more, can act as ”triggers” for an episode of your illness to accelerate. And perhaps the most important question you could ever ask yourself is….
“What emotions were you experiencing just prior to the episode?”
In learning to recognize these warning signs, you can better be able to at least have some hope of possibly controlling, if not totally stopping, an episode, for the knowledge you gain can help you to prepare when you again experience that emotional state, or are in those types of situations. The more aware you become of the warning signs of an episodes imminent occurrence, the more you will learn to recognize, and institute, steps to, if not completely stop, at least reduce the severity of, the episodes.
RECOGNIZING THE SYMPTOMS
Learning to recognize when you are beginning to feel bad is one of the very important steps in keeping yourself well. It means you will have to go back and examine what you were feeling, both emotionally, and yes, physically, right before the episode occurred. That way you will know that when you begin feeling that way again you can start utilizing your coping skills right away.
C O P I N G S K I L L S
But there is a small ray of hope, a tiny fragile light at the end of the tunnel, for those that are suffering from this very real, and very debilitating, illness, and that is through not only the faithful adherence to their medication regime, but also through ”coping skills”…
Coping skills can consist of anything that allows you to ”step back”, or temporarily ”switch mental tracks” when you are experience an episode.
Coping skill are, basically, anything that you can become focused on almost exclusively, allowing you to step back from whatever is contributing to the symptoms you are experiencing, or from the symptoms themselves.
Some of the coping skills that I personally use are drawing, painting, writing, working with simple origami, reading, calligraphy, and creating pop up designs.
Performing these activities give me a chance to withdraw for a short time from what is distressing me, or even to help cope with the symptoms themselves.
For instance, when I am highly manic, and my mind is racing, I choose one of the activities, and then allow myself to become so lost in the performance of the activity, that, for a short time, I actually am able to control the symptoms, instead of them controlling me.
For a man who is experiencing the symptoms, he might work on a car, mow the lawn, or even just go out for a drive or a ride on a motorcycle.
For a woman she might cook, clean, sew, knit, or any other activity that allows her to withdraw from the symptoms for awhile.
Although coping skills vary from person to person, for no two people either suffer their symptoms exactly the same, nor do they react to the use of the same exact coping skills in the same way, one fact remains…
Any activity that you are able to do that allows you to step back from the symptoms, especially if it is something that you can use your hands as well as your mind on, and that allows you to, for all intents and purposes, find a ”quiet place”, can be utilized as a coping skill.
Any activity that allows you to ”unwind” and ”slow down” can be used as a coping skill.
With practice, anyone can develop their own set of personal coping skills.
And coping skills can be useful not only for those who are “enhanced” (the ”politically correct” term for anyone suffering from an emotional or mental disability), they can also be developed and utilized by those who are non-enhanced as well, for we all go through times of stress, anxiety, and confused feelings.
And yes, coping skills take time to be developed, and sometimes you make have to ”tweek” them here and there to make them work for different situations, but the very fact you have them to fall back on, can, in the end, make a big difference in whether you control your illness or it controls you.
A T T I T U D E
How you think of yourself will have a definite effect on how you are able to handle your illness. Your attitude about yourself, about whether you are worth making the efforts needed to help yourself, will play a large part in whether the coping skills work well.
If you have a positive attitude, and truly feel you are worth making the effort to learn your symptoms, and how to know when to react to those symptoms and begin instituting your coping skills, you will find it far easier to stay in control than someone who has a negative attitude, towards not only their illness, but also towards themselves.
And keeping that positive attitude will help to give you the strength and will to even want to institute the coping skills in the first place.
F A I T H
It helps also to have faith in something. Even if you do not believe in a higher power, and have faith in it, as long as you have faith in SOMETHING, even if it is only in the fact that you are worth making the effort to stay well, it will go a long way towards helping you to attain that goal.
You have to have faith in something in order to have hope, for if you have no hope, you cannot maintain your desire to even make the effort to keep yourself well.
T H I N K I N G P O S I T I V E
To you who are reading this little message, I have this to say, you can make a difference, you can have a life despite your illness, and you are worth fighting for. You can do this.
Yes, it may be difficult at first, but with patience, determination, and a strong belief in yourself, that you are worth the effort, you can do it, you can take back you life.
Think positive! The power of the human mind is amazing! Just as in the example I gave earlier, where the two groups of people were given the actual medication and the placebo, you can, in many ways, strengthen yourself by thinking positive and trying to view things in a positive light as much as possible.
Some ways you might accomplish this are:
Try to tell yourself at least one positive thing each morning, as soon as you wake up, even if it is only “Today will be a good day.”
Try to surround yourself with positive, uplifting colors and items around your home. But please keep one thing firmly in mind, though…not too bright, or they could cause an adverse reaction in your systems if you suffer from mania, and the same is true for dark, depressing colors, if you suffer from severe depression.
Try keeping some form of uplifting, spirit brightening music going in the background as you move around your home.
Copy little inspirational verses you might find and like and place them where you can see them throughout the day
Try to avoid watching shows or video’s that are either full of extremely aggressive or manic type activity, or that are sad or depressing, for they can, in some cases, act as triggers.
(Speaking of movies and video’s, next time you begin feeling depressed, try being a child again. Get some cartoons, make some popcorn, kick back, and just chill. You might be surprised, it actually works)
Also important to keep in mind, is that if you have friends who usually have a pessimistic, downtrodden attitude, try not to deal with them on days when you are suffering from depression yourself, they will merely make it worse.
This same thing applies in reverse if you have friends who are extremely hyper and high energy. Again, try to maintain your distance, and limit your interaction with them on days when you are highly manic.
In both instances, being around, or interacting with the types of people mentioned, during periods when your symptoms are highly active, could cause some very serious repercussions. It is far better to be with friends who have a calming influence on you when your symptoms are most active.
P A N I C A T T A C K S
These debilitating occurrences can, quite literally, make you think you are having a heart attack.
In the event of a panic attack, if at all possible, try to get some place quiet, find a place you can comfortably sit back, place your hands on your knees or at your sides, try to relax and begin breathing in, one, two, three, out, one, two, three.
Continue to do this, and try to keep your mind as clear as possible. Block out everything around you as much as you can, and just stay focused on the rhythm of your breathing. It actually does help.
F I N A L N O T E S
In closing I would like to say that you have the power to take at least a small amount of control over how your illness affects both you and your life. By following the steps and advice presented in this message, you can, with time, patience, attention to what is going on within you, and persistence, make a difference in whether your illness controls you, or whether you control it.
One final note
ALWAYS FOLLOW YOUR MEDICATION REGIME!
It is my hope and my prayer for you, the reader, if you are one of those that suffers from a mental or emotional illness, that you may hopefully have gained some helpful information from this, my little message to the world.
Marantha Dreamweaver Jenelle