Stop Normalizing Bipolar Symptoms!

symptoms of mania and depression

Something that I have noticed on social media over the past few years is the normalization of the symptoms of mania and depression. It is usually motivated by the desire to “raise awareness” or help foster compassion for people that are experiencing the symptoms. Awareness can be beneficial if it helps people recognize the symptoms in themselves or others so that they can get help, but normalizing the symptoms is different.

To normalize something is to “make it normal and natural in everyday life”; should we normalize bipolar symptoms?

Is It Normal?

If I had been able to see people normalizing bipolar symptoms 13 years ago it might have felt validating for me and it would have made me feel less alone. At that time, I believed the best I could expect out of my life with bipolar disorder was learning how to suffer well with it. After 12 years of trying dozens of different medications prescribed by my doctors, hospitalizations, electroconvulsive therapy and suicide attempts I had resigned myself to an existence of just surviving life.

Experience had taught me that no matter how hard I tried, or what medication I took, I would always suffer helplessly on the manic-depressive rollercoaster. The idea of helping people understand what I was going through and asking them to have compassion for me when I was compulsive and irrational would have been very appealing. 

Over the past fourteen years, however, my understanding of bipolar has changed. In 2010 I found the first tool on the road to wellness. My doctor and I found a micronutrient treatment that helped my brain begin to heal. Over the following decade I started finding other tools to continue the healing process and I eventually discovered that I could recover completely. 

Once I recognized that it was possible to heal, I realized that normalizing bipolar symptoms is actually very detrimental to those who are living with it. 

A Mind in Distress

Bipolar symptoms are information, they are indications of a mind in distress. We don’t normalize the symptoms of other illnesses, so why do we do it with bipolar?

If someone consistently ran high fevers you wouldn’t seek to normalize that because you didn’t want to make the person feel bad. That would be ridiculous! You would recognize that there is something wrong with the body. It is in distress and needs treatment to identify and address the underlying cause of the symptoms.

The same should be true for bipolar symptoms of mania and depression. They are indications that the mind is in distress and needs treatment to address the underlying cause. Normalizing these symptoms doesn’t help you when you’re suffering, it just prolongs it unnecessarily.

Damaging Relationships

One of the worst challenges that I experienced when I was struggling with bipolar for the first decade was that I would do and say things when I was manic or depressed that I wouldn’t normally say or do. This included behavior that was abusive and painful to my family. 

When I was back in a rational state of mind, I felt humiliated and discouraged by what I had done and vowed that I wouldn’t repeat it again, only to break that promise the next time I experienced symptoms. This left me feeling helpless and hopeless. I knew I was damaging relationships, and I didn’t know how to stop it. 

The most distressing experiences came in 2008 when my symptoms were at their worst. That year I was hospitalized multiple times, experienced my first psychotic episode and I made three attempts on my life. The symptoms I was displaying were emotionally and mentally damaging to my husband and my children. Regardless of whether I was doing them on purpose, my family was being harmed and I knew it. 

Normalizing the symptoms that were hurting me and my family wouldn’t have helped, it would have hurt us. It wasn’t fair to me that I had bipolar symptoms, but it also wasn’t fair to my family. I needed to find a way to heal and recover, not expect them to accept abusive and damaging behavior as part of our relationship.

Normalizing Perpetuates Stigma

Finally, the idea that trying to “create awareness” for bipolar by normalizing the symptoms actually has the opposite effect than what is intended. Instead of creating more compassion around the disorder, it can make people who see it from the outside more cautious about entering into relationships, or hiring people who have bipolar because it looks like people are trying to make excuses for unhealthy behavior.

While it can create a feeling of solidarity among those suffering with bipolar, it perpetuates the stigmas for those who do not. Additionally, it can make those who are newly diagnosed feel more helpless and hopeless that they can ever recover.

The Road to Recovery

The road to recovery from bipolar begins with proactively managing your symptoms. Healing takes time and rather than be a victim to the mood swings during your recovery process you can learn to proactively manage them by using a Mood Cycle Survival Guide

This guide will help you:

  • stop feeling like a victim to the mood-swings, 
  • lessen the impact on you and your family, and 
  • shorten the duration of the symptoms.

The next step is getting curious about what caused your symptoms to occur in the first place. There is a misconception that a bipolar diagnosis is describing an underlying medical condition that is chronic, incurable and requires medication to treat for the rest of your life. None of these have to be true. You can identify the underlying causes of your symptoms and then treat them using a research-based, integrated approach that leads to recovery and healing.

    To learn more read: The Mindset Shift to Heal Bipolar Part Three: The Steps to Heal Your Disorder

    Healing Bipolar Part Two: Therapy and Trauma Healing, What I Wish I’d Known

    During the first decade after my bipolar diagnosis, I was encouraged to go to therapy by my psychiatrists to learn coping mechanisms for managing my bipolar. I attempted therapy several times but found it frustratingly unhelpful. 

    The coping “tips” that I was given were largely ineffective and did nothing to help me cope with the overwhelming symptoms I experienced: the mood swings, negative intrusive thoughts, compulsive spending, out of control rage and suicidal ideation. 

    I was exhausted with trying to “cope” with my life; I needed help!

    Once I switched from medication to micronutrients and my brain began to heal, I had my first positive experience with therapy that finally helped me see the potential in this powerful tool. Over the years as I studied and continued to utilize therapy for healing, I learned some valuable lessons that I wished someone would have shared with me in the beginning.

    What Is the Point of Therapy?

    The purpose of therapy in treating bipolar should not just be “coping” with your symptoms. The symptoms you are experiencing are the body and mind’s indication it is in distress. What is causing the distress?

    While it can be helpful to develop skills for how to manage uncomfortable symptoms in the short term, the long-term objective should be getting to the bottom of what is causing the symptoms to occur in the first place! 

    Some of the underlying causes of symptoms are:

    • unhealed trauma, 
    • unhealthy thought and behavior patterns,
    • unhealthy boundaries and relationship patterns, and 
    • unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

    A competent therapist can help you identify these various issues and then devise a plan to process and resolve them.

    Find a Competent Therapist You Feel Safe Working With

    Therapy is a tool, and the therapist is a facilitator. You need to find a competent facilitator:

    • who you feel comfortable and safe working with, 
    • Who is proactive about helping you heal, not just cope, and
    • Who is trained in modalities that will best meet your needs.

    Therapy “modalities” are approaches and techniques that are used by therapists to address different issues. Most therapy modalities require specialized training; therefore therapists tend to specialize in specific areas.

    It will be helpful to learn more about various options before selecting a therapist. If you have a history of trauma, you might look for a trauma therapist that specializes in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Internal Family Systems (IFS), Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT), or Somatic therapy, for example. (This is by no means a comprehensive list but serves as an example of some common trauma modalities.)

    Give Your Therapist Something to Work With

    Often people don’t know what to talk about when they go to therapy. It can be awkward or uncomfortable opening up to a stranger about the most personal parts of yourself. The first step is of course making sure you feel safe with your chosen therapist, but then you need to be honest with them. They aren’t mind readers and if you hold back or hide things it can hinder your healing process.

    Two of the best tools I have found helpful in identifying things to work on in therapy are:

    • Using a Mood Cycle Survival Guide to help you become more self-aware and proactive in identifying connections between symptoms and triggers, and
    • Journaling, both short and long form, to help you get your thoughts out on paper.

    Be Proactive, Not Just Reactive

    For years I viewed therapy as a sort of triage, something to help me when I was in crisis and then when the crisis was over, I stopped. The problem this creates is twofold:

    • The therapist got a skewed picture of who I was because they only ever saw me when I was dysregulated emotionally.
    • I was never getting to the bottom of what was causing the crisis to occur in the first place!

    Finally, I realized my mistake and I decided to go to therapy until I had nothing left to talk about. Working proactively with a competent therapist to identify the sources of emotional pain and dysregulation empowers you to heal instead of just cope.

    Focus on Healing, Not Blaming

    When you are working to heal emotional trauma or unhealthy boundaries it is easy to get focused on the person or persons who have hurt you. The problem this creates is that you have no control over another person. Focusing on them can keep you in a victim mentality and prevent healing.

    A great analogy came to mind one day that helped me understand a healthier, more empowering approach. If someone caused you to break your leg–whether intentionally or accidentally–you would initially tell the doctor what happened to aid in diagnostics. The focus would then be on the injury itself, not on the person who caused the injury. You might need to set some boundaries to protect yourself from future harm, but the focus would be on healing the wound.

    In therapy you can choose to empower yourself by doing the work to heal and choosing not to be a victim.

    You Get Out What You Put In

    When you go to therapy you need to identify changes you can make in your life–your thoughts, behaviors, self-care, etc.–that are going to move you forward on the path to healing. This requires effort outside of your sessions with your therapist. 

    I have found it extremely beneficial to use a therapy notebook to write down new habits, tools and resources that my therapist and I discuss and then follow through with those things between sessions—do my homework!

    Therapy Takes Time

    Be patient! Therapy is like peeling back layers of an onion. It takes time to establish a safe connection with your therapist, it takes time to identify the things you need to work on, and it takes time to learn the tools that will help you heal moving forward. 

    Therapy is an important element in the integrated, research-based model for healing and recovery from bipolar disorder. It enables you to identify sources of symptoms in order to process and resolve them. Learning how to use therapy effectively and proactively will move you forward on your path to living a joyful, healthy, balanced, productive life.

    Click here for part one in this series: Healing Bipolar Part One: From Medication to Micronutrients, What I Wish I’d Known

    Can You Heal Bipolar Disorder?

    Can you heal bipolar disorder? I remember asking that question when I was first diagnosed back in 1998. I struggled with accepting my diagnosis because there was no tangible evidence of my disorder. No blood tests or brain scans, just a lot of ambiguous, hard to define symptoms that felt like character flaws and moral failings to me. 

    Then one of my doctors compared my diagnosis to having diabetes. He asked me if I would be embarrassed if I was diagnosed with type one diabetes and I told him no because diabetes is a clearly defined and measurable physical problem that causes your body to be unable to regulate your blood sugar. The treatment is to monitor and balance your blood sugar so your body can function in a healthy way. 

    My doctor then told me the same was true for having bipolar. My brain chemistry was unable to regulate itself properly and we needed to find the right medication to help it function in a healthy way.

    At the time this comparison really helped me accept my diagnosis and I believed that I would find the right medication and eventually be able to live well with my bipolar. But it wasn’t true. I didn’t understand that the diagnosis of bipolar is not based on the cause, it is based on the symptoms. The generally accepted treatment doesn’t treat the cause, it treats the symptoms. 

    Treating the symptoms of bipolar doesn’t help people to heal. At best it helps them manage the symptoms a little better, at worst it causes additional damage to the body and mind and creates new problems and diagnoses. So why are alternative treatments that aim to identify and treat the causes of bipolar symptoms considered taboo? 

    Normalizing Suffering

    Something that is especially discouraging in the online “support” communities for bipolar disorder is the insistence that no one discuss any treatment for bipolar other than psychotropic medications. Alternative treatments, no matter how well researched or validated, are off limits and called dangerous. The result is that the groups end up normalizing suffering with bipolar.

    Over half of the posts in these groups are people asking for advice on what to do about the terrible side-effects they are experienceing from their medications–weight gain, insomnia, lost libido, etc. The other half are people talking about the horrible symptoms they are continuing to experience even on medication–excessive spending, hypersexuality, explosive rage, etc. 

    People continuously lament medication related issues like drastic weight gain or “medication hangovers” that make it feel impossible to wake up in the morning. They also talk about not being able to work or maintain healthy relationships and share feelings of fear and despair at the prospect that their life may never get any better. 

    The medication route often doesn’t provide long-term relief for people either. Recently in an online group someone asked how many times people in the group had been hospitalized–the results were staggering! Dozens of people responded with numerous hospitalizations and several had been hospitalized over twenty times! It was so disheartening to see how much everyone was suffering! 

    Another question in an online group was how many mood-swings is it normal to have in a year. The responses were varied, but the people responding found it normal to continue to experience mood swings, even on medications. They have been convinced that this will be normal for them for the rest of their life. Why? 

    If so many people are suffering with continued mood swings, side-effects, poor quality of life and hospitalizations, why is medication continually propped up as the only “effective” treatment for bipolar? Why are alternative treatments that seek to identify and treat the cause of the symptoms considered taboo?

    Healing my Bipolar

    I was diagnosed with bipolar in 1998 and for the first decade after my diagnosis I actively sought treatment with psychotropic medications, but I just got progressively worse. In 2008 I was hospitalized multiple times, experienced my first psychotic episodes, had electroconvulsive therapy done on me causing major memory loss and made multiple suicide attempts. I was actively seeking treatment and nothing was working.

    In 2010 my doctor and I discovered an alternative treatment option that was well researched and had a surprisingly high success rate in helping people manage or eliminate the symptoms of their bipolar. With the help of my doctor and the company’s customer support I was able to titrate off of my medications and onto the micronutrient treatment. 

    My doctor admitted to me during this process that he normally would not have even considered this treatment option. He told me that the only treatment option they were taught in medical school was psychotropic medication and all of the continuing education is funded by the pharmaceutical companies. The only reason he was even willing to consider this alternative treatment was because he could see how hard I was trying with medication and how much I was suffering. He had become as desperate to help me as I was.

    A few months after I started on the new treatment I woke up one morning and felt like I was finally truly awake for the first time in over a decade. It took several years for my brain to fully heal, but during that time I was so much more stable on the micronutrients than I had ever been on medication so I stuck it out. I am so grateful that I did! 

    Over the past 13 years I have gradually learned the other tools necessary to heal my mind, eliminating triggers and finally becoming mentally healthy and balanced for the first time in my adult life. That is why I was so excited to start my blog! I wanted to share what I had learned. I wanted to help people suffering with bipolar to learn how to actually heal and become mentally well.

    When I first started my blog at the end of 2020 I was filled with hope and enthusiasm for sharing what I had learned. Imagine my surprise when I joined online support groups for bipolar and discovered that there seemed to be no interest in helping people to actually get well. The groups seemed designed to create a space for everyone to struggle together. These groups perpetuated the idea that the best anyone with bipolar could hope for was suffering well with their disorder.

    Alternative Treatments are Taboo

    I soon discovered in the groups that if you could commiserate with a person on how they were suffering, you were allowed to comment. If you had tips for how to cope with side-effects from medication, you were allowed to comment. If you had recommendations for other medications that might work better, you were allowed to comment. 

    If, however, you suggested that there might be an alternative treatment that would help heal their brain and eliminate symptoms and side-effects, you were censored and kicked out of the group. Even simply answering questions from people asking if anyone managed their disorder without medication would result in being removed from the groups.

    The problem is that for decades–as my doctor admitted to me–we have been told that the only viable treatment option for bipolar is medication. But why? Medications are not actually treating the cause of bipolar, they only treat the symptoms. 

    Treating Only the Symptoms, Not the Cause

    There are risks for not seeking to identify and treat the underlying causes of bipolar symptoms. To use another medical analogy, if you have strep throat but the doctor doesn’t treat the strep just the symptoms–giving you something for your sore throat and something for your fever–you might get some short-term relief but it increases your risk for additional issues. The untreated strep could progress and cause further serious infections and even damage your kidneys or heart.

    Medication can have potential value in the short term to treat the serious symptoms of bipolar like psychosis and suicidality. This is similar to giving a patient with strep ibuprofen to help bring their fever down temporarily to give the antibiotic time to work on the underlying infection. But long-term if a person wants to actually heal, they need to treat the underlying causes of their illness. If you want to live well with bipolar you need to identify and treat the causes of your symptoms. 

    Some of the suggested causes of bipolar disorder symptoms are nutrient deficiencies that cause the chemicals in the brain to be out of balance. Severe, unhealed trauma has been linked to the occurrence of bipolar symptoms in many people. Bipolar symptoms are also perpetuated by unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, unhealthy coping mechanisms like addiction and unhealthy boundaries. 

    Long-term treatment that only addresses the symptoms of bipolar isn’t bringing relief and healing for most people, it is just prolonging and even compounding the suffering. People on medication long-term can also develop serious, permanent issues like tardive dyskinesia (TD), lowered immune system function, and damage to the liver or kidneys.

    Healing Your Bipolar

    It is possible to get to the bottom of what is causing your bipolar symptoms and heal. It will require a lifestyle change for your mind. This is why I created the Map to Wellness, to show you the way to healing.

    Begin first, by learning to successfully manage your mood swings by creating a Mood Cycle Survival Guide. This will help you be proactive in managing your symptoms so you can lessen the impact they have on you and your family and shorten the duration of the mood cycle.

    Second, identify what your brain needs to get healthy and balanced. There are organizations and doctors that are focused on helping people identify exactly what their body and brain need to function in a healthy, balanced way. Using a mood-tracking app will help you in this process to identify symptoms that can indicate specific deficiencies. This process takes some detective work, but it will be worth the effort as your brain begins to heal.

    Third, working with a good, competent therapist is crucial. You need to identify and heal:

    • Trauma,
    • Unhealthy thought and behavior patterns,
    • Damaging coping mechanisms, and
    • Unhealthy boundaries.

    This will take some time, so learn how to utilize therapy proactively and stick with it.

    Fourth, develop a self-care routine that includes:

    • Mindfulness meditation,
    • Yoga,
    • Simple exercise,
    • Healthy, consistent sleep habits, and
    • Simplifying your life to eliminate unnecessary stressors.

    Developing this self-care routine is a process. Learn and apply one tool at a time and you will eventually be able to create a lifestyle that will support you in living mentally and physically well.

    Finally, seek support from others who are on the path to wellness with bipolar. It is important to have support and encouragement as you work on this life-style change for your mind. If you are a mom, or potential mom with bipolar join Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well.

    You can live a healthy, balanced, productive life with your bipolar disorder. There is hope and there is help! Are you tired of suffering and ready to live well with your bipolar? Get started on the Map to Wellness here!

    What is Your Bipolar Treatment Plan?

    treatment plan

    What is your bipolar treatment plan? When I was initially diagnosed with bipolar the treatment plan my doctor gave me was to find the right combination of psychotropic medications. I actively pursued this treatment plan for over a decade but became progressively worse, culminating in multiple hospitalizations, electroconvulsive therapy–which caused memory loss and migraines–and multiple suicide attempts.

    One of the most challenging issues with the generally accepted approach to treating bipolar disorder is that it does not treat the cause of bipolar, it treats the symptoms. This is because there is no consensus as to what causes bipolar. There are a number of theories, but none have been proven to be true for every person who displays the symptoms of the disorder. 

    Bipolar is a disorder that is diagnosed based on mental and emotional symptoms. It is in many ways a subjective diagnosis with subjective criteria that can vary from person to person. 

    Is Bipolar Like Diabetes?

    Many people like to compare bipolar disorder to type one diabetes. I had a doctor use this comparison with me years ago to help me accept my diagnosis. It was easier to understand diabetes because it is a clearly defined physical disorder with measurable physical criteria and a universally accepted and generally effective treatment protocol.

    When the comparison was first given to me I latched onto it because it was something concrete to help me understand something abstract. The comparison also helped my diagnosis feel more legitimate. It has been a helpful analogy over the years in some aspects. 

    Yes…

    I use this comparison with diabetes to help explain why mood and symptom tracking is so important with bipolar. When someone has diabetes they need to monitor their blood sugar on a regular basis to make sure they are proactive in keeping it in a safe range. 

    Even though you cannot track your bipolar through blood levels it is helpful to track your symptoms and triggers. The more information you gather the more effective you can be in treating and managing your disorder.

    It is also helpful to understand that even though you cannot measure the imbalance in your blood does not mean you are not experiencing a very real emotional and mental imbalance in your mind.

    This comparison also helped me recognize the importance of having a plan to successfully manage my mood swings. A friend of mine who has diabetes told me once about the response plan she had for when her blood sugar was out of balance. It laid out a clear plan of action to manage her diabetes and what she and her loved ones would do if she was in a medical crisis. It saved her life on more than one occasion. 

    I recognized the importance of developing a plan for managing my mood cycles successfully. I call it the Mood Cycle Survival Guide. Its purpose is to help me proactively manage my mood swings to:

    • lessen the impact of my mood cycles on me and my family and 
    • shorten the duration of the cycles.

    …and No

    The comparison to diabetes doesn’t work, however, when it comes to treatment plans. Diabetes has a clear, definable cause, and a consistent, generally effective treatment plan that addresses the underlying cause. The plan is the same for every person with diabetes–it doesn’t change from person to person.

    The generally accepted treatment plan for bipolar, however, is not clear, consistent or generally effective. This is because it does not address the cause of the disorder, only the symptoms. Psychiatrists play guess and check with medications in an attempt to manage symptoms. 

    At best someone with bipolar disorder may find some relief from symptoms with the first try, but it is much more common to have to try a number of different medications over many years. 

    Medications can become ineffective over time and  medications are considered effective if the symptoms are brought into a “manageable range”. If someone is unable to find medications that will help them manage the symptoms of their disorder they are considered to be “treatment resistant.”

    Most medications come with side-effects. Side-effects can range from mild irritations like fatigue and brain fog to more serious issues like major weight gain, loss of libido, long term damage to vital organs and sometimes even suicidality. Many people develop additional physical or mental health issues as the result of prolonged use of psychotropic medications resulting in additional medications being prescribed.

    The general consensus with bipolar treatment seems to be the goal of helping the patient learn to suffer well with their disorder. I believed that for years. I didn’t have anyone to tell me anything different. 

    Creating My Own Treatment Plan

    Beginning in 2010 I began to discover tools and resources that addressed the causes of my bipolar disorder. As I developed this new treatment plan my brain began to heal. 

    Medication to Micronutrients

    The first part of the plan was figuring out what my brain needed to function in a healthy balanced way. My doctor and I found a non-profit company in Canada called Truehope that developed a treatment to address a suspected underlying cause of bipolar symptoms in many people–micronutrient deficiency in the brain. 

    With the help of my doctor and Truehope’s customer support I went through the challenging process of titrating off of my medications–with the horrible withdrawal symptoms–and transitioning to the micronutrients. It was rough for a few months, but I woke up one day and it felt like I was truly awake for the first time in over a decade.

    It still took years for my brain to completely heal from the effects of long-term psychotropic medication use, but eventually my mind became healthy and balanced.

    Proactive Therapy

    The second part of the plan was therapy. I learned through study that it is common for people with bipolar to have experienced trauma. The more I researched the link the more I began to suspect that unhealed trauma was contributing to my mood swings. When I finally began to utilize therapy diligently I learned the role that:

    • unhealed trauma
    • unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, 
    • unhealthy coping mechanisms, and 
    • unhealthy boundaries 

    played in triggering mood cycles. I also learned how to be proactive in utilizing therapy as a tool for healing. 

    Some valuable tips that will help you get the most out of therapy as a tool to heal your bipolar are:

    • Find the right therapist for you.
    • Give your therapist something to work with–they are not mind readers.
    • Use therapy proactively, not reactively.
    • Focus on healing not blaming.
    • You get out of therapy what you put into it.
    • Therapy takes time, be patient with the process.

    Over the years I have identified and resolved the triggers of mood cycles. It became easier to recognize trauma responses and anxiety for what they were and work with the therapist to heal. 

    Mindfulness Meditation

    The next part of the treatment plan was mindfulness meditation. When you have a mental illness your mind feels like your enemy. You feel like a victim to racing, intrusive, irrational thoughts and become unsure of reality, afraid to trust yourself. Mindfulness meditation enables you to become friends with your mind again and puts you back in the driver’s seat of your life.

    Many people learn some basic mindfulness techniques in therapy or during hospitalizations but do not gain the full benefit of mindfulness practice because they lack true understanding of why it works and how to practice it effectively. 

    This was the case for me for many years. I had learned a few mindfulness techniques that had some minor impact as a “coping skill” for managing episodes of anxiety. When I really understood what mindfulness was and how to utilize it effectively it stopped being just a coping skill. Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool that can aid in healing your mind.

    Self-care

    The final element to the treatment plan was learning how to put together a self-care routine that aided healing and helped me maintain balanced mental and emotional health. The basic elements of self-care for bipolar include:

    • Exercise (keep it simple, easy and accessible)
    • Yoga
    • Healthy, consistent sleep habits
    • Good nutrition
    • Hygiene habits
    • Carefully evaluating and managing stressors

    Why did I have to figure this out myself???

    After over 10 years putting together my treatment plan and learning how to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar I began to wonder why I had to figure this out for myself? None of the pieces in my plan are really unique or mysterious, so why was I left to discover it on my own? This was the inspiration for starting my blog.

    It shouldn’t have taken me over twenty years to learn how to live well with bipolar! I shouldn’t have been led to believe that the best I could expect from a life with bipolar was just suffering well. I should have been given a treatment plan to treat the causes of my bipolar, not just medication to manage the symptoms.

    I created the Map to Wellness to teach the treatment plan I use so that you can learn how to live well with your bipolar, too! If you:

    ✔️commit to the path, 

    ✔️choose to take the steps, and 

    ✔️recommit yourself each day to continue the journey,

    you can live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar.

    If you’re tired of being controlled by your disorder and are ready to live well, then let’s get started!

    Should I Have Children If I Have Bipolar Disorder?

    One question I hear frequently is:

     “Should I have children if I have bipolar disorder?” 

    This question and the worry underlying it are understandable. There are so many unknowns with motherhood from the stress of pregnancy and hormone changes to the worries over the unpredictability of motherhood and passing on mental illness to your children. 

    While there is not a one size fits all answer to these questions, learning how to proactively manage your disorder will prepare you to be successful as a mother with bipolar. 

    Mindset

    The first thing to address is your mindset about your disorder. It is essential to acknowledge that you have bipolar and that you are responsible for treating it consistently if you want to have children. 

    Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness and can be dangerous, even life threatening if it goes untreated. It is possible to live well with bipolar disorder if you proactively treat it and that begins with:

    • accepting that you have bipolar, 
    • not comparing yourself to others without bipolar, and 
    • understanding what wellness with bipolar disorder looks like.

    Accept that you have bipolar

    Acknowledge that you have bipolar disorder and take ownership for treating it. Although this seems like it should go without saying, many people struggle with accepting their diagnosis. You might wonder if you were diagnosed correctly in the first place–bipolar is diagnosed using such intangible symptoms. 

    You may go through periods when you start to feel healthy and balanced and begin to think that maybe the diagnosis was wrong or that you don’t have it anymore. There are also periods when you will feel angry about your diagnosis and refuse to treat it because you are sick of how hard everything is. Regardless of what prompts your denial it can be a major barrier to living well with your disorder. 

    Do not compare yourself to others–you are not broken!

    Women have difficulty not comparing themselves to each other already. As a society there is tremendous pressure to conform to certain “ideals” of womanhood from many different directions. This is amplified by social media where people post their “highlight” reels and distorted versions of reality which can cause you to feel inadequate, or worse. 

    With bipolar it is even more important to not compare yourself to others without the disorder because it can create a barrier to learning to live well. The pressure to be and do everything can prevent you from eliminating unnecessary stressors while you learn how to effectively manage your bipolar.

    Recognize what “wellness” with bipolar disorder looks like

    For years as I was trying to learn how to live well with bipolar, I always thought of wellness as a linear path–like climbing a mountain–with the destination being never having a mood swing again. The problem this created for me is that I felt like I had failed each time I experienced a mood cycle. One time I had been healthy and balanced for months and then suddenly became depressed and I was so angry. I went to see my therapist and told her that I felt like a failure. I had been almost to the top of the mountain and now I was all the way back down at the bottom again!

    That day my therapist helped me to understand that learning to live well with bipolar is not a linear process. It looks more like the addiction recovery cycle where there will be times when you relapse into mood swings, but this isn’t failure. The key is to learn how to successfully manage your mood cycles so that you can lessen the impact on you and your family and shorten the duration of the cycle. 

    Preparing for Motherhood with Bipolar

    Once you have acknowledged the reality of your disorder and your responsibility to treat it you can start learning the tools on the path to wellness with bipolar. 

    Mood Cycle Survival Guide

    One of the most important tools you will have as a mother with bipolar disorder is your Mood Cycle Survival Guide. While you are learning to live well with bipolar disorder you need to have a plan to help you successfully manage your mood swings. This guide will help you:

    • Minimize the impact on the mood-swing on yourself and your family, and
    • Shorten the duration of the mood-swing by creating a plan to get back to mental health and balance.

    Be Intentional about Prioritizing Self-care 

    If a mother has diabetes, she needs to be very deliberate and conscientious about prioritizing her self-care–monitoring her blood sugar, eating healthy and caring for her overall health. If she doesn’t take care of herself, she won’t be able to take care of her children because there can be serious, sometimes life-threatening consequences if she’s not careful. 

    The same is true for a mother with bipolar disorder. Self-care for bipolar is essential to keep yourself and your children safe and healthy. This includes:

    Balancing your brain chemistry

    Most people with bipolar disorder need some form of intervention to address the imbalance in the brain. This can look different for different people. Some people do well on medication, while others, like me, find healing with specialized micronutrient treatments. 

    If you take medication, it is necessary to discuss with your doctor which medications are safe to take while pregnant or nursing. Remember to stay consistent with your psychiatric appointments and monitor your mood and symptoms consistently during and after pregnancy as hormone changes can affect your body and brain chemistry. 

    Regardless of the type of treatment you choose it is essential to stay consistent with taking your medications or micronutrients and ask for help immediately if you start to notice changes in your mood.

    Working with a therapist

    Therapy is essential for anyone who wants to learn how to live well with bipolar and it is especially important as you enter parenthood. Anxiety and worry can increase, and unhealed trauma may be revealed as you enter this new phase of life. Working with a competent therapist is critical to help you navigate the new challenges and continue to work on identifying unhealthy thoughts, behaviors and coping mechanisms, processing and healing trauma, and setting healthy boundaries.

    Developing a daily routine

    Setting up a healthy daily routine specifically to manage your bipolar disorder is going to help you manage stress and live healthier–body and mind. Each of the tools listed here are important but you need to learn one at a time and figure out the best way to incorporate them into your day.

    • Mindfulness meditation
    • Exercise (keep it simple, easy and accessible)
    • Yoga
    • Healthy, consistent sleep habits
    • Good nutrition
    • Hygiene habits
    • Carefully evaluating and managing stressors

    Get support from other moms with bipolar disorder

    Motherhood with bipolar disorder can feel lonely and isolating because you feel like no one understands the challenges you are facing. Join our Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well to get encouragement and support from other moms on the same journey.

    As a mother with bipolar disorder, I can tell you that it wasn’t always easy. I was very sick with my disorder when my children were little. Over time I discovered how to live well with bipolar. I started my blog to share what I learned so you don’t have to figure it out the hard way like I did. 

    I am forever thankful for my children. They are the greatest joys of my life, and I am filled with gratitude every day to be their mother. You can live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar–including children–if you choose to:

    • Shift your mindset to accept your disorder, don’t compare yourself to others and learn what wellness with bipolar looks like, and
    • Prepare for motherhood by proactively treating your bipolar.

     There is hope and there is help!

    New Year’s Resolutions for Bipolar Disorder: The Road to Wellness

    New Years Resolutions for bipolar

    It’s that time a year again, when many people resolve to make changes in their life to improve in some way. The new year feels like a natural time to consider life and the changes that you want to make. You want to start off the next chapter better than the last one.

    Social media is filled with people talking about their New Year’s resolutions. Advertisers are encouraging you to make big changes in your life–change your eating habits, lose weight, get organized, clean your house, start a new hobby, and on and on.

    When you have bipolar disorder, New Year’s resolutions can be a trigger for a mood cycle because they often involve major lifestyle changes that can trigger mania or depression. The motivation behind the resolution is easy to understand–you don’t like your life the way it is now. The damage caused by manic or depressive episodes can make you feel desperate. 

    Living with bipolar disorder is really hard. You often feel like you aren’t in control of yourself or your life and that makes you feel helpless and discouraged. You think maybe a major change is the answer. Start eating healthy, or exercising regularly, or get more organized and then you will be able to live well with your disorder. When the next mood swing happens, it feels like you failed, and this can lead to frustration and hopelessness. 

    Why keep trying so hard if it doesn’t change anything anyway? You can’t help it! It’s not your fault! It’s not fair! But, you don’t want to keep living like this so what do you do?

    It is possible to learn to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. A big resolution committing to major change all at once isn’t wise or healthy with bipolar. The best approach is a steady commitment to making one change at a time, one step at a time on the road to wellness. 

     

    Step One: Mindset

    The first step is recognizing that learning to live well with bipolar requires a mindset shift. There can be some mental and emotional barriers to fully accepting your disorder and committing to managing it well. It is easy to feel like you don’t have any control and develop a victim mindset. The problem with this is that it doesn’t help. Your life just continues to be hard, and you don’t make any progress towards wellness. Three ways that you need to shift your mindset are:

    • Don’t compare yourself. Don’t compare yourself to who you were or thought you should be. Don’t compare yourself to others who don’t have bipolar. Learn to love and appreciate yourself for who you are. 
    • Allow yourself to grieve. It is normal to mourn the loss of who you were, or thought you were, and then you can look forward and embrace who you are and who you can become.
    • Understand the recovery cycle. Learning how to apply the recovery cycle to yourself will help you to stop feeling like you have failed when you have manic or depressive episodes and choose to accept more responsibility for yourself and your disorder.

    Step Two: Manage Your Mood Swings

    The next step is to learn to manage your bipolar mood swings successfully using the Mood Cycle Survival Guide (MCSG). Eventually the goal is to lessen the frequency and intensity of the mood swings, but while you are in the process of learning how to live well with your bipolar you need to utilize the MCSG to minimize the impact of the mood cycles on you and your family and shorten the duration of the cycles.

    The Mood Cycle Survival Guide helps you successfully manage your mood cycles by helping you:

    • Identify the people you can ask for help when you’re struggling in a mood cycle.
    • Identify your symptoms and what triggers a mood cycle.
    • Develop a plan for self-care to aid in recovery.
    • Plan for getting back to health and balance.

    Start building your own FREE Mood Cycle Survival Guide by clicking here.

     

    Step Three: Work Towards Maintenance Mode

    Once you have a plan to successfully manage your mood swings you can learn the tools that help you spend more time in maintenance mode–healthy, balanced and productive. You do this by:

    1. Find the treatment your brain needs to be balanced. While there are different treatments that work for different people, most people need some intervention to help their mind function in a healthy way. Some people have found mental balance with medication while others, like me, were able to heal their brains with specialized micronutrient treatments. To learn more about my experience with medication and alternative treatments click here.
    1. Work with a therapist. Living with bipolar you will have periods of time when you are manic or depressed and you have irrational thoughts–you experience the world through a distorted lens. This leads to developing unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms. It is also common for people with bipolar to have unhealthy boundaries and unhealed trauma. All of these things can cause you to continue to trigger mood cycles, even if you have found the medication or micronutrients to balance your brain. Working with a therapist will help you to heal and resolve your triggers, enabling you to be more mentally well.
    1. Develop a self-care routine. Self-care is something critical for living well with bipolar. This will take time to develop as each piece needs to be learned and integrated one at a time. Some important tools for self-care include:
      • mindfulness meditation
      • Exercise (keep it simple, easy and accessible)
      • Yoga
      • Healthy, consistent sleep habits
      • Good nutrition
      • Hygiene habits
    2. Simplifying your life. This is especially important in the beginning. Stress is a major trigger for mood swings and in order to learn to live well with bipolar you need to eliminate unnecessary stressors while you are learning to manage your bipolar successfully. Working with a therapist can be especially helpful in this process. 

    What is Your One Next Step?

    Hanging in my office is a quote that has special meaning to me in my life. 

    “I may not soon make it to the top, but I can do this next step right now.”

    –Scott Whiting

    Whenever I get overwhelmed or start to feel discouraged, I focus on just the one next step.

    Learning to live well with bipolar disorder is not a linear process, there will be ups and downs, mania and depression on the way. Choosing to focus on the one next step, however, will empower you to keep moving forward on the road to wellness. 

    If you are struggling with a manic or depressive episode, focus on using your ERP to successfully manage it. When you haven’t found the right medication or micronutrient treatment, focus on that. 

    The key is making the commitment to the journey to wellness and then taking one step at a time on that road. It is a journey, not an event. You are working on a lifestyle change for your mind and that takes patient, persistent effort. 

    This new year instead of resolving to make major changes in your life that could result in a mood cycle resolve to take your first step on the road to wellness with bipolar and stay on that road, one step at a time.

     

    Pro-tip: Get encouragement and support from others on the same road

    Trying to live well with bipolar disorder can feel like a lonely road. Don’t travel alone! Seek out others who are on the same road to wellness. There is hope and there is help. 

    If you are a mom (or potential mom) with bipolar, join our free Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well to get encouragement and support on your journey.

    Bipolar Disorder: Boundaries?

    Boundaries. We hear that word all the time but how many people actually understand what boundaries are and how to set and respect healthy boundaries? 

    A few years ago I was in a therapy session and my therapist started speaking about boundaries and I finally admitted to her that I didn’t really understand what she was talking about. She had mentioned boundaries off and on during previous sessions, and I just kept nodding and smiling because I had a vague idea of what boundaries were. However, during this particular session I realized that not understanding clearly what boundaries were and how to apply them in my life in a healthy way was causing problems for me.

    The way that my therapist explained them during that session was in terms of physical boundaries. She explained that countries have clearly defined boundaries that define what territory makes up their jurisdiction. A country has the right to create laws, penalties for violation of its laws and responsibilities to its citizens within its boundaries. It also has the right to protect itself from violations of its boundaries. Countries also need to respect the boundaries of other countries or there can be negative consequences.

    At the time it was still a little abstract for me. Over time as I have worked with my therapist to understand what boundaries are and gained experience with implementing and respecting boundaries, I have begun to understand the concept better. I also better understand why learning about and implementing healthy boundaries in your life is so critical to living well with bipolar disorder.

    Why People with Bipolar Disorder Struggle with Boundaries

    When you have bipolar disorder, especially before you learn how to effectively manage it, you can feel like you don’t have any control over what is happening in your mind. The dramatic mood cycles you experience–from mania to depression–feel like an extreme mental and emotional rollercoaster that you cannot get off. This can cause you to act and speak in ways that you normally wouldn’t act or speak.

    You may not even recognize that you are experiencing a mood cycle initially because many of the symptoms are in your head and feel normal to you. Many of the thoughts and feelings are irrational but may seem completely rational to you. The intensity of emotion (or lack of emotion) feels overpowering. 

    All of this can cause you to experience anger, frustration and helplessness as you daily fight a battle with an enemy in your own mind. Having bipolar feels unfair and this feeling of unfairness can make it difficult to set healthy boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others.

    You may feel like you don’t have a choice, it’s not your fault and you can’t do anything about it anyway, so everyone else just has to put up with it, too. This leads you to violate the boundaries of others and feel justified in doing it. 

    On the other hand you may feel overwhelmed by guilt for the things you do and say when you are struggling with a mood cycle, or feelings of worthlessness because you judge yourself as damaged or broken. These feelings can lead you to believe that you don’t have the right to have boundaries. You feel like you have to allow others to treat you however they want because you don’t have the right to object.

    Unhealthy boundaries damage you and others. It damages relationships, your feelings of value and self-worth and the emotional turmoil can make your mood cycle worse.

    Understanding Boundaries for Bipolar Disorder

    Going back to the border analogy, when you are establishing boundaries for yourself you need to identify two things: your “laws” for what is permitted and your responsibilities within your borders. 

    Laws within your borders

    When you have bipolar it is easy to feel like you don’t know if you are rational or not. When you are manic you think you are the most rational person in the world, compelled to act on the thoughts and feelings you have. When you are depressed you may struggle to function at all. You can feel overwhelmed by hopelessness and robbed of the ability to do simple things like shower, or even get out of bed. 

    Both sides of this can lead to feeling either defensive when someone comments on your behavior, or may make you feel like you don’t have a right to object to the way they speak to you because you think they’re right, you must be irrational, lazy, compulsive, etc.

    Not having healthy boundaries about what kind of communication you will respond to, however, is not beneficial to you, or to the relationship. If you are allowing someone else to speak to you in a way that reinforces negative thoughts and feelings you have about yourself you will further damage yourself emotionally which then feeds the mood cycle.

    You need to set healthy boundaries for communication and behavior. This includes setting clear boundaries to protect yourself from unhealthy or abusive behavior and words. You should also agree with those you trust on healthy ways they can communicate their concern if they see you behaving in a way that is harmful to you or others. 

    Working with your therapist you can begin to identify what boundaries will be best for you and how you can effectively communicate your boundaries to others. You can’t choose how others behave, but you can establish what you will allow in your life and what you will do if someone doesn’t respect those boundaries.

    Responsibility within your borders

    Just as a country has responsibility to the citizens within its borders you are responsible for yourself–your behavior, your choices, your self-care. This may feel impossible at times when you have bipolar disorder. Experiencing irrational states of mind and emotions can make you feel like the bipolar is in control and you are just along for the ride.

    The reality is that you are the only one who can be responsible for yourself. You are not your disorder, and you can learn how to manage it so that you can live a healthy, balanced, productive life. It takes work and persistent effort, but it is possible.

    The first step is to learn how to successfully manage your mood cycles. Start by creating a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan. This plan helps you proactively manage your mood cycles so that you lessen the impact on yourself and those you love and shorten the duration of the cycle.

    The next step is to work to find something to balance your brain. For some people that is with medication, for others it is through treatment with micronutrients, or a combination of the two. The symptoms of bipolar are telling you that something is missing or out of balance and you need to address that need in your brain. Persist until you find what is right for your brain. 

    Third, go to therapy. When you have bipolar disorder you will develop unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, unhealthy coping mechanisms (sometimes this includes addictions) and you may have unhealed trauma, and unhealthy boundaries. Working with a good therapist will help you identify what you need to work on, process and heal so you can interact with the world in healthy ways. If you avoid therapy you may find the right medication or supplements but the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors will continue to trigger mood swings.

    Finally, develop a self-care routine. Self-care is a phrase that you hear all the time and it can conjure images of manicures at a day spay, bubble baths or vacations to tropical places. These are definitely nice ways to take care of yourself, but the self-care necessary for managing bipolar disorder is caring for your mind and body in a way that helps you stay healthy and balanced. This includes important tools like mindfulness meditation, healthy sleep patterns and nutrition, yoga and simple, consistent exercise.

    Respecting the boundaries of others

    It is necessary to learn how to respect the boundaries of others. It’s really hard to feel like you can accept responsibility for your actions when you are doing and saying things from an irrational state of mind. But the reality is that you are still doing and saying those things. So how do you take responsibility for yourself?

    First, always say sorry when you hurt someone by something you say or do. It may not be easy. It can feel humiliating to have to admit to the things you do or say when you are in a manic or depressed state. But the first step to mending the damage is to acknowledge what you did and apologize sincerely.

    When a child hurts someone, even if it is by accident, you teach them to say sorry. They didn’t do it on purpose, but the other person still got hurt and so it is important to acknowledge their pain. The same is true for pain you cause when you are struggling with a mood cycle. You may not have meant to cause the pain, but the other person was still hurt by something you did, and you need to acknowledge their pain.

    Next, talk with others about their boundaries. Having conversations with your partner or spouse, children and others who are close to you will help you understand their boundaries better so you can learn how to interact with them in healthy ways. If you aren’t sure how to approach this kind of conversation, talk with your therapist. He or she can give you help understanding what to say and may even be able to facilitate it in a session with the other person or people. 

    Finally, accept that there will be times when someone needs a break from the relationship. This is really hard because it doesn’t feel fair that you have to deal with this disorder in the first place. We all want others to accept us and love us as we are. However, there will be times when someone needs to prioritize their emotional, physical or mental safety and may need to set a boundary to protect themselves.

    Just as you need to set healthy boundaries and prioritize caring for yourself, you need to respect the need and right for others to do the same. 

    How to Define and Apply Boundaries

    The most effective way to learn how to define and apply healthy boundaries in your life is by working with a good therapist. Boundaries can feel abstract and complicated, and your life experience and unhealed trauma can create barriers to learning how to implement them. A therapist can work with you to help you learn what boundaries are and how to implement these tools effectively.

    Learning how to utilize and respect healthy boundaries in your life is an important step on your path to learning to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar disorder.

    Bipolar Disorder: The Kanye Effect

    Kanye West has been in the media a lot lately. Every other day there is a story about the latest outrageous thing he has done or said. We all have a front row seat to watch his life imploding. It’s painful to watch. But the thing that has been the most frustrating for me about all of this is the emphasis in the coverage about Kanye’s bipolar disorder. 

    This has been an issue I have struggled with for decades watching the media’s portrayal of bipolar disorder, in news stories and in movies and television. It is almost without exception focused on people who are very sick. They are not managing their bipolar disorder effectively and the world witnesses a disorder that is out of control and thinks that it is representative of bipolar disorder broadly. It’s the Kanye Effect.

    Physical vs. Mental Illness in Media

    As I thought about this I struggled to think of any physical illness where the media consistently, persistently sensationalize the illness at its worst. In fact the opposite seems to be true. The media loves to tell the stories of people overcoming their physical illnesses or disorders and living fulfilling lives by effectively managing them. So why not with mental illness?

    The effect of this obsession with focusing on the worst of bipolar disorder is that it perpetuates the stigma of the illness. Anyone who doesn’t have personal experience with bipolar believes that people with the disorder are crazy, irrational lunatics. It also prevents people from seeking treatment or sharing their diagnosis for fear of being viewed in that same light.

    What we are seeing in Kanye West is a man with bipolar disorder who is clearly manic. His disorder is not being effectively managed and he and those closest to him are suffering because of it. But that does not mean that all people who have bipolar disorder are like that. It also does not mean that a lifetime of dramatic mood cycles is the end of the story.

    Could you imagine the hopelessness a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes would bring if the only thing you ever saw were people with diabetes being rushed off in an ambulance because their blood sugar was dangerously low? Or someone who was in a diabetic coma? Or blind or with limbs missing? 

    If the news was only telling you horror stories of people suffering the worst effects of diabetes it would feel like a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes was a death sentence. Why try learning to manage it if your life is over anyway? You would feel hopeless and helpless, like a victim to your disorder.

    Yes, all of those terrible things are potential risks if you have diabetes, especially if you are not managing it proactively. However, hundreds of thousands of people live active, healthy, fulfilling lives every day with diabetes. A person can learn to manage it effectively. The same is true for living with bipolar disorder. You can learn to effectively manage it and live a healthy, balanced, productive life.

    How do you counteract the negative portrayal of bipolar in the media?

    Awareness vs. Normalizing

    First, it’s important to recognize the difference between raising awareness for bipolar disorder and the symptoms of mania and depression versus normalizing these symptoms. Raising awareness of the symptoms of mania and depression can be useful if it is done with a view to help people recognize the disorder and seek diagnosis and treatment. 

    We should not seek to normalize the symptoms that indicate a mood imbalance, however, because the symptoms of a disorder are indications that there is something wrong or out of balance and treatment is needed.

    We don’t seek to normalize the symptoms of diabetes–like normalizing diabetic comas. Even saying that sounds ridiculous. If someone passes out because their blood sugar is dangerously low, you recognize it for what it is, a symptom of a body in distress. You respond to that symptom by seeking immediate treatment.

    The same needs to be true for the symptoms of a mood cycle–mania or depression. The symptoms of your manic or depressive episodes are indications that your mind is in distress and needs treatment.

    When I see people on social media trying to normalize the symptoms of bipolar it is frustrating because it perpetuates the Kanye Effect. It further stigmatizes the disorder by showing people who are in mental distress who need treatment. It also can cause people to feel like there is no hope for living well with bipolar. If it appears that for the rest of your life you will struggle with dramatic mood cycles it will cause discouragement and make it hard to want to seek help.

    Effective, Proactive Treatment

    It is possible to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar if you learn how to treat it effectively. So how do you treat bipolar effectively?

    Recognize the Symptoms

    First, learn to recognize the symptoms of your manic or depressive episodes so that you can recognize when you are either entering or are in a mood cycle. When you are first diagnosed with bipolar disorder you will likely not recognize all of the symptoms of your mood cycles. The symptoms of a mental illness really are “all in your head”, and they can feel normal to you. 

    You can change that by beginning to track your mood. As you track your mood you will start to recognize the symptoms that are indicators that you are entering or in a manic or depressive episode. The more familiar you become with the symptoms you have the earlier you will recognize your mood shifting and be able to treat or proactively manage the mood imbalance.

    Proactively Manage Mood Cycles

    Second, learn to proactively manage your mood cycles. You can begin by developing a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan (ERP). This plan will help you:

    • Identify the people you can ask for help when you’re struggling in a mood cycle.
    • Learn the symptoms and triggers of your mood cycles.
    • Develop a plan for self-care to aid in recovery.
    • Plan for getting back to health and balance.

    For a free guide to create an ERP click here.

    Treating the Mood Imbalance

    Next, learn how to effectively treat your bipolar disorder. Bipolar is a complex disorder that requires an integrated approach to treat effectively. The first step is to treat the imbalance in the brain. 

    When I was first diagnosed I was told that I just needed to find the right combination of medications and I would be able to live a normal life. That turned out to be wrong. Like many people I did not respond well to medication. I continued to experience mood cycles–with terrible side-effects from the medications–and over the first decade after my diagnosis my disorder got progressively worse. 

    The treatment that finally gave my brain what it needed to start to heal was a micronutrient treatment my doctor and I discovered. This helped my brain begin to be more chemically balanced and gave the other tools I was learning a chance to work.

    Therapy

    The next step was therapy. When you have bipolar–especially if you live with the mood cycles for a while–you develop unhealthy thought and behavior patterns that can trigger mood cycles even if you are on the right medication or micronutrient treatment. 

    Many people with bipolar also have unhealed trauma and don’t understand healthy boundaries. Therapy is a tool that will help you uncover those unhealthy triggers and aid in helping you heal and learning to interact with the world in a healthy and balanced way. 

    Self-care

    It is also necessary to develop a self-care routine that keeps your body and mind healthy. This includes tools like mindfulness meditation, yoga, exercise and consistent, restorative sleep. The health of your body is interconnected with the health of your mind. In order to help your mind heal and stay balanced you need to care for both your mind and body.

    Changing the Conversation

    Spreading awareness about bipolar disorder can be beneficial if the goal is to cultivate compassion and hope for those with the disorder. Don’t contribute to the Kanye Effect by further stigmatizing those with bipolar by sensationalizing or normalizing the symptoms of the mood cycle. 

    For years I thought that the goal with bipolar was to learn to suffer well with it. I believed that dramatic mood cycles with all of the horrible life damaging symptoms would be my “normal” for the rest of my life. Over the past decade, however, I have discovered that isn’t true. You can learn to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar.

    There is a growing community of people with bipolar disorder who are living well with it. Seek support from others who have learned to effectively manage their disorder. Let’s show the world what living well with bipolar disorder looks like together!

    If you are a mom (or prospective mom) with bipolar disorder join our Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well.

    Interview by Hope and Way: How to Live Life to the Fullest as a Mother with Bipolar Disorder with Michelle

    Michelle is a mother who is not only living with and managing her bipolar disorder but is also thriving! She has used tools and techniques on herself to make her journey an enjoyable one and is now teaching mothers all over the world how they can do the same. Her support is not a replacement for doctors or therapy, but rather another tool to have in your arsenal to use alongside medical treatments.

    hopeandway.com

    “When I was a young mother with bipolar disorder I felt alone, lost, and hopeless. I struggled with a disorder I didn’t understand and I saw a major disconnect in the resources available to me. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself, I struggled to find anyone who understood what I was going through, and I felt no hope of ever getting any better.

    Over the past 12 years, I have worked to learn the tools for wellness and how to utilize those tools in an integrated way to live a healthy, balanced, productive life. I have often wondered why this couldn’t have been shown to me initially when I was first diagnosed as a treatment plan. None of the tools and resources I use are novel or unique, but I had to discover them on my own and figure out how to apply them to my life and my disorder. 

    I started my blog and the Upsiders’ Tribe program to shorten the learning curve for others with bipolar and help create a community that provides hope, support, and encouragement on the journey to wellness.”

    See full interview here:

    Bipolar Disorder: Six Tips for Getting the Most Out of Therapy

    Recently I have been thinking about the blessing that therapy has been in my life and how I didn’t always feel that way. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was willing to take any medication the doctor prescribed because I believed them when they said that would help me get better. Therapy, on the other hand, I was adamantly opposed to because I didn’t understand what it was.

    Growing up one of my grandmothers frequently referred to things her therapist had told her. I remember thinking it was weird to have someone else tell you what or how to think. Because of this I never wanted to go to therapy. It didn’t help that a common taunt growing up among peers was “you need therapy.”

    This was reinforced by many of the representations of therapy in the media–on television and in movies. The people seeking therapy were often portrayed as messes who never got better, therapists were often portrayed as weird caricatures who were out of touch and condescending towards their clients.  None of it instilled any confidence in the institution and created in my mind intense resistance to the idea.

    Over the years I have had many conversations with people who have had similar aversions to therapy. They have varying degrees of understanding and belief in therapy and it has caused me to reflect on what changed my perspective on therapy and what helped me to get the most out of this tool on my path to wellness with bipolar disorder.

    One of the things that I have spoken to people about before is that I wish there was an orientation class for therapy to help people understand the purpose of therapy and how to get the most out of it. One of the big mistakes that people often make is focusing on the therapist as the expert and expecting them to guide the therapy. 

    Therapy really is only as effective as both parties make it. You need a great therapist who is able to provide professional guidance within the ethical boundaries of their profession. Equally as important is your participation. This is where the class would come in–helping you to know how to do your part to make sure your therapy is productive and beneficial.

    Here are my top six tips for getting the most out of therapy. This list is definitely not exhaustive, I’m confident there are other tips that would also improve your therapy experience. These are the top six from my personal experience. I would love to hear your tips in the comments.

    First, Find the RIGHT therapist for YOU

    Although therapists go through specialized education and training they are also people–not all therapists are good and not all therapists are a good fit for you. When you go to therapy you put yourself into a very vulnerable position. It is essential to have a therapist that you can trust and that you feel comfortable opening up to so that therapy will be effective. 

    If you start seeing a therapist and you don’t feel that it is a good match, change therapists. It may seem like a hassle, however therapy will only be effective if you can work openly and honestly with your therapist. Be proactive and make sure that your therapist is a good match for you.

    There are also a number of different therapeutic approaches and techniques–EMDR, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.–and not all therapists are trained in or specialize all of the different modalities. There may be a specific type of therapy that will be most beneficial to you that your current therapist is not trained in. In that case it is best to seek a therapist that specializes in the type of therapy that you need, similar to seeking a medical professional that specializes in the type of physical ailment or injury that you have.

    Second, Give Your Therapist Something to Work With

    Therapists are not mind readers or magicians. One of the things that is challenging in therapy is that the only information that the therapist has to work with is what you give them. Sometimes this can be difficult because you don’t always know what to talk about. I remember the initial intake session with my first therapist. I was severely depressed and I didn’t want to be there–I was there because my parents had been urging me to go for years.

    I didn’t know what to say. I struggled with thinking clearly and I didn’t know what to talk about. It took a few visits to figure out what I was doing. Over the years I have started to understand the process of therapy better. One of the things I have found extremely helpful is using a mood tracking app and journaling. These tools help to identify triggers, unhealthy thought and behavior patterns and unhealed trauma that your therapist can help you work through and heal. 

    It is also important to not withhold information from your therapist because you are afraid of what he or she will think of you. This goes back to making sure you have a therapist you can trust. A good therapist is able to hold the information you provide without judgment. The focus of the therapist is to help you work through things in order to come to a place of mental health and healing. The more complete the picture you provide, the better he or she will be able to help you. 

    Third, Therapy should be used proactively, not just reactively

    One of the mistakes I made for years was only going to therapy when I was in crisis, and then when the crisis was over I would stop. This is counterproductive for many reasons. First, the process of establishing yourself with a new therapist can be exhausting and sometimes intimidating. 

    It often takes multiple sessions with a new therapist for them to get enough information to start effectively working with you. It can also give a skewed picture to the therapist if their only experience with you is when you are in crisis. The longer you see a therapist the better they understand you, the more comfortable you become with your therapist and the more effective the relationship. Starting only when you are in crisis and then ending therapy when the crisis has passed can make it hard to get real, lasting benefit from therapy as a tool.

    The other problem this creates, especially with bipolar disorder, is that there isn’t real progress made in identifying unhealthy thought and behavior patterns, unhealed trauma and unhealthy boundaries. As long as these issues go untreated there will continue to be mood cycles that are caused by these unhealed and unprocessed triggers, even if you are on the right medications or micronutrients for your brain balance. 

    Therapy as a tool is most effective when you use it proactively to learn to process and reduce crises in your life and not just reactively manage crises when they occur.

    Fourth, Focus on Healing in Therapy, Not Blaming 

    In therapy the focus needs to be on healing, not blaming–choosing to be a victim impedes your progress towards healing. Something that I have found to be a challenge in therapy, and I have heard others talk about in their experience, too, is that sometimes it is easy when you are in therapy to get focused on a person or persons that have caused you harm. 

    The problem this presents is that if you become focused on the other person and what they have done it can prevent you from healing. You have no control over what someone else says or does and it can turn you into a victim who continues to be traumatized by another if your focus is on the choices of someone else. This can also prevent you from actually healing because it takes the power to choose away from you. 

    Something that really helped me understand this better was thinking about emotional or mental injury the way I would think about a physical injury. If I broke my leg I would go to the hospital for help. While I would need to explain to the doctor what happened in order for her to assess the injury properly the focus would then turn to the injury itself and what treatment was necessary to heal the injury. 

    The more serious the injury the more serious the intervention. The only other discussion about the way the injury occured would be if it was likely to occur again, what boundaries would need to be implemented to prevent further injury.

    This helped me so much in learning how to process trauma. When I am working through trauma the most important thing is to focus on the injury itself and utilize the necessary treatment to process and heal the trauma. Learning to implement healthy boundaries to prevent further injury is critical too. This approach is empowering and will help the healing process so much more than if you spend all of your time focused on the person who caused your injuries. You can’t control their choices, but you can choose to heal from them and protect yourself from further injury.

    Fifth, You get out of therapy what you put into it

    When you are seeing a therapist you need to actively participate not just in the session but in doing the “homework” between sessions. Sometimes we want things to be simple and easy–take a pill and you’ll feel better. But the reality is that therapy is not easy. It takes effort to first discover the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, unhealed trauma and unhealthy boundaries, and then work to process them or replace them with healthy alternatives. 

    If you are not willing to put in the effort during sessions and between sessions therapy will not be productive or helpful. As you work with your therapist, prioritize the work between sessions in your day to day life. Make sure that you are setting alarms to remind yourself and following through on what you committed to do so that you will be able to make real change and progress in improving your mental health. 

    Sixth, Therapy takes time

    There is a saying that therapy is like peeling back layers of an onion. I have learned from first hand experience that this is true. When you begin therapy there may be pressing issues that first feel like they are the only issues. You set therapy goals and work towards them. Over time as you work to heal the initial problem you will likely discover additional issues that need your attention. Do not be impatient with the process. 

    It takes time to uncover the mental, emotional and psychological issues that are contributing to or possibly even causing your mental illness. It takes time and effort but as you work to heal you will begin to live in a more balanced and healthy way. 

    When I first started therapy I had an end date in my mind. I still struggled with some stigmas in my mind about what it meant to see a therapist. Over time I have started to understand that this is an important tool to live well with bipolar and my view and opinion of therapy has changed.

    I don’t know if I will ever stop going to therapy. I continue to see my therapist once a month. I do this for a number of reasons. First, it takes so much effort–emotional and mental–to begin with a therapist and that can be a barrier to starting with a new therapist. I have a productive relationship with my current therapist and don’t want to start over with someone new so I continue to maintain the therapeutic relationship in case I need her. 

    Second, I have found that at least a few times a year something new will come up that I need help resolving, processing or healing and I am able to add sessions when necessary. Finally, I know that I will never be “cured” from having bipolar disorder and therefore find value in maintaining a relationship with a professional to give me someone I can check in with periodically to make sure I am stable and healthy.

    Therapy can be a powerful tool for healing emotionally and mentally. The more you understand this tool and how to use it well the more effective it will be in helping you learn how to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar.