On #WorldBipolarDay, I shared my thoughts on being bipolar. The response was very positive. Many people expressed that it was helpful to them. I keep an anonymous blog dedicated to bipolar because I have been nervous about being public about it, but I’ve decided that my aim is to do my part to fight the stigmas and general lack of understanding of what it means to have a mental illness in a way that puts a human face on it.
I don’t even like the term mental illness. It’s really just an illness. We don’t say lung illness, insulin illness, brain illness, stomach illness, flu illness. We generally say illness. Also, a mental illness is an illness of the mind. I’m not so sure that is what bipolar is. The mind is the active projection of the brain that creates the experience of consciousness, the intellect, our thinking. The way we think can greatly influence the way we behave and even affect the state of our brain. So if bipolar is an illness of the mind, then we should be able to think our way out of it. Right?
And that’s where the misunderstanding begins with mental illness. “Cheer up. Think happy thoughts”, we say to someone with clinical depression. “Meditate to calm your mind.”, we say to someone who is manic. Do you know what happens when someone in the midst of a manic episode tries to meditate? They think it’s giving them super powers. They do it for long periods when they should be sleeping. They talk incessantly about it.
Although there is a growing body of evidence of mind/body dependence, ultimately bipolar begins with the brain, not the mind. Bipolar is a neurological disorder, not an emotional problem or a mental problem. Which means that it is actually a brain or neurological illness, not a mental illness…whatever that is. It’s a illness that does affect our mind, but it is not created by our mind. At least that’s how I see it. But to prevent confusion and so as not to have to go on a diatribe every time the word mental is used, I will stick with mental illness.
I saw my doctor today yesterday. I’m in the habit of saying doctor instead of psychiatrist because it requires no explanation. I told him I’ve been hypomanic off and on for a few months so he bumped up my lithium another 300 mg. He indicated that it might not be a permanent dose, but I suspect that it will be. FYI, hypomania is a mild form of mania. If depression is the downer side of bipolar, mania is the upper side. Here’s a general list of manic symptoms. It’s not comprehensive, but it gives the gist of it.
- Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic or extremely irritable
- Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers
- Sleeping very little, but feeling extremely energetic
- Talking so rapidly that others can’t keep up
- Racing thoughts; jumping quickly from one idea to the next
- Highly distractible, unable to concentrate
- Impaired judgment and impulsiveness
- Acting recklessly without thinking about the consequences
- Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases)
The thing is, I feel that it is some sort of failure to be bumped up in my meds. I’ve prided myself on how low my doses have been and how well I’ve done, which is absurd if you think about it. Although there are lifestyle choices I can make which contribute to my mental health, it feels like it’s mainly out of my control. It was medicine, particularly lithium, which made me well in the first place
Besides the sense of failure, I wonder what the consequences will be. The dose I was taking with lamictal, geodon, and lithium (all different kinds of mood stabilizers) was slowing down my cognitive function. It was affecting my job significantly. My doctor’s solution was for me to go off gluten and take DHA fish oil. It worked very well. So will that be enough this time? It will take a little while before I know that.
But the question of failure is bothersome. Why do I feel this way? My first thought is that there’s a lot of pressure on the mentally ill to stay well. When we don’t, we worry that we are disappointing someone. That’s a form of failure, and I do believe it is related to this, but it’s not exactly the same. Perhaps it is simply that my pride is injured. I’ve written and spoken about how I’m a model bipolar. I’m compliant, as professionals say. And yet and I’m struggling to be healthy lately.
I also wonder if this disorder is progressing. I don’t think it is something I’m doing. If anything I’m doing more to support my health. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I’m eating healthier. I started swimming again. But the signs are there. I’m getting intense. I’m getting too chatty. I’m making mountains out of mole hills. I’m both obsessed and disinterested. I’m having trouble sleeping. It’s definitely happening.
When I mentioned to my daughter, who also has bipolar, that I bumped up my lithium because I felt that I was hypomanic over the last few months she said, “Ya think?!!!” I never realize how obvious it is.
It’s not just mental health issues that people feel bad about. We feel bad when we have to up our insulin because it means we didn’t manage our diet well. We feel bad when we have to up our blood pressure medicine because we didn’t manage it well enough. We feel bad when we need more pain meds for chronic back pain. We have a love/hate with medicine. We’re glad that we have it and we hate that we need it.
My meds have radically changed my life mainly for the best. This formula has worked for me for several years. I’m afraid to change it, because I’m afraid of losing control again. But I trust my doctor. He’s never steered me wrong. So bump me up, and level me out.