This Bipolar Life: The Lens

Clinical diagnoses are the lens through which we, as patients, are perceived.

We changed insurance companies. They didn’t cover my psychiatrist. So…new one. Guess what? Forty minutes into the new “relationship” I came away with two new diagnoses for major mental illnesses. ON TOP OF BIPOLAR. Because yeah, my previous two psychiatrists and my various therapists over the past 15 years somehow missed those two?

Anyway, I of course went directly into a tailspin until I was able to get to my therapist’s office the next day. He very carefully and repeatedly assured me that the psychiatrist was basically ill-informed and clearly had spent zero time with me. Definitely not enough to hand off these new diagnoses. He agreed I had PTSD, but we’d already talked about that before, so as an official diagnosis it shouldn’t have been hard to slap a label on me.

So, here’s the rub. I’ve gotten approval for a second opinion (because apparently the diagnoses from my last psychiatrists aren’t enough) but the diagnoses the doc placed on me – will never, ever, ever – be removed from my medical record. They are permanent. Accurate or not.

To understand the implications imagine I’ve gone into an ER for suicidal ideations and even, possibly, an attempt. Guess what? Now, rather than thinking it’s a chemical imbalance, they are ALSO going to consider these new diagnoses. This is not a good thing.

See, these diagnoses change treatment plans, they guide the next doctor who sees you. That impacts your success in treatment and that, my friends, influences the choices one has available to them when required to make one.

Wish me luck on the second opinion and thank the gods for my therapist.

This Bipolar Life: The Coin Toss

Making decisions is not my strength, yet. I’m working on it but the whole finality of the choices gets me. Like, what if I’m wrong? What if it goes sideways? What if? What if? What if? Increasingly I am also making sure to wonder if I’m right too and that’s helping!

Fortunately I have tools to use. I use techniques like remembering to go through pros/cons and asking those around me to help play out the scenario over coffee/zoom. Their feedback is invaluable as I don’t quite trust my gut just yet (another thing I’m working on) because although my mind is on point my brain chemicals can get whacky occasionally and cloud my ability to clearly see options.

Seriously though, I’m a grown-ass woman who often get’s stuck and can’t figure out what to watch on tv, which craft to pick up, which project to start, business to launch, relationships to end/start, meals to make, jobs to choose, careers, empty nest decoration…just all of it. Talk about ridiculous, right? Well I have a tool that works really well, here goes:

My solution – AND IT WORKS 100% FOR ME – has been to rely on a coin-toss. After becoming fully aware of my choices, benefits and consequences I figure out my top two options and throw a coin up. While it’s in the air I instinctively know which one I want. Heads or tails, each representing a commitment to seeing something through, and I know. Instantly. Before it hits the ground, which choice I want.

ALWAYS. Then, no matter how the coin lands, I’ve finally made my decision and I can move on.

Just one tool that works for me. Maybe you’ll find it helpful too!

This Bipolar Life: Goldilocks and Me

Almost universally people with mental illnesses struggle with figuring out when they can trust their brains. Like, at what point is my depressed brain overriding my daily existence? When does it stop and I find a new normal? How do I know? When can I trust it? Now? Later? When I’ve gone X time since the last depression/mania? How long does that need to be before it’s okay to have faith in my thoughts and feelings?

These are just some of the questions that have bounced around my mind over the past several months as my moods have gone from chaos to relatively stabilized. See, I began weekly solution-based talk therapy about a year ago and four months ago removed some meds from my routine.

Now, when I rate my moods they’re all solidly in the middle, between ‘Slightly Happy’ and ‘Really Happy’ with the occasional ‘Kind of Sad’ but no longer any manic or devastating lows. Like, nothing. No spikes, no depressions, just middle. Like Goldilocks.

“Normal” is something I have worked for. Hard. I make efforts every single day to help live with my bipolar disorder but I still don’t trust it. I’ve lived with the chaos of depression and mania swings for so long this feels wrong. I mean, it’s good, not bad, but scary. Seems weird, huh? Like, how could you finally find a decent stability only to question it?

I do question it. I do worry. I want to trust it. So desperately.

Right now I’m taking a leap of faith.

In myself.

I can do this.

This Bipolar Life: Remind me. Please.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who would need a small sapling worth of post-its just to keep me organized. I have a paper organizer. I have a fancy-dancy digital organizer. I have my phone calendar and notes. Hell, I even have a “sticky notes” app on my laptop.

Why so many? Because I need that many reminders. Yes, I really do. And so do many people with bipolar disorder. I wonder why it’s such a challenge for us. I know I literally copy things into every one of those formats just so I’ll remember them.

I know everyone forgets things but for people with bipolar disorder it can be quite different. For many of us it’s a brain fog issue. What’s that? Well it’s kind of like how when some stomps on your toe and then asks you to recite the alphabet. Can’t do it, right? Because the brain can only really focus on one thing at a time and people with bipolar disorder are often trying to think *through* the bipolar curtain. As so many memes say, the struggle is real.

I *often* forget appointments. It totally slips my mind that “xyz” likes “abc” on their <insert food here> or that so-and-so doesn’t like to do something. I show up late. I call and cancel. I freeze and don’t call at all. Really. It can get pretty bad.

I live completely unaware of my social calendar, especially when I make plans while manic that my depressed self no longer feels up to doing. I usually don’t realize I’ve done it until afterward and then I have a mess to clean up and an apology to give. Again.

And that’s not even going into the safety aspect.

And yes, brain fog and forgetfulness can be a safety issue. For me at least. I have left burners on, ovens still going, doors unlocked, and more. I now have a piece of paper taped on my stairwell reminding me to check the stove, oven, door, pets and candles. I have the same note by the front door. I need that kind of help. I’m not the only one.

Reminders are important. If you’re worried about using them please remember how beneficial they can be in keeping your world running smoothly and with fewer disappointments. Stop being prideful. Start being humble and recognizing this new limitation that *sometimes* might affect you.

If there is someone in your life you are concerned about please have this conversation with them. Do they need help remembering? Who knows? They might really appreciate it and feel relieved they don’t have to do it all alone anymore. Love comes in many forms and helping someone you care about who needs reminders is just one.

This Bipolar Life: News Update 8/4/19

Here is the latest and greatest news about bipolar disorder throughout the world. Of course this is not exhaustive but it’s a nice wrap up of a few important articles. I hope you enjoy the post and feel free to ask me questions in comments or via email.

The Unacknowledged Prejudice Against People Living With Mental Illness – James Norman (7/13/19)

There is widespread focus on racial, gender and wage, and LGBTQ+ rights/discrimination. However, in my opinion, little attention is given to the facts, conditions and prejudices faced by people with mental illness because of the policies and practices of federal/state agencies, public/private employers, as well as the population at large…

Saoirse Kennedy Hill once wrote about her depression. Patrick Kennedy wants you to read her words – Jason Hanna (8/3/19)

Former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy left office years ago to focus on battling a drug addiction and bipolar disorder. Now, after his relative Saoirse Kennedy Hill died this week, he’s praising her for…

9 Taboo Manifestations of Bipolar Disorder – Cherie Davies (8/2/19)

For me, bipolar is a dense demon to diminish. Although people experience it differently, this symptom showcases the complex nature of bipolar. It can be pretty hard to come to terms with, especially with mental illness being such a taboo subject…

Strategies to help prevent infanticide, suicide in postpartum psychosis – Luykx JJ, et al. JAMA Psychiatry. (7/31/19)

For the prevention of infanticide and suicide in the postpartum period, experts wrote that inpatient care β€” preferably at a mother-infant unit β€” is vital to guarantee safety, complete the diagnostic evaluation and initiate treatment…

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