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: Dreams, Apologies and Forgiveness

Ever wonder what eight-year-old you would feel about the life you are leading now? I do. Maybe it’s because of all my therapy but more than once I’ve been told I need get in touch with my inner child. For a long time I didn’t get it. Now I do.

“Getting in touch with your inner child” sounds really big and kind of “woo woo” right? Well, it’s like peeling back an onion. Very slowly. Layer by layer the tears come faster and faster until you reach the center and find enveloped in all these years of mere existence the tiny little spirit of life. Your life. My life. The Inner Child. Only then can the conversation truly begin. Here are the three key areas I ran into:

Dreams: Did you reach for them? Did you achieve them? Why? What’s the hold up? These are the questions we must answer to our IC. There’s no other way. We must account for our choices and offer grace and forgiveness as we go. I mean, if you really wanted to run away and join the circus, what stopped you? Is it still able to do that? Can you find another way? Is it even still a dream? I mean, if you stripped away all barriers, would you still do it? Yes? Then make a way.

Apologies: Another important one. Once I apologized to my inner-8yo for not being strong enough to protect her (or love her enough to bear the lack of love from elsewhere) I felt lighter and more relaxed. As if I had finally acknowledged all the pain and disappointment I went through. I have worked hard ever since to make sure the choices I make include that young child. That little girl. The one who had ginormous dreams and silly energy.

Forgiveness: This one is huge. Look back. Did you do your best with what you knew at the time? Yes? Then set your heart free of the burden of not being “good enough” or making the “right” choices, etc. Know that you made the *best* choices with the tools you had at the time. Self-forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we can offer ourselves. It’s up to us to believe we are worth it.

I am the dreamer. It was and is up to me to make sure I honor my inner 8yo with my choices. To feel joy, embrace life, dance in the rain, explore, discover…so much more! That little one is in there waiting for a chance to come out and play and it’s my turn to lend a hand.

So yes, “Hello there, I’m here, and I love you. Please forgive me.”

Perfect way to start the dialog.

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: News Round-Up 5/25/20

Hi, every so often I gather recent articles about mental health and bipolar particular. I’m never sure if it’s helpful but I do it anyway – my blog, my rules, right? LOL

Movement based Yoga Can Significantly Improve Mental Health: Aus Researchers – Natasha Chaku/Outlook, The News Scroll (05/25/2020)
This is an interesting and insightful (but brief!) review of how this mindfulness exercise can benefit those of us dealing with a mental illness:
“”Our review of available evidence shows that movement-based yoga improves symptoms of depression in people who have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. So, it”s very good news for people struggling in times of uncertainty,” Brinsley said.

New Device Quickly Detects Lithium Ions in Blood of Bipolar Disorder Patients – Hokkaido University (05/22/2020)
This is a quick delve into the medical info behind what could be a breakthrough for those of us with bipolar disorder. A new quick-result test is in the works and could take blood draws all the way down to a pin prick:
The researchers succeeded in making a colorimetric paper-based device that allows point-of-care testing in one step. The device consists of two paper-based elements linked to each other: a blood cell separation unit and a colorimetric detection unit. High-purity cotton blotting paper and blood cell separation membrane, which are both available on the market, are used as a substrate for each unit, respectively. Hydrophobic ink was coated on the device to allow easy liquid handling.

When I Finally Had to Admit Bipolar Disorder Makes It Hard to Work – Mindy M. / The Mighty (05/25/2020)
One glance into the reality of a person’s experience with trying to hold down a career while managing her bipolar disorder and the impact it has on her stability:
“I sat at my desk with my head in my hands, my head spinning with racing thoughts. “I don’t know if I can do this again,” was the prominent one surfacing over and over. Part of my daily routine was psyching myself up to get dressed and face my workday. I would pace in my office, dread each task and struggle to believe it was possible to make it to 4:30 p.m. when I could finally breathe again.

New study shows significant positive impact of vagus nerve stimulation therapy for treatment-resistant bipolar depression – NeuroNews (05/21/2020)
Interesting piece on a new form of treatment for bipolar disorder. Worth a quick read:
The study concluded that VNS (Vagus Nerve Stimulation) Therapy as an adjunctive treatment to TAU (Treatment as Usual) was more effective than TAU alone in reducing depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation. In addition, patients who received adjunctive VNS therapy had a more rapid onset of response and more durable antidepressant effects. The study drew the conclusion that adjunctive VNS therapy is an efficacious antidepressant treatment for patients with TRBD (Treatment Resistant Bipolar Disorder).

Borderline Personality Disorder With Depression Raises Risk of Suicide Attempts in Mood Disorder Patients – Dibash Kumar Das, PhD / Psychology Advisor (05/20/2020)
Engaging article on the effects of this dual-diagnosis of BPD and BD combined and the potential impact on those struggling with the disorders:
Suicidal behavior is highly prevalent in BD and BPD, and the suicidal process can be theorized as potentially progressing from ideation to attempt or death. Researchers investigated the current and lifetime prevalence and risk factors of suicide attempts amo­­­ng patients with major depressive episodes in major depressive disorder (MDD) or BD, with or without comorbid BPD.

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.