Coming to Terms with Bipolar Illness
Untreated bipolar illness can wreak havoc on your life and destroy your relationships. Out of nowhere it can strike with depression so debilitating that you want to end your life, or energy to work 120 hour weeks, sleep for only hours each night and then end in agitation, restlessness, unreasonable behavior and even violence.
The key to overcoming bipolar illness is first to get the proper diagnosis. You cannot possible hope to fix what you don’t understand. And you can’t possibly hope to understand what you can’t even name.
Coming to terms with bipolar illness is scary. It requires you to accept some very difficult things.
1) You have to accept that you will have the illness for the rest of your life. This means you will be taking medication until the day you die.
2) You have to accept that it is your responsibility to become healthy and follow a wealness plan.
3) You have to admit to yourself that there were times in your life that you were out of control – times when you had checked out and bipolar had checked in.
Not everyone believes in medication the way I do. But I didn’t always believe in medication either. Before I was diagnosed with bipolar illness I was prescribed antidepressants because, well, I was depressed. I would take Zoloft for a while and then stop. I didn’t like the way it made me feel. Then I would start again and stop. The antidepressants really made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like taking them. After being diagnosed with bipolar sickness I learn that Bipolar illness is made worse if you take an antidepressant without an antimanic to balance out treatment.
But now my medications make me feel great. I have only been on them for a month but I feel like a totally new person. Why would I stop taking medications that make me feel good? The answer is simple, I won’t stop.
The moral of the medication story is, you have to find the right medications for you. This can take time and be terribly frustrating. 20 years ago they only had 3 medicines to treat bipolar illness. Today they have a few dozen. This is good news because doctors now have more options to match to a persons individual symptoms. The trouble is, there are now more to tryout. It can take time so be patient and don’t get discouraged.
Accepting your responsibility for becoming healthy sounds easy. Everyone wants to be healthy so why would anyone struggle with this? There are many reasons. Sometimes people work in high stress jobs they are not willing to give up. Maybe they don’t practice good sleeping habits. Maybe they don’t eat well. And maybe, just maybe, they stop taking their medications. The problem a lot of people have with medications is that once they feel well they stop taking them. Like when you have a headache. You take Aspirin until you feel better and then you stop. This is where you have to remember number 1 above. Bipolar is a chronic illness that is never cured. You have to keep taking your meds to stay healthy.
Admitting to yourself that there were times you were not in control of your actions is scary. There is no war fuzzy you get when you say to yourself, “I don’t know why I did that. I didn’t want to. I couldn’t stop. I felt like I was standing next to myself watching everything happen so fast and I couldn’t stop it. I heard voices telling me to do it. I felt like I was arguing with someone who didn’t even exist.” No, there is no comfort in any of these things. But, you have to come to terms with it. And once you do a new problem (or question) will arise.
What am I accountable for? If it wasn’t me who did these things should I feel guilty? Should I be punished? Why is the law sentencing me if I wasn’t in control? Should I say I’m sorry or simply explain it was my bipolar illness?
There is no easy answer to the above questions. They are all very personal and unique to every situation. But I will say this. Always say you’re sorry and never use your illness as an excuse. Bipolar Illness is an explanation not an excuse. The explanation can help those around you learn to make exceptions for your behavior (if you go off your meds and it happens again). The explanation can help other people learn how to help you. And, never forget, it is your responsibility to get healthy and say there. So even if you can’t answer the questions of responsibility above, you can take responsibility for your health.
At the end of day you need to remember that untreated bipolar illness is just as deadly as cancer (due to suicide) and just as treatable as a sinus infection is treatable with antibiotics.
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