According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 5% of the population suffers from bipolar disorder (which has also been called manic depression). If you have this illness, take heart. Between medication, therapy and lifestyle changes, there are numerous things that can make your life much easier.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of depression and mania. In simple terms, people with this disease have high highs and low lows, and sometimes there are periods of few to no symptoms.
The depressive symptoms include sadness, sleep problems, agitation, low energy and feelings of worthlessness. Manic symptoms can be racing thoughts, grandiose behavior and risky activities including overspending, reckless driving and sexual inappropriateness. There are other manifestations so if you suspect that this may be a problem for you or your loved one, see a health professional.
Psychologist John Preston and Julie Fast have authored a very helpful book for families who have to deal with this complicated problem. In “Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder” (New Harbinger Publications), they outline a simplified treatment plan that can assist in managing symptoms and triggers.
— Step 1: Create a detailed list of your partner’s major symptom categories, which can include depression, mania, psychosis, anger, etc.
— Step 2: Create a list of every specific symptom associated with each major symptom category. For example, some specific symptoms of depression could include inability to make decisions, negative self-talk, irritation, crying and being overly sensitive.
— Step 3: Create a “What Works” list of treatments for each symptom.
— Step 4: Create a list of triggers that bring on your partner’s mood swings as well as suggestions to modify and prevent the triggers.
In addition to using these lists to help keep you on track, avoid making choices that can cause an episode such as sleep deprivation, getting overwhelmed and the use of drugs or alcohol. Following a diet and exercise program that includes your doctor’s recommended medications, vitamins and supplements is also vitally important.
Additional lifestyle changes that will help couples maintain a comfortable existence include creating a support network and learning to ask for help when you need it. These are essential emotional tools that can greatly reduce symptoms and assist you in getting help when you need it.
Families and individuals should also seek counseling and medical advice, as this is a very difficult dynamic to deal with on your own. In addition, taking the time to talk with your family members so that you can arrive at a unified understanding of how you will handle problems is paramount in helping your relationships survive.
Bipolar disorder cannot be managed effectively by medication alone. Taking a mind-body approach and using all the resources that are available is key to stability.
Bipolar disorder is complicated, but I have seen a number of people survive it and make their lives work. This is not an impossible situation.
Like many of life’s challenges, working through bipolar disorder as a team will not only help you cope, it will also bring you and your loved ones closer.
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is an award-winning therapist and humanitarian. He is also a columnist, the author of seven books, and a blogger for PsychologyToday.com with nearly 27 million readers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sundays and Wednesdays in the News-Press.