Bipolar disorder is a difficult illness. It affects everything. In addition to affecting your mood, it affects your judgment, concentration, memory, energy and sleep. It affects your relationships. It affects your everyday. It can bring about a deep, sinking despair, or jolt you into a euphoric state where your brain literally can’t compute the consequences of your actions. Some people experience depressive and manic symptoms at the same time—darkness, distorted thoughts and fatigue followed by restlessness, racing thoughts and irritability.
It can feel so overwhelming.
However, this doesn’t mean you’re doomed to an unhealthy or unfulfilling life. The key lies in effectively managing your illness, which involves various parts and pieces, such as: finding a support team, which includes a psychiatrist and therapist; consistently taking your medication; getting enough sleep; participating in physical activities; minimizing stress—and getting educated.
You’ll find help with all of these components in the fantastic, comprehensive, insightful, easy-to-read book Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival: Tips for Living with Bipolar Disorder, written by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose. Williamson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder eight weeks before her college graduation when she had her first manic episode. Rose was diagnosed at 35 years old, after the birth of her second child and after suffering for 20 years without any treatment.
In their book, Williamson and Rose share a slew of terrific, practical strategies and suggestions along with their powerful personal stories. It’s a must-read for anyone who has bipolar disorder or has a loved one who does. Below is a selection of tips to help you manage your illness.
Be persistent about finding excellent providers. Williamson went through four psychiatrists before finding her doctor. These included a psychiatrist who ate during their sessions and wore a mink coat because the office was so cold (and so was she); another who examined her nails and read her journals; and a third who said at every session that she was depressed because of her weight.
Finding the right practitioners for you isn’t easy, and it can get expensive. It’s also a vulnerable process to keep sharing your story. You might get so frustrated and exhausted that you want to stop.
The key is to keep trying. Today, Williamson and Rose have amazing psychiatrists. Williamson’s psychiatrist, who she found after asking around, is a “medication wizard and it is money well spent on my mental health.” She doesn’t go monthly and the 15-minute appointments make it affordable. “I figure if I were going to a few doctors and paying their copays each month, it would equal one payment to my psychiatrist every few months.”
In addition to working with a psychiatrist, it’s important to find a therapist who specializes in bipolar disorder. According to Williamson, if you realize you aren’t getting anywhere or you don’t “gel” with them, it’s time to find someone else. Ask around for referrals, and interview potential practitioners about their experience, background and client base.
See your doctor at the earliest sign of symptoms. As soon as you find yourself feeling racy or becoming depressed, make an appointment with your psychiatrist. You might need a medication adjustment—sometimes due to stress or seasonal changes (during the wintertime, it’s common to experience depression, while the spring often triggers mania). In the spring, when Williamson’s manic symptoms start, her doctor increases her nighttime dose of two medications. In the fall, he decreases these same meds, and increases her antidepressant.