One of the most important things I have learned while on this journey of living with bipolar disorder is that it is imperative to have an advocate. For the most part I have my illness under control; however, bipolar disorder is a tricky illness. It can lie dormant for quite some time with the help of medications and therapy, yet the things we call “triggers” can awaken that beast rather quickly.
Triggers are real, and specific to individuals. What triggers me, or sets my moods cycling, may have little or no effect on someone else. For example, I know how busy my neighborhood grocery store is on the weekend. It sets me off into a bit of a panic attack. I have learned through numerous panic attacks, shopping cart abandonments, and coming home empty-handed and in tears that I must do my grocery shopping on a Tuesday or Thursday morning, when it’s the quietest. To avoid needing anti-anxiety medication after a grocery store trip, I have learned that I must plan ahead and make certain arrangements. It’s an easy fix for me and it requires absolutely no added medications to function. But it took a lot of discomfort to get to this point.
I have made it very clear to my family and my support team exactly what my known triggers are. Sometimes they are unavoidable, and unfortunately these moments can be very hard on my family and myself. When something is overwhelming to the point of beginning mood swings, it is sometimes, not always, inevitable that I will eventually become noncompliant if my moods are not stabilized quickly.
During these moments, I rely on my support team to be aware and accurate when acting on my behalf. For the most part, these are flashes of moments that do not amount to much. They have previously flared to the point where phone calls to my psychiatrist, and even hospitalization have been deemed necessary. If it were not for my family advocating for me during these moments, I would have been unreliable in reporting exactly what was going on.
I tend to catastrophize things when I am heading toward a manic spell. I fixate on what I perceive to be an issue, and then I run with that, often becoming upset when others do not seem to understand or see things the way that I do. In these cases, my advocates step up and not only gently try to sway me into seeing what is real and true, but remind me of our arrangements that we have made prior to the onset of these episodes.
While I was at my best, my advocates and I sat down with my psychiatrist and drew up a plan. This plan has now been printed out and signed (it’s not legal) by my psychiatrist, my children’s father and myself. It outlines what our plans are in case I go up too fast and become unreliable or noncompliant. The plan states that I have agreed to take what we call my “emergency meds” to help decrease the mania quicker. It also states that my children’s father has my permission to act on my behalf, which could mean getting in touch with my psychiatrist, pharmacist and GP.
The plan details are not important. What is important is the fact that I do have those people advocating for me if I need it. If I am hospitalized, I know that there is someone to see to my best interest not only health-wise, but in general. This requires a team effort. I think sometimes people don’t want to admit that they need help or to give up a sense of control of their lives. I do not see this as a loss of control. Having a strong advocate is just another tool in my arsenal of how to live well with bipolar disorder. It’s a hard thing to say sometimes that we’re not always OK, but it’s one of the strongest and bravest things that we can do.
Talking about our illnesses and our triggers with others can be difficult. I believe, however, that if you want to live the healthiest life that you can with mental illness, it’s absolutely necessary. There will be those times when you are not at your best and you may need someone to help you get that across in an efficient manner. This is where your advocate comes in. An advocate’s job is not an easy one, and they are often the brunt of a lot of hurtful words and actions. But, they have also saved countless lives, gotten help to people when it has been needed, and at times have even helped to lessen the need for extra medications.
I live with bipolar disorder and I have my own advocates. This doesn’t make me sicker, or a passenger in my life. On the contrary, I have actually become an advocate for someone who is close to me. I have been the voice of reason for someone when they have needed it. I have been the person who has taken my loved one to the hospital and spoken with their psychiatrists when they could not do so on their own. I have acted on someone’s behalf in their best interest. I think that in doing so, I have become more appreciative of my own support team, more self-aware of my own triggers, and more accountable for my own actions.
Being proactive in your own healthy journey is important. I think that accepting that extra help is part of that.
Advocate in the dictionary photo available from Shutterstock