Tag Archives: Mental illness

11 Difficulties of diagnosing bipolar disorder

Photo credit: Abode of Chaos

It is not uncommon for us,  bipolars,  to receive our correct diagnosis about 10 years after we first go to a doctor.  There are a myriad of reasons why this happens.  Below I have compiled a list of the main difficulties of diagnosing Bipolar Disorder (BD).

  1. BD is a complex illness with a wide range of symptoms that play out differently for each person.
  2. Besides,  BD is in reality a spectrum of different types which are easily misdiagnosed as Anxiety Disorder,  Schizo-Affective Disorder or a Personality Disorder.
  3. In addition,  mixed episodes are really difficult to detect since symptoms of both (hypo)mania and depression coexist.
  4. BD usually starts with one or more (up to 5) episodes of depression before (hypo)mania hits.  Hence,  patients are often misdiagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.
  5. As the medical journey many times starts with the GP it is vitally important that he is able to be aware of the differences in unipolar and bipolar depression.  Sadly this is not the case for the majority of GP’s.
  6. It is an art to be able to ask the right questions in order to find out if someone is also suffering from (hypo)mania.
  7. If the right questions are being asked,  the patient still has to recognize the symptoms in his own life.  This is made even harder since the patient might not be aware of the symptoms,  as it seems to him his normal life.
  8. Also,  because of the stigma of a mental illness (where depression is a far more acceptable diagnosis) it is easy to downplay any possible symptoms that point to BD.
  9. Especially when the patient is (ultra) rapid cycling he doesn’t meet the criteria for BD plus he is even more likely to encounter difficulties in recognising symptoms in his own life.
  10. Family history plays an important part in susceptibility for BD.  However,  the likelihood of (grand)parents being undiagnosed is huge.  Furthermore the family medical history might not be known.
  11. Other complicating factors are certain diseases which mimic some symptoms of BD,  like lupus,  Lyme disease,  thyroid disorder and epilepsy,  amongst others.
For further reading:

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To disclose … or not.

Photo credit:  KoshyK

My ‘policy’ of openness
In general I have taken the stance to be open about my condition of Bipolar Disorder.  I find it nothing to be ashamed of and if anything,  I feel I can use it to educate others about mental illness in general and BD in particular.  Because of the stigma attached to it,  I actually see education as an important part of being open about my condition.

Blog & future employer
When I started this blog I had this thought: ‘What when a potential employer,  who checks the web,  will find my blog?  Would I lose a job opportunity?’  The answer to this question for me was:  ‘It depends on how the potential employer will look at me.’  In my opinion,  my blog shows how I go about my life with mental illness and how I try to use it to my advantage,  instead of letting myself be victimized by it.

Latest job interview
You have to know that I have disclosed my condition with every voluntary job interview I have done so far.  Yet,  when I was applying for a job recently,  I decided not to disclose it.  Since I will be working mostly on my own in a little Documentation Center of a school,  I didn’t see the need to inform the coordinator about my condition.  As far as I can see,  it will not interfere with my duties.

Disclosure to youth group
Not so long ago I disclosed my condition to the youth group I am a team leader of together with other team leaders.  The age group is between 16 and 25 years.  The youth leader as well as I trust our youth to be able to accept it and  ask questions.

I shared with them the facts about Bipolar Disorder – not my emotions.  With keeping it factual and comparing it with another chronic disease (diabetes),  I think I made it easier on them to follow my story.

Possible consequences
One of the consequences of sharing with the youth group is that most likely they talk about it with their parents.  I have to say that at first I sort of shrugged this of.  My initial thoughts were:  ‘So what if they know it,  too?  That is not a problem for me.’

There is one BUT,  though.

It is not all about me…

Meaning that my initial honest and sincere wish to be open might have effects that I did not oversee.  My goal by becoming a youth leader was to serve the youth.  They should be the center,  not me.  Especially not a non-issue about if someone with a mental illness is fit to be a youth leader or not.  Because if this becomes an issue with the parents,  who knows what will happen?  In any case,  it will disrupt the goal I set before me…

Future ‘policy’
Although I can’t change anything because what is done,  is done,  I can review my ‘policy’ of openness.  Would I have done the same thing with this all in mind?

So,  I am very curious:

What if you know or suspect that the ‘recipients’ of the information about your condition are NOT able to deal with it.  Would you keep it confidential for the sake of the recipients?

In other words:  What would you have done / do in my place?

Please,  let me know by writing me a comment below or using the  “Contact Me”  form at the top of this page.  I am looking forward to your response!  Thank you 🙂

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How to help people with a mental illness

Do you know someone with a mental illness?  Maybe you feel unsure about what to do or say as you don’t know how your words or actions will be perceived.  Or maybe you just like to know a little more.  Then,  please keep on reading!

Photo credit: Brenda Gottsabend

What follows is a list of things you can do,  not do and say to someone with a mental illness by someone with a mental illness.  By no means is this list complete.  For that reason I have added some further reading material at the bottom.

What to do:

  1. Learn more about the illness.   You need to know what your friend or relative is dealing with.  This is so helpful for both you and us.
  2. Separate the person from the illness.  We are more than our mental illness.  Thank God!
  3. Respect us.   Even though we have a mental illness,  it doesn’t render us stupid or dumb.
  4. When we isolate ourselves,   show that you care by calling us or stopping by.
  5. Ask us what we need or how you can help during our good times,   so we can decide together what is best for both you and us when we are in an episode.
  6. Offer to go with us or drive us to appointments if we need it.
  7. Offer to help with practical chores.  Especially when we are depressed, household chores are way too hard to keep up with.   It’s such a blessing when someone steps in and does our stacked-up-week-old dishes.  Or cleans the bathroom.  Does the shopping.  Cooks a meal.  Etc.
  8. Encourage us to keep taking our meds.   When we complain about the side effects,  encourage us to go to our pdoc to talk about it.
  9. Encourage us to get professional help if we don’t have already.  Even when we are stable we need it so we stay stable.
  10. Encourage us to go to our pdoc or other mental health carer when we are not doing well.  Make sure we go when we continue to be unwell.
  11. Have humor  –  laughter lightens the soul 🙂
  12. Ensure you have contact numbers (for those who are very close to someone with MI).
  13. Ask if we are thinking of hurting ourselves (for those who are very close to someone with MI).
  14. Take care of yourself.  It’s not good for either of us if you give yourself away,  nor is it healthy.
  15. Set boundaries.  It might not be easy,  but it’s absolutely necessary to maintain a healthy relationship between us.

Don’t:

  1. Take strange behaviour personally when we are having an episode (especially mania,  delusions,  hallucinations).
  2. Change your role as a friend or relative into that of a caregiver.  You can care for us without becoming a caregiver.  But we need you as our friend or relative.
  3. Neglect yourself  –  know your boundaries of what you can give and what not.  Set your limits and discuss those with us during our good times.

Tell us:

  1. That we are strong.  MI is not a weakness,  if anything it has made us stronger in who we are by dealing with it.
  2. That we are not to blame.  No one is to blame.  We just happen to have it.
  3. That we are not guilty for having a MI.  It’s nobody’s fault.
  4. That we do not need to be ashamed of it either.
  5. That we are courageous for dealing with our illness.  Especially when confronted with the fall out our episodes can cause.  It’s so hard to deal with that,  people,  so hard…  But also necessary for us to maintain healthy relationships.
  6. That we are not alone.
  7. That you care,  no matter what mood we are in or what is happening to us due to our illness.

I welcome any and all comments and questions,  either in the comment section below the post or through the ‘Contact me’ page at the top of my blog.  Please,  share your tips!  Thanks 😉

For further reading:

Helping someone with a mental illness ~ for youth between 14 -25 years

60 Tips for Helping People who have Schizophrenia ~ very helpful for those of us with Bipolar Disorder as well

Supporting the Mentally Ill: Best Things to Say ~ Natasha Tracy

How to Help Someone With a Mental Illness ~ Natasha Tracy (We must be twins,  after I finished my post I found this recent post of hers. :))

Other interesting posts regarding bipolar disorder on this blog:

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Symptoms

Medical treatment

Peeps that are important

Why mood charting?

Mood charting revisited

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Curve balls

Photo credit: Terry Dye

It’s been a though week.  Life threw me some unexpected curve balls.  Oh wait,  maybe they are always unexpected?  I dunno a thing about baseball,  really…

Anyways.

The major one is that tomorrow night (early afternoon for USA peeps) I will be sharing about mental illness and bipolar disorder with my youth group.  That’s what a hypomanic episode might lead to…

To be honest,  I wanted to share about it either way.  For one,  to break the taboo of mental illness and two,  to disclose a little about my bipolar disorder.

It will sure be an interesting evening… truth be told I am even a little nervous,  really.

But then,  since I will share with them that Winston Churchill, Vincent van Gogh,  Mel Gibson, Jean-Claude vanDamme,  Brian Wilson,  Carrie Fisher,  Patty Duke,  Stephen Fry,  Robin Williams and some Dutch authors had or have it,  at least I can’t deny being in good company!

🙂

Update:
The evening went real well – I was composed and was able to calmly share the facts about mental illness and bipolar disorder.  Much to my relief I didn’t even remotely feel like crying,  even though it had been a very emotionally week for me.

The youth received it well.  They were respectful and understanding.  What more can one ask?  We will take it step by step,  but I belief it’s been good to have it out in the open!

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Are you a victim or a survivor?

Living with a mental illness changes ones outlook on life.  Especially when you are confronted with the consequences of your illness.

For some it starts early in life,  messing up childhood and/or adolescence.  For some it happens later in life,  like the early twenties.  For others the diagnosis comes way later after having lived through a lot of heartache and ignorance of what is going on with them.

Whatever the moment the diagnosis is delivered,  it is sure to turn your life upside down.  On the one hand it is a relief to know what is actually going on.  On the other hand it is often a harsh confrontation with a chronic and life long illness that will require life long treatment.

What makes or breaks us,  however,  is our approach of who we are in the midst of all this.

Let me explain.

A victim,  according to the dictionary,  is an unfortunate person who suffers from some adverse circumstance or a person who is tricked or swindled.

At first we feel tricked and swindled.  How could this ever happen to me?  Why?  How am I supposed to live my life?  What consequences does it have on my career choice,  spouse,  friends,  family etc.?

Calling a mental illness an adverse circumstance is quite an understatement,  though!  And yes,  we definitely suffer from it,  as often do those around us.

BUT.

We can become survivors.  The definition of a survivor, according to the same dictionary is someone who survives in spite of adversity or someone who lives through affliction.

With the proper care and support network in place,  those of us suffering from a mental illness can survive whatever their illness throws at them.  The hard part is that it is not a one-time-only event,  we go through adversity and affliction on a regularly basis.  Regular being different for each individual.

So,  who do you want to be:  a victim or a survivor?

Do you want to blame your illness for your behavior?  Or do you want to take responsibility?

While we can never be held responsible for having a mental illness,  I believe we can be held responsible for our response to having the illness.

It requires us to make choices when we are well enough to do so.  We need to build a support network to help us deal with any fall out our illness might bring.  We also need to allow people to confront us with our behavior,  before we get into a big mess,  getting hurt or hurting others.

It is not easy,  let me be very clear on this.  However,  it does not mean it can’t be done.  I believe by taking responsibility,  we are carving out a much better live for ourselves.  It will enable us to reach goals that otherwise we might not be able to.

But let me introduce you to a third concept concerning our approach of having a mental illness.

Becoming a master.

While not all definitions of the word master or the verb to master apply,  it is interesting to look at the following from the dictionary.

A master/to master is:
a ruler;
a battler,  fighter;
a learner (as in being a student)
to control (as in having a firm understanding and knowledge of);
to get the hang of it (as in being/becoming completely proficient or skilled in);
a victor,  superior (as in dealing with successfully);
a professional (as in having authority);
an original (as in the master copy,  there is only one).

The goal is to be able to rule over our illness instead of being ruled by it.  Therefore we battle and fight.  We have to learn and become a student of our illness,  our symptoms & triggers.  A firm understanding and knowledge of our illness and our symptoms gives us more control.  When we become completely proficient and skilled in all of this, we get the hang of it.  So we can deal with it successfully and become a victor.  And as a professional we gain authority in the area of our illness.

This is important because we are an original,  we are unique as there is only one of us!

While aspiring to be a survivor is commendable and not an easy thing to do,  I personally like to take it a step further and become a master of my illness.  It is a long process of which I am a student for five years now.  And I possibly will be a student for life.  It’s a good thing that I like to study :)!

What do you want to be(come):  a victim,  a survivor or a master?

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