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Living with bipolar traits is my normal life. Part 2

This is a continuation from the last post:

I believe it is possible to turn my bipolar traits to my advantage.  I don’t believe it is to my advantage to be ‘healed’ and made ‘normal’.  I have never known anything different from swinging on my own swing,  leading me to the high and the low places.  The fact that it is considered disordered,  has been decided by other people who didn’t consult me.

That is why I like Tom Wootton’s approach so much:  getting your bipolar in order   and using your bipolar in order to your advantage.  Go check out his website!!

In some quirky way I am actually starting to like the fact that I am able to experience higher highs and lower lows.  All because I am learning how to deal with my bipolar traits and am experiencing that living life to my fullest is still possible.  Ánd not the least,  because I am learning to accept ME the way I am.  It is OK to be ME.  This is still in process,  I haste to add,  but WOW the little accepting I’ve managed to do already makes a huge difference!

With the trip to Ukraine my experience has widened and I am much more positive that I can function and fulfil the dreams I have.  Maybe not in the same way as before,  but does that really matter?  I know I will have to really take care of myself.  But is that really a bad thing?  I know I can not do things on the spur of the moment as I can not do any thru-the-night traveling anymore.  But hey,  I can live with that,  it will only take a little more planning.  I will have to adapt the way I used to live life,  but I don’t see it as such a burden anymore.  It is becoming much more like a challenge that I know with the help of others I can achieve.

In Holland we have a saying:  “every house has its cross to bear”.  If this is my cross,  I’ll bear it;  sometimes gladly,  sometimes with grunts.  Does that matter?  Maybe I will finally learn that being on the way is just as important as achieving the goal,  now that I am forced to think carefully about how to travel! 🙂

Does this mean that I don’t struggle with ‘having bipolar disorder’?  Heck, no!  Of course I have suffered from it a great deal.  But I have chosen to not allow my past,  present or future sufferings decide how I am to live my life today. 

Will there be times when I hate that my brain functions the way it does?  Of course!  I know it can play havoc with plans I make.  Will there be times when I will feel sick of it all?  Sure!  But I don’t want it to define who I am or will be.  Thankfully,  there is so much more than this so-called disease. 

Will I chuck my meds because I don’t consider myself sick?  HECK NO!  That would be the most stupid thing to do.  I will continue to work out ways with my support network to function to the best of my ability.  This includes meds,  maybe for always,  maybe not.  For me,  that is not the issue.  The issue is my quality of life and fulfilling my dreams.  If that takes doctors,  meds,  support network, etc. so be it.

But just as I disliked greatly to be considered a victim of sexual abuse,  I dislike greatly to be considered suffering from a (mental) disease or disorder.  I am a survivor of sexual abuse,  it doesn’t define who I am either.  It only tells you what I have experienced.  Just as having Bipolar Traits tells you that I experience higher highs and lower lows.  But that doesn’t necessarily make me sick by default.

Of course,  when I was still suffering from Bipolar Disorder,  I couldn’t see beyond the crisis I was in.  Which is completely normal.  BUT,  I don’t need to stay there,  in crisis,  nor ‘in remission’ being afraid for the next possible episode and/or crisis.  As Tom Wootton and many others have shown,  there is still a whole life out there to be  discovered.  At the moment,  I am eager to explore!!!

DISCLAIMER
I don’t pretend to know anything about your Bipolar Disorder.  At best I can relate.  And I want to,  very much so.  Because I do believe we can be there for each other,  we can learn from one another and last but not least encourage one another.  In any case,  that is my desire.  What is yours?

Related posts: Living with bipolar traits is my normal life.  And no, I am not sick or disordered, thank you very much!
                            Are you ‘normal’?
                            Book review: “Bipolar in Order” by Tom Wootton

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Living with bipolar traits is my normal life. And no, I am not sick or disordered, thank you very much!

One of the hardest things I find myself dealing with on a daily basis, is figuring out why I feel the way I feel.  The answer to this question is important,  because it decides how I will deal with myself and my emotions. 

The problem is:  it is so damn hard to distinguish if I feel as I do because of my brain chemistry,  or because there was a trigger.  In other words: are the chemicals in my brain misfiring and making me feel depressed / manic without any other reason than the fact that is the way my brain is working? 

It is important for me to know the answer as that will cause me to treat myself differently,  depending on the reason why I feel the way I do. 

Say,  if it is my brain chemistry making me feel yucky and depressed,  I will try to ignore the tug to stay in bed,  do nothing and hibernate.  I might not be able to accomplish much,  but I still will try to function to the best of my ability and try to be happy with anything I will be able to accomplish that day.

However,  if something triggered my depression,  then I will have to figure out what exactly  the trigger consists of.  Is it a thought I had that made me sad and pulled me down?  Is it a certain smell that brought bad memories to the surface?  Did somebody say something to me that caused me to start thinking negatively about myself?  Is it because I made an assumption based on a situation, a response, or a lack thereof?  Is it some past trauma that is rearing its ugly head? What is IT?  Sometimes I simply don’t know.  But once I know what the IT is,  I have to deal with IT. 

If there is a good reason to feel low / depressed,  I might give myself a break.  For instance,  right now after returning from my 3,5 week trip to Ukraine I have so many impressions to process.  I am in touch with my key people,  but other than that I keep a low profile and take a lot of rest.  Which means I sleep a lot even during the day.  But that is okay.  For now.  But next week I will pick up my active life,  if I feel like it or not.

Why is it so important to find the answer to the question?  Because if I let  my feelings go,  I might end up in a depressive state that will pull me deeper and deeper,  which might happen slowly or very fast.  Or the opposite might happen,  and I end up being (hypo)manic and maybe even paranoid.  Either state can,  once it is full-blown,  last for months and it will take hard work plus usually additional meds to get out of it.  Neither is to be desired.

That is one big reason of why I am in counseling:  to learn how to deal with all those IT’s that fill my life (un)aware.  IT’s can be so sneaky and creep up on you when you are not looking.  Even when I know what IT is playing it’s part,  I still need to work out how to respond.  Which is different depending on the reason behind IT.

You see,  I refuse to be a victim of this so-called ‘illness’.  I AM NOT!  This is the way I was born,  the way I have been made,  and it is okay.  I want to add a BIG note,  though,  that it has taken me quite a while (years) to come to accept the fact that I am labeled as “suffering from Bipolar Disorder”.  I rebel against being labeled “mentally ill”.  I hate the fact that this label causes me trouble being insured for health and for when I die (because of the chances I might end up in hospital and the higher chances of suicide).

I want to scream from the roof top: I AM ONLY DIFFERENT,  I AM NOT ILL, DISABLED  OR DISORDERED!!! 

Yes,  there will be times when I won’t be able to handle my bipolar traits very well.  So what?  Yes,  I need some close people around me to help me deal with the fall out of my bipolar traits.  So what?  Yes,  there will be times I will talk your head off.  So what?  Yes,  there will be times I will hibernate and be invisible.  So what?  Yes,  my brain functions different from yours and apparently I deal differently with emotions.  So what?

I don’t know any better,  for me it is normal,  it’s just the way I am.  SO WHAT?!?

To be continued!!!

Related post: Are you ‘normal’?

Picture courtesy of: The Franklin Institute

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Book Review: "Bipolar in Order" by Tom Wootton

No,  the title is not a mistake,  this book is written to show that there is much more available to those of us who,  by the traditional standard,  are ‘disordered’. 

The author and his mission
The author of two other books:  “The Bipolar Advantage” (2005)  and “The Depression Advantage” (2007),  Tom Wootton is currently writing the sequel to “Bipolar in Order” (2010).  He began teaching workshops that he designed for bipolar and depression in 2002.

Tom founded Bipolar Advantage with the mission to help people with mental conditions  (note: not disorders!)  shift their thinking and behavior so that they can lead extraordinary lives.  He is a widely recognized and passionate speaker in the USA,  advocating change in the field of mental health.  He desires to see a change of paradigm of how we look and treat mental conditions.

My search and struggle
Having searched the web for a long time looking for useful information to help manage and get in touch with other people with BD,  I came across Tom Wootton’s website www. bipolaradvantage.com.  His approach was an eye-opener to me as I finally came to understand why I was dissatisfied with so many other websites about BD I had come across. 

My main struggle appeared to be the traditional view on how to treat BD.  Including the general understanding that one is a victim of the disorder.  Meaning you can’t help it that you have it,  you have to suppress the symptoms with medication and be afraid (for triggers and) for the next episode which will come sooner or later. 

My view and goal
While I agree with the first statement,  that we are not guilty of having the disorder,  I unconsciously disagreed with the two following statements.  While medication certainly has a place in the treatment of BD,  especially in the crisis stage,  I am convinced there is more available to us to fight with.  I certainly don’t want to live in fear of my next episode.  I want to learn how to manage my disorder and live my life to the fullest,  fulfilling my dreams  (which includes living abroad in a country where medical treatment will not be so readily available).

From day one when medication was prescribed,  I knew I was gonna fight to get to the point where I could live either without or with as few meds as possible.  So I strived to get to know my symptoms,  my triggers,  my responses,  and work on traumas I experienced and which aggravate my condition,  in order to improve my overall well-being.  This is still ongoing.  I am blessed with an excellent counselor who has recognized my fighting spirit from the beginning stimulates and encourages me on this road and is teaching me tools to fight with.

Back to Tom
In Tom Wootton I found an author who is saying what I think and believe.  He himself is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I with hallucinations and delusions,  but lives without taking medication unless it is absolutely necessary.  He has much to teach us,  since he is himself the prime example of what he teaches.

This book
His book challenges the overall perspective held by many – professionals and BD’s – of how to manage BD.  He shows us how to set up a Life Plan addressing the following areas: Physical,  Mental,  Emotional,  Spiritual,  Relationships,  and Career/Financial. 

What do we need to get BD ‘in order’ ?
For us to get our disorder ‘in order’ we need insight, the ability to recognize our condition and all of the aspects associated with it.  Through gaining deep insights we become free to choose our reactions based on the wisdom we have developed.  To reach real stability is not to be ‘in remission of symptoms’,  but to be able to perform the intended action under duress.  These steps lead us to self-mastery,  when every word and deed is based on doing the right thing instead of habits or emotion.  Finally we reach the state of equanimity,  meaning being even-minded under all conditions.

In other words,  it is possible to learn to live and function no matter what episode we are in!  Of course this is a road we walk.  It’s important to keep the goal in mind,  but equally important to realize it is a process that takes time and to appreciate the growth we experience on the way.

The tools to reach Bipolar in Order 
The rest of the book Tom deals with certain understandings we have that might stand in the way of our growth.  Half of the book is dedicated to ‘how to get there’ and ‘the advantage program’ which is an integrated approach developed by a team of professionals.  This program covers every aspect of life,  describing the tools we can use and the people who can help in our support network,  to achieve the maximum result for our lives.  Fourteen different authors share with us their specialty insights and expertise. 

For more information, please look at www.bipolaradvantage.com ,  and tell them you heard about them from  me.  Thanks! 

I highly recommend this book.  It is available through the bipolar advantage website,  Amazon (for USA)  and bol.com (for the Netherlands).  For us Dutchies:  for the moment it is only available in English.  I have hopes to change that at some point…

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Bipolar Disorder: Peeps that are important

P-doc (BD talk for psychiatrist)

(S)He is important.  I wouldn’t go with any other type of mental health doctor or whatever names they happen to carry.  If possible of course.  I am aware that in the States the health care system and health insurance work differently than here.  My insurance allows me to choose my p-doc,  lucky me.

I even switched p-docs because I found the one I had not capable of dealing with my assertiveness.  And p-doc’s expertise – hm – not too experienced with mood disorders.  Now I have an excellent p-doc,  easy enough because I selected him on his expertise and willingness to work with me on my terms.  (Which is a co-operation in case you were wondering.)

Counselor

To me,  my counselor is vitally important as well.  In my humble opinion, meds are never enough when dealing with psychiatric illnesses.

The reason being,  that counseling or talk-therapy teaches you:

  • what our symptoms look like;
  • how to recognize our symptoms when they arise;
  • to deal with our symptoms to the best of our ability;
  • to learn about the things that can trigger our episodes;
  • to deal with any emotional luggage we are carrying around that     hinders our well-being;
  • to deal with trauma’s we might have;
  • to lead a healthier life.

It provides us with the opportunity to:

  • share our highs and lows;
  • be totally upfront about our functioning or lack of it;
  •  receive support from a professional who will never condemn or judge us;
  • have somebody who is always ‘on our side’ as (s)he has our best interests at heart.

It took me a long time to learn to trust my counselor,  but,  boy,  what a blessing once I could!  Many times he has been a rock in my ever-changing world.  This was especially true since I moved around a lot as I didn’t have my own place.  My weekly appointments with him have given me a steadiness I desperately needed.

Also,  what I like very much about my counselor is his approach of BD and our emotions in general.  BD is not something we are a victim of.  Meaning that we don’t have to sit around and wait for the next episode and survive it the best we can.  There is more to it,  thankfully.  As we learn to recognize our symptoms and triggers,  we can also learn how to better deal with them.  This way,  we can influence what happens once we face a trigger or we feel an episode lurking / starting.

I am aware that emotions do trump and sometimes we  just have to ride out the storm.  Sometimes what happens can be way too much for us to handle.  But that is when we turn to our p-doc and counselor.  And to our support network.

Support network
We need more than our p-doc and counselor.  People around us who are close to us and recognize our mood swings are so important to have.  There are three good friends that know exactly what mood I am in when they talk to me.  Even over the phone.  We have the kind of friendship that allows them to be up front with me,  question and challenge me.

They will ask questions like:  ‘do you think that is wise?’,  ‘should you really do this?’,  ‘I think you are doing too much (or too little)’,  ‘isn’t it time to think about coming down from your hypomanic?’,  ‘how is your sleeping going?’,  ‘you can come and stay with us any time,  you know that,  don’t you?’.

Depending on the situation,  I do or do not like those questions.  It is down right irritating at times.  But at the same time I am so grateful that those friends are in my life!!  Because there will be times when they recognize an episode earlier than I do.  At times they will keep tabs on me,  when life is not going well for me.  At times they are very practical.  Like coming over when I am severely depressed and getting my house in order.  Or letting me come and stay at their house and taking care of me.  Precious,  folks,  precious!!

So I would advise you to have people like that around you.  To allow them to ask questions, challenge you,  take care of you.  It’s not an easy task,  for them or for you.  But it will allow you to live your life to the fullest,  knowing there is a safety net when you fall.  Even more than that:  it is designed to prevent you from making the fall.  Actually,  even more than that:  to keep functioning to the best of your ability.

Other interesting posts:

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Symptoms

Medical treatment

Why mood charting?

Mood charting revisited

How to help people with a mental illness

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