“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to take bipolar disorder very seriously,” says Julie A. Fast, author of Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder“It’s not like other illnesses. It’s sneaky and dangerous if you don’t watch it all of the time.” She compares it to having diabetes. “People with diabetes can’t mess around – ever. I can’t either.” Firmly determined to follow her treatment plan, despite the challenges of her disorder, she says, “As long as I can keep relatively stable, I always find a way to get on with life and strive for happiness. I will never stop.” Like Fast, many people with bipolar disorder manage to lead productive lives. Here are some of the behaviors they have in common.

The first major step to managing a bipolar disorder, most highly successful people will tell you, is getting help. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or feel that you might be experiencing more extreme mania symptoms or depressive cycles than your friends, you should seek treatment as soon as possible, they say.

Take a proactive approach to bipolar disorder

According to the International Bipolar Foundation, research on bipolar or cyclothymia patients indicates the most positive changes in treatment requires some form of the following steps:

  1. They take a proactive approach to their mental healthcare, researching their issues, keeping notes and articles together in a notebook or a laptop, writing down their questions and feelings. They chronicle their treatment experience, documenting their reactions to medications, the cycles of their moods and possible triggers for high or low periods. They note each medication, the dosage and when they take it. Working with their healthcare providers, they ultimately learn to manage their own daily care.
  2. They’ve educated themselves not only on their particular mood disorders, but on the variety of medications used to treat them, and the other therapies and lifestyle approaches they need to make their treatment most effective. Because they’ve researched it in books, through friends and on the Internet, they’re not surprised when medications take 3-6 weeks to be effective. They’re not surprised when the talk therapy causes more stress than relief at first. They know that the short-term frustrations turn into long-term progress and recovery.
  3. They use what they learn in treatment and take lifestyle changes seriously. They’ve realized that not everything is solved with a pill. They know that medication can be more effective when talk therapy helps them relax and acquire coping skills that lower the cortisol levels (stress hormones) in their brains. They understand that medication is more effective when, through talk therapy, they derive a sense of support and relief after discussing problematic past events or current struggles in their lives. Talk therapy can be more effective when medication supports their mood swings enough to help them discuss issues clearly. They know that talk therapy can be much more effective when ‘high’ moods are moderated enough for them to keep appointments and discuss their issues in a reasonable way.
  4. They take other medical issues seriously. A body in optimum physical shape responds to both medication and talk therapy more effectively. Patients that have educated themselves understand that many physical issues and changes can affect their brain chemistry. Menopause, aging, sleep disorders, and the use of medications for other medical issues can interfere with medications prescribed to treat mood disorders. Those who take their recovery seriously tend to understand their body and medical issues more clearly.
  5. They don’t self-medicate. They refrain from using alcohol or narcotics to treat their symptoms. Many young people in America often find alcohol and illegal drug use an easy quick way to numb sad or extreme feelings. Alcohol and drugs are often fairly easy for them to obtain in many parts of the U.S., but the long-term problems these substances create can be far worse than what life brings their way. They know these substances are inefficient ways to feel better and that they can actually intensify the negative effects of a bipolar disorder.
  6. They develop support groups. They know that support groups can help them encourage newcomers to stay on their medication and keep their therapy appointments. In sharing the stories of their struggles, they can lift the moods of others and help themselves feel less alone. Successful bipolar therapy patients may have to develop multiple approaches to moderate their moods, and by listening to others in a group, they can learn what has worked for them.
  7. They don’t give up. They find the most effective treatment options that are available to them. They are determined to find structured ways to survive and create balance in their lives. They understand that recovery takes time and requires hard work. They also make an effort to maintain regular contact with their friends, they join supportive communities, and they get help when they need it.

Signs of bipolar disorder

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers the following basic definition and list of symptoms:

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a treatable medical illness involving extreme changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior. A person with bipolar disorder has moods that usually alternate between mania, or an extremely “up” mood, and depression, or an extremely “down” mood. These changes or “mood swings” can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months.

Signs of a manic episode:

A distinct period of elevated, enthusiastic or irritable mood which includes at least three of the following symptoms.

  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • Exaggerated optimism and self-confidence
  • Grandiose thoughts, inflated sense of self-importance
  • Excessive irritability
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Decreased need for sleep without feeling tired
  • Racing speech, racing thoughts
  • Impulsiveness, poor judgment
  • Reckless behavior such as spending sprees, impulsive business decisions, erratic driving and sexual indiscretions
  • In severe cases, delusions (believing things others do not that you have special powers or are receiving messages from something or somewhere) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)

Signs of a hypomanic episode:

  • Similar to a manic episode, except that it is less severe and there are no delusions or hallucinations. It is clearly different from a non-depressed (euthymic) mood with an obvious change in behavior that is unusual or out-of-character.

Signs of a major depressive episode:

A period of two weeks or more during which at least five of the following symptoms are present.

  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Irritability, anger, agitation
  • Anxiety, worry
  • Pessimism, indifference
  • Loss of energy, persistent exhaustion
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or hopelessness
  • Inability to concentrate; indecisiveness
  • Inability to take pleasure in former interests; social withdrawal
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol or use of chemical substances
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Mixed state (also called mixed mania):
  • A period during which symptoms of a manic and a depressive episode are present at the same time.

Three main characteristics that separate bipolar disorder from ordinary mood swings are:

  • Intensity: Mood swings that come with bipolar disorder are usually more severe than ordinary mood swings.
  • Length: A bad mood is usually gone in a few days, but mania or depression can last weeks or months. With the rapid cycling type of bipolar disorder, moods last a short time, but change quickly from one extreme to another and “level” (euthymic) moods do not last long.
  • Interference with life: The extremes in mood that come with bipolar disorder can cause serious problems. For example, depression can make a person unable to get out of bed or go to work, or mania can cause a person to go for days without sleep.

You can successfully manage bipolar disorder

If think someone you love is struggling with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, eating disorder, self-harm behaviors, gender identity issues, oppositional defiant disorder, or another major mental health disorder, we can help. We’ve been guiding families to long-lasting recovery for nearly 20 years. We provide a wide range of effective multi-faceted levels of care that range from intensive outpatient treatment to residential treatment and partial hospitalization for adolescents and teens. Call us today to speak confidentially with one of our highly trained admission specialists. Or, fill out the form on this page and we will be in touch with you shortly.

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