A Beginner’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
Getting diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder is an incredibly scary and disorienting event. There’s so much to come to terms with and to take in — not to mention all the planning that comes next as you schedule psychiatry appointments, therapy appointments and fill your first prescriptions. While you may feel powerless at what comes next, there are lots of things you can do to insert yourself into the recovery process. Being involved in your own treatment will help you build confidence and help you anticipate what happens next.
Be Prepared for Medication Roulette
Keep your fingers crossed that the first medications prescribed are the ones that are going to work for you. It’s much more likely that finding your cocktail will take some trial and error. It took several harrowing months, a switch in psychiatrists, five different medications and a lot of unpleasant side effects before I was finally prescribed something that eased my symptoms. Honestly, I didn’t even know what ‘normal’ was supposed to feel like until one day when I noticed that my mind had gone quiet. However, all the drama and conflama of medication switches and frustrating side effects was worth it. Seeing a therapist during this time was also invaluable because it really provided me with the kind of support that my family and friends simply couldn’t offer — but more on that in a bit!
Have an Open Mind When it Comes to Medication
It’s absolutely normal and reasonable to set some expectations about what medications you want to try. When I started on my medication journey, I was adamant about only taking weight-neutral drugs and was apprehensive about some of the more powerful psychotropic medications. I’d seen my clients on similar medications look drugged up and zoned-out during group therapy and I was terrified that I’d end up just like that. My strong opinions about medications didn’t help my recovery at all — especially since they were only based on my own anecdotal experience — oh, and also I wasn’t a doctor. Had I been less stubborn, I may have been put on the correct medications sooner. Assigning meaning to medications can be toxic and can severely impact your road to wellness. Just take a look at this screenshot — don’t be that guy.
See a Psychiatrist AND a Therapist
When you first get your diagnosis, you really should be seeing both because they do different yet important things. Psychiatrists and therapists used to be one in the same however that’s not usually the case today. A psychiatrist will address your diagnosis with the use of pharmaceuticals and will meet with you less frequently to manage symptoms and side effects. A therapist will meet with you much more frequently to address coping techniques, thought-patterns and relational skills. Yes, the medications that you take will help regulate your moods and symptoms, but they will not change your behaviors. A therapist will help you create new and effective coping strategies as your mind quiets and you re-adjust to the world. I couldn’t have achieved the stability that I have today if it wasn’t for both and you’d be doing yourself a real disservice if you only see a professional for quarterly med-checks.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
There’s a lot to take in when you start your treatment journey — from diagnoses to medications to lifestyle suggestions — it can feel overwhelming. The best thing you can do is to involve yourself in your treatment process and ask all the questions. Never hesitate to ask your treating professionals about side effects, medication options and any recommendations that they make. I’ve spoken to countless people who left their psychiatry appointments confused and it didn’t even occur to them to ask questions. Question everything and be your biggest advocate!
Getting involved in your own treatment can help you feel more in control and can provide you with a deeper understanding of your mental health needs.
Start Healthy Habits
Wellness isn’t just the product of the right medication, it comes from an integrated lifestyle approach. While you’re trying to find the proper medication combination, consider making some lifestyle changes as well. Recovery is about creating a healthy way of life that includes staying physically active, getting regular sleep, eating to promote brain health and avoiding drugs and alcohol. Therapy is also really important because Bipolar symptoms need to be addressed both with chemical and behavioral changes. I owe my sanity to medication and therapy, but I owe my stability to healthy lifestyle choices.
Betty’s Bottom Line
Getting that Bipolar diagnosis can be shocking and overwhelming. However, there are many things you can do to insert yourself into the recovery process. Having an open mind about treatment is very important but having some basic tools in your BP toolbelt will provide you with confidence and the beginning skills that you’ll need for a healthy and stable life.