I Know How to Cure Bipolar Disorder

→ December 4, 2010 - 52 Comments

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. – Andre Gide

I have heard about every possible cure or treatment for bipolar disorder; being a public figure, people contact me frequently to tell me what I should be doing to treat my bipolar. In no particular order, this involves:

  • Herbs
  • Supplements
  • Magic pills
  • New age treatments
  • Religion
  • Books containing the secret to happiness

(Not to mention all the people who contact me simply to complain about what I write and how I feel. Lovely people those.)

And what I have to say to every one of these people is this: you have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.

knowledge of bipolarGenuinely Trying to Help Treat Bipolar Disorder

Oh yes, I know. Some of these people are well-meaning. They still have no idea what they’re talking about. People over and over mistake anecdotes for evidence. Even worse, people mistake third-hand stories for evidence. Oh yes, the sister of your friend’s piano teacher got better after seeing Mr. Joe? Sign me up for that nonsense.

And keep in mind any web site expounding grand magical success stories isn’t necessarily accurate or honest. If these claims are not actually backed up by medical studies, stories of success are nothing more than simply that – cherry-picked stories.

Profiting from Bipolar Disorder and Mental Illness

Honestly, I’m tired of giving these people the benefit of the doubt. I’m just going to come right out with it: these people are trying to profit from pain and desperation. They know that desperate people will do anything to get better, no matter how wacky. They are trying to profit from you. They are trying to profit from your illness. I do not like these people. I do not like these people at all.

Promising Cures for Bipolar Kills People

I have said it before and I will say it again, random, unscientific treatments kill people. It’s not about taking mass amounts of vitamin C, it’s about that fact that someone is taking vitamin C instead of getting real treatment. I don’t really care if you want to think black is white, pray to a god, drink carrot juice daily or have your aura cleansed; what I care about is that you get actual treatment too.

But Wait, Aren’t You Trying to Profit from Bipolar Disorder?

Well that’s the sticky question now isn’t it? Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I make money from what I write. Yes, I’m trying to get a book published. But the difference is this: I don’t make any wild promises of cures. What I promise is my writing, nothing more, nothing less. People are free to regard or disregard it as they choose.

Bipolar Disorder Means Questions

I don’t claim to know The Truth. I claim to ask questions. I try and assimilate what we currently know about bipolar disorder, the brain and what I know about myself and synthesize it into a coherent form. I don’t know why I’m bipolar. I don’t know how to fix bipolar. I consider the human brain and the human psyche to hold some of the greatest mysteries of our ages and I’m attracted to those mysteries. I’m a philosopher. Like all philosophers I’m driven by questions that can’t be answered. I’m OK with that.

(I’m also driven to write for a host of other reasons, but they are off topic at the moment.)

Don’t Believe The Truth About Bipolar Disorder

In short, if you believe nothing else, believe this: someone who claims to have the answer to bipolar disorder is either greatly mislead or is selling something.

There is nothing for bipolar disorder except hard work and treatment by reputable health care professionals. It’s not snappy, it’s not easy and it’s not a cure, it’s just the way it is.

I’m Less Depressed and Crying More – Mixed Mood

→ December 3, 2010 - 4 Comments

I’ve been horrendously depressed. That sort of catatonic depressed where reality shows hum before your eyes one after another because that’s all the stimulation your brain can take. Flashing images of substanceless people performing meaningless tasks on light box that removes you from reality.

A Mood is Never Just a Mood for a Bipolar

But I woke up this morning feeling better. This is always a warning sign of hypomania, or in this case, a mixed-mood. Because a mood is never just a mood to a bipolar. A mood is always a warning sign of a problem. Bipolars have to pay attention to moods because even good moods lead to bad things.

I watched my brain get stuck on a song because I heard three notes of it on the TV. I couldn’t get it to shut up. Over and over. Over and under. Fucking brain. A broken record.

waterfall of tearsI’m So Grateful for the Good, I’m Crying

And I find myself teary. I’m crying over everything. I actually feel better than yesterday but so much more emotional. My bipolar knob for catatonia has been turned down while the emotionally, specifically weepy, has been turned up. Yay. What a trade.

It’s OK. My smile is closer to genuine in spite of the tears. I do feel something through the tears. It’s a mixed episode I know. The meds dampen hypomania so I get mixed moods with a crazy mix of tears, laughter, smiles, sorrow, racing, anxiety, productive mood. Or at least today. Mixed moods are an emotional storm so the combinations change from time to time. Bipolar is like a box of chocolates.

I am thankful to be feeling any degree of better and am trying to focus on what little there is of the something-other-than-sadness. I close my eyes and look inside to something sort of almost shaped like happiness. It’s not happiness, there are too many knives stabbing at it, but it’s something sort of like it. Something in its colour family.

Vaguely Reminiscent Happiness is a Miracle for the Depressed

I’m grateful it’s there. Transient, labored, perforated it may be, it’s like taking a breath of mostly air and less water, instead of mostly water and less air. It is so much better than nothing.

Saying Goodbye to Someone with a Mental Illness

→ November 7, 2010 - 423 Comments

Saying Goodbye to Someone with a Mental Illness

Pretty much weekly I get messages from people who are desperate to help a loved one with a mental illness. I hear versions of this story over and over, my child/parent/sibling/friend/spouse is sick and won’t get help for their mental illness. They say they would rather be in jail than be on medication for their mental illness. They can’t take care of themselves and they are going to end up on the street. Their behavior is destroying our family/relationship. Their behavior is destroying them.

Believe me, I get it. I really, really do. And sometimes you have to accept not everyone with a mental illness will get help. Sometimes you have to say goodbye to a person with a mental illness. Sometimes you have to cut a person with mental illness out of your life.

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Doctors, Psychiatrists and Psychotherapy

→ October 29, 2010 - 7 Comments

When I tell people to see a mental health professional, I recommend they get someone who specializes in whatever mental illness the person has. This is just common sense. You don’t go to a neurologist when your foot hurts.

I also tell people to get a therapist who specializes in their disorder. Again, this makes sense. Honestly, if your therapist is used to hearing the woes of the Real Housewives of Some Rich Place then they may not be the best choice for a person with major depressive disorder.

I tell people to get a therapist for their mental illness because psychiatrists don’t do psychotherapy.

Doctors Don’t Do Psychotherapy

I almost never think or talk about psychiatrists doing psychotherapy. This is because most of them just don’t do it. Psychiatrists are trained in psychotherapy, theoretically, but for a long time now, they have just been doctor with prescription pads and specialized knowledge of psychotropic medication.[push]Psychiatrists doing therapy started to become rare years ago because generalized “talk therapy” fell out of favor and there just weren’t enough doctors for all the mentally ill.[/push]

If you’re seeing a therapist who you really should be seeing is a licensed psychotherapist. These people have a masters or doctorate in their chosen mental health field, a clinical supervised residency and then are licensed by a governmental organization. These people are not touchy-feely-feel-good-hold-hands-sign-kumbaya kind of people. These are highly educated people who know what they are talking about. They are not, however, MDs and cannot prescribe meds.

And theoretically, they could also be a psychiatrist.

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Low Dose Antipsychotics – Do They Help?

→ October 13, 2010 - 9 Comments

I am very medication-reactive. Not so much with the positive effects, but I can almost guarantee you I’ll get all the side effects.I get every side effect for antidepressants, every side effect for antipsychotics and every side effect for pretty much anything else.

And sometimes, just for good measure, I’ll get side effects that doctors say “aren’t possible”. They are my favorite. And those overractions are often on the lowest known effective dose of the medication.

But if you add a low dose, lower than thought effective, of an antipsychotic, can this be helpful?

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Stop Telling Me How to Make My Bipolar Better

→ October 8, 2010 - 108 Comments

Stop Telling Me How to Make My Bipolar Better

[Admittedly this is angry, ranty and will likely tick people right off. Please understand that this is not aimed at any one individual and the remarks reflect a growing frustration of a prevalent situation.]

Here at BurbleCo, the bipolar blog, I try to relate matters in a very even-handed, logical and frank way. In this blog I attempt to deliver my opinions and facts as just that, opinions and facts. In this bipolar blog I try not to inflame groups with whom I vehemently disagree. In this blog I try to respect everyone’s point of view as I wish to have mine respected. I short, I try to act like grown-up. A kind, caring, reasonable grown-up.

Well. Fuck. That. Shit.

There is a new rule: no one is allowed to tell me how to get better. Not any more. I’m a done with those people. I am done with the sun-shiny, let’s-hold-hands-and-sing cumbyah people. I’m done with the turning-my-frown-upside-down-cured-me-and-so-will-cure-you people. I am done with the I-worked-through-my-self-esteem-issues-by-affirmations people. I am done with the I-got-better-through-god people. I am over being nice and kind and respectful and accommodating to these people.

Stop telling me how to get better. Stop telling me how to treat my bipolar.

I don’t fucking tell people how to live their lives and I wish people would stop thinking that they have the right to tell me how to live mine simply because I have a bipolar blog.[push]You don’t know me. You read my words but that makes you no more an authority on my brain that the barrista I chat with at Starbucks is.[/push]

Here’s the thing people – you don’t know me. You don’t. You may read my words but that makes you no more an authority on my brain than the barrista I chat with at Starbucks. I am not your patient, your lover, your family member, or anyone else people seem to exert control over. I am a writer. I write about stuff. I write about me. But written words does not a person make.

And quite frankly, I find these people condescending, irritating, pious, holier-than-thou and just generally ignorant of the world around them. And I’m tired of playing all nice about it.

Even when people tell me “how to get better,” I’m supposed to be resonable, I know.

Yes, I get it, I’m a voice for the mentally ill community and an advocate and I have a responsibility to at least be reasonable when talking to people, and when writing in my blog, but every fucking day of my online life people feel free to tell me what I’m doing wrong. They feel free to tell me how they got better and if I wanted to, I’d do it too. They feel free to yak on about things about me with which they have no experience or knowledge. Seriously. Irritating.

Live Your Own Life

You know what I think people should do with their lives? I think people should do what they want and they should let others do what they want. We each have our own path, our own minds, our own brains. You don’t understand mine. Period.

As an example: personally, I find most religious people to be quite mindless and irrational on subjects of spirituality and I think they should take a logic course, learn to think for themselves and give their heads a shake.

But you know what, that’s just me. That’s just my opinion. I don’t tell people to do that. It’s insulting. It’s unkind. It indicates that I think I know what’s better for the person than the person themselves. And to make matters worse, it would indicate that over the internet I feel free to tell someone how to live their life when I don’t even know them. Not to mention I don’t know their history and how they came to place in their life where they now exist. No one has to justify their choices to me.

And how pissed off would everyone be, and I would say rightfully, if I did that?

People Mean Well When They Tell Me How to “Fix” My Bipolar Disorder?

Do people mean well? I suppose. That’s always the out I give people when I write about the matter on the blog or elsewhere. That’s the politically correct thing to say about such remarks. But seriously, I think it just makes them feel better about their own choices in life. By telling me what I’m doing wrong it reaffirms what they are doing right. Well quite frankly, I don’t give a shit. I’m glad you think you’re right. Go forth and be right. Enjoy.

I’m tired of being the one that has to be so careful around these people and this subject. I’m tired of having to justify myself on my blog. Stop telling me what to do. Stop telling me how great you are that you got better. And while you’re at it, give the rest of the mentally ill world a break too. We’re doing the best we can.

[And in case you were wondering this doesn’t change my feelings on respect and tolerance. I have no plans on attacking people here and certainly not in any other public forum.]

I Hate Psych Meds but Medication Non-Compliance Kills

→ October 4, 2010 - 18 Comments

I have written thousands and thousands of words in this blog and elsewhere about how much I hate medication.

I hate it in the car, I hate it on a train, I hate on a boat, I hate it in the rain.
I hate it in the snow, I hate it in the sun, I hate it standing still, I hate it on the run.
I hate it before breakfast, I hate it after lunch, I hate it in the morning, I hate it during brunch.

And while I could fill an entire blog with all the ways I hate psych meds, I still, take them, everyday.

Weird you say?

(Well, yes. But no more so than the disease it treats.)

Because no matter how much I might hate psych meds, medication non-compliance kills.

It Doesn’t Matter that I Hate Meds, I Am Medication Compliant Anyway

Someone said to me that I have such conviction for a method that has been proven fruitless again and again. Well, yes, but there has been the odd pomegranate here and there. Moreover, I can’t think of anything better with which to convict, so I have to go with what has the greatest (however small) possibility of working. [push]Psych meds are backed by science and doctors and experience; not to mention my personal experience with medication where it has definitely been useful from time to time.[/push]

But I completely understand people who want off their meds. Now. Like. Now. No more medications. No more antidepressants. No more antipsychotics. No more mood stabilizers. No more tranquilizers. No more medications. Medication non-compliance. Now.

Bipolar Medication is Horrible

I get it. Psych meds are horrible. My list of psych med side effects is terrifying, even to me. Some I wouldn’t go through again no matter what. So I totally get it. Bipolar medications and side effects can all but ruin a life.

But Bipolar Medication Saves Lives

But psychiatric medication saves lives too. In fact, it may be saving your life right now, without you even knowing about it. The fact that you’re not trying to kill yourself may be thanks to the little pink pill that you take in the mornings, even though it is your least favorite part of the day.

And that’s the thing. I understand the consuming desire to excise the poison of psych meds from one’s body, but doing so can be just plain dangerous and life-threatening. All sorts of nasty things happen to people when they suddenly stop their medication. This is known as medication non-compliance and is a topic I wrote about at Breaking Bipolar.

Everything You Know About Dissociative Identity Disorder Is Wrong

→ September 30, 2010 - 8 Comments

As many of you have been waiting for, I am honored to present the Burble’s first guest post by Holly Gray, author of Don’t Call Me Cybil. If you haven’t already done so, check out Is Multiple Personality Disorder Real, and then enjoy!

My name is Holly Gray. I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. When I was diagnosed with this mental illness in 2005, all I thought I knew about DID was born of misconceptions and stereotypes. I’d never met anyone with DID. I’d never read any books or articles other than sensationalistic material that pops up in a search engine query. I couldn’t have cited an educated source for any of my supposed knowledge. A movie perhaps, a television crime drama, or a friend of a cousin’s boyfriend’s friend.

In other words, I had no legitimate knowledge of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Like any other mental illness, if your education comes from anecdotal evidence and entertainment media you’re not just uninformed, you’re misinformed.

Myths About Mental Illness: Dissociative Identity Disorder

Some common perceptions of DID are that it’s:

  • Multiple people living in one body. Not literally, no. Does that mean alters aren’t real? Far from it. They’re just as real as the various aspects of your identity. You may crassly joke about something with friends that you’d never discuss at work. Your kids, nephews or nieces may know you as composed while your lovers experience a wilder side. These different sides of your personality are all authentic. You have a multi-faceted identity. DID is an extreme manifestation of that same thing. In other words, what is multi-faceted identity for you is severely fragmented identity for those of us with DID. We feel like we’re different people in one body. But in fact, we’re an identity that is so severely fragmented that we experience ourselves and operate separately.
  • Dramatic. Dissociative Identity Disorder is designed to go undetected. Its purpose is to hide – hide information, aspects of self, experiences, feelings. Regularly flamboyant switches in personality states would undermine that purpose. Extreme stress can provoke such dramatic presentation, but even then DID doesn’t look to the causal observer like multiple personalities. To others, people with DID often appear moody or even erratic at times, but rarely as blatantly multiple.
  • Created by therapists. True DID cannot be formed in a non-dissociative person by a therapist. DID develops in early childhood when identity is highly malleable. If you’ve made it to adulthood without a dissociative disorder, you’re not going to suddenly develop DID. However, this myth wasn’t born in a vacuum. Misdiagnosis does occur. And it’s possible for a deeply confused and suggestible person, particularly one who is already severely dissociative, to begin not only to exhibit but experience many of the symptoms of DID. Are there shady therapists purposefully creating an army of multiples? No. Are there naïve or unskilled clinicians inadvertently misdiagnosing patients who then adopt the symptoms of a disorder they never really had? Sometimes, yes.

Dissociate Identity Disorder Is a Mental Illness, Not a TV Show Plot

Like most mental illnesses, Dissociative Identity Disorder is complex and many-layered. Still, full-scale research isn’t necessary to achieve a basic understanding of it. [pull]Would you let a doctor who wasn’t drained in depression treat your depression? You need a DID specialist.[/pull]

It is necessary, however, to treat information about DID the same way you would about anything else. That is to say, consider the source. Your doctor may be a competent and skilled physician. But have they ever studied DID? Have they had clinical experience treating it? Let me ask you this: if you had Bipolar Disorder, would you trust information about it from a doctor who’d never treated it or been trained to treat it? What about information from hearsay? Entertainment media? If all I knew about your mental illness was what I’ve heard on tv or from undereducated sources, would I understand it well enough to form an opinion?

Holly Gray is also the author of Dissociative Living, at HealthyPlace.com.

Doctors Should Treat the Mentally Ill Without Consent

→ August 17, 2010 - 103 Comments

Doctors Should Treat the Mentally Ill Without Consent

Recently, I’ve come across several groups on Facebook and elsewhere that claim to be for the rights of the mentally ill. They talk about defending their rights through lawsuits, funding and online campaigns. They also support the banning of a doctor’s rights to give psychotropic medication / psychiatric treatment without consent. These are either well-intentioned people with little grasp of logic or just plain anti-psychiatry nutjobs.

I admit, I fell for one of these groups on first glance. But upon further reflection and research I’ve come to the conclusion that at best, these people are well-intentioned with little grasp of logic, and at worst just plain anti-psychiatry nutjobs.

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Dimensional Diagnosis of Mental Illness

→ April 23, 2010 - 9 Comments

There is a recognition among many of us crazies, as well as the professionals that treat us, that most of us do not simple fall into one camp – we’re bipolar with a hint of ADD; we have a borderline personality disorder with depressive and psychotic features; we suffer from schizoaffective disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction mixed in. Humans are complex, and their brains even more so.

My Depression Isn’t Your Depression

And what’s more, my depression isn’t like your depression. In fact, so much so, that using the same word is almost nonsensical. I sleep 15 hours a day, but you only sleep 3. I have a successful job, but no family or friends. You have neither but participate in online support groups 10 hours a day. I think about killing myself every day but you actually plan for it once a week. You never cry but I cry all the time. Are we the same? Am I more depressed than you, or less?

And things get more complicated when you compare personality disorders and bipolar and ADD and PTSD combined with comorbid conditions like addiction. And yet somehow we’re supposed to suss this all out, find a label, and a treatment that goes with it. That’s pretty tough.

Mental Illness Doesn’t Fit in a Box

The medical community recognizes that mental illnesses frequently occur together and that each person has unique symptoms. More at Bipolar Burble blog.So some doctors would like not to put people in boxes, but to place them on continuums. You would become a multi-dimensional person, probably with severity ratings attached. So, I might be 80% bipolar, with a severity of 7/10, 10% anxiety, severity 3/10, and 10% PTSD, severity 2/10. (The scales used here are coming out of my head, not from any published source.)

And if you know mentally ill people, and you’re educated about disorders, you can see that continuums really do fit more people than boxes do. Boxes are, naturally, self-limiting.

But there are some problems here. Well, too many to count, really. First off, how would you measure how depressed a person is? Or how schizophrenic? Or how bipolar? There are many scales that have been developed for this but there is no standard as none have been proven to be wholly accurate. The scales we do have are more effective at measuring change over time, to tell if you’re getting better or worse, than objectively coming up with a score indicating how much you are of something.

Mental Illness Severity

And severity. Severity is a personal thing. If I can’t work because of a disorder, then naturally that is severe, but it can be just as severe to have nothing in your life but work. Doctors feel that planning your suicide is worse than thinking about suicide but if all you do is think about your death all day long, is that not severe? What if you cut yourself but never really suffer any grave injury, is that severe or not?

It’s personal. Severe to me probably isn’t the same as it is to you. And it probably isn’t the same from doctor to doctor either, so coming up with a measurement is rather difficult.

Mental Illness Definition

But even if we could measure how much of an illness you had, and how severe it was, and we could assign you a magic number that represented all of that, what good would it do? It doesn’t change the treatments we have available. It still doesn’t change the drugs, or the therapies, or the electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or the vagus nerve stimulator (VNS). All that remains. And as it stands now a doctor might prescribe any medication for any disorder anyway so what’s the point in being so numerically specific? Whether you’re 100% bipolar or 75% with some PTSD doctors are going to try lithium, mood-stabilizers and antipsychotics anyway. It really doesn’t matter.

I applaud a system working to recognize that we’re all different and that through standard diagnoses we almost always get it a little bit wrong, but at this point I just don’t see a way around it. Mental illness isn’t like a burn where you can measure the percentage of skin affected and burn depth. It just isn’t that simple. And maybe one day we’ll know more and we’ll be able to attach numbers to the illness of a brain but unfortunately we’re just not there yet. I suspect until we really have a biological way of identifying issues: 25% excess serotonin, not enough dopamine and so on, we’ll be stuck with the muddy mess of trying to categorize seemingly infinite variations on the human brain. Broad strokes are really the best we can do until not just something better, but something more useful, comes along.

Can’t Not Talk About Shock Therapy (Electroconvulsive Therapy, ECT)

→ March 10, 2010 - 6 Comments

I hadn’t planned on discussing my electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) experience with many people. I found it terrible, scarring, not to mention futile and immensely embarrassing; those aren’t generally feelings I like to talk about. I still find the idea of shock therapy, well, shocking. Incomprehensible. Absolutely impossible.

[Note: I am running a survey on real patients’ experiences with, and perspectives on, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). If you’ve had ECT and want your voice heard, please take the survey here. More detailed information on the ECT survey can be found here.]

Write About What You Know — I Know ECT

The problem with being a writer is that you write what you know, and you’re driven to write what plagues you most. At least I am. I can’t write about fluffy bunnies and sparkling rainbows, because these aren’t the things that occupy my conscious mind. But ECT. Ironically it erased pieces of my brain only to seemingly permanently occupy others. I’m acutely aware of its happening and yet find it completely unbelievable.

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