(By the way, the link to my writings on Bipolar Disorder, A Bipolar Life, has been wrong all this time. I believe I have fixed it.)
I am not a medical doctor; my primary care physician would be delighted to hear me admit this. After having a disorder for 60 years, however, one begins to know things. Just to be safe, though, I will preface all of this with the caveat that, what I am about to say applies to me, and may not be true for other people.
Bipolar disorder (for me) is primarily an energy disorder. (I thank my former psychiatrist for explaining the energy disorder view, to me.) Tendencies to be brilliant and creative or, conversely, financially irresponsible, when manic, depend on circumstances. If I am working as a programmer, I create highly-efficient and complex algorithms and code at lightning speed. Likewise, at the bottom end of a cycle, I can be sad, lacking in faith or hope, or even suicidal, if circumstances are dire or weighing heavily on me. If circumstances are okay, my down times find me tired, disinterested, or vegetative…but not despairing or suicidal; My energetic times find me getting my housework done, easily and cheerfully. If I’m in high energy state, I can clean all night.
This perspective on the bipolar condition gives me a vantage point from which to address ‘mood swings’ with strategies that do not include medication…as long as I remain aware. For example, if I am full of energy, exuberant, optimistic, and the future looks only bright, I need to stay home and off of the retail web sites. At those times, my high energy and optimism flies on ahead without consideration of budget and ramifications. Mania does not cause me to over-spend; it obscures or glosses-over the reality of my limited resources. In truth, my mood is not swinging, my pocketbook is.
Conversely, if I am sad, depressed, and see no hope in my future, there is truth behind my emotions. A year ago, I saw no change, no improvement, in my prospects. The shock of losing my job last summer, however, put me in the hospital for a week and a half, during which time I entertained the idea of change and possibilities. My children are now launched and so am I. I am comfortable, secure, have a lot of (but not too much) hope and optimism about my life here at 5022 and so, when I am swinging through a low-energy period, I am merely low on energy.
Interestingly, other ailments seem to follow the energy cycles, as well. I had severe IBS before being diagnosed bipolar. When I started taking the correct medication for the bipolar disorder, the IBS leveled-off and has seemingly, gone away. (An aside: when I was put on the wrong medication for me, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, not just by symptoms; I had the tell-tale type of tissue present in my intestines. Colonoscopies since then, have shone no such tissue.)
Another disorder, that I still suffer from, that also follows the swings of energy level, is fibromyalgia. When I am in a low energy state, I usually also hurt all over. (I have been carefully diagnosed; I have the usual overly-sensitive places on my body, typical of the disorder.) If the low energy state lasts long enough, accompanied by the seemingly-constant pain of fibromyalgia, I can get discouraged, and feel without hope…the result, a depressed mood. Chronic pain can bring on disappointment and a loss of hope or faith, in anyone.
Bipolar disorder does not make me sad or depressed; it is the lack of energy that I need to deal with stressful situations, or need in order to concentrate, or need to be creative that is what makes me sad.
My strategy (for me, remember) is to be aware of my circumstances and my energy. Some activities or tasks are better left for a ‘higher-energy’ day. Shopping is better left for those in-between days when my energy level is not too high or too low. (In fact, I have been known to buy things that are not necessary out of anger or in defiance of my low-energy state.)
In my personal essays on A Bipolar Life, I suggest many other strategies that I used before I looked at Bipolar Disorder as an energy thing. I believe they are still relevant, but seeing the disorder as an energy issue removes the common, yet unwarranted and damaging viewpoint that Bipolar Disorder is a character flaw…that bipolar people are bad people. (I will go so far as to add that if a bipolar person is dangerous or destructive to others, there is something else going on in addition to the bipolar disorder….in spite of what Hollywood may lead you to believe.)
I have chosen to wean myself off of bipolar medications. At one point, I was taking 3 or 4 different bipolar medications, along with others prescribed to address side-effects, as a “cocktail,” a commonly used term describing the mixture of a variety of ingredients taken together toward the desired result. I have had to stop most of my medications over the last 2 to 3 years, under close medical supervision, because of adverse effects of taking those medications over a long period of time. Then, once I began moving (and my prospects improved), I weaned myself off of the final medication, over a 6-week period. I avoid energy influencing foods and drinks (like sugar and caffeine), avoid artificial flavors and colors, and eat foods and take supplements known to be good for nerves, blood sugar, and brain function. Adequate sleep and exercise are crucial, as well.
Again, I am not a doctor; I don’t even play one on TV. But, and this is a BIG BUT, when I prayed to Jesus, directly, to heal me of Bipolar Disorder, I believe one aspect of His healing was to show me how to look at my energy and my circumstances as separate factors which work in compound to affect my feelings, thoughts, and behavior. My energy swings have been easily recognizable and manageable since praying to Him. And He has encouraged me to pass along to others what I have observed for myself. I hope this is encouraging if not helpful to others who suffer with the disorder. Like a medical doctor (which I am not) it is my intention to “Do No Harm…” and to God be the Glory.