Reprinted from "Self-Management" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, 1(18), p. 21
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." — Reinhold Niebuhr
'We have diagnosed you with bipolar mood disorder…' so began the doctor's first words to me upon our second meeting. His words were both a revelation and a double-fisted punch in the face.
On the one hand, the discovery of this illness means it partly explains why I had 'progressed' through so many jobs. On the other hand, it was initially a shock to my identity.
While I won't go into embarrassing details, it appears to me that my erratic behaviour and poor judgment led to some job losses. The good news is that after several years of struggle, I have been correctly diagnosed and can now take steps to deal with the illness.
Bipolar illness or manic-depressive illness is a disorder in which an individual experiences extreme mood swings. The individual can be happy or experience elevated moods, and also experience low and depressive states. It is estimated that one to two per cent of the population suffers from some form of bipolar disorder.1
The most extreme cases of elation and increased activity are described by the term mania.
Some symptoms of mania are:
- euphoric or elevated mood
- increased energy
- decreased need for sleep
- lack of inhibitions
- accelerated thinking, usually accompanied by lack of judgement
- grandiose thoughts2
While we cannot be in complete control of how we behave, I believe we can be in better control of our emotions. Some ways that help me maintain self-control are:
Reducing stressors that trigger symptoms. Stressors can be any number of variables that can trigger an incident: coffee, the amount of work that has to be done daily, time limits, and so forth.
Taking medicine regularly and in the correct dosage. Many relapses occur because the person stops taking the medicine! When I first starting taking lithium, I was tempted not to take it because of that first phase of feeling 'flat' or drugged out. However, after a month on lithium, I found that my normal emotions returned and the robotic mood subsided.
Recognize the symptoms and take appropriate action. Have an emergency plan ready to implement when you are becoming ill. Since I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I have read several books and numerous pamphlets on this subject. I speak to doctors, nurses and social workers as well as friends and family, in order to get their sense of my mood. I also monitor my own mood. For instance, I sometimes experience a mixed mood where I feel irritable and snappish to people, almost to the point of rage. Knowing this, when I speak to someone in person, I try to look them in the eye and speak calmly. I try to see a human being rather than a target for my rage. Mostly, this action succeeds, for the rage is only a temporary feeling. Also, I speak to the doctor about getting my medication adjusted.
Another way to maintain self-control that's worked for me is to listen to motivational tapes, such as the ones by Og Mandino, Anthony Robbins and Steven Covey. The latter in his tape, The power of the seven habits, notes that an effective person is proactive and takes responsibility for their life. One is not a product of their genetic makeup, even though it may be a powerful influence.
In summary, there can be a number of ways to manage bipolar disorder. Drug therapy, counseling and mood disorder support groups are only some of the ways to combat this illness, but bipolar illness can be effectively managed using the kinds of strategies that have worked for me.
About the author
Erika is in her early forties, from the Lower Mainland, and has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder
- DePaulo, J. R. (2002). Understanding depression. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
- Bartha, C., Kitchen, K., Parker, C. & Thomson, C. (2001). Depression and bipolar disorder: Family psychoeducational group manual. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.