Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘mental health’

Does It Matter What We Say?

Words matter. I preach that all the time. Language is what gives our thoughts reality and how we make essential connections. Ideas become more concrete when they have words attached to them. It’s hard – perhaps impossible – to convey a thought without language of some kind. And how we use words is dependent on how and what we think.

Words matter. Think about how the terms “rioters” and “protesters” reveal a person’s opinions about the motivations of the people in the “mob” or “crowd.”

Words matter. Our community has been pushing back against words such as “psycho” and “crazy” when it comes to referring to people who need psychiatric help. Many people are gradually realizing that such words are equivalent to slurs and are no longer acceptable. (Except in the aftermath of violence, of course. Then, those terms are tossed around indiscriminately.)

Words matter. But how do we in the community refer to ourselves? What words are advocates using? And how do we want the general public to refer to psychiatric problems?

I’ve written before about the terms “behavioral health” (bad) and “mental illness” (better). But what’s best? Increasingly, the words du jour are “brain illness” and “brain disease.” We’re watching linguistic change in action.

But linguistic change happens at a glacial pace. Words that were used in Elizabethan England are still used today. Think about all the words and phrases that Shakespeare invented that are still used today, and with the same meanings – unreal, lonely, and green-eyed (as in jealousy), for example.

Linguistic change, on the other hand, also happens blindingly fast. Slang, tech terms, and jargon in particular appear and disappear in the blink of an eye (as it were). Think about the terms that refer to female beauty. There were times when “phat,” “fresh,” and “fly” were all applied to women. (Yes, I’m dating myself. I don’t even know what the current term is, but I bet it’ll be gone next month. At least I know that “fire” has replaced “awesome,” “boss,” and “da bomb.”)

So, where are we in the (something) community now that we’ve left “behavioral health” behind? “Mental health” was the clear frontrunner for a time. Then it was “mental illness,” then “serious mental illness.” Now the term being put forward is “brain illness” – or even “brain disease.”

I’ve talked about the implications that various words have. What are the connotations of the new terminology? “Mental illness,” as opposed to “mental health,” drives home the point that “mental health” is a euphemism. It’s not health that’s the problem – it’s the opposite of health. “Brain illness,” as opposed to “mental illness” says that the problem is not in the mind, it’s in the brain.

I think that’s a tough concept for the general public to take in. To most, the mind and the brain are synonymous. Whether that’s accurate or not is hard to say. It’s true that the brain is the physical embodiment of thought, emotion, and cognition. These things can’t exist separate from the brain. They are so intertwined that it’s hard to think of one without the other – especially for laypeople.

But “mental illness” implies that the mind – the thinking – is what is disordered. “Brain illness,” on the other hand, says that the problems lie in the functioning – the physical structure – of the brain. In my opinion, it’ll be tough sledding to make the public understand the sometimes subtle difference between the two.

Recently I saw an online post that decried the fact that advocates and professionals aren’t yet using the terms “brain illness” and “brain disease.” And there’s some truth in that. My own therapist doesn’t. But practitioners are engaged in dealing with the general public as well as those in the community. There’s something to be said for addressing those people in language they understand better. There’s the possibility that when hearing “brain disease,” most people will think “brain tumor” rather than what we are really talking about. And there’s the problem with the slowness of linguistic change.

Words matter. But so does the speed of change. Of course, if we want to change the dialogue, we need to use more accurate terms to promote our message. But it’s probably too soon to expect everyone to be on board. I’m not saying that we should give up on the process of fostering change. I am saying that we shouldn’t be beating each other up for not yet having made that progress, even among ourselves. It’s a process, and not everyone progresses at the same rate.

Incremental change is better than none. Indeed, unless you’re talking about a fad, it’s the only way change happens. And we’re not talking about a fad here. We’re talking about a fundamentally new understanding of what it means to have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and other illnesses.

That’s going to take serious time.

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The School Shooter Problem and the Mental Healthcare System

It’s been reported lately that there is a mental health crisis among young people in the US. Depression and anxiety are on the rise. Some claim they know what causes it, and some don’t. The usual suspects include social media, bullying (especially bullying on social media), academic pressure, the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation, and uncertainty about the future. Fear of and reactions to school shootings are in the mix, too. The problem has garnered interest among the people who have the capacity to address, if not actually solve, the problems.

President Joe Biden announced in his 2023 State of the Union address that the Department of Education will divvy up $240 million in grants to help schools tackle the crisis. If you average that by 50 states, it comes to around $50 million per state. A more accurate estimation considers that, since there are 16,800 school districts in the US, that, on average, each district would get roughly $141,000 for youth mental health to be spread around all the schools in each district – not really very much. That money, plus the billion dollars invested last year, is earmarked for more mental health counselors and mental health professionals in the schools.

All that is well and wonderful, but what are the problems that lawmakers want those funds to solve? Apparently, many lawmakers and public policy boffins think that preventing school shooters should be the primary goal. Identifying the kids that are likely to resort to weapons to settle their differences with schoolmates and teachers seems to them to be the most effective use of the funds. The basic debate is whether those funds should be used to identify and treat potential school shooters or help the students who are traumatized by the incidents and by the looming threat of more – prevention of violence versus reaction to the threat itself. In general, Republicans want to address finding and preventing the shooters, while Democrats seem to prefer ministering to those affected by the shootings – and enacting gun control. (I’m not getting into the gun control debate right now.)

Democratic senator Chris Murphy raised the issue in the wake of the school shooting deaths in Uvalde, Texas. “Spare me the bullshit about mental illness,” Murphy said. “We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world. You cannot explain this through a prism of mental illness because we’re not an outlier on mental illness.” Biden also played up the necessity of dealing with the repercussions of the school shootings: “Address the mental health crisis deepening the trauma of gun violence and as a consequence of that violence.”

When it comes to getting shooters into treatment, though, there are problems. Differences in opinion are rampant on whether psychological treatment can prevent school shootings. Partly, it’s a problem of anosognosia. The potential and actual school shooters do not think they have a problem – and the same can be said for many of their parents – so they’re not very likely to make it into the mental healthcare system or gain any benefit from it if they do.

Another reason is that CBT, the currently favored treatment option, really doesn’t have anything that would address the incipient violence of students who are so troubled that they think it would solve their problems of anger, isolation, revenge, desire for fame, bullying, or whatever other factors may be implicated. It’s also worth noting that many, many students are bullied, mocked, ostracized, or otherwise demeaned. The vast majority of them do not go on to become school shooters, or the problem would be worse than it already is. (Personally, I was subject to some extreme bullying in school – and had access to guns and no access to mental healthcare at the time. I never shot anyone or ever thought about it.)

Perhaps the best that can be expected of mental healthcare right now is ministering to the bereaved and the traumatized. Until or unless we come up with some way of more reliably identifying and treating potential shooters before they become actual shooters – something that has yet to be accomplished – we’ll be more adept at cleaning up the aftermath.

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Divisions in the Mental Health Community

It’s sad when communities that ought to work together for the betterment of all are divided by strife. But that’s just what has been happening in the world of mental health.

Even saying “mental health community” is controversial. There are different segments of the population who say that “mental illness” is the more accurate term. Then there are those who advocate for the term “brain illness” while advocating for adequate supports and services.

Indeed, what to advocate for is another discussion. Many people are trying to root out the stigma that goes with having a mental illness. Others say that’s a waste of time – that what is really needed is advocacy for improved treatments and more accessible services. There is, of course, the possibility that one could advocate for both, but the issue seems to be that the stop-the-stigma people are pulling focus away from those who campaign for social and political (and financial) reform. The situation seems complicated by the fact that many “It’s okay to have difficulties” promos actually promote online therapy businesses.

Then there are the different “what causes bipolar disorder?” schools of thought. For years we attributed it to a chemical imbalance – neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine not performing their job properly. Now many people think it’s caused, or at least exacerbated, by something else – heredity and genetics, environmental and lifestyle issues, or some combination of them all. Treatment with psychotropic medications, which is the most common for bipolar, tends to lend credence to the neurotransmitter theory, although it’s generally accepted that we don’t have any real idea of how they work.

The drugs used to treat bipolar and other disorders such as schizophrenia are controversial too. Many people credit them with saving their lives. Some others describe them as “neurotoxins.” One typical Facebook post said, “They are powerful, toxic drugs which can cause a chemical lobotomy and terrible adverse effects such as akathisia, dyskinesia, Parkinson’s, dystonia, and many other tortuous, real effects. Many people are left on these drugs for life.” This is one of the milder posts reacting to psychotropic meds. Many also speak of withdrawal symptoms and lives ruined. They also state that Big Pharma is partly to blame: “The sale of psychiatric drugs will continue to increase and force will still be part and parcel of psychiatry….If we have hearts we will not expect psychiatry with all its terrible past of fear, force, and fraud to understand any human being or society!”

Treatment for various disorders, particularly schizophrenia, is widely debated as well. Some people are appalled by involuntary commitment or “forced hospitalization and drugging,” while others see it as a valid procedure for anosognosia (the inability to recognize that one has an illness), as this increases potential harm to self and others. “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” or AOT, a form of supervised drug administration for those who have been released from treatment facilities is gaining adherents. Lynn Nanos’s book Breakdown: A Clinician’s Experience in a Broken System of Emergency Psychiatry makes a strong argument for AOT.

In fact, psychiatry itself is a disputed issue, and not just by Scientologists who feel that all mental illnesses are caused by whatever it is that can supposedly be cured by their practices. (You can probably tell that I don’t give any credence to their beliefs.) But psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz railed against psychiatry in books including Psychiatry: The Science of Lies and The Myth of Mental Illness. Here’s a quote from The Science of Lies:

Because there are no objective methods for detecting the presence or establishing the absence of mental diseases, and because psychiatric diagnoses are stigmatizing labels with the potential for causing far-reaching personal injury to the stigmatized person, the “mental patient’s” inability to prove his “psychiatric innocence” makes psychiatry one of the greatest dangers to liberty and responsibility in the modern world.

With divisions like these, it’s no wonder that mental illness diagnosis, treatment, and priorities are large contributors to the broken system in the United States. Is it a healthy debate? Are they irreconcilable differences? Is there something to be said on both sides? Does science back up any side or does passion prevail? And will any of these debates be resolved in the near future? I believe that until the community gets together on a lot of these issues, not much will get done that will truly help sufferers.

John Oliver Takes on the U.S. Mental Health Crisis

You’ve no doubt heard that the mental health care system in the U.S. is broken. You’ve probably experienced that for yourself. But have you heard what John Oliver had to say about it? On August 1, on Oliver’s Last Week Tonight program, the comedian/commentator devoted a full 25 minutes to examining the flaws that plague mental health care.

During the broadcast, Oliver presented appalling statistics (some of which even I had never heard before) and clips of interviews with participants in the mental health system, including people who have been affected by it, practitioners, and insurance executives. With his trademark sardonic humor, exasperated outrage, and comic zingers, Oliver deftly skewered the insurance industry and remote mental health companies, among other targets. It was an enlightening and satisfying performance.

Here are some of the highlights.

Oliver started with a flashback from the 1950s of women entering a beauty parlor (!) to receive makeovers that were supposed to solve their mental problems. “I don’t know what’s more alarming there — nurses being forced to take on the skills of a Sephora brand ambassador or the fact that ‘can make-up cure sad?’” Then he tackled the PSA on mental illness stigma featuring Harrison Ford, which was designed to make discussions of mental health “cool and trendy” and dissed the gallbladder for some reason.

Next, he went through some stats on why such a PSA was necessary – the lack of access to mental health care, particularly since “for every ten clinicians entering work in mental health clinics there, 13 leave. And if we continue at that rate, one day, we’re going to wind up with negative therapists.”

Oliver noted that nearly 85% of all psychologists are white, and ran an interview with an African-American couple. The man said that he “couldn’t find a black man to save my life,” which Oliver said was “something you expect to hear about the crowd on January 6th, or all ten seasons of “Friends.” He also played a video of another man who couldn’t find treatment. His friends said, “Everything will be fine tomorrow. Suck it up, buttercup,” a response that to him meant “a 12-pack of something or a bottle of something.”

Oliver also reported on the fact that hospital ERs are overrun, with one interviewee suffering a stay of 27 days there, and then receiving advice to go from the ER to a doctor. Oliver noted that 27 days in an ER is “not calming” and that seeking help is serious, that “you can’t just put off mental healthcare indefinitely. It’s not a check engine light.”

Some of Oliver’s most biting comments were reserved for AI programs that claim to counsel users on mental health issues. One of the free services was Woebot – “Bot as in robot and ‘woe’ as in ‘Whoa, that’s a dumb name.'” Their mascot is a robot waving a wrench (“He’s going to fix my brain with that!”). And when questioned about anxiety and lack of sleep, which affect 18% of people, the AI responded, “I can’t wait to hop into my jammies later.” Oliver also reported that when Woebot was confronted by the BBC with a test case of a 12-year-old reporting sexual abuse, it replied with the comment that it “shows me how much you care about connection, and that’s really kind of beautiful.”

He did note that teletherapy is valuable and it can fill some the gaps in care. But Oliver also highlighted investigations of sites that were “pill mills,” one of which claimed that 95% percent of their users “should get a scrip.” Noting that it was not 100%, Oliver compared it to the saying, “It’s not arson if you only burn most of a building down.”

Regarding lack of accessibility and insurance parity despite laws requiring it, the program noted that the issue was complicated by finding a provider who will take your insurance. The Labor Department has investigated only 74 claims against insurance companies in the past year (but closed only 12 of the complaints) and has issued fines only 13 times since 2017.

And insurance payments are often based on their own opinions on when a treatment is “medically necessary.” Oliver likened it to an insurance company, saying, “Imagine an insurance company reversing their decision in the middle of any other serious treatment. ‘Hey, we love how this heart surgery is going, just popping in to say, it’s done. Yeah, it’s done now. Hit the showers, everyone, great job. Don’t bother closing anything up, that’s not medically necessary.’” California, Oliver noted, requires insurers to “base medical necessity determinations on current, generally accepted standards of mental health care, instead of just making up the criteria for themselves.”

Insurance companies also have “ghost networks” that offer patients providers who aren’t taking new patients or even practitioners who have died. Phone numbers can be wrong too, some of them reaching “jewelry stores and boutiques,” which Oliver admitted that, “to be fair, if you’re a woman in the 1950s, a boutique and a jewelry store is apparently the only mental health care you need.” 

The segment ended with the statement and plea, “It can’t be the case that, when people ask for help, our only option is to tell them to ‘suck it up, buttercup.’”

We can only hope that Last Week Tonight‘s take on the U.S. mental health care system will reach its literally millions of viewers with the news that something needs to be done – and soon. You can see the whole segment at or on John Oliver’s official website, It’s definitely worth a visit.

This post originally appeared on The Mighty (

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Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Basics

I had a friend, Hal, who had Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I never met any of his alters until once we went to the corner store. He giggled. He grabbed numerous bags of chips and other snacks. When we got home, I mentioned this to him, and he said, “You just met Julie. She’s a teenage girl.” Later, I met an alter known only as The Angry Man, which is part of why we’re no longer friends.

DID, as its name says, is a dissociative disorder, one of three different kinds – Dissociative Amnesia, Depersonalization Disorder, and Dissociative Identity Disorder. DID is the most severe of the three conditions. All involve symptoms such as memory loss, “out of body” experiences, emotional numbness, and lack of self-identity. DID is thought to be a reaction to the trauma of extreme physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that occurs usually before the age of six.

Some trace the history of DID to 1584, when the records of a French woman who was exorcised recounted symptoms that today would very likely be attributed to DID. It’s likely that more cases that were actually DID have over the years been attributed to demonic possession. Later, it was seen as a form of hysteria, another disorder with dissociative symptoms.

DID really hit the big time in the 1950s through the 1970s, when the books The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil became best-sellers and were made into movies. The books, written by Corbett H. Thigpen and Flora Rheta Schreiber, respectively, were accounts from psychoanalysts about the diagnosis and treatment of DID, which was at the time called Multiple Personality Syndrome, since the disorder was notable for “alters,” or separate personalities that appeared while the primary personality was unaware that they existed. “Eve” had three alters, while “Sybil” had 16.

Since that time, both of those cases have been controversial, with exposes purporting to reveal that neither Eve nor Sybil really had multiple personalities. The theories were that either the subjects were faking the disorder, or that the doctors suggested to them via leading questions and hypnosis that they had multiple personalities. (This was related to the “repressed memory” controversy in the 1980s to 1990s, which raised many of the same issues. Healthline recently reported that “the majority of practicing psychologists, researchers, and other experts in the field question the whole concept of repressed memories. Even Freud later discovered many of the things his clients ‘remembered’ during psychoanalysis sessions weren’t real memories.”)

Still, DID is real enough to have made it into the DSM. (We should remember, though, that diagnoses of “illnesses” such as homosexuality were present in earlier editions but later removed.) There are therapists who treat it with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), medications, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and/or hypnosis, which started to be a treatment in the 1830s and is said to lead to a rapid recovery. Although hypnosis for diagnosis or treatment of DID is still controversial, it may be useful for reintegrating the alters back into the primary personality.

DID has also been used as a potential criminal defense in legal cases over the past several decades, in cases that range from drunk driving to murder. It has been used to support a plea of “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” (NGRI). This defense is used in less than 1% of felony cases and is successful in only a fraction of them. The theory that a crime was committed not by the primary personality but by one of the alters has not always proved persuasive. It’s difficult to prove, for one thing, and there are professional witnesses and psychologists who testify that either DID does not exist or that even if an alter committed the crime, the primary person is legally responsible for it. The DID defense did work in 1977 for Billy Milligan, who was said to have 24 separate personalities, two of whom were claimed to be responsible for his crimes of rape.

DID is subject to a number of myths or beliefs. For example, many people believe that DID is either nonexistent or an overdiagnosed “fad” seen only in North America. Some believe that it is caused by the doctors who treat it rather than by childhood trauma, or that it is in reality the same as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). However, there have been neuroanatomical changes recorded by MRI in cases of DID: “The neuroanatomical evidence for the existence of DID as a genuine disorder is growing and the structural differences seen in DID patients’ brains…contribute to that growth.” So, although DID is believed by some to be nonexistent, there are studies that back up its reality.

As for me, I have experienced a few mild instances of dissociation related to my bipolar disorder, but nothing even remotely like what occurs in DID. But then, I didn’t have the childhood trauma associated with it. (During the “repressed memory” days it was said that the only truthful answer to “Have you experienced extreme childhood trauma?” is “Not that I’m aware of.”) Nonetheless, I find the subject fascinating, as well as dissociation in general. (This is not intended to diminish the experiences of people who have a dissociative disorder.) But I look forward to learning more about DID, particularly the neuroanatomical changes when they become available.

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Reminders for New Year’s (and Beyond)

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I can barely plan my day, let alone the whole year. And I’m also not big on making commitments I know I can’t or won’t keep.

Instead, I remind myself of certain behaviors I think I (maybe) can accomplish and refer to the list as often as needed. Here are a few suggestions that may be appropriate reminders for you as well.

You don’t have to drink alcohol at New Year’s Eve parties. Or ever, really. No one should try to pressure you into doing this, but if they do, simply saying, “No thanks,” should be enough. If the person is really pushy, you may have to ask, “Do you have soda or fruit juice?” You are not required to explain why you don’t want to drink alcohol, and you may want to forego attending parties that do not have such non-alcoholic alternatives in the future. You don’t have to attend parties at all, and “No, I can’t make it” is a perfectly reasonable response to an invitation. Or “Maybe next year.”

You don’t have to make New Year’s resolutions per se. You can have New Year’s intentions, small goals you don’t have to announce to the world at large and that you don’t have to beat yourself up over if you don’t fulfill them. Instead of resolving to jog every day, intend to get out of doors once a week, even if it’s only to walk to the mailbox and back. Baby steps, after all.

I hate to use the word “should,” but you should keep track of your medications, reorder them if they’re getting low, and see your prescribing physician if the scripts are about to run out. That’s just common sense that’s necessary for your mental health, not a resolution. These days, you may even be able to arrange to have meds delivered.

Try to engage in a hobby once in a while. Say, once a month. It honestly doesn’t matter what the hobby is. Read a book, or even a short story or magazine article. Knit or crochet. Repot a plant. Water a plant. Do a crossword puzzle. Bake your favorite cookies, then eat them all yourself if you want to.

Keep comfort objects nearby. These can be anything that soothes you. A music playlist. A stuffed animal. A scented candle. A cozy blanket or sweater. A favorite warm beverage like cocoa or green tea. Don’t be embarrassed about using them to ground yourself. Most neurotypical people won’t even notice if you’re wearing a favorite sweater or have a scented candle lit.

You can connect with people online. This counts as interacting with people. Say happy birthday. Forward a funny meme. You don’t have to make it specific to your condition, but there are plenty of people on Facebook, for example, who have bipolar disorder or PTSD or an autoimmune disorder. You don’t even have to interact with them. You can join a group, then just sit back and see what others post there.

Avoid triggers, if you can. That judgmental aunt. Your creepy cousin. Your boastful neighbor. Again, you have the right to say no and not explain why. (It’s the not explaining that’s the hardest.) Don’t watch movies that you find upsetting, whether it’s Die Hard or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (which many people don’t like because of the implicit bullying).

Write about how you feel, if you want to. It could be a mood journal, a regular journal, a letter that you will never mail, a poem. Don’t feel that you have to show it to anyone. Tear it up afterward, if you want to.

You don’t have to face the new year as a whole. If you must have resolutions, resolve to get through the next week or even the next day.

Make an appointment with your therapist. Many therapists are offering tele-visits these days, so it’s easier than ever just to touch base or to work through a problem, a trigger, or feeling overwhelmed.

In other words, do whatever you can to get you through the next day, week, month, or season. The year will take care of itself, whether you make resolutions or not.


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Bipolar Questions and Answers

Have you heard of Quora? It’s like a crowd-sourced online question and answer center, where anyone can ask questions on practically any topic and request an answer from a specific person, or leave it up to whoever wants to answer.

I’ve used it myself for answers to questions about Ireland and about gardening. But since my Quora “credential” says that I have bipolar disorder and have written two books on the subject, I get questions about bipolar (and other mental health topics), usually several a day. Some I can’t answer. Some have already been answered. But I answer a couple every day. I consider it part of my goal of spreading information about mental health wherever and whenever I can.

Here are some of the types of questions I’ve been asked and how I answered them. Maybe they’ll help some of my readers as well.

What is the best medication to take for bipolar?

This one is the question most commonly asked, and it is easy to answer. I don’t know which medication is right for you. Only you and your psychiatrist can figure that out, basically through trial and error. It may take a while to settle on a med or combination of meds will work for you with the maximum effects and the fewest side effects.

I am thinking of quitting my meds, as I don’t feel I need them anymore or am having bad side effects.

DO NOT DO THIS. There are dangers in going cold turkey, not the least of which is withdrawal symptoms. Work with your psychiatrist. She/he can help you decide whether it’s a good idea to quit a medication. If going off a med is a reasonable idea, your psychiatrist will help you do it safely, most likely tapering off on the med you are on and possibly ramping up on a med that works better or has more tolerable side effects.

Besides, meds for bipolar are supposed to make you feel better – but it’s not a one-time thing. You have to keep taking them to keep feeling “better.” And if you go off a med and then decide to go back on it, it may not work as well.

Would bipolar disorder be eradicated if everyone came from a loving, stable home?

Sadly, no. While bipolar disorder may have a genetic component and may run in families, it can affect any person in any family. I had the most stable, loving family you can imagine, and here I am with bipolar 2.

What causes bipolar disorder?

The jury’s still out on that. Some people will tell you the cause is genetic. Others will say it is caused by deficiencies or overproduction of chemicals and receptors in the brain. Still others will say that trauma, especially childhood trauma, can cause bipolar disorder. Personally, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it could be any one of them, or any combination of the three.

How do I help a family member with bipolar disorder?

First, you may be able to help them manage their disorder. In the early stages, you can perhaps help them find a psychiatrist, drive them to appointments, pick up their medication, and so forth. Be supportive. Tell the person that you love them and hope they feel better soon. (They may not respond to you at the time, but later they will remember who stood by them and helped them.)

You can also help by helping the person practice self-care. Provide an environment that contains the things that comfort and help ground them – comfort food, soothing objects such as blankets or pillows, favorite scents, or even stuffed animals. Encourage them to bathe or shower and facilitate that: Have clean towels available and clean clothes or pajamas ready to wear. Make sure there is soap and shampoo handy.

For persons in the manic phase of the illness, you can accompany them when they go out, try to help keep them centered on projects at home, try to help them when it comes to overspending or other reckless behavior. Again, remind them that you love them and will be there for them now and when they feel better.

How do I deal with a narcissistic, bipolar boss?

You can’t know that your boss really has a personality disorder or a mood disorder unless you have read their medical files, which is illegal. They may have narcissistic traits or change their mind frequently (which is not the same as having bipolar disorder). You basically have two choices: Put up with it or quit. You will not be able to change your boss’s behavior.

I’m afraid my parents will find out I have bipolar disorder.

If you are underage, you can probably not hide it from them. It’s not a good idea to delay treatment until you are of legal age, though. You can ask your family practice physician to recommend a good psychotherapist or psychiatrist. You can ask your school counselor to help you find help. There are telephone and text hotlines. The best bet may be to talk to your family about it, in a quiet, low-stress environment and explain what bipolar disorder is and why you believe you have it. Their responses may surprise you.

Will I be bipolar for the rest of my life?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Bipolar disorder is not a disease like cancer that can in some cases be cured. It’s more like diabetes or asthma, in that you will have to live with it, cope with it, and have treatment for it, most likely for the rest of your life.

But it’s not a thing to be feared. If you have the proper support, such as therapy and sometimes medications, you can live a fulfilling, “normal” life, and accomplish many if not all your goals. I have bipolar disorder and have completed grad school; have a loving, stable marriage; own my own home; and do paid work. You are not tied to a future of despair or fears or bad effects.

Keep trying.

Following My Moods

When I was a teen and undiagnosed with bipolar disorder, I had a weird reaction to people around me – I would pick up their moods and personalities and found myself mimicking them. I suppose it was a way for me to try on other personalities that I might someday integrate into my own, when I was stable enough to do so.

When I was a little older, I began journaling, which quickly turned into blogging. My journals were repetitive and boring, consisting mostly of “Felt depressed. Went to post office.” It didn’t seem helpful to me, though I know journaling is helpful to a lot of people. It helps them express what is happening to them and how they feel about it. In that way, it’s like a diary. Going back over a journal after, say, a year or so of writing (not necessarily every day) can help a person track their moods and their triggers. People can note their physical surroundings and emotional response and note whether seasons or weather, food and drink, interactions with certain persons, or other life circumstances have an effect on their moods and can help identify events that bring on depression or mania.

There are variations of this. One friend of mine used Facebook as his “diary.” He would look back through a year of his posts and conversations to determine when depression had struck him (there were fewer posts during those time periods).

In my own case, my husband and I have noticed that our moods follow each other’s. When I am depressed for a few weeks, he becomes depressed, too. When I am hypomanic, his mood lifts and he finds more joy in his own life. We do things together, like baking or watching our favorite TV shows together or going for day-long or even weekend getaways.

The same is true the other way around. When Dan is depressed or angry or just plain surly, I find it extremely difficult to maintain even a level mood. His mood creeps in and takes over mine. I sometimes try to maintain a level mood when this happens, but it is very difficult. I find myself struggling not to lose whatever peace or joy I have. I find myself frustrated by his depression or annoyance, to the point where I want to tell him to snap out of it. (I try not to do this. It doesn’t help anyway.)

If we both hit lows at the same time, or experience anger simultaneously, it gets fairly ugly. That’s when we fight, or both retreat to our rooms, or spend time away from each other, indulging in our own pursuits. Admittedly, such contemporaneous moods don’t hit very often, but when they do, it’s hell.

Both of us have learned techniques to respond to these “following” or simultaneous moods. We generally need more space or alone time. We ask each other for what we need and if the other is able to give it (hugs, for example). We offer what we are able to do, if there is indeed anything we realize might help.

Mostly, though, we just wait for the moods to pass and for both of us to return to a level state. I continue taking my meds and writing my blogs.

Interestingly, it was my husband who first noticed these “following” moods. Over the years, he has become pretty perceptive about both our feelings. It may help that he has studied and even worked in psychological settings for a while (no, that’s not where we met), but I think his real education has been living with me for almost 40 years. In all that time, you begin to notice patterns.

At one time my blogs did record my day-to-day (or week-to-week) feelings and actions. Sometimes they still do. But anymore, I find myself exploring other aspects of bipolar disorder and mental illness in general. I don’t believe I’ve said all there is to say about my feelings and symptoms, but this blog has allowed me to stretch out and consider the wider world of mental health.

Apparently, my husband is getting better at it too.

Simone Biles: Mental Health Is Health Too

There’s been a lot of media interest lately in Simone Biles. The gymnast described by many as the Greatest of All Time withdrew from the Olympics, citing mental health reasons. Many news outlets and commenters have been understanding, but some have not. A Texas Deputy Attorney General, for example, called Biles a “selfish, childish national embarrassment,” which he apologized for six hours later. A podcaster called her “weak,” and said that her performance showed that “when things get tough, you shatter into a million pieces.” After Biles pulled out, the team won a silver medal, with the Russians getting the gold.

Many have compared Biles with Kerri Strug, who performed the vault in the 1996 Olympics, despite having an injured leg. At the time she was praised for her courage and strength, although it turned out that the American Women’s Gymnastic Team would have won the gold even without Strug’s dramatic vault.

Biles’s situation and its comparison with Kerri Struggs serves to reinforce the idea that only physical injuries are “real” and that talking about and acting on mental health matters is not acceptable. Yes, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has talked about his struggle with depression, but only after the Games were over. It was brave of him to talk about it, but he received little to no backlash after deciding to talk openly about depression and suicidal ideation.

As in so many other situations, mental health and mental disorders are considered less “real” than physical disorders. And the pressure put on athletes and Olympic athletes in particular can be a factor in damaging their mental health. Athletes have long been encouraged to “play through the pain,” even when that results in severe physical injury. Few have considered how playing through psychological pain affects athletes.

Added to the stress of competition and the pressures of fans, parents, and coaches to succeed, many athletes have suffered through physical and sexual abuse. Simone Biles has commented that she is part of the #MeToo movement that has brought attention to previously unrecognized instances of sexual harassment and exploitation. In a lengthy tweet, Biles revealed that she was one of the victims of team physician Larry Nasser, who is now in jail following over 100 counts of such behavior. “As I continue to work through the pain,” Biles tweeted, “I kindly ask everyone to respect my privacy. This is a process, and one that I need more time to work through.” She could have tweeted the same thing regarding her recent mental health problems.

Another factor in the language surrounding Biles’s decision to remove herself from the Olympic competition is how many people talk about how she personally denied “us” a gold medal (as if all Americans were in contention for the medal) or ceded the victory to the Russians. Ideological matters ought not to be a point of discussion regarding an athlete’s mental health. But they are. People forget that the Olympic Games are just that – games. Too much patriotic fervor is whipped up based on the outcome and the international goodwill of the Games has been lost.

Along with the fact that an amazing athlete was strong enough not to let the pressures of competition further affect her mental health. Simone should be praised for her decision, not called weak and childish.

On the Mind and the Body

The mind and the body are inseparable, part of the same organism. You can’t have one without the other. And each affects the way the other works.

Triggers are a good example. You see (or read) or hear or smell or touch something that unlocks an emotion in your brain. You then have a visceral reaction to that feeling – sweating, shaking, nausea, panic flight, or another physical manifestation.

These reactions are most commonly seen in severe PTSD and trauma related to abuse, but they can happen in less severe circumstances as well. Even something as seemingly innocent as tickling can put the brain in command of a bodily sensation. For example, once I was tickled to the point of pain, with the other person refusing to stop when I pleaded for him to. Ever since, my reaction to tickling is both physical and mental. My brain tells my body to shut down the physical sensation of touch. That may seem – and is – comparatively mild, and I don’t want to diminish the experiences of people suffering with PTSD and reactions to trauma. But it shows how my body and brain interact, almost in a feedback loop.

In circumstances like these, the body signals the brain and the brain tells the body how to react. It’s not like a person can choose whether to be traumatized or not by a trigger. The brain takes over.

Lately, I’ve been facing a fairly deep depression and have faced a lot of things that are triggers for me – financial problems, relationship troubles, overwork, etc. I’ve been feeling the bodily lethargy, exhaustion, psychic numbness, and neurasthenia that come with depression. These certainly affect my body, making me twitchy and nervous and unable to sleep (or to sleep too much), or unwilling or unable to face the world outside, some of the more noted hallmarks of depression and anxiety.

But after a recent visit to my primary care physician, I began to wonder if my body was influencing my brain in a rather direct way. Of course, before I got to see the physician, I had to fill out the depression screener, and as usual, I underplayed my symptoms by a bit. After all, I’m already under a psychotherapist’s and a psychiatrist’s care for it. It’s to be expected if I don’t present as all cheery and “normal.”

After chatting with the doctor about my symptoms (most, I thought, related to growing older), he ordered a bunch of tests for me. I’m to have a mammogram, a ColoGuard test, a bone scan to check my bone density, and had a whole bunch of blood tests.

The mammogram and bone scan I’ve scheduled, though they couldn’t work me in until September. (Evidently there is a lot of pent-up demand for hospital-based testing, as the hospitals weren’t doing non-elective stuff during the pandemic.)

Then the results started coming in. White and red blood cells, okay. Liver function, okay. Glucose and triglycerides, okay. Nearly everything within parameters.

I say “nearly” because I got a call from the doctor’s office saying that he wanted to double my thyroid medication. I had been taking a small amount, but now he figured I needed more.

I looked up the symptoms of hypothyroidism on the Mayo Clinic website, which seems trustworthy. They noted that that the condition may be attributed by the patient to growing older. I definitely noticed those: sensitivity to cold, muscle weakness or aches, and joint pain, all of which I feel.

Then there were other symptoms, which I had attributed either to my psychiatric diagnosis (bipolar II) or to the medications I take for it: fatigue, weight gain, thinning hair, impaired memory, and the biggie – depression.

Between the two sets of symptoms, I could see that the doctor had good reason to suspect my thyroid was out of whack and to prescribe an increased dose of the medication. I am now taking the higher dose and waiting to see what happens.

But it struck me: Maybe my symptoms were a combination of bipolar disorder and thyroid hormone deficiency. Maybe my body was trying to tell me something – that not all the symptoms I feel were caused by my glitchy brain. Maybe some of them were caused by my glitchy thyroid.

I have not been taking the new dosage long enough to see any effects, but I have hope. Perhaps, if and when the new dose kicks in, I will feel less of the lethargy, hopelessness, and other attributes of bipolar disorder.

Maybe my brain and my body have conspired to make me feel the way that I do. Maybe there is some relief to be had from treating my body with hormones, rather than just my brain with psychotropics. Maybe I’m not spiraling down into depression as thoroughly as I thought I was. Maybe a little tweak in my medication will help me to feel better.

Maybe if my body problems get worked out, my brain problems will not assert themselves so aggressively.

It is devoutly to be hoped.

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