Never Give Up: Getting Better When You Have Bipolar Disorder

 

I’ve been suicidal thousands of times over the past 20 years. I know, that is a shocking sentence! My first suicidal episode was in 1983. My most recent suicidal episode was two weeks ago. I’ve been depressed all of my adult life off and on and the mania… well, let’s just say that for many years I let my mania slide a bit due to how much I got done when the euphoria was raging. I started having dysphoric manic episodes later in life and as I’ve matured, the anxiety is much worse.  You would think this would all get me down, but I can be honest with you and say that when I focus on managing this complicated illness and truly focus on having a stable life, I am usually a happy person. 
This was not alway the case. I was very sick for many years and never thought I would find relief, but I did.  I’m interested in you. How much happiness can you find in life when the bipolar is a regular companion? I want to share what I do to find happiness and stability despite my daily mood swings.  Maybe my 20 years of managing this illness can help you or a loved one keep going when hope feels impossible.  I’ll start with my mindset. 
I learned to separate my real personality from bipolar. I didn’t know who I was for a long time as I have rapid cycling and my stable self rarely stayed around for long. So I went looking for my SELF. Who was I when not depressed, manic, anxious or psychotic? The results surprised me. I found that I was goofey, laid back and not overly concerned with the behaviors of others. My bipolar symptoms created an opposite persona and for many years I thought I was weepy, lonely, obsessive and suspicious or out of control drunk and man crazy.  Nope. It was the illness. I think of it this way- how can we know what stability feels like if we don’t figure out who we are outside of bipolar? My first challenge for you is to find your real self and then make that your goal in life. This is your baseline and will help you know when you are sick. For example, when I get the feeling that everyone is out to get me and life is hard, I know that this is not my real self. This is illness. It means I have to stop what I’m doing and treat bipolar. It doesn’t mean I send a mean message to someone I feel is harming me! This helps me stay focused on management instead of self flagellation for behaviors I find embarrassing in myself. 
Next, I focus on relationships with stable people who can show you how the other side lives. I can’t be around a lot of ill people. It triggers my illness. Instead, I cultivate relationships with incredibly stable people. What does stability look like in others? They are fair, open minded and they rarely change how they act. Consistency is key. Then, I started asking questions.  One of my closet friends is my litmus test for the emotional lives of people without bipolar. I’ve learned that they of course get upset, but not like we do. 
Stable people teach me how to determine if what I am experiencing is a normal emotional reaction to an event or a bipolar reaction.
For example, I watched a friend go through a horrific breakup. She didn’t get suicidal, didn’t think of harming herself or others and didn’t stay sad for a few years as I have done after a breakup. She was in pain, but it was within a realistic reaction to the situations. Through her,  I have also learned what ecstatic happiness looks like vs. euphoric mania and how people deal with losing a job, moving and traveling. Oh wow, they do NOT go through what we go through. This helps me determine when I need to process real emotions such as grief or jealousy versus when I need help for bipolar disorder. 
I can’t tell you that life is easy when you have bipolar, but I can tell you that it can get a lot easier. I know what makes me sick. I know who makes me sick. I know what meds work and don’t work. I know my SELF. This is my goal for you as well. 

Julie 

How to Stop an Anxiety Mood Swing in the Middle!

Are you the middle of a mood swing? Do you want it to stop? Let’s do this together.

1. Identify the mood swing. Is is depression, mania, psychosis, anxiety, irritation and anger or a focus issue?

2. Is there an obvious trigger?

3. Have you experienced this before?

4. If yes, what didn’t work in the past to get you out of the mood swing?

5. If yes, what did work to get you out of the mood swing?

That is always my first stage plan… what is actually going on?

I will do this process with my current mood swing:

I’m outside at one of my favorite work spots. I came here to work. I can’t work.

1. It is anxiety. I know the signs. Shortness of breath. A slight feeling of fear. Worry that I will never get this project done. Feeling worthless and dumb for not being able to work. Cold. Shakey. Frustrated. Upset.

2. Is there a trigger- yes, it is 100% the sample chapter I am writing for my book proposal.

3. Have I experienced this before? Oh heck yes and I am SICK of it. But, I now know that the book project is a trigger. For awhile, I was worried I was simply having more anxiety in life in general. This is not the case. The anxiety is specific to this project- so it’s moving into the territory of being a phobia.

4. What didn’t work in the past? Forcing myself to work when I can’t. Being mean to myself. Deconstructing my work problems. Being mean to myself… being mean to myself. Getting down on myself. Asking What on earth is wrong with you Julie! Sitting in the same place and trying to work when I can’t. Forcing myself to do something that is not possible.

5. What did work? Breathing. I realize I am hunching my shoulders, my mouth is pinched.. I’m upset and it is surely on my face. I probably look like an angry woman and I’m not. I will take a pic of my face right in this anxious moment.

I am now going to breathe. As Anthony Robbins often says- how we hold our body affects our mood. I am going to release my shoulders. Think of the movie I’m seeing this afternoon. Smile when I don’t feel like it. I’m doing some tapping on my relaxing points.

Breathe and let’s see the difference.

We can stop mood swings in the middle. It will at least put us on a different path to a better afternoon and evening.

Julie

World Bipolar Day is Here! Yay!

We have come so far. In 1995, there was confusion on whether to call this illness #manic depression or #bipolar disorder. Now we have a #WorldBipolarDay. This is progress! #BipolarStrong

 

#WorldBipolarDay Julie A. Fast Q&A: Bipolar Disorder Hypersexuality vs. Trauma

Julie, I used to look back on some things and simply think they were signs of me acting out because of childhood sexual abuse but, in hindsight, it also looks a lot like manic phases and the risky behaviour associated with that. Is it possible to distinguish between the two or is it more a case of the two colliding and the severity of the episode? N. 

Hi N.  I’m going to get on my soap box here. We talk so much about trauma today- and that is very, very important, but I can’t stress this enough. Bipolar disorder is not and never has been trauma based. Our hyper sexuality is NOT from abuse. There is an enormous difference from acting out due to sexual abuse and the hyper sexuality that comes with bipolar and I am so glad you asked this question in the way you did… it is easy to tell the difference.

Mania is mania. It is not about abuse and it will always look the same. You can’t have mania without a change in energy which means a change in sleep.

Let’s deconstruct this so that the whole trauma vs. bipolar issue can be talked about rationally.

Mania doesn’t change. Yes, a person can be hyper sexual during a mania, but they will always, no exceptions have other signs of mania as well. For example, when I am hyper sexual during a euphoric manic episode, I will always be full of energy without needing to sleep. No exceptions. There is no mania with tiredness. This is not insomnia. This is literally not needing to sleep. This fuels the hyper sexuality. I will talk more rapidly, be goal oriented and I will look manic. My judgement will be off in all areas of life, not just the sexuality. So, I will not be able to deal with my job and be hyper sexual. I will be hyper sexual at my job as well as at da club!

I know a bit about sexual trauma behaviors simply from my past work and can say that acting out sexually from trauma does not look like mania. It looks like acting out sexually. Being overly sexual is not the same thing as manic hyper sexuality.

Young people who are abuse will have changes in sexual behavior, but they will not be manic.

Your question is excellent because yes, you have a dilemma if you don’t deconstruct the past with a knowledge of what mania actually looks like.

If you were hyper sexual due to mania, you would have other signs of mania- climbing out the window at 2 AM to meet someone and then sneaking back home and not being tired the next day is more like mania. Not being guilty at all is mania. NO SHAME is mania.

If you are hyper sexual and are doing this due to abuse, the emotions and fall out of your behavior will be different. You will feel shame and self loathing or defiance or any emotion that might show up from being abused.

We don’t have these emotions when manic and hyper sexual. We are ANIMAL. All amygdala. There is no connection between mania and abuse in my opinion.

Now, if you have mania already and then are sexually abused, can it affect the mania. Of course it can. But then we are talking about triggers and not the origin of hyper sexuality.

Let me know if this helps and feel free to ask me more specific questions if needed!

Bipolar is an illness. Trauma is a situation. They are treated differently. Good luck to you.

Julie

#WorldBipolarDay #BipolarStrong

World Bipolar Day with Julie A. Fast

#WorldBipolarDay  means that I can talk openly about my illness. It’s just an illness. We are not weird. We are not freaks. We have a genetic illness. But wow, it sure is hard to manage! We need help and your understanding. That’s for sure! It’s great working with The International Bipolar Foundation and talking about #BipolarStrong. We can be honest about what we experience. Julie

 

Why I Keep Taking My Bipolar Medications

  
A friend of mine with bipolar one just had to up her Latuda due to paranoid psychosis. She was really trying to make it on a lower dose, but had to face the reality of her psychotic symptoms. I am so proud of her for being able to take care of herself.  

 Another online friend went off her meds and wrote,  “I was doing so much better! I thought I didn’t need them.” The interesting thing is that she’s a doctor! No matter how educated we are or how smart we are, bipolar disorder can still trick us regarding medications.    

When the meds are working long term , it’s hard to feel them working.  The mind often says, “You’re doing well today. It won’t matter if you just skip a dose. Opening all of those pill bottles is such a bother.”

This is not the voice of reason! The voice of reason reminds us of what life was like before I had my depression better controlled by medications- or before my friend had her Latuda. 

Please know that I am not dumb. I hate the side effects too and I can’t take many medications, but the ones I can tolerate, I use. If you can take meds with limited side effects, you are one of the lucky ones. I don’t like Big Pharma. I am not a fan of a medications only approach, but I am not stable enough without meds. I need them and I take them even when I don’t want to.

Meds work.  They don’t take away all of my symptoms- but they help. I wrote the Health Cards to help myself survive and they work, but I need medications as well.   I still have to manage the illness daily – but it’s a lot easier now.

If you’re struggling with your meds, don’t give up. It took me a long time to find the right one for myself, but I’m so glad I kept trying.  I now use the med as part of my overall treatment plan. I’m doing a lot better these days, that’s for sure. 

Julie