Three Ways out of a Bipolar Disorder Jam: Julie writes for Bp Magazine

I love writing for Bp Magazine for Bipolar Disorder. Here is a blog on the topic of getting out of a mess created by bipolar disorder.

Getting yourself out of a bind created by bipolar disorder symptoms is a good place to start if you need to rebuild your life.

Ok. It happened. You got sick and did something stupid. Maybe you broke up with someone you actually love. Possibly you said something out of line to a friend or came on to a married co-worker at an office party.  For many people, a long, long line of out of character behaviors often leads to a much-needed bipolar disorder diagnosis. For others, ineffective management leads to continual mistakes that lead to trouble in relationships and life in general. We can find ourselves in a perpetual bipolar disorder jam where life is difficult and hope is hard to fine.

This illness is rough on our lives. Getting yourself out of a rut created by bipolar disorder symptoms is a good place to start if you need to rebuild your life after making mistakes due to mood swings.

I often feel that getting myself upright is a daily occurrence. I have the type of bipolar that is ever-present.  Juggling my dreams and desires while trying to manage a brain that wants to knock me over is extremely tiring.  My goal in life is finding harmony between myself, my brain and my environment. I have found this difficult, but I can tell you the positive news that overall, it is working. Healing the self has proven to be my greatest tool.  I want to share this for you if you find yourself in bipolar jams and want a way out of the problem………….

 

Bipolar Disorder Check-in Quiz:  How is your mood right now?

Bipolar Disorder Check-in Quiz:  How is your mood right now?

The following quiz was created by Julie A. Fast for people with bipolar disorder to check their current mood. Please answer the quiz using your stable mood behavior as a base.  One (1) means that you are stable relating to the question,  two (2) you have mild symptoms, three (3) means you are moving towards illness, four (4) means you are not doing well but can still deal with things on your own and with help of others, five (5) means that you are not doing well at all and are worried about your behavior and need immediate help.


This quiz tells you how you are right now and can be used as a regular check in each month. Explanations of your total numbers are at the end of the quiz along with treatment suggestions.  Ludvig will take the quiz with you. Good luck. I hope your score is super low!

1. Sleep 7-9 hours a day with or without sleep aid and feel rested when you wake up.  

2. Work with ease. Able to sit still, follow a schedule and reach your goals. 

3. Patient with the people in your life and those in public.

4. Keep up with meds. Taking them regularly and on schedule. 

5.  Feel safe in the world and know that no one is out to get you.

6. You have thoughts of killing yourself.

7. Creativity is at baseline instead of elevated.

8. You have hopeful thoughts about the future.

9. Calmly face situations without elevated breathing and feeling there is something wrong.

10. Drug, alcohol, food and caffeine consumption are not at an abuse level.

Add your numbers and use the following chart to measure your current bipolar disorder mood.

1-10  You are doing well. Stick with what is working and regularly check in to make sure you stay stable. Ask yourself, what am I doing that works? How do I maintain this behavior?

10-20  There may be one area where you’re having trouble- identify the area and make the changes. If you are in this level in general- it’s not a bad place to be. Increased management using the tools you have can move you back to true stability.

20-30 This is where you can go either way. If you’re at the 30 level, changes are needed.  This is the time to add new treatment tools and talk with others about how they can help you get back to stability.

30-40 This is where bipolar disorder starts to get dangerous. Sometimes the symptoms are masked and you think it’s your fault because you can’t get your act together. Mania may be just strong enough for you to think things are fine even though others are worried about you. You may be thinking of stopping your meds, are missing meds or have gone off meds. The depression is strong, but not yet actively suicidal. There is so much that happens at this level.

40-50  You need immediate help- from yourself, others and medications. This ranking means that bipolar is currently stronger than you are. It may be in one area or evenly in all areas. No matter what, ask yourself what triggers are increasing symptoms. Do you need to call your doctor, go to the hospital, get your meds back on track or get your plan out for a review? Who can you ask for help?


What each question represents:

1) Changes to sleep due to mania, depression, a trigger or medications.

2) Agitation, ADHD symptoms, trouble focusing due to depression, mania or medication problems.

3) Anger and irritation.

4) Taking medications as prescribed, unable to take meds due to side effects, missing doses or refusing meds.

5) Paranoia- when mild it’s in the thought area and not as serious, when more severe, it’s in the psychosis realm.

6) Moderate to severe depression. Suicidal thoughts are passive and can often be managed with your treatment system, if you have a plan, the thoughts are active and must be addressed immediately.

7) Mania.

8 ) Depression.

9) Anxiety.

10) Using a substance that triggers bipolar disorder symptoms, especially if the substance affects sleep.


The most important point to remember is that bipolar disorder is an illness.
It’s not personal and it’s not easy to treat on your own. Medications are needed (it can take a long time to find medications that work) and a comprehensive treatment plan is essential. If you’re a family member or friend, your education on bipolar disorder is essential. The illness is not static- it can move all over the place. A person can be at a ten and then at a 50 just a few months later.  This is why a consistent plan works.

Tips and Observations

1. Recognizing your sleep patterns is the best way to monitor your mood swings. All mood swings come with some kind of sleep change such as staying in bed all day or not sleeping and still feeling full of energy.

2. If there is one area that is always a 4 or 5, this is a good place to focus your treatment plan and create plan  for the topic, such as a plan for road rage.

3. If you smoke pot daily, please note that it’s a stimulant even though it feels relaxing. It’s detrimental to bipolar disorder management. It is much stronger than the silly stuff in the 80’s and can cause psychosis that is strong enough to put you in the hospital. I believe that pot is more dangerous than alcohol. Think about it. Do you really want to be stable or is pot more important? It’s a hard question.

4. Suicidal thoughts are a normal part of bipolar disorder, but they are a sign that you need help.  There is nothing shameful about being suicidal. It’s a normal part of the illness.

5. If your number goes up and down on a regular basis, especially in terms of mania and depression,  read the information on www.BipolarHappens.com/bhblog and in my books about rapid cycling.

6. Bipolar disorder management requires a team approach- if you’re a family member or partner, creating your own plan to help your loved one is essential.

7. Bipolar disorder takes lifelong management. It’s normal to do well and then suddenly find the symptoms creeping up on you. This is a good time to take the quiz again!

How do I keep my quiz numbers low? The Health Cards.

The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder was created as a comprehensive treatment plan to address all levels represented in the quiz.  It works with every symptom and addresses all treatment possibilities including how a person with the illness can effectively ask for help, what personal triggers need to be recognized and modified and whether medications are effective or more are needed.  The Health Cards also help family members and friends to learn what it’s like to have the illness and how they can help. I love them.

I invite you to try the Health Cards so that you can remain at the 1-10 level and have optimum mental health, positive and stable relationships, work you love and a life filled with possibility and joy.

Suicide is NOT a Dirty Word

 

 

The following is a long form article on the topic of suicide and bipolar disorder by Julie A. Fast

 

I have a very different view of suicide. For many people it’s something shameful and scary. For me, it’s a side effect of an illness. I won’t mince words here. Bipolar disorder has a 10-20% death rate. People with bipolar disorder kill themselves because suicide is a part of the illness. I have had suicidal thoughts for all of my adult life. I have them because I have bipolar disorder. I don’t have them because something is wrong with my life.

If you have suicidal thoughts – you have them because you have an illness. There is nothing wrong with you.

You have an illness that has suicidal thoughts as a symptom. If you love someone with bipolar disorder who has suicidal thoughts, it’s important for you to know that this is completely normal behavior for someone with bipolar disorder. It’s a part of the illness.

I’ve learned to control these thoughts- and I stay alive. The first step in preventing suicide is to accept that suicidal thoughts are normal if you have bipolar disorder and they do NOT have to be acted on. They have to be seen as a sign that you’re sick and need to treat bipolar disorder first.  I have years of writings on this topic as I get suicidal so easily. I ready what I wrote from many years again and am amazed as always at how this illness never changes.

**** 2004 ****

I had a tough (very tough) time writing my last book. I was sick off and on for five months. The pressure of the deadlines was just too intense for my brain. It couldn’t handle the stress. I have managed this illness for many years with my Health Cards and I thought I knew my limits – but the book was simply too strong for me. I had to use the Cards constantly just to finish the book on time, but I did it. I created five new Health Cards to help me through the writing process and even though I was sick the whole time, I finished the book.

I had a two month hypomanic episode brought on by the anti-depressant I took because the book was making me depressed – and then had suicidal/psychotic depression off and on for a few more months. It was a terrible time! I’m telling you about this because it’s proof that suicidal thoughts are manufactured by a sick bipolar brain. They are not real. They are not a sign that I needed to kill myself. They are a sign that I took on too much. I triggered the suicidal thoughts by working too much. It’s totally normal that I was suicidal while writing the book. I’m almost 40 years old and have had suicidal thoughts all of my adult life- they are always triggered by something I do. They are simply a sign that I need to make changes in order to get back to stability.

I’ve taught myself not to be surprised by suicidal thoughts. They’re still terrible and scary- but they’re not unfamiliar. If you have suicidal thoughts, how long have you had them? If you’re like me, they show up when you do too much, don’t sleep enough, hang around the wrong people, drink and try to write a full length book in less than five months!

I’ve learned the language I use when I’m suicidal. I’m very familiar with what my thoughts say, how I feel and what my mind tells me to do. I have it all written down on the Health Cards so that I can read the cards and say to myself- oh yes, this is SO familiar. I have been here before. I don’t need to kill myself, I need to help myself get well.

Tips for Treating and Preventing Suicidal Thoughts

Know the difference between passive and active suicidal thoughts.

Passive suicidal thoughts sound like this:

  • I wish I could/would die
  • Things would be easier if I were dead
  • I wish I would get hit by a bus
  • I want to get cancer and die
  • I’d rather be dead
  • Life would be easier if I were dead
  • You see yourself get killed or attacked – such as seeing yourself get hit by a car or attacked by a dog

Active suicidal thoughts sound and look like this:

  • I’m going to get a gun and kill myself
  • I’m going to take a bottle of pills
  • I’m going to slash my wrists
  • I’m going to kill myself
  • I’m going to run my car into that pole
  • I’m going to step in front of a train
  • I’m going to jump off a bridge
  • You set dates and times
  • You create a whole plan in your head

As you can see, passive thoughts are a wish, active thoughts are an action. Naturally, active thoughts are much more serious and must be treated with medications immediately. Or, if you suspect that the medications caused the thoughts, you must talk with your doctor about a medication change immediately.

Don’t mess around with this.

Active thoughts are a sign that your brain is completely malfunctioning and has to get back on track. You will usually need professional, medical help to do this.

Passive thoughts are a sign that you need help as well- talk with your doctor about these passive thoughts. Check your medications- look at your lifestyle. Passive thoughts are often a sign that you’re stressed and something is triggering the thoughts. Active suicidal thoughts mean that you have crossed the line and need immediate help for bipolar disorder from a professional. Active thoughts do NOT mean your life needs to end. They simply mean that bipolar disorder is raging and you need help.

Friends and Family Members 

It’s very scary when someone you love is suicidal. The best tip I can give is that you see the suicidal thoughts and behaviors as something very clinical that needs to be treated professionally. It’s important that you don’t get caught up in what the person is saying. The Health Cards and both of my upcoming books Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder and Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder  talk about what I call the Bipolar Conversation and how you can prevent it. This is the number one technique I teach people who want to help someone who is suicidal. No matter what a person says when they are sick, you have to stay focused on treating bipolar disorder first. It’s so important that friends and family members keep talking and asking questions. Letting things go because you don’t know what to say or how to help can end in the death of someone you love. You have to be a bulldog when it comes to getting help for a suicidal person.

Questions to gently ask someone you think is suicidal

  • Are you suicidal? I have worries about this and want to talk with you about the topic openly.
  • Have you thought about killing yourself? I am ok with hearing your real thoughts and am here to support you and get you the help you need.
  • Do you have a plan? I ask this question because saying something out loud means that we can discuss suicidal thoughts openly as symptoms that you are sick and need help.
  • Do you ever see yourself getting killed? I ask this because I have learned that some suicidal thoughts are confusing and don’t always involve a plan.
  • Are you scared you will get killed? I can imagine it is hard to have suicidal thoughts, but I am learning from Julie that they are normal for people with bipolar disorder and we can talk about them openly so that you can get help.
  • Are you scared you will kill yourself?  It must be scary to have an illness that changes your thinking. I am here to help and make sure that you are taken care of by a health care professional who knows what to do.
  • What does it feel like when you’re suicidal?  I ask this to learn more about your experiences with bipolar disorder. You can also tell me what I can do to help you when the suicidal thoughts arrive.
  • Have you talked to your doctor?  I have learned that suicidal thoughts are part of an illness. They are not personal and they can be treated as symptoms. I hear that you are suicidal and would like to help you talk with someone who knows what to do.
  • When was your last suicidal thought?  I am here if you want to talk about your suicidal thoughts. I will learn more and can be a support for you.
  • What can we do right now to get you help?  I am worried about your health. Suicidal thoughts simply mean that the bipolar is raging and we can get you help for bipolar disorder.

The answers will determine the action you take. It really can be up to you to get help for the person. You may feel embarrassed or impotent when someone is severely ill, but if you know for sure they’re suicidal and have thought of killing themselves, then it’s up to you to get them to the hospital. Period.

Silence is Dangerous 

Silence is NOT a good sign. Someone who has been very sick and showing it through crying and talking is NOT better if they suddenly stop crying and stop telling you what they are going through.  They are possibly much more ill and have just reached such a point of numbness that there is no more crying left and they just want it all to end. This numbness can be seen by others as the end of the crisis, but it’s not. It may be the beginning of something much more serious.

Keep going with your questions and attentions until the person who is ill gets help. This can save lives. You may be tired and worn out from the sick person, but if you don’t keep a constant vigil until you’re sure the suicidal thoughts are over, the person may commit suicide. Treat is as you would any serious illness. Suicidal thoughts arise from chemical changes in the brain. It’s no different than a person with diabetes having trouble with insulin.

If you’re suicidal right now, please read this: 

As I say in Bipolar Happens!  and all of my books- Suicidal thoughts are normal when you’re sick. They’re a symptom just as joint pain is a symptom of arthritis. They’re a sign that you need immediate help. They’re not a sign that your life is a mess and you’d be better off dead. Your sick brain wants you to think this, but it’s not true. Every single person who makes it through a suicidal episode will tell you the same thing – they were not thinking rationally when they were suicidal and they’re so glad they did not kill themselves. You can’t see this now because the illness won’t let you.

If you’re having any of the following thoughts then you need to talk with a doctor immediately and get some medical help for your malfunctioning brain:

  • I wish I were dead.
  • Things would be better if I were dead.
  • Things will never get better and I’ll stay sick like this forever.
  • I can’t live like this anymore. I want to die.
  • I wish someone would kill me.
  • I wish I would get hit by a car.
  • I’m going to run my car into that pole.
  • I want to end it all. This pain is too much. I’m going to take all of these pills.
  • I wish I would get cancer and die.
  • I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up.
  • I don’t want to live any more.
  • Bipolar disorder has taken too much for me and I can’t live with it anymore.
  • No one loves me and no one will care if I’m dead anyway. Death is a solution to all of this pain.
  • I truly would rather be dead than live like this.
  • I will never find love, so why keep trying?
  • My brain will not let me live my life.
  • I can’t live with this illness anymore.
  • I’m going to get a big hose and put it in the exhaust pipe of my car and put it through one of the windows and just go to sleep and never have to live with this pain again.
  • I’m going to go get a gun and just end it finally.
  • I’m going to stick my head in the oven.
  • I’m going to get really sick so I can die.
  • I want to be dead.

Have you had any of these thoughts or similar thoughts? You probably have – it’s normal if you have  – because you have bipolar disorder. My whole point is that if ALL of us with bipolar disorder have the same suicidal thoughts and if ALL of us get suicidal when we’re stressed and our meds aren’t working-  then it has to be a symptom of an illness and simply can’t be something personal.

Suicidal thoughts are manufactured by a malfunctioning brain in the same way that your brain makes you think everything is wonderful when you’re manic. 

Bipolar disorder is a very, very serious illness. I don’t think it’s taken seriously enough by the people who have it and by those who love us. We are expected to live a normal life in the normal world, but for many of us, this is basically impossible and suicide is often the result. There is a death rate to bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can prevent suicide by seeing it as a sign that we need help for bipolar disorder – we have to stop seeing suicidal thoughts as a sign that we need help for our lives – we don’t.

OUR LIVES ARE FINE – BIPOLAR DISORDER IS THE PROBLEM

The best way to prevent suicidal thoughts is to stop the triggers that cause the thoughts. Down swings that turn into suicidal downswings always start somewhere. Always. They do not come out of the blue. There is a trigger and there are small signs that the down swing is starting. The Health Cards help you see these symptoms before they go too far. If you don’t have a monitoring system like the Health Cards and these downswings are not treated from the beginning then suicidal thoughts can be the result.

I know this from experience. I’ve used the Health Cards for years to help myself stay stable and when I took the second book deal before my first book was even edited, the result was illness. The book was such a huge trigger that I was not physically capable of staying stable. I know what my triggers are. Over work- deadlines, going out too much, new people in my life, drinking, and staying up late.  I knew this but I went back to old behaviors anyway due to the stress of the book. I saw all of the signs that the book was making me sick and instead of sticking with my Health Cards plan, I went in the other direction. I looked for stress relief in the wrong places. I went back to old habits and a severe downswing was the result. I’m human and lost track for a while. I didn’t use the tips on the Health Cards for a few weeks and illness was a result. The Cards truly work, but only if I follow what they say. I am happy to say I am better now and am back on track. You can get back on track too.

Once I realized that I was simply going to stay sick until the book was done, I was fine. I used the Health Cards every day from that point on and made it through the project. I was still sick, but I was fine with it because I knew it was part of the illness. And one day when I walked out of my front door on the way to a coffee shop to write a chapter that was due and had the thought, “I wish someone would murder me,” I was able to laugh a bit and say- DAMN! This is one tough illness. I really have to be careful and take care of myself today.  Can you believe that I have found a way to laugh at my stupid suicidal thoughts? I never though this was possible, but knowing they are manufactured by an ill brain helps.

Prevention is the Key

Suicidal thoughts can be treated and prevented. It just takes a plan.

  • Adjust your medications – trying to treat strong suicidal thoughts on your own through therapy and other holistic methods rarely works- you need medical help when the thoughts are strong.
  • Look at your lifestyle- what stressors could be causing the thoughts?
  • Look at the people in your life – is someone making you ill?
  • What choices are you making that could be leading to these thoughts?
  • Have you asked for help from the right people?
  • Have you told a professional that you’re suicidal?
  • Do you have a treatment plan like the Health Cards to help you stay stable?

The best treatment for suicidal thoughts is prevention.

If you have bipolar disorder and you have suicidal thoughts, you are normal! You don’t have emotional problems. Your life is not a mess. You’re not a failure and you don’t deserve to die. You simply need help for the symptom of an illness so that you can get back to living. Bipolar disorder is an illness. It’s not your life. It’s not who you are. You can get better. 

********

 Bipolar Happens! and the Health Cards

Bipolar Happens! has more tips and goes into more detail than this article. The Health Cards are my foundation for treating bipolar first. I always think I have my cards memorized, but I don’t. The illness is too tricky and I always need to read my symptoms and ideas on how to get better when I’m sick. I simply can’t always remember what I need to do. If you have the Health Cards, you can write the ideas from this article in the second column ‘What I Can Do’ and then use the tips when you start to feel suicidal.

Bipolar Disorder is an illness.

Not your life.

You can get better.

*** end article****

Hi everyone. It’s amazing too read something I wrote 13 years ago and see that it is still 100% applicable. I struggle with work. I struggle with my moods. I struggle with suicidal thoughts. It’s nothing new. I have bipolar.  I accept this and am ready for the world, even when I get suicidal.

Suicidal thoughts are part of an illness. They are not personal. We do not have to listen to them, but we do need to get help. I believe in you!

Julie 

Why Do People With Bipolar Disorder Drink and Use Substances?

Here is my latest blog for Bp Magazine for Bipolar Disorder….

 

 

by Julie A. Fast

 

If you care about someone with bipolar disorder, you may wonder why we choose so may behaviors that make us so much worse.  The answer might surprise you. I can assure you from many years of boozing it up and smoking weed and hash myself, I was NOT doing it to get drunk or just to get high. Here is why I used substances heavily for many years:

  1. Unbelievable panic attacks from being around men. Who on earth gets sick from going on a date? I do. So I drank beer and then drank more beer. I later found out that the hops in beer are calming. I drank like a person with a drinking problem because I didn’t know I was having panic attacks. The only way I could make it thought the evening was to drink. Those poor guys. I am sorry for what I put them through.
  2. For many years, I drank because I was depressed. Drinking made me drunk which made me act happier and made it possible for me to be with my friends. It never really worked, though. I remember crying and throwing up in the bathroom and wondering why I felt so terrible when I was supposedly having fun while being drunk. It seemed that drinking made my friends happier and for myself, it made me cry even more.
  3. I used pot to “calm down.”  I stopped this many moons ago and I will not touch the substance now due to the high THC content.  I truly was trying to feel better when using pot. I now know it’s a stimulant and it exacerbates my symptoms. I was not just trying to get high. I was trying to feel better! Pot creates manic and psychotic episodes that I don’t want in my life. I stay away.
  4. Mania makes me crave being drunk and out of control. Mania turns off my frontal lobes and I literally want to drink very early in the day “just for fun.”  Our capacity for substance abuse when manic is mind-boggling. I can drink triple the amount when manic. My energy simply burns it up.

When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar at age 31, my depressed drinking stopped completely. It took me many more years to get my manic drinking under control. I did this by managing the bipolar disorder. I don’t have a problem with drinking and drugs. I have a bipolar disorder problem. When I manage my illness, I don’t need to zone out with drugs and alcohol. I still struggle in this area with food, especially sugar, but managing my bipolar has been the ticket to staying away from getting drunk and high.

What needs to be done to change our current culture?

Treat bipolar disorder first. In my experience, it’s rare for someone with bipolar disorder to have a substance abuse problem that is more intense than the illness itself.  For the majority of people, we are self-medicating. Take care of the bipolar and you take care of the substance abuse issue.

If we want to help people with bipolar disorder stop using substances that make life worse for everyone, we need to change how we view and talk about the problem.

I can tell you from firsthand experience that all of us with bipolar who use a substance in an addictive way are fully aware of what we are doing. What society simply doesn’t understand is that untreated bipolar disorder is far, far more painful than what happens with us due to substance abuse. We choose being drunk over being suicidal.  Think about that. 

There is another way to say this: Bipolar disorder is an incredibly dangerous and woefully under-treated mental illness that creates symptoms far worse than drinking too much and doing drugs.

We will get a handle on our substance abuse problem in the bipolar disorder world when we have better treatment for bipolar disorder. Period.

If you want help for substance abuse, get help for bipolar. It takes time and it is a long road, but it works.

People with bipolar drink and use drugs at a higher rate than the general population because we are in pain from our symptoms.

You are not alone if you use substances to feel better if your mood swings are raging. I have done it as well. I found a way out of drinking and drug use by learning to manage my symptoms. My book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder shows exactly how I changed. I’m working on this with eating and plan to learn how to manage my symptoms without pushing them down with food or any substance that takes me away from who I am inside.

I want that for you as well.

Julie

My blog The Bipolar ‘Not So Great’ Coping List further explores the topic of why people with bipolar disorder have a tendency to dive deep into dangerous and destructive behaviors.

What Does Bipolar Stability Look Like for You?

 

I have a normal or stable Health Card (my treatment system) that reminds me what stability looks, sounds and feels like.

I can’t do this on my own. I am not a reliable source. I need to write my symptoms down to remind myself that bipolar disorder often takes over my life and tells me that what I’m experiencing is real.

My Stable Health Card looks like this.

  • Able to focus. I can clearly think of what needs to get done and come up with a reasonable plan to execute a simple to do list.
  • I do not cry during the day for work or relationships reasons.
  • My mind is clear. I’m not hearing snippets of songs, conversions or counting.
  • My brain works in a linear way. I see something, think about it and then come up with a reasonable response to the situations.
  • I exist in the moment. The past is not terrible and the future is not scary.
  • Music is just music.
  • Friends who are busy are just friends who are busy. They are not upset with or nor are they plotting to leave me.
  • My manager is my manager. She is not upset with me or thinking of leaving our business.

I could go on and on here. I am SO profoundly different when stable.

Stability is always my goal. When I know my list of stable behaviors, it means I will also know when I am sick!

I’d love to see a list of your stable behaviors. If you have the Health Cards, what does your normal or stable card look like?

Julie

 

 

The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder explain in detail the system I use daily to stay stable enough to work and maintain relationships. This is an advanced management plan that uses symptom lists to prevent mood swings from taking over a person’s life.  Parents and partners love the system as it can be used even if a person is refusing help.

Guest Blogger Martin Baker on Bipolar Disorder and Creating Strong Friendships

Martin_Baker_2016

How do I maintain friends when I have bipolar disorder? One great step is giving them High Tide, Low Tide: A Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder by Fran Houston and Martin Baker. If you have a friend who shows interest in helping you maintain stability, High Tide, Low Tide is a compassionate gift for any friendship! I also recommend it highly for siblings. Here is a guest blog post from author Martin Baker on creating strong friendships. Julie 
 
I have a lot of embarrassment when I get sick. I worry that my friends will leave me because of my bipolar disorder. Knowing there is a tool they can use if they need more information about my moods helps me stay strong!
 
Julie

 

High Tide, Low Tide: Our Transatlantic Best Friendship

—by Martin Baker

“I know what you could do, Marty! You could write a book about what it’s like to be friends with someone with bipolar disorder.”

October 2012. The English Lake District. With those words, my American best friend Fran changed my world. Not for the first time. We’d been friends since meeting online the previous May. We would not meet in real life (as they say) until June 2013, but despite living 3,000 miles apart, we’d grown a strong, mutually supportive friendship that had weathered episodes of wild mania, depression, debilitating pain and fatigue, with suicidal thinking never far away.

Fran Houston, my best friend, lives with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), and fibromyalgia. These are her diagnoses. They shape her days, but they are not who she is. As we shared our lives through social media, voice, and video calls, we learned what needs to be common knowledge, but isn’t: that caring relationships between “ill ones” and “well ones” are not only possible, but can be deeply and mutually satisfying.

We also learned it doesn’t matter where you are in the world—which is great, because friends and loved ones often live far apart. In the Internet era no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. That is our message, and it is a message of hope.

Four years on, and our book—High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder—was published. It’s been quite a journey. We hope our book will inspire and inform others who want to support a friend with mental illness. But High Tide, Low Tide is neither the only, nor the greatest, reward.

Fran is still alive. She has told me many times she would not be here if it was not for our friendship. There’s no way to know how true that might be, but I take her words at face value. To some, that might appear to put an inordinate strain on me and our relationship, but it doesn’t. We are not still friends because either of us is afraid of what might happen if we were not. We are friends because we want to be, and because—well or ill—that is how a committed friendship works.

I am more than I was. These five years have challenged me to be the best I can be. More, they’ve helped me discover who I am. I knew little about mental illness, stigma, and discrimination before I met Fran. I knew less about empathy, compassion, and caregiving. I still mess up, of course, with Fran and with other people. But I’ve grown. I am more aware than I was. I am more than I was. I am a better friend, father, and husband—a better man—than I was or would otherwise have become.

I have found my tribe. I never felt I belonged anywhere, outside of my immediate family. I found a best friend, but also the joy of connection with people at home and the world over; people who know how to live genuinely and honestly. That is joy indeed. I have found my voice and discovered I have something to say. I have found my place in the world.

Click here to read more about High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder,  (Nordland Publishing)

About the Author

Living in the north-east of England, Martin Baker is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider and Time to Change Champion. A member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mind, and Bipolar UK, Martin is primary caregiver and lifeline to his best friend Fran Houston. Passionate about making invisible illness visible, Fran lives in Portland, Maine.

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