Growing Older with Bipolar: Caring for Aging Parents

My nephew David with my mother Rebecca

My mom is a powerhouse. She’s 78 and has the energy and lifestyle of a 60 year old woman. For this reason, I have been able to ignore the reality that my mom is aging. When I think about the aging process of my most important supporter in life, I realize that one day our roles might change. One day, I might be the one who has to be the #1 support.

As a person with bipolar, I am not sure what I will be able to do. I will not be able to stay with her at night. I will not be able to take care of her if she gets ill. I will not be able to travel much or financially take care of her if needed.

I am lucky. My mom is a healthy person. Her aging so far has been a normal process. It has not been about illness or poor health choices. Also, she is financially independent.

My thought processes around this are for the what if something happens that I will have to address. My mother’s aging process doesn’t change the fact that I have bipolar disorder.

My goal is to talk about all of this now while she is healthy. It’s time for my brother and myself to sit with my mom and talk about the future. What will we do if she needs some kind of care at age 90 for example? What if her excellent health changes? What if she needs us in a way she doesn’t need us now?

The management plan I created in the Health Cards and talk about in Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder teaches us to plan ahead by looking for triggers and understanding the impact of our lifestyle choices.

My bipolar is managed, but it will be rocked completely when my mother is gone from this earth. What can I do to prepare for this now?

My own life is planned around bipolar disorder management. What will happen if I have to take care of the needs of someone else?

This is not being pessimistic. This is being SMART! My family talks openly about mental health, aging, money and life in general. I had to facilitate this many years ago as I knew I would not be able to survive the serious nature of the bipolar and psychotic disorder I live with daily.

It has brought me peace. Yes, my mother is aging. As I grow older with bipolar disorder, I will face the death of loved ones more and more. I will face the changes in the body of my older relatives. I will face the changes in my own body as I age. Bipolar doesn’t change as we age. We can definitely learn to manage it better, but it doesn’t get better as we grow older unless we work towards this goal every day.

Let’s face reality as we age. Aging ourselves means we are alive. Dealing with the aging process of the people we love means we are alive! Bipolar needs planning.

If you have an older parent, what is your plan to be there for this parent while still managing your bipolar disorder? If thinking about this brings you anxiety and stress now, think of what it will be like if something actually happens.

We are strong. We can handle triggers. Let’s talk openly with our loved ones about growing older- we can tell them what we need as we grow older with bipolar and let them know what we will be able to do or what we will have to pass on to someone else.

Honesty now saves future pain.

We can do this!

Julie

 

Is it Bipolar Disorder, Executive Functioning Disorder or a Frontal Lobe Head Injury? 

Executive functioning is the term used to describe a person’s ability to plan out and complete a task. People with bipolar experience executive functioning symptoms during certain mood swings, but this is not the same thing as being born with executive functioning disorder or experiencing the symptoms of a frontal lobe head injury that affects executive functioning. 

The main difference between executive functioning disorders and executive functioning head injuries vs. bipolar disorder executive functioning symptoms is consistency. 

1. Executive functioning disorder is consistent. It will not come and go. A person who is born with a brain that doesn’t process information in the same way as a person without frontal lobe concerns will always have the same symptoms. Of course, they can be managed, but the brain’s executive functioning ability will be consistent over time. 

2. A head injury (concussion) that leads to executive functioning/planning issues will have a specific date or series of dates that shows a direct change in a person’s ability when you look at before and after behaviors. There will be a line in the sand. Before the accident, I could plan. After the accident, my ability to plan significantly changed

3. Bipolar is ALWAYS episodic.  Executive functioning symptoms will only be present during a depression, a mania or a mixed episode.  The person with bipolar disorder will not have any executive functioning problems when stable. 

I have bipolar disorder and a psychotic disorder. I have a frontal lobe brain injury from a biking accident in 2012 that led to executive functioning problems.

My executive functioning symptoms due to bipolar come and go depending on my mood. My head injury executive functioning problems are permanent and consistent. 

Life is hard as you can imagine. I live for work. Writing books was my life for many years. I was able to write books despite having chronic bipolar disorder.  The head injury changes this. Coming to terms with life as a person with a brain injury is challenging as you can imagine. 

My goal is to help others who live with mental health disorders and head injuries. I know what these injuries do to family life. 

I have an illness that makes work extremely difficult and a head injury that makes work almost impossible, but I will not give up. 

There is a way around this. 

If you care about someone with bipolar disorder or have clients with the diagnosis, make sure a concussion history is part of the diagnostic process. Symptoms that seem like a worsening of bipolar might be a head injury if the person had a car accident, sports concussion or a fall. 

Looking for executive functioning head injuries is essential when trying to get help for someone with a mental health disorder. Head injuries, also called TBI and concussion are so common now that they must be discussed in all mental health management plans. 

 
Wear a helmet. 
 

Julie

How I Create Internal Hope During a Serious Bipolar Depression

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No one will ever understand the seriousness of chronic depression unless they have experienced it personally. This is one reason that external help for suicidal depression often fails greatly when it comes to keeping people alive.
 
I have a very different approach to living with, managing and hopefully ending serious depression in the lives of people with bipolar disorder.
 
– We must address the symptoms as an illness and use a specific strategy each time a person gets depressed. This strategy needs to be used in the same way by all people surrounding the person with serious, suicidal depression.
 
The strategy is not talk therapy. It’s not effective for suicidal depression, as our current suicide rate in bipolar disorder and unipolar depression makes abundantly clear.
 
Instead, we need to talk about the signs of depression with children in the same way we talk about the signs of a cold, the flu, a headache, low blood sugar or an ankle sprain.
 
This is the management plan I teach in all of my books. A calculated approach to managing our symptoms. It’s not an emotional journey or a psychological endeavor. This hasn’t worked and will never work.
 
Instead, when someone is ill, we must talk about illness.
 
For example, I woke up this morning with zero desire to get on with my day. Telling myself I have so much to live for or that I could see my nephew or that it’s SUMMER and so pretty outside is pointless. Would we say that to someone who is physically ill? Never. It’s pointless.
 
Instead, I talked to myself in the way I created when I wrote my first books.
 
***
 
Julie, you are depressed. You are depressed because you have an illness that creates symptoms. Nothing is different in your life. What is different is how your brain is perceiving and processing your life. Fight it. Get up, get out of bed, get out of the house and get on with your day and accept that you are depressed because you have bipolar.
 
Nothing is wrong. The world is not ending. Your life is not worthless. The Health Cards remind you that this is always what depression says. It said this when you were 19 and it says it when you are 55. It’s simply a depression recording. It’s old and it lies. Don’t listen.
 
What makes a difference in your life?
 
Writing.
Being in the world
Getting out and lifting my head up to see the world around me.
Accepting my suffering as a part of being alive.
 
***
 
I’ve dealt with depression for all of my adult life. Even though this depression feels immediate and awful and so real, it’s nothing more than an illness. Just as mania lies and tells me everything is perfect, depression lies and tells me that everything is hopeless. I DO NOT LISTEN TO DEPRESSION.
 
Bipolar is episodic. Depression ends. I don’t have to do anything different than in the past I use the ideas in Get it Done When You’re Depressed. I use my Health Cards.
 
I dig deep and find the real Julie who has hope and always will.
 
I want the same for you.
 
Julie
 
PS: There isn’t much worse than being depression on a sunny Friday evening. I told myself that sleep was essential as doing too much will flip me to mania, but darn it, I have to get something done. So I made some earrings. This is a big part of my Depression Hope Chest! Yes! I am reminded of Erin McDonough who does gorgeous stained glass work. What is your hopeful action when depressed?

Strategies for a Father of a Child with Bipolar

It’s common practice these days to assume women and men are the same.  Gender neutrality is a timely topic and in many areas of life, I do agree with the concept. In work, women and men should have and do need the same benefits.

But, when it comes to helping a mother or a father deal with the reality of a child who has bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia, I have experienced enormous and I do mean enormous gender differences when I work with my parent coaching clients.

(If you’re new to my work, I will give you some background.  I have directly coached parents of children with bipolar, schizoaffective and schizophrenia for the past ten years. I am not a therapist, instead I help parents get a correct diagnosis for a child and come up with a plan for the absolute best treatment and management. It’s never easy, but my system works.  Using very conservative estimates, I would say I’ve worked with with tens of thousands of men and women in parenting situations since 2002 through coaching, public speaking and online communication.)

In 99% of  the cases, the following information is what I find true regarding the differences between fathers and mothers.

These differences in my opinion are hormonal and societal. It’s a mixture. It is not about sexual orientation, as many of my clients are in same sex relationships and have the same behaviors depending on if they are a father or a mother. I am not as interested in the why of all of this as that is a question for a sociologist, instead I want to know …. how do we best help dads who have a kid with bipolar or another serious mental health disorder?

Here is my opinion…

Fathers need different strategies than mothers. Fathers need health care professionals who understand the needs of a man who has a child. Dads are simply different than mothers….

  1. Dads talk to me about security first and feelings later. I hear the following questions from almost every dad,

How will my son support himself? 

How is she going to afford an apartment? 

What kind of job will he be able to do? 

What will it be like for her when she tries to live alone?

How will he pay the bills? 

I rarely hear these questions from mom until much later in the discussion.

This is not a sexist view. This is my reality from many years in this business.

And here are the next questions and they are ones a dad is not proud of…

Will I have to support my child for the rest of his life?

Will I have to pay for everything when she leaves home?

I also hear this from my older clients (people my own age).

I have worked all of my life to create a retirement plan and now I have to take care of an adult child? I am not ready for this! I didn’t plan on this! 

Brutal honestly is needed in coaching. I tell my clients they are safe to say what they feel and SO many fathers feel this and say this to me.

It is not said out of unkindness or anger. It is fear and worry. And it is real. If we assume that men are selfish for having these kinds of thoughts, we will not meet their needs. I want to meet the needs of the fathers who read my work.

The second biggest difference I see between fathers and mothers is the way that the dads communicate as compared to the moms.

2. Fathers take a LOT longer to answer a question than mothers. This might be socialization. This might be testosterone. This might be anything. All I know is that after thousands of hours on the phone and in person with parents, men simply take longer to answer than women. Period. I have learned to ask a question directly to fathers and to ask mothers to wait until the man answers my question. Women I work with often talk first.  They ask more questions. They are more concerned about the emotional side of things and they talk quickly. It might sound sexist, but this is not my intention. It is my intention to help mothers and fathers get their needs met through my work.

Fathers feel the same as mothers. They have the same worries and feel the same loss that mothers. But how they express it all is different.

If you’re a dad with a child who has bipolar, schizoaffective or schizophrenia and you are seeing help, make sure that you are heard. Make sure that the person you are working with listens to you.

If you’re a health care professional who wants to help parents, especially in a world where HIPAA ties our hands, please make sure you turn to the dad and ask specific questions about his needs. Then, be ready to wait for a thoughtful answer.

You will get one.

Are you a dad? Here is my advice. It’s ok to worry about the financial and work reality of bipolar. Someone needs to! It is ok to feel anger and grief and upset that you might have to spend your hard earned money on a kid who seems not to care. All of this is ok. I want you to be heard and I want you to know that you don’t have to act like other people. You can be yourself.

Looking for resources? Start with Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and go from there. There is help for you and you can get it in the way you need. If you are new to my work, please join me on my closed Facebook group The Stable Table.

Thank you,

Julie 

Loved one with Bipolar?

Loved one with bipolar, schizoaffective, or schizophrenia? Do not listen to use when we say we are fine. We are quite possibly lying to you.
Don’t assume that because we are going to work that we are actually working. We might just be sitting there getting nothing done.
Don’t listen to what we say when asked insipid questions.
How is your day?
Having a good day?
What great weather we are having!
How are you?
Bla bla bla….
We will not tell you the truth.
Instead, look at our actions and our output. Are you seeing the work? Are you seeing the person actually socialize or are they only telling you they are socializing?
Have you looked- really looked at their room and bathroom to see if it’s being cleaned?
Is your loved one lying to you? If they are ill, the answer is 90% yes.
I ask this from a place of great worry about our current mental health treatment protocol. There are too many questions. We place way too much emphasis on listening to ill people who are too sick to ask for help.
We confronted with the miserableness of our existence, we are overwhelmed and we will lie to you.
Asking a person with severe mental illness how they are doing is like telling a fox not to go after the chickens.
Check our hygiene. Check our work output. Look at what we are writing online. See if we are actually seeing other human begins. Look us in the eye and really see what is going on. Stop talking to us so much. Do something.
Check our living space. We can lie with words, but our actions and the space around us, including the state of our cars will tell you the truth.
If you smell weed on a person, the person is using weed. Don’t ask if they are using weed. Geez!
Get active to help a loved one who has bipolar, schizoaffective or schizophrenia. Don’t give us the chance to lie to you about how we are doing. We will either be too sick or too embarrassed to tell you the truth.
Julie
 
PS: This kind of lying is truthfully more an evasion technique due to being sick. We are not lying to be deceitful.
 
PSS: The Health Cards and the charting systems in Take Charge and Loving are essential to knowing when a loved one is sick. We often have symptoms we simply can’t tell you about when we are really sick.
If you are a parent, family member, caregiver or health care professional, please join me on The Stable Table. This is  a closed Facebook page just for you!
If you are a partner, please join me on The Stable Bed.
If you have bipolar or schizoaffective, please join me on my Julie A. Fast and Julie A. Fast Books Facebook pages.

What is Bipolar? What isn’t Bipolar Disorder?

I can’t stress enough the inconsistent natural of the illness we call bipolar disorder. If you can grasp the very nature of our mood swings- that they come and go and are NOT consistent- you can better understand this easy to diagnose, but very difficult to treat illness.

Bipolar changes. The person with the illness will have a stable mood that you can see either in yourself or a loved one. This is the real person, unencumbered buy mood swings. This person is balanced and reasonable. He or she is able to make smart decisions and to move forward in life. When bipolar is managed, the real personality emerges. When undiagnosed or unmanaged, there will be changes in mood. The mood is not consistent. The person will not be the same all of the time.  There will be periods of kindness and then periods of great anger and meanness. Or, periods of great despair and then periods of where life is joyful and carefree!

This is one reason why bipolar disorder two is missed for an average of 7 to 9 years before a person is correctly diagnosed. A person can be stable for quite awhile and then go off the rails. Then be stable and then go off the rails. People will say,

  • Why can’t she just get her act together?
  • Why can’t he learn from his mistakes?
  • Why does he crave so much change?
  • Why is she so moody?
  • He was so happy! Now he is just a mess!

We do well when we are stable. We are not sick all of the time. As bipolar progresses or we miss our sleep, take on a job that is too much for us, have a child or use substances that are too much for our bipolar brain, it will appear that we are sick all of the time. This is not reality. Longer term mood swings are created by triggering the mood swings through life choices that make bipolar worse. We all do this. It takes a long time to learn to manage this illness, but management is possible.

When we understand the nature of bipolar and manage our moods through life style changes which can include medications, we will get glimpses of the stability that is always possible.  Then we can move forward in life once again.

I wrote Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder with one goal. To make it easy to digest by people with bipolar. I wanted a book that is not confusing or hard to follow. I believe this book accomplished the goal. It works for family members and health care professionals in the same way. It is easy to understand.

Start your management plan today. Think of what you want in life. What are your goals? How can you manage this illness so that the real you sticks around more often?

Bipolar disorder has inconsistent mood swings that have a beginning, middle and end. Bipolar isn’t your personality. Bipolar isn’t emotional. It’s an illness that can be managed.

Julie