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.





What Works to Manage Bipolar Disorder

Here is what works for bipolar disorder:

1. A deep understanding of the symptoms of bipolar- what they look like and feel like.

2. Lifestyle changes to prevent triggering these symptoms.

3. Avoiding ALL substances that can lead to more mood swings with an emphasis on anything that can cause mania.

4. Medications to treat the remaining symptoms.

This is a possible management plan and the only one I have seen work long term for those of us who have complicated and very active bipolar disorder. My book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder explains this plan. It works!


PS: Mania is weird. We love it in the moment- but we are just downright odd. I can take pictures of myself for hours when manic. I feel like a model. I primp and do things I would NEVER do as a stable person. Yes, it can be funny, but overall is is life altering and dangerous. I am lucky I survived my years of letting mania flourish. I no longer allow it in my life.

Julie’s Soap Box: There is No Natural Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

There is no natural treatment for bipolar disorder at this time. If you are working with a natural health care practitioner and they tell you that there are supplements or diet changes that will prevent mania or psychosis, this is simply incorrect information. Anyone who tells you that cannabis is a treatment for bipolar disorder is not reading the research.

I am consistently dismayed at the lack of information there is for natural health providers about the nature of the very serious, physical illness that is bipolar disorder.

My goal is to educate health care practitioners on the basics of bipolar management so that a working plan can be followed. I believe in natural medicine as it works in many areas of our lives, but for bipolar disorder? It is not enough.

Mania and psychosis are relentless symptoms that are very different from depression. Also, depression and bipolar depression are two very different illnesses.

My coaching practice is filled with clients who have loved ones who want to treat bipolar naturally who then live in continual mood swings.

Yes, there will be some people who find natural medicine helpful, but for people with bipolar one or people like myself who have intense, rapid cycling bipolar that is easily affected by incorrect supplements, natural medicine alone is a difficult path.

If you are able to find a natural health care practitioner who is also willing to use medications judicially when the symptoms are too intense, then this is a path to follow. I work with Julie Foster, a natural medicine based nurse practitioner from Pohala Clinic – A Place of Healing here in Portland. She is a good example of a natural practician to knows when a touch of western medicine is needed.

Stability is the marker for a working management plan. If you are stable, then what you are doing is working. Stable means little to no mood swings. If there is mania of any kind, then the current system you are using is not enough. I am rarely stable. This means that I have to use natural treatments along with some western style medications. Do I want to do this? Of course not! I would much rather approach bipolar naturally, but the reality is that this illness is a rough one to manage. We need a range of treatments and a daily management plan.

Supplements and a diet change are not enough.


PS: My soap box for the day!

10 Top Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Julie Fast holding Lithium

My latest article for Health Central tackles the biggest myths I see in the bipolar world today. I wonder which ones you find interesting or those that might not be your opinion!

Here is one that many find surprising.

MYTH: Medication Should be the First-Line Treatment for Bipolar Disorder.

This myth often shocks people, and please know that I’m not saying that meds don’t work. They’re an essential part of any plan. I use them daily for certain symptoms, but they’re rarely enough to stop mood swings. To truly manage bipolar, the majority of people with the illness must regulate sleep, focus on healthy relationships, and avoid triggering behaviors (traveling without careful planning, accepting shift work, taking too many classes) and substances (antidepressants, stimulants, steroids, and marijuana due to THC).

If our lifestyle increases bipolar symptoms, all medications can do is keep a lid on a boiling pot. Side effects are the number one complaint about medications. By focusing on lifestyle changes first, we reduce the need for high doses of medications and automatically reduce nasty side effects. In my opinion, medications are for what we can’t manage on our own.

“It’s true that there’s a dogma that medications are the only treatment for bipolar,” says Jim Phelps, M.D., the author of three books on bipolar and founder of psycheducation.org . “It’s entrenched in much of the literature, but it’s just not correct. Putting management techniques first and meds second is so important.” Our current health care system is behind the curve when it comes to this myth. Medications are important, but lifestyle education comes first.”


Click here to read 10 Top Myths about Bipolar Disorder from Health Central.



My Bipolar Disorder Origin Story

Julie A. Fast. 17 and hypomanic in Europe!

My bipolar origin story. I am have naturally occurring bipolar and psychosis. My path was interesting, but absolutely typical.
16 years old sitting in a book store reading comics and my favorite authors. I hear a booming voice say, “You need to leave now!”
This was the start of my psychotic disorder.
At 17, I went on a tour to Europe and have my first long term, intense hypomania almost full blown manic episode.
AT 18, I got hypomanic at Auburn University and left to move to a school that was closer to my favorite hockey team. (Wow, that was a great decision. 😟)
At the end of my 18th year, had my first dysphoric manic depression.
At 19, my first suicidal, psychotic depression.
Summer of 19, another euphoric hypomanic episode at Glacier National Park where I was working.
This is naturally occurring rapid cycling bipolar disorder two, leaning towards bipolar one. I have a separate psychotic disorder. My correct diagnosis is schizoaffective, bipolar type.
Diagnosed in 1995 at age 31 and put on 22 medications including ALL of the new SSRI anti depressants. This turned my rapid cycling bipolar into ultradian rapid cycling (daily mood swings) and I have never really recovered.
Natural bipolar is genetic. I had zero trauma. My life was fine. The bipolar was the problem.
I’m now 55 and have daily mood swings. I live with them and manage them through the ideas in my books. My life is amazing in many ways, but bipolar and psychosis are ever present.
It is my goal to END the expression of bipolar disorder in future generations through the concept of epigenetics.
What is your bipolar origin story?
I believe my paternal grandfather had bipolar and it is on that side of the family in my other relatives. There is no bipolar on my maternal side.


Do Medications Work for Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar and medications: For those who question if bipolar is a physical, chemical brain illness, I have a story for you.
I use a off label medication for my depression. It has saved my life. Over the past few weeks, I reduced this medication to see if I still needed it at the higher dose. At first, I didn’t see much change, then the to be honest almost forgotten dreaded sobbing, suicidal mood swing jumped on me from behind and ripped through me like a hurricane. This is after reducing my meds for TWO WEEKS. I have not had one of these suicidal down swings that are scary and life threatening since.. the last time I reduced the medication to see if I really needed the higher dose.
Now, almost three weeks into the change, my brain has simply shut down. It is not working. I am functioning. I am not depressed and I know how to work around this, but feeling it again after so many years of fighting it with the ideas in my books and this med is simply mind blowing.
My brain has just stopped working. I can feel it idling. My thoughts are there- I have my to do list- I know exactly what I need to do and I know exactly how to do it and the ability to move forward is simply gone. I am sitting.
My management skills will allow me to get through this. I will get my work done and even though it’s going to be hard, I know how to make it happen. But the toll it takes on me is enormous. It will take even longer to work than it does when I’m on my meds at the right dose. Three hours of work that will take three hours extra to get done will now be three hour of work that will take six extra hours to get done. I will have to use every single skill I write about in Get it Done When You’re Dressed.
I found this medication in 2012. It saved my life. I don’t have side effects. I use it and have a much easier life. But it is not healthy to use it at high doses and I need to be aware of this.
So what to do? I am talking with my prescriber today and I will go back up on my dose. I can reduce it, but not this much.
People who want to tell us not to take meds or not to get ECT or not to get the help we need for our chemically imbalanced brain are ABUSIVE. They want to control us and tell us that bipolar is psychological or emotional. It is not either of these things.
My life is exceptionally good. I have friends, family , more work than I can handle, lots of ideas and people who want to hear them. I manage my bipolar 24 hours a day and I get on with my life as best I can. Reducing one medication caused what you see in the pictures. It created this out of the air- not out of my life.
Take your meds if they work. Take your meds if you need them. Bipolar, schizoaffective and schizophrenia are physical genetic illnesses that involve brain chemistry. This becomes even more clear when the meds are not working.
There is about a 20 minute difference in these photos. This is the true nature of rapid cycling bipolar.