Yesterday I was at happy hour with one of my friends and we started to notice that we tend to talk about the same things over and over again in regards to our illness: bipolar disorder. I've shared in a former post that having a support group is crucial to recovery with this illness. It's highly important to talk to others who are also experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression or both. We wanted to put it out there what you might experience when talking to your bipolar friend:
1. Getting on the right medications
I was first diagnosed in 2013 and have had a mix of emotions when it comes to being on medication. At first, I was non-compliant and wanted nothing to do with medicine. I tried everything. I went to alternative medicine and tried massage therapy, acupuncture and over the counter medicines that helped with stress. I do not want to list the medications since everyone is different however I will share that it's been a journey to get to where I am today. It's been about two years since I was diagnosed and I am still experimenting with drugs to see where I am best fit. I've talked to friends who are also on medication and we can share some common side effects such as weight gain. Again, I will not discuss certain medications since I am not a doctor however amongst bipolar friends, this conversations comes up a lot.
I've been pretty lucky to have some great therapists over the past three years however it wasn't always this way. I've been going to the same therapist for about a year now and I like her a lot. She did pressure me to try different medications, which I didn't like, but other than that she's great. She's met a few of my family members and she's also bilingual in Spanish which is a plus. Before her, I would meet with a different therapist that helped get me through my divorce but once I was diagnosed bipolar she didn't know how to deal with it so I switched to a new therapist. She also didn't accept Medi-cal coverage so I had to switch to a new therapist anyway. Two of my closest friends have also switched therapists recently and that is an ongoing battle to find the right one. One of those friends switched therapists because she recently was majorly depressed and confessed to her therapist that she was suicidal. The therapist didn't take it seriously and at the end of the session told my friend she was doing great. My friend immediately fired her and is now looking for a new therapist.
3. Overconcerned family members
I find that my family finds it difficult to understand the illness, especially because it was onset later in my life. I was diagnosed in March 2013 at the age of 29 and ever since then they have tried everything to get me to go back to "normal." Because of this reason, I have also put a lot of pressure to perform the way I was before I was diagnosed. For example, I tried going back to my fulltime job however the anxiety kicked in and I didn't last a day. Then I had a slew of part-time jobs last year in 2014 and again the anxiety kicked in and the longest I lasted at a job was for two months. Right now, I am signed up as a substitute clerical for a district and I can work only on days when I feel good. My parents did not really want me working at all since they saw me have a few episodes and don't want me to put so much stress on myself. I do get supplemental income every month and now I am grateful to God that I found a job where I can only work a few days a month and get extra money to put in my savings. My friend shared to me that her mom checks in on her from time to time since my friend tends to be depressed and stays in her room for days sometimes. Her mom recently bought her a pill case that is bigger and fits all her pills and put it in a safe place at home so my friend remembers to take all her pills. My mom also checks in with me from time to time since I am also prone to depression and I'd say that I've gotten closer to my mom over the past two years due to the illness. This was a blessing in disguise because I was never really close to my mother in the past.
4. Gaining weight while on medication
It is well known that certain medications cause weight gain and this has been a proven fact by all my close friends that have bipolar disorder. We all have experienced some weight gain over the past few years and the best way we have managed to deal with it is by eating properly and exercising. We tend to cheat sometimes and go to happy hour or eat fast food which doesn't help. One of my friends joined Curves but she couldn't get herself to go to the gym so she cancelled the membership. She now goes to OA (Overeaters Anonymous) meetings instead and that helps her with her diet plan. My other friend said she is going to start walking on the treadmill at home for at least 15-30 minutes a day to jumpstart a healthier lifestyle. I was going to the Goodwill Gym for about a year and I recently acquired a step climber at home so I am going to try and work out for at least 30 minutes a day. I must admit that I have taken diet pills in the past and they seemed to work but once I stopped taking them the pounds just add up again. In all seriousness, this is a very tough issue for all of us because if we find ourselves depressed, weight gain can only make it worse so it becomes a vicious cycle.
5. Smoking is an issue
If you tend to be around smokers, then you either start hating it or you join the crowd. For me, it was the second option. I took up this habit because I found myself hanging out with people who were always smoking and since I used to smoke socially, it was easy to pick up this habit on a daily basis. It is statistically proven that people with a mental illness tend to smoke on a higher average than the general population. I've managed to only smoke when I'm around two of my best friends who also smoke. It alleviates some of the stress we experience on a daily basis. One of my best friends recently quit smoking so that has motivated me to also quit smoking but I can't say that I'm ready yet.
I hope this list helps you be a better support to the friend who suffers from bipolar disorder. Please remember that this is a lifelong battle and they will need you to hear them out when it comes to these five issues. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has great resources for family members of those who suffer from a mental illness and I highly suggest you check out their website.
For Orange County, it's www.namioc.org