Has your child been diagnosed with bipolar disorder? My daughter was. Have you struggled to understand? I did. A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a lecture of one of the leading experts in the field, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison. She suffers with this brain disorder herself, so she really knows what she’s talking about. She wrote the book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, about her experiences. Here are a few highlights.
One of the biggest challenges is that people who struggle with bipolar resist or stop taking medication.
It’s hard for doctors and loved ones to understand why patients do this. Some of the common reasons are:
– Mania is an intoxicating state. Exhilarating. Being on medication cuts into that.
– Side effects of medication can seem intolerable.
– Mania destroys the basis of rational thought. While it brings some pleasure, it also brings untold suffering (the things you do/choices you make when in this state. Often, you don’t even know or remember what happened. You wonder if you will ever be free of the cycles – mania and severe, often debilitating depression. When will it happen again? You never know.
– They affect memory and coordination.
– It’s hard to accept you have a disease and must be a patient for the rest of your life. Pride is involved. Even mild mania is quite alluring. Can be compared to how cocaine makes you feel, only the mania does a hundred times more; wild highs. And you don’t forget how you felt. So this becomes an illness you don’t want to give up. You deny you have an incurable disease.
There’s a great sense of loss and the very real chance of losing your life if untreated. You must accept this. It’s a difficult process. It took Jamison all through high school, college, 2 yrs of grad school and into her second year as a professor of psychiatry at John’s Hopkins Medical Center to finally accept it.
One of the most powerful things anyone ever said to her was from one of her fellow professors,
“Keep taking your meds; learn from your experience; teach from it and write from it.”
People who are treated and do well tend to keep quiet about their experiences. They don’t want anyone to know. Pride stops them. So people have an unrealistic view about bipolar. Being treated by a great psychiatrist and psychotherapist are crucial. Find ones you know will be honest with you, but offer hope. Tough but kind. Get second opinions if you can afford it. If you don’t have a good connection with the one you’re seeing, find someone else. Not all psychiatrists are good in this area.
After she was in recovery a long time she always missed her highs in mania. But she came to realize that she must choose between life and death. Bipolar is that serious.
In my next blog on Sunday, February 8th, I’ll share more insights and words of hope from Dr. Jamison . If you need a little more hope, it may help.