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Health Conditions

Living with Bipolar Disorder

bipolar disorder

I am a 31 year old high school teacher living with bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed at the age of 26, but symptoms were present earlier. It is often the case that bipolar disorder will not surface until late adolescence or early adulthood. Bipolar disorder was formerly known as Manic Depression, but I guess they think bipolar disorder will be less stereotyped.

Five years seems like a long time. I should be able to handle this disease by now, but I’m not. Sometimes the mood changes are rapid cycling, meaning they occur within 24 to 48 hour periods. However, sometimes I’ll be either up or down for months at a time. The up side is called manic and the down is depressive. People ask me sometimes, “Hey, are you going to be at the game next week?” and I won’t have an answer because I can’t tell you whether I will be functional. When I am down, I don’t even want to get out of bed. Paying bills or feeding the dogs becomes a huge task. Eating and showering occur out of necessity and I will go for weeks without going to the grocery store.

Understanding the Disease

Since my diagnosis, I have lost a lot of friends who wouldn’t take the time to understand my disease. When I am down, I disappear. The disease has made my life as a teacher more difficult as well. How do you explain to a room full of hormone-raging teenagers that you have bipolar disorder? Especially when that is an insult they use to call teachers they think are crazy. The stigma of the disease goes that far. Those kids, who may not even be able to spell bipolar disorder, know that it has a bad connotation.

Sometimes I have to miss days just because I can’t go to work. I am physically well, but I can’t go and I can’t explain why I won’t go. This is called mutism and is common among those with the disease. It is the inability to express one’s feelings not because one doesn’t want to, but because they can’t. I don’t call those my sick days; they are my mental health days. When I tell someone that, they really don’t understand the depth of that statement.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The only thing on my side is the ADA. Those with bipolar disorder are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. After working in the school system for eight years, I finally approached my principal because the disease was causing problems at work. The problems had gone so far that I was nearly fired or at least that’s what I thought because bipolar disorder often makes you very paranoid. It always seemed to me like someone was out to get me. Someone wanted to get me fired. It was all in my head. I see that now. Still, I can’t control it. My principal has been more supportive than I ever could have imagined. I am very thankful for him. My job is a huge trigger in my moods. A trigger is a noticeable event that causes the mood to change suddenly. Many of those with the disease are able to pinpoint their triggers after some time with the disease. I know two of my triggers: my job and money.

I have been on countless different pills of varying shapes, sizes, and colors since I was 22, even though the diagnosis was not until 26. No drug works completely, 100% of the time. I wish I could express that to those closest to me who ask, “Have you been taking your pills?” Can you imagine hearing that every time you are in a bad mood? I went off of my pills once and wanted to kill myself. I ended up in the hospital for several days with a doctor who swore I wasn’t bipolar, but never did tell me what was wrong with me. There are other psychological illnesses that mimic bipolar disorder; however with my family history I believe it to be true. Bipolar disorder is often genetic and my mother and grandfather both had bipolar disorder.

It is hard living with this disease and the stigma attached to it. I hate explaining why I take a handful of pills every night. I will never have children, which is something I want more than anything in the world, because I don’t want to pass on this curse. Bipolar disorder is for life. You don’t get well. You may be stable, but you are never well. It doesn’t just go away.

Health Conditions

Lithium Information Treatment and Side Effects: Help for Manic Depression High or Low Episodes and Bipolar Disorder

cure for depression

Lithium is helpful in evening out the lows (depression) and the highs (mania) of patients moods that are associated with bipolar disorder. It can also be used to treat patients with depression who do not suffer from bipolar disorder.

How Lithium Works

Lithium carbonate is a form of salt. It was approved for use in the U.S. in 1970. Lithium actually effects the flow of sodium through nerve and muscle cells located in the body. Sodium is what affects mania or excitation.

Blood levels on patients taking Lithium will need to be monitored. Studies indicate that patients respond best to Lithium when blood levels are between 0.6-1.2mmol/L. Blood samples will also indicate if a patient has too much Lithium in their system. This could result in side effects. Too little Lithium may not treat symptoms adequately.

What Lithium Treats

Lithium was developed to treat manic depression, bipolar disorder. It evens out the highs (mania) and lows (depression) in moods associated with bipolar disorder.

Lithium is also prescribed for patients with depression, who have never experienced a manic episode. When prescribed for depression, Lithium is often added to an additional antidepressant.

Certain schizophrenia patients have been treated with Lithium. These patients experience changes in thinking at the same time as a mood change and it resembles either depression or mania.

Lithium Administration and Dosage

Lithium is available in either tablets or capsules. This medication is generally taken 2 or 3 times a day due to upset stomach occuring. Physicians will determine the correct daily dosage.

Lithium should be taken with food to help avoid stomach upset. It should never be taken with caffeine products, such as coffee, sodas, or tea. Caffeine can decrease Lithium levels in a patient’s body.

Side Effects of Lithium

Common side effects experienced while taking Lithium can include loss of appetite, nausea, stomach upset, mild tremor of the hands, weakness, lack of coordiation, itching skin, or thinning or drying of hair.

If a patient experiences signs of an allergic reaction to Lithium, medical help should be sought immediately. Signs of an allergic reaction can include hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips, tongue, face, or throat.

Patients should stop taking Lithium and consult their physician immediately if they experience any of the following side effects: extreme thirst, frequent or less urination, fever, eye or vision problems, feelings of restlessness or confusion, weakness, pain, discoloration of fingers or toes, cold feeling, slow heart rate, fainting, light-headedness, hallucinations, seizure, muscle stiffness, sweating, or fast or uneven heartrate.

Important Information Regarding Lithium

Bipolar disorder, manic depression and schizophrenia all require long-term treatment. Physicians will determine the length of time for treatment with Lithium.

Pregnant women taking Lithium during the first three months have an associated risk of their baby having a heart valve defect. Babies exposed to Lithium during that time frame have a 1 in 2,000 chance of developing a heart valve defect.

Lithium, when used as prescribed, has helped patients control their condition. Lithium should be continued even when patients are feeling well. Patients need to avoid excessive amounts of caffeinated beverages. Never start a low salt diet while on Lithium without first discussing this with a healthcare provider. Low sodium blood levels can lead to Lithium toxicity.

Health Conditions

Life on a Pendulum: Bipolarism: Manic Depression, Cancer of the Soul

manic depression

No, it’s not just a bad day. It’s not even just a horrible day. It’s another one of those days when you pick up a razor and slash a diary of just how bad you feel into your flesh.

Seeing is believing:

…and the opposite is true; those who do not suffer from this mental illness cannot even begin to imagine the terrifying heights to which you can fly; the almost supernatural endurance sustained during a manic period. You can survive on two or three hours a sleep a day, for weeks on end. It’s as though a whirling dervish has possessed your very being and there is no stopping the mad reel. Even more frightening is the knowledge that you are going to crash, sooner or later. There is no avoiding that finale.

You never hit bottom. There is no bottom, just endless sinking into nothingness; a fall through the basement floor of despair. It is not uncommon for a depressive to simply stop living in any meaningful way. She does not get up, she does not wash her hair, she does not cook or clean or even talk. It can go on for months, there is only the keening; a high-pitched wail turning into a scream. If you call, she won’t answer the phone. If you go to her house, she locks the door and hides.

Is it real?

Doctors have been studying this issue for many years, and though they believe it is a true mental disorder, they have been hard-pressed to find physical evidence to prove it. Recently, they have turned to Brain Imaging to find anomalies in the way the brains of manic-depressives work. By studying the neurotransmitters (messengers between brain cells) they are beginning to see differences in the functioning of manic-depressives when compared to a normally-functioning brain. There is some proof that bipolarism is partly genetic in nature, as it tends to run in families. But researchers believe it is more of an interaction between many genes as opposed to a single gene acting on its own, along with environmental causes which may include emotional trauma. Since it is a relatively new field of research, there is hope that soon a link will be found between the genetic make-up of manic-depressives and and inherited genes.

Diagnosis is difficult, due to the fact that many of the symptoms mimic those of other mental illnesses. One of the methods used to determine whether the patient is bipolar is to rule out other psychological disorders. It is also hindered by the fact that many doctors either do not believe it is an actual illness, or do not recognize the symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of manic-depression

Often beginning in childhood, this disorder begins with what is termed ‘hypo-mania’. This consists of rapid and exaggerated mood swings, irritability and impulsive behavior. If left untreated it tends to worsen over time, developing into full-blown manic-depression. There are different degrees of bipolarism. Bipolar I is characterised by at least one episode of mania, with or without the depressive aspect. Bipolar II diagnosis requires at least one manic episode, accompanied by a depressive episode. Cyclothymic disorder consists of recurring hypo-manic and depressive episodes, not necessarily separated; it is possible to be manic and depressive at the same time. In this case, there must be four or more major depressive incidents that impair the patient’s functioning on some level. Rapid cycling manic-depression manifests as at least four major manic episodes a year, with major depressive episodes in between.

Other signs to watch for are self-mutilation or talk of suicide. Although it is more likely for bipolars to commit suicide in the early stages of the illness, it is always a possibility, and signs should be taken seriously. Cutting is a form of self-mutilation common to manic-depressives; usually it is done in places on the body that do not show, such as the thighs. If done on the arms, they tend to wear long sleeves to conceal the wounds. They often do not feel the pain at all, and it is an expression of self-loathing and despair.

Treatment

Once diagnosed with bipolarism, medication is usually recommended. The most common medication to treat this disorder in the beginning is lithium. Advanced cases often require the use of anti-seizure medication and anti-depressants to combat severe depressive incidents. In severe cases Electroshock Therapy (EST) is used. No one knows quite why it works, but it jolts the brain and seems to be effective in restoring some balance to the lives of manic-depressives.

Psychotherapy should be used hand-in-hand with medication. It is important for the patient to understand the triggers that cause episodes, and to find ways to cope with the stressors in their lives. Manic-depressives usually have very disorganized personalities and hold onto false beliefs, regardless of evidence to the contrary. It is baffling to their families and friends, because they never know what to expect; they can go from outrageous and promiscuous behavior to complete withdrawal in no time at all, and often those closest to them give up and despair of ever figuring out the best approach.

It may well be that time holds the only answer to the questions posed about this mental disorder. For those of you with bipolars in your life, the most important thing you can do is have patience; and never downplay the agony in their lives. One of the most frustrating facts for bipolars is that there is no visible sign of their illness, and so many people refuse to acknowledge that there is anything seriously wrong.