Essential Facts to Know About Bipolar Disorder

**Trigger warning: this post discusses mania, depression, suicide and other topics that may upset those who have lived experience. Please read with caution.**

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health illness. It affects millions of people (2.6% of the American population), but yet, you may not see the signs for a long time. I have friends that live with this illness and while they do struggle, they also have great days, weeks and even months between episodes.

It hurts my heart when they are not doing so well, but all I can do is support them if they want it. The disorder and its many presentations differ among people, even among episodes. One episode can be a mixed episode, the next can be full-on depression. There is no way of knowing, even if there is a known pattern of episodes.

There are facts that can expand your knowledge of and help someone you know that has bipolar disorder.

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More Than Mood Swings

Almost everyone has mood swings- some days we are happy, some we are sad. In the case of bipolar disorder, these changes affect a person’s ability to function in daily life- work, relationships, school, etc. These changes include mania (“highs”) and depression (“lows”). Suicide attempts are common in those with bipolar disorder, especially during a depressive episode. The risk is even higher when there is a history of previous attempts.

Bipolar disorder can be treated with therapy and medication. Some have issues staying compliant with their medications because of side effects and/or once they feel better, they don’t see the need for medications.

It is vitally important that once medications are started to stay on them unless otherwise directed by the prescribing physician. Many people with this disorder can live full, productive lives. Most people see their first episode between their late teen years and mid-20’s.

What does mania look like?

  • Feelings of euphoria and elation, in some people- this can come out as irritability or anger
  • Impulsive, high-risk behaviors- this varies among people, but this can include spending sprees, sexual promiscuity, daredevil-like behaviors, and drug and/or alcohol abuse.
  • increased energy, rapid speech
  • decreased sleep and appetite
  • disorganized thoughts and difficulty concentrating

What does depression look like?

  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Inability to sleep/sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in regularly liked activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness/guilt
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or appearance

Causes, Types and Risk Factors

There isn’t a single cause for bipolar disorder, but there are multiple contributing factors.

Genetics- This disorder tends to run in families. Please read Mental Health and Genetics: The Main Connections for more information on how genetics play a role in certain mental health illnesses. Scientists are working on finding abnormalities in specific genes in this case.

Biological- Researchers believe that some neurotransmitters don’t work correctly in the brains of those with bipolar disorder.

Environmental- Outside factors, like a major life change, may trigger a biological reaction or genetic predisposition. It’s hard to know for sure, but it is seen as a possibility.

The Different Types of Bipolar Disorder:

  • Bipolar I: An individual has both manic and depressive episodes of different lengths.
  • Bipolar II: Less severe manic episodes than Bipolar I, but the depressive episodes are the same.
  • Rapid-cycling: experiencing four or more episodes of mania, depression or both within one year
  • Mixed episodes: Mania and depression occur at the same time. This means someone can feel hopeless but yet energetic enough to do risky things.

Risk Factors:

  • A family history of bipolar disorder or other psychological disorders
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse
  • Major life changes
  • Stress
  • Medication interactions- for example, some antidepressants can induce mania.

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Knowing When to Get Help

When someone you care about seems a bit “off” for a period of more than a few days, it may be time to get them to go to a mental health facility, therapist or other assistance. The concern can be sudden or gradual after seeing someone not taking care of themselves, acting out of character, spending large amounts of money, or showing other signs of mental distress.

It may be hard to talk to them about it, but it may be what they need most. Knowing that someone cares for them may be the push they need to get help. Bipolar disorder does not get better on its own.

Their treatment may include medication, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) or other options as needed. They may even have a co-occurring condition that may also need to be treated. The most common conditions are ADHD, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

If you or someone you care about is in a bipolar episode and experiencing thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, please get to an ER immediately, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text HOME to 741741. Both are free.

Support and Love

Those with bipolar disorder need two major things from those they love and care about: support and love. It’s not easy to battle your own mind every day. It can get exhausting. I’ve watched my friends battle through issues with medications, hallucinations, depressive and manic episodes. This is not fun, but they did not choose their chemical makeup. They just try to get through life like the rest of us.

If you love someone with bipolar disorder, please read Mental Illness and Relationships

It can be a bumpy road, as I learned, but it’s entirely worth it.

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Information courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Psych Central

My Fearless Leader

There’s a common saying in the autism parenting community that I love: “Autism is a journey I never planned but I sure do love my tour guide.”

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, this post is for Julian. He is now 12, almost as tall as me, and is still my lookalike. Most of all, he is what his psychiatric nurse practitioner calls “well-loved”.

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In a firetruck at the 2018 FEAT Autism Walk

Back to the Beginning

When he was five, I had no idea what we were in for. I just knew that he needed me and more help than I could give him. I doubted myself so much because even with all of my knowledge and work, I still couldn’t manage him.

I dreaded going out in public because it was a risk- he was a runner. What if he ran off? What if he had a meltdown? His meltdowns were loud and lasted at least a half hour. I made my trips as short as possible. I went out alone when I could so I didn’t have to worry about chasing a very fast kid.

School was a tougher topic. He struggled to sit through kindergarten and didn’t like his teacher but loved her assistant. Even after his ADHD and autism diagnosis and medication, he continued to stay away from his peers. He remained quiet, barely speaking to anyone. Julian was in his own world, both at home and at school.

It turns out that’s a personality trait- he is my quietest child. He won’t talk to people he doesn’t know and needs prompting sometimes to speak to those he does. Eye contact is non-existent and I don’t force it. As long as I see that he’s looking at my face, I know he is listening.

The Road to Now

Julian has spent a lot of his childhood in therapy. He started with a social worker in 2013, a psychiatrist, who recommended group therapy while he was in third grade, and now he sees Ann, his nurse practitioner, once a month.

Group therapy helped more than anything else. I had to pay out of pocket for it because insurance wouldn’t cover it.

I didn’t care.

It was worth every penny. He learned skills that he can use for the rest of his life- sharing, talking about himself in a group, handling challenging emotions, and other topics.

Julian struggles with empathy, even after that was a theme in the group. We work on this a lot. He may say something that hurts another person’s feelings but doesn’t get why.

I explain to him why what he said was not so nice and that he needs to think things out a bit more before speaking (hilarious for me to say that because I am the wrong parent for this) and apologize. Sometimes this works, sometimes I lose him.

Julian also developed a sense of humor. For a while, we weren’t sure if he had one. He didn’t get sarcasm and was so serious. I had to explain jokes to him.

He has been fearless pretty much since he could walk. There have been incidents that resulted in broken bones, staples, stitches and other assorted injuries. None of these things stopped him. As he’s gotten a little older, he has learned to hesitate a little, but he’s still the first to get into something.

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Eating his 4th birthday cake with a cast

Humor finally hit him and I was thrilled. His humor is dry but we appreciate it. Sarcasm is still not a thing for him but it’s not for everyone.

Julian thinks in incredibly concrete ways. He eats certain foods (pretzels are life) in a certain way. He thinks things should happen in a particular order and doesn’t always get why it doesn’t happen like he thinks it should.

However, he’s very smart. Seventh grade has gone well- his IEP focuses on his handwriting (it needs improvement) along with other goals. His grades are good and his best subjects are math and science. He’s always been talented in those subjects.

In many ways, Julian is like most 12-year-olds- he loves playing on his Xbox 360 and riding his bike. He thinks the prank videos on YouTube are the funniest things he’s ever seen. There are just a few quirks involved.

I’m Not an Expert

I read a lot about autism. I worked with kids all over the spectrum for almost five years. I’ve been injured in the process but loved the work. It truly changes you and how you see the world.

Still, I am not an expert. I do not know what it is like to be Julian. I do not know what it is like to be in the lunchroom full of noisy kids and have to block it out so you can eat and try to talk to your friends. I do not know what it feels like to be super bored for a minute or two in class but yet, it feels like forever.

I do, however, know the feeling of wanting to hug a wonderful child who won’t let me because he hates the feeling. I know exactly how it feels to watch your child yell loudly over the shape of pasta because it’s not the right one. This has happened, but not in years.

I’ve often wanted to take a trip inside Julian’s mind, but I know this is impossible. Since I can’t, I try hard to remember where he is and help him through his needs. We don’t let him have everything he wants, because that simply isn’t how the world works. We do, however, make accommodations when we can.

Julian has been an adventure to raise. The road has been a bit bumpy but I will stay with him forever.

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Yay! He finished therapy (2015)

If you are the parent/caregiver of a special needs child, how has the path been for you? Please share in the comments.

The Benefits of a Daily Routine

Routines can get a bit boring…day after day, we get up, eat, go to work, come home, hang out, go to bed…or some variation of this. Some of us stay home with kids, some travel frequently for work, etc. Either way, almost everyone has a routine.

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My Attempt at a Routine

I’m at home with the kids and we have a routine. It’s pretty stable because Julian and Lily do their best with one. I do okay with a routine, but if things get shaken up, I am okay. The kids require a bit of notice. Otherwise, one or both can get quite upset and nobody wants that.

They like knowing what will happen when they get out of school- snack, homework, dinner, shower, TV/screen time then bed, with some outside time thrown in if the weather is okay.

This changes when there are school breaks, of course, or in case of horrible flu outbreaks like the one in January. In that case, nobody moves and we watch a ton of TV when we are awake to do so.

We don’t schedule much on weekends- those are open for fun things with friends, family, and my weekly Yoga for Recovery class.

Why Is Routine Important?

Would you want to go through your days not knowing what’s happening next? This does not sound fun, in fact, it would likely create a lot of anxiety. You would become anxious at not knowing where to go, what to do, or even when to eat (besides your stomach telling you).

Routines can create a soothing effect, even if you don’t realize it. It can be comforting. You can leave work or otherwise come to the end of your day knowing that you can relax, however you choose to do so.

Having a routine is also great for kids. It decreases anxiety and creates stability. They can eventually learn to plan things around their routine, like extracurricular activities, with your help.

Routine is also helpful for major life changes and trying to adjust after them- it helps restore a sense of normalcy. It helps make you feel like you’re getting back into real life, not the event that you are coming out of- divorce, a death in the family, moving, or other changes.

Sleeping cat

How Can I Start a Routine?

If you aren’t a routine-based person, it’s okay. Not everyone is. If you want to try starting one, it definitely requires small steps. Throwing too many changes at yourself can cause overwhelm.

Try these tips:

  • Try a small breakfast, quick meditation or other activity in the morning. It can be good to try something new while building a routine.
  • Don’t get angry at yourself if you get out of routine. It happens.
  • When coming home from work or going out for the day, try an activity to help shift to being home. Most people go through the mail, change clothes, listen to music, etc.
  • Try to stick to your routine as much as you can but stay open to change. Rigidity increases anxiety and even anger. Example: having to stop amd pick up a forgotten ingredient for dinner or pet food isn’t the worst thing that can happen in a day.

Results

Depending on why you decided to change or create a routine, your results may be a bit different than someone else’s. Everyone can benefit from a routine, from kids to the elderly.

Have you changed or created a new routine lately?

Invisible Changes

I was looking for content ideas when I came across some information about Traumatic Brain Injury Month. It’s in September and Acquired Brain Injury Month is this month.

Either way, you get them, brain injuries are less than fun. I have one. I didn’t ask for it, but I have learned to deal with it in the best way possible.

A Migraine Gone Bad

My mom’s family has a history of migraines- my grandmother had them, my mom does, both of my sisters, a nephew and unfortunately, Cameron has them.

Luckily for him and my nephew Chris, they can ease as they get older due to testosterone. The rest of us aren’t that lucky. I was 30 before I ever had one, and once they showed up, they were awful.

For those of you who have been lucky enough to never have had a migraine, let me describe how it feels.

It’s like a thousand pounds of weight is sitting on your head, a vice is tightening on the sides, and the other symptoms aren’t fun either.

Many people differ on their symptoms, but mine include nausea (severe enough to require its own medication), blurred vision, and a few other not so great things. Sometimes I have signs before, called an aura, and sometimes I don’t. It’s a crapshoot.

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One day, a migraine went way too far and led to a mini-stroke. I was working and just not feeling well. My head was hurting and my right arm went numb.

I couldn’t even hold the crayon I was using to color with the patients I was working with. (At the time, I was a mental health associate at a mental health facility, and I was on a kid unit that day.) I kept dropping it. I was tired, nauseated, my speech was a bit off and I just wanted to go home. I left work early and went home.

I DO NOT RECOMMEND ANY OF THIS. If you even THINK you are having a stroke, please call 911 or have someone drive you to a hospital. The nurse I was working with felt terrible when she heard what happened.

She apologized to me and told me that if she would have known she would have called an ambulance herself. She and I are great friends, and I don’t blame her at all. I had no idea either, so it’s not her fault.

Once I got home, I just wanted to go to sleep. I also don’t recommend this, and I think almost every doctor and neurologist, including the one I still see, was not happy about this.

I could have died in my sleep, so this is another thing I don’t recommend. I was laying in bed and tried to turn over when my right arm wouldn’t move. I burst into tears because I was so scared, and my husband, Matthew, called my mother. Clearly, I needed to go to the hospital.

My mom signed me in and I was taken to get a CT scan almost immediately. At this point, I don’t really remember what happened the rest of the night.

I do remember hearing that my blood pressure was well above what it should have been, was unable to be controlled and there was evidence of a stroke so I would have to be moved to a different hospital.

My mom isn’t a crier, but she was crying at that point. She left when I was being transferred, and the last thing I remembered telling her was that if I didn’t make it, just let my babies know I loved them.

A stroke? I was only 30.

Today’s PSA: Strokes can happen to anyone. I worked with a kid that had one at 4, and he was left with an arm that was completely paralyzed, which he did not hesitate to use as a weapon. (For the record, he was one of my favorite kids EVER) Babies, teens, anyone can have them.

The Youngest Person on the Stroke Unit

I woke up a few hours later on the stroke unit at a larger hospital. It was Easter Sunday of 2013. I didn’t see my kids that day, but Matthew, my mom and a couple of other people showed up. I had a lot of tests run on me, and as it turned out, I was the youngest person on the stroke unit at the time. I asked.

I also asked what caused my stroke… like anyone would. The neurologists told me that in the course of my migraine, my blood pressure spiked, due to the severe pain, and things went bad with a blood vessel. I usually sum it up as a migraine gone bad. I was in the hospital for two more days and had a slight bit of physical therapy.

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It took some time for my changes to show up, as the neurologists warned, but they are there.

My short term memory has been affected. I have to write things down or I will forget them. I’m like Dory in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory”. I have Evernote on my phone for this reason.

I still forget things and it’s frustrating but I have learned to adjust. My balance is off a bit, especially on my right side. The stroke occurred on the left side of my brain, so my right side, of course, is affected.

I have migraines, but they have been managed pretty well. It took a few years and a lot of pain, though. I have a great headache specialist. (If you’re reading this from the Louisville, KY area and need a headache specialist, let me know and I’ll give you his info)

I’m a huge talker, but unfortunately, my speech has been affected. I have aphasia, which is annoying but something I cannot control. I may pause in the middle of a sentence because I forgot what I was saying, or what word I wanted to use.

I do get frustrated when I can’t find my words, and I hated having to step back at work a bit for a couple of weeks, but it really was the best for me.

I was told to manage the stress in my life, and at that point, there was plenty. My marriage was going straight to hell, Julian was not doing well and the only thing keeping me in one piece was my job.

I had to let go of some of the perfectionism I carried inside and re-evaluate what was important to me. It took a lot but that’s what happened.

Every year on March 30, I have a fun day, no matter what is going on. It’s my reminder that I’m much stronger than I think and that I really can get through anything.

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Below are some helpful links for stroke warning signs, Traumatic Brain Injury information (I used to work with kids that have them) and Acquired Brain Injury information.

stroke warning signs

TBI information

ABI information

Guest Post with Sierra

Happy Friday! I’m bringing in a post from Sierra. She’s with Basic Invite and she was amazing to work with! Thank you, Sierra.
I graduated from university recently, and while I’m grateful I got my degree, college was a very difficult experience for me.

In the middle of my college career, I had to go see a psychologist for anxiety disorder and depression.

Dealing with anxiety and depression at the same time was hard, but I learned a lot about myself from this experience.

One thing that really helped me deal with my feelings was making things. Every so often I would paint or do origami and it really helped relieve my stress and fear.

As graduation loomed closer, I knew I wanted to send out graduation announcements to my friends and family.

By this time I had my mental health problems better under control, although I usually still felt uneasy and prone to sadness more often than normal.

I was also really worried about finding a job after graduation, where I would live, and everything else that comes with leaving school and becoming an adult.

Despite my worries, I decided to knuckle down and find some cute graduation invitations to send to my loved ones.

I googled “graduation invitations” and stumbled upon Basic Invite.

I really liked their designs.

I went with their vibrant anemone graduation invitation, shown below since I love flowers.

Although I must say, all their floral graduation invitations are pretty awesome.

Their graduation brunch invitations are cute too.

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What I really liked about Basic Invite was that I was able to edit the font and colors for the card.

I changed the background of the vibrant anemone invite to a lighter shade of blue I liked better, although I kept the font the same.

Designing the invitations was really therapeutic for me, like origami or painting. It kept me from feeling stressed.

I was knocking something important off of my to-do list.

I told my friends about Basic Invite and how I got to design my invites, and a couple of them tried it out too.

One of my friends really liked their elegant graduation invitations and used their sophisticated swash graduation invitation, seen below.

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They also have colored envelopes, so I chose an envelope that matched the background of my invite.

I ordered a sample from their site to make sure I liked how everything turned out, and it was perfect.

I placed an order for all the invitations I wanted the same day.

Designing my graduation invite with Basic Invite was one of the best choices I made at the end of my college career.

It was super fun and relaxing, and I got to show off my work to all of my friends!

If you need graduation invitations, I hope you’ll give Basic Invite a shot. I hope you love their products as much as I do.