1. Just what is bipolar disorder exactly?

    June 17, 2013

    living with bipolar disorder

    by: Tricia Chilcott

    What is bipolar disorder?

    What is bipolar disorder? Who gets it? What are the symptoms? What about medications? These
    are all important questions about bipolar disorder, and I’m going to try and answer them here.
    According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is ‘ a brain disorder that
    causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day
    tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and
    downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in
    damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide’.

    Living with bipolar disorder

    I know from experience just how much havoc being bipolar can create in your life. Since I was
    diagnosed 8 years ago, I’ve had 4 hospital stays, with the first one lasting 6 weeks, and the most
    recent stay lasting 3 weeks. This has been a huge burden on my family, and problematic in my
    marriage as well. I made the decision to go off my meds back in December, and by February I
    had crashed hard, thus landing me back in the hospital. It was not a pretty sight in the slightest.
    Thanks to a good doctor and a wonderful husband, I’m back on my meds and doing fantastically.
    But what about medications for bipolar? There are a number of medications avaialble, and
    literally hundreds of ways they can be mixed together to try and find the perfect cocktail.
    Medications include mood stabilizers such as lithium, anticonvulsants such as Lamictal, atypical
    antipsychotics such as Abilify, and antidepressants such as Zoloft. One issue with medication
    management is that many people with bipolar disorder have comorbid conditions, making
    them need additional medications as well. For example, in addition to being bipolar, I also have
    ADHD, PTSD, and anxiety, so my cocktail consists of Concerta, Welbutrin, Abilify, Klonopin,
    Ambien, and Xanax. My psychiatrist is trying to convince me that I need Trileptal as well, but
    it’s a battle he’s not winning.

    Who gets bipolar disorder?

    So who gets bipolar disorder? It is estimated that approximately 2% of the general population
    has bipolar disorder whether diagnosed or not. According to the DSM-IV, there are actually
    4 variations of bipolar disorder, which include Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Bipolar-NOS, and
    cyclothymia. What do all of these mean? People with Bipolar I not only have the severe downs,
    but they have severe ups as well, or they have what’s called a mixed state, which includes
    features of both depressive and manic symptoms. People with Bipolar II don’t have the manic
    highs, instead they swing from very depressed to hypomanic. Bipolar-NOS are people who have
    symptoms, but don’t fall into either of the above two categories. And then cyclothemia is a mild
    form of bipolar disorder, one in which the person experiences highs and lows, but not the very
    low depressive states, and not the high manic states. You may also have genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder. It’s been recently discovered that that bipolar disorder, ADHD, and schizophrenia may all be linked to the same set of genes.

    You are in excellent company

    So what does this all mean for the bipolar patient? It can mean a lot of time spent with a doctor
    figuring out medications. It can mean a lot of frustration as medications are sorted out and
    therapy is started. But it also means you are in excellent company! You may feel alone in this battle, but many others have fought it and won. I’m sure you’ve heard of Abraham Lincoln, as well as Winston Churchill, and even Charles Dickens. Or perhaps you’ve heard of a lovely lady named Marilyn Monroe? Kurt Cobain? Or if you’re more current than that, how about Catherine Zeta-Jones? These creative geniuses all have or had bipolar disorder. Many bipolar patients are creative geniuses in their own right, but it comes with that hefty price tag of the extreme mood swings.

    Don’t give up!

    One thing many people living with bipolar disorder pride themselves on is having the ability
    to walk that fine line between insanity and brilliance. We may stumble and fall off that tight rope occasionally, but there is hope for us, and we are not alone in our fight with this. There is support available, there is treatment that works, and recovery is possible. I am living proof of
    this, as are many other successful bipolar people I know. So don’t give up! Don’t give in! The night is always darkest before the dawn, and when you’re in the pits of despair and want to give up, that is the darkest hour. But I promise you, the dawn will come, perhaps when you least expect it. You’ll find a medication that works, a treatment plan that is right for you, and you will see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I was in the pit of despair for a long time, but I pulled myself out of it with the help of medications and therapy. I know for a fact this can happen for others suffering from this disease as well. Keep the faith, and hold on tight to the knowledge that there is the right treatment plan for you, and you too can lead a productive life as well. Good luck, and God bless!

    Image Credit: Spencer Williams

  2. Does Positive Attitude Assist Healing Process?

    March 1, 2013

    Positive attitude

    Image credit: The Doctr @ Flickr.com

    It’s a debate that has gone on for years, and continues to be discussed by physicians and psychologists. The issue of whether positive thinking affects the medical treatment of patients is one that is hard to resolve. Many patients have seen positive, traceable results when they focused on staying optimistic, but psychologist Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, says that for every patient who has seen results from positive thinking there may be others who thought the same thing and are no longer alive. That said, public figures such as Lance Armstrong, Gabrielle Giffords, and others attribute a large part of their recoveries from serious illnesses and injuries to their strong spirits.

    Although it’s hard to prove, there have been many cases where a positive outlook showed traceable medical improvement in a patient. This confirms the theory of the placebo effect. The placebo effect is defined as “the measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health not attributable to an actual treatment.” In other words, it is when patients are given sugar pills in place of regular medication, or are told that a medical procedure was done, when in reality it was not done, and a measurable improvement occurs. There have been numerous cases where the placebo effect showed marked improvement in patients’ medical conditions, even though no real medical intervention was being administered.

    In 2007 researchers from the University of British Columbia tested the placebo effect on patients with Parkinson’s disease. They gave one group of patients apomorphine, a drug which mimics dopamine, a chemical in the brain that is deficient in patients with Parkinson’s. They gave the second group a placebo, and they, too, released dopamine, in response to the expectation of receiving medication. This study clearly proved the validity of the placebo effect, and as such, that the mind has a large role in medical treatment of the body.

    While physicians and psychologists will continue to debate the issue, there can be no harm in focusing on a good outcome, and it may actually lead to improved results. Dr. Deepak Chopra is a big believer in the power of the mind when it comes to healing. He explains that one who is at peace with himself can reap the benefits of positive thinking, which can include a decline in high blood pressure, weight, stress levels, and other negative symptoms. In Dr. Chopra’s words in an article for the Huffington Post, “The everyday choices we make affect not only our physical health, but all dimensions of our collective health and well being. This is not to say that pharmaceutical and surgical interventions are not warranted… But looking at them to solve all of our illnesses has made us as a society overlook the powerful self-healing mechanisms within us.”

    The objective of practicing positive thinking is to make use of the healing systems that lie within our bodies to help assist in recovery from various illnesses.

    External factors can help patients maintain a positive attitude. Studies have shown that even the scrubs worn by nurses can help improve patients’ state of mind, which can then help them recover. In a study done on hospitalized children in Florence, a large percentage of the children were more confident in their nurses, and were uplifted when their nurses wore printed or colored Carhartt scrubs. While the donning of Carhartt uniforms is only a small factor in the grand scheme of treatment, everything that contributes to a positive state of mind can help facilitate patient recovery.

    A crucial aspect in keeping patients upbeat is adequate family support. Family and friends who visit often and show the patient that they care can have a marked improvement on treatment, as they will cause an uplift in spirits, which can only lead to good things. Doctors, also, will usually make the effort to visit patients and address their fears before a procedure so that the patient will be calm, and the procedure will go smoothly. A good bedside manner is very important in a doctor, and some patients will choose one doctor over another based on this, because the doctor’s bedside manner will also affect the patient’s attitude.

    The Mayo Clinic strongly recommends that patients should practice positive thinking techniques throughout the day, in order to train themselves to think optimistically. They provide tutorials and exercises for patients to become positive thinkers, in order to facilitate the medical treatment being administered.

    Patients have an array of options to choose from when looking to practice various exercises and techniques that will help them remain upbeat. These may include meditation, hypnosis, spirituality, progressive muscle relaxation, and other methods. The factor that all of these practices share is a focus on a calm, peaceful state of mind, which can go a long way toward helping patients’ medical conditions.

    Whether or not a positive state of mind has a serious affect on patient outcome will continue to be debated, but all the experts agree that when it comes to medicine, only good things can come from positive thinking.


    Josh Weiss is a freelance writer and a believer in the power of positive thinking.