Friday, 19 March 2010

Being Bipolar Part Six – Hope

Hope is something that is very important to me personally. I sometimes wonder where it comes from. It seems to be more of a state of mind for me. I retain hope when all seems black at some levels. I don’t know if I am alone in this experience. Logically, I would think that hope comes from a real expectation that things will get better. I seem to stay hopeful even when things may seem hopeless. I think that hope has kept me going through adversity, through the times when I have had to start my life over.

I don’t have a really strong idea of the future. If I did have any idea, I could possibly understand why I retain hope. It is that spark which helps you to get through each day, each week and the rest of your life. I may not understand it but I am very grateful that I have hope.

It doesn’t have much to do with the verb “to hope”. That is a more practical thing. “I hope it goes well” or “I hope you feel better soon”. The noun “hope” is so much more. Hopefulness and hopelessness are also more practical concepts.

Hope is such a difficult thing to write about. It is an extremely personal thing. I know from talking to friends that I am not alone in my experience of hope. Please post your comments and your views on hope. I like that my blog entries generate some discussion. I hope you found this blog thought provoking. I hope I don’t burn my bacon next time !!


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Being Bipolar Part Five – Acceptance

I think that acceptance is key to wellness and recovery. In the first place, it leads to the search for a diagnosis. I actively looked for a diagnosis despite being quite ill at the time. I suppose I was more interested in getting help than getting a label. Some people who I talk to really worry about being called bipolar or whatever their diagnosis happens to be. A label doesn’t define you. Hopefully it will help you to get appropriate help. I really encourage new sufferers to seek help. It is far better if you are in control at this point. It is far better than being thrown into hospital, medicated and then diagnosed. I had a very good “stable” period after I was diagnosed and found good treatment. I was lucky to find a doctor who knew the subject well and I kept a relationship with him for about fifteen years. The stability of this relationship was key to my wellness. I was lucky to find a doctor who was around that long.

Those of us with a serious mental illness have it for the long term, maybe for life. Unless we accept that we are ill, we are destined for a lot of chaos in our lives. Acceptance of the illness (diagnosis) is only the first step. Many of the medication regimes have their own problems. We are often tempted to try going free, especially after a period of stability or particularly troublesome side effects. In my case, it took two attempts and the ensuing chaos to convince me that I really need the medication. Life is not always smooth and sometimes taking medication becomes a lower priority. Even though my first attempt at stopping Lithium led to a major manic episode, I tried again 4 years later when my life was particularly chaotic. I can’t honestly say whether I could have avoided either bad experience. Possibly it would have required strong intervention from family or a doctor. Unfortunately the idea of seeing doctors was a long way from my mind. The second stopping of Lithium suddenly led to a less severe but equally disruptive and painful manic episode. This time it led to a severe period of depression, unemployment, and a suicide attempt. Only stop medications gradually and do it with the agreement of a doctor.

I encourage all sufferers to accept that they are ill, that they need help and that they should keep medication compliant. If I had followed my own advice, I would be in a very different place, mentally and maybe physically. I might have missed out on a lot of good stuff, so it is a difficult call. I might be still living by the beach in Southern California and still pursuing a meaningful career. I am content in my life now but I can’t help saying “What if?” . I do still accept that I have a life long disorder and I need medication. I am as well as I have been for ages, both mentally and physically.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Being Bipolar Part Four – Stigma

What is stigma? It is a subject with many aspects. Let me start off with a description from the UK mental health charity, Rethink.

Stigma is something judged by others as a sign of disgrace and something that sets a person apart from others.
When something like mental illness, disability or addiction, is stigmatised, the issue will often be avoided due to making people feel uncomfortable. People may even mock these things to make them less threatening.

For those living with mental illness, the stigma imposed upon them in society can lead to a lack of funding for services and public education, difficulty in finding employment, or in getting a mortgage, or even holiday insurance.

Ultimately, the silence and lack of understanding about mental illness encourages feelings of shame, and discourages people to seek treatment or even to admit that symptoms they may be experiencing may be related to a mental illness.

I guess my delay in blogging about stigma means that I don't have much to add on the subject. I do care about stigma and I try to combat it.

There is plenty of work going on to combat stigma. As a rule, more exposure in the media can help. That is as long as it is informed. Unfortunately, every negative story about mental health tends to increase stigma. It must be good if the general population are better informed about what mental illness is and about how common it is.

I think that mental health sufferers can get very isolated by their illness and this contributes to a different kind of stigma. They set themselves apart and are vulnerable to stereotyping.

Please feel free to add comments and describe your views of stigma.