"When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure."
"Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish."
"The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was."
"There are two ways of meeting difficulties: You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself to meet them."
"Too many overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are."
---Malcolm S. Forbes
Bipolar Disorder is a disease with many facets. People scarcely realize how difficult it is to manage. I listen to show after show on TV that present the illness as single-sided. In other words, I hear how Bipolar patients go off of their medications and cause themselves a whole lot of trouble. And, surely, that does occur in many patient's lives. But, the disease is more complicated than that.
For years, my biggest struggle has been getting to sleep. People take sleeping for granted. For me, it is quite difficult---quite stressful. My brain can be completely zonked and ready for bed, yet when my head hits that pillow it is like a light bulb clicks on inside my mind and my thoughts speed up. They race and race. This problem is precarious. My disease can reach horrific levels if my circadian rhythms remain off track. Two to three days without sleep can cause hospitalization.
Each evening is unique. I have to take different "cocktails" [medications] as my brother Chris would say. [And, I am all about taking the fewest medications possible so that particular reality is very hard for me.] I often feel like a failure because I cannot sleep without a tremendous dose of varied prescriptions. And then, alas, I forgive myself and try again the next night.
I had a doctor for a short time that was quite knowledgable about pharmeceuticals. He had a pharmacy degree as well as a psychiatry degree. But his personal problems were "through the roof" and, eventually, I had to find a new doctor, one that was more stable. [I know, go figure. I went through three physicians in a matter of a year and a half because the three doctors suffered all sorts of personal and business issues which were affecting my health care! There were parents dying, cardiac problems, availability issues, poor medical practices (i.e., yelling at patients as a form of communication and control), divorce proceedings, financial issues, etc.] But while I went to him, he got my medication situated so that everything with a drowsy factor would be taken at night. That certainly made a difference in how effective the medications were for me overall.
Currently, the actual sleep med, though, seems inadequate. I think sleep meds tend to wear out quickly efficacy-wise. They are meant for short term use. However, all the other drugs seem to be working. But, if the sleep med doesn't work, I have to further augment the regimine with meds that are used to calm my system down. Augmentation is frustrating and far from the best practice. [And waking up is a nightmare!!!]
For a few years I have been learning how to meditate. But meditation doesn't seem to work with me at bedtime. There is too much pressure. During the week I have to fall asleep by a certain time. If I do not, I can't wake up the next morning and I am late for work. My friend that practices BodyTalk gave me a connective hold to use to release me from the pressure and the panic; but the hold failed to work after the second day. Adrenaline pumps into my body at a powerful rate. It is difficult to override.
I try to start a bedtime routine approximately two hours before I go to sleep. Life sometimes cooperates, and then again, sometimes it does not. Actually, I am fairly disciplined and I believe my disease demands that of its victims if they are to overcome the dilemmas they face.
But my disease's dilemmas do not stop with the sleep issues. I must, also, monitor what I eat and drink. First of all, let me say that I have ceased all alcohol consumption. The last drink I had was seven years ago. Alcohol causes the balance with my medications to get off center. Lithium levels are very tempramental. It is easy to be lithium toxic. It is, also, easy to be undermedicated with lithium. Once a healthy and consistent balance is reached, lithium levels are performed twice a year. I have to take a very high level to remain even keeled. This level causes many side effects. My hands tremor, I constantly fight weight gain, and my skin breaks out easily.
Caffeine intake must be minimal. I can tolerate a certain amount of chocolate, but if I go over that amount my hands tremor more intensely, and my brain is accelerated past the comfortable point. Regular caffeine intake can spur on a hypomanic/manic episode. Drinks like iced tea or coffee can keep me up for days.
I must, also, watch my salt and water intake. Too much or too little of either can alter my lithium levels for the worse.
I have a huge list of non-prescription and prescription drugs that I cannot take because of problematic interactions. I really have to avoid almost every pain medication on the market, and some antibiotics are off limits because I have developed allergies toward them.
In addition, lithium damaged my thyroid. I am now considered hypothyroid and I take synthroid to keep my thyroid where it should be. That is a fine balancing act in and of itself. For example, I am not allowed to change the manufacturer of the prescription I take because that difference can significantly affect the organ's functioning.
My other medication, Seroquel, creates serious dietary issues. I have to watch my glucose levels because it can shift me into diabetes. So far I haven't had that problem. And I keep hoping for good health where that is concerned. This drug,also, causes weight gain.
The last major dilemma I deal with involves my hormones. I don't know whether other Bipolars suffer from intense hormonal shifts, but I do and have since I hit puberty [I was 10 when that occurred]. This aspect of my disease is completely disarming. I can't control it. I can't even manage it. My hormones are different from week to week. Some months nail me hard. Some months are simple to deal with. And like, depressions, I just have to flow with whatever comes my way. I have been cycling during every hospitalization I have ever experienced. It is frightening. But, it appears to be my current lot. I don't know whether menopause will bring me relief or whether it will "up the anty." Obviously, I hope it will bring me relief. And I guess I should start preventive affirmations as I write this blog.
Bipolar Disorder is not a single-sided disease. It is filled with complicated scenarios that can be quite difficult to manage. But, for me, there is no other Way. I like being able to work my mind effectively. If my disease is untamed, I cannot do that. Many find comfort in the highs. I find terror.
I am a highly intelligent human being. I am sensitive. I am determined. Disease of any kind is difficult to navigate. But every problem we are presented with has some sort of solution---some sort of reason for being. I read and read. I develop mechanisms that actively work against my illness and work for me. I try traditional and holistic means to resolve the pains I deal with. If you know someone with any disease, please reach out to them in any way you can. Ask what the person suffers from. Ask what kind of help the person needs. And then listen. Really listen.
I have spent almost two decades struggling against the stigmas and the belief systems that disapprove of my disorder. It has been agonizing at times. I am thankful for my friends or family that have supported me through the good and bad times. I want people to understand what I experience because it not only assists me, it assists many other people who are similar to me. Bipolar Disorder is different for every person that suffers from it. Some people overcome its debilitating aspects through medication, alternative therapies and psychotherapy. Some people hide amidst the "insanity." The more familiar people become with the disorder, the more easy it is for people to get help. Please pass this message on. People need to know there is a Way.