Since I was first diagnosed with Bipolar in 2000, I have been on a mix of different medications. Some have been more valuable than others, helping me stabilize my mood swings, however, I would NOT give them so much credit as to changing my life. Many people believe finding a good mix in medication with very little side-effects will help you live happy day-to-day. I’m living proof that it’s much more complicated than that because medication doesn’t help you deal with the daily stresses of life. For example, ask yourself these questions…Will medication
- help you deal with stress?
- make you happy?
- perfect your relationships?
- help you lose weight?
I still have to give enormous credit to medication, and the role it played within my life. It helped me deal with my mood swings so I can live a balanced life, however, many of the changes I made have to do with something called “Psychosocial Therapy”. Here’s a quick definition:
“Psychosocial therapy helps people learn about their moods, thoughts, behaviors and how they influence their lives. They also provide ways to help restructure thinking and respond to stress and other conditions.” nami.org
I’ve always believed medication lays the foundation because it helps stabilize your mood swings, but it’s how you handle situations that really help you excel in life. If you can determine what triggers your mood swings or depressive state, then you can find constructive ways to handle those situations reducing the actual “trigger” …right?
As mentioned, since 2000, I have been on several medications: Seroquel, Lithium, Wellbutrin, Zyprexa, and Ritalin. I’ve had to struggle with brutal side-effects, and different doses until I found a combination that works. Since 2006, I’ve been taking Wellbutrin 150mg and Lithium 750mg daily, which has helped stabilize my mood because I’m NOT cycling as often.
From 2000-2004, I would cycle several times a month, and found it hard to function in life. Getting up to go to school was difficult, and I couldn’t even hold a job for more than a few months. However, here’s something that was even more confusing:
Even after I found a dose that worked, I would still have trigger points throwing my mood off. Whenever I found myself in stressful situations, it would trigger an episode. In the beginning, it didn’t make sense because I thought being on medication should help control my mood swings. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor to ask these questions, and did some research on my own. Here’s the reality about people with Bipolar disorder, and I’m going to be completely transparent, like it or not…
Bipolar is responsible for automatically triggering shifts in mood, and why this happens is still under huge debate. For example, it can be because of genetics, environmental factors, or even the structure of the mind. Certain medications can help reduce the abrupt shifts in mood, however, it doesn’t make you immune to episodes. I believe mood swings are a daily occurrence in everyone, whether you have bipolar or not. However, bipolar people have a hard time controlling them because the brain automatically causes shifts in mood.
So, now the question is how did Psychosocial Therapy help me?
Before I continue, I want to make one thing clear again. I am not a doctor, but someone who has been living with Bipolar since 2000. I got sick of NOT being happy, and struggling with things that I felt everyone had an easy time doing. I would see my friends happy, in relationships, and enjoying life while I suffered in silence. I decided to make changes in my life by reading, writing, and implementing things that I felt would help. Using Psychosocial Therapy, I was able to understand my trigger points, and constructively come up with a plan that helped me control these situations or points.
There are two books which introduced this concept: The Power of Habit and The Confidence Gap.
This theory has two main principles, which I live by. The books cover a lot of information, however, these two resonated with me:
First, if you can identify “situations” or “triggers” within your life, then you can find constructive ways to deal with them beforehand. This will allow you to reduce the emotional baggage associated with them, reducing the likelihood of an episode. Remember, I mentioned how Wellbutrin and Lithium helped stabilize abrupt elevation in moods, but they didn’t help stop what triggered an episode. I knew I had to find ways to deal with triggers so I can re-define each one, helping lower my manic episodes.
Secondly, The Power of Habit is powerful in helping you understand human nature, and how we establish habits. I was under the impression that changing what I’ve done for over 20+ years will take enormous work. I got depressed, thinking change will take 4-5 years because I had habits that have been around for 20+ years. However, habits are built on a hierarchal structure. That’s right! If you can change one “keystone habit”, then you’ll change the direction your life is heading in. Here’s an example,
People who start exercising will automatically start eating well, be motivated, happier, and quit bad habits like cigarettes and alcohol. In this example, you notice how “exercising” was the keystone habit that triggered all the others to happen. Anyway,
I learned a lot from the two books, and I’d like to start a series where I share examples and exercises to apply into your life. I’ll never ask you to stop taking medication or force you to apply any of these strategies. I still continue to see my psychiatrist once a year, and take my medication every day. However, with the blessings of God, I’ve been able to reduce mood swings. There are some areas I need to improve, but The Confidence Gap taught me to effectively handle situations. Instead of retreating from my feelings, I’ll accept them, learn from them, and come up with creative ways to conquer them.
If you do a quick search in Google for “Psychosocial therapy”, you’ll find resources on Psychosocial therapy, and the benefits for treating bipolar. So, what’s next?
I’ll start a series where I’ll discuss some of the powerful strategies you can implement into your life. I’ll be as in-depth as possible so you’ll have an easier time following through. I have charts I created, which I’ll post online so you can use them as you go through each exercise. Again, in the beginning, you’re making slight changes in the way you handle situations, and you’ll learn how to identify trigger points before they happen. This way, you’ll have constructive methods ready when you need them.
Here’s something I want to show you before I wrap up. I’m not going to post charts here because I want to keep this blog as personal as possible. However, Standford.edu did research on this method, which I think you guys should check out.