So, I Do Have Bipolar Disorder: Now What?
So, after having been evaluated by 3-4 different psychiatrists, you have finally been diagnosed correctly with bipolar disorder. What do you do now? Here is what you should do:
Take the challenge.
Nobody wants or plans to be diagnosed with a serious illness, but when life throws a curve ball, you need to meet the challenge. It is also critical to realize that bipolar disorder is very treatable – more treatable than many common physical illnesses. So, instead of finding different ways or rationales to deny the existence of the condition, reach within for the courage to acknowledge it. This is the most critical step in your recovery.
Allow yourself and your family to grieve.
It’s natural to experience a whole range of emotions when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness for which there is no cure. Sadness, anger, denial, self-pity, a sense of loss are all common emotions in this context. Since bipolar disorder does affect your family and friends — and given the chronic nature of the illness — your family and friends need to know that some of the interactions with you will be – and sometimes need to be — different than the usual.
Arm yourself with knowledge.
You are more likely to deal with a problem if you understand the problem. Therefore both you and your family need to understand the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, warning signs of relapse, medications options, the role of psychotherapy, etc. I would caution that you only focus on those sources of information that are endorsed by reputable mental health experts and/or your psychiatrist.
Monitor your feelings.
It’s common for people to ‘scapegoat’ the psychiatrist who ‘breaks the bad news’. Since denial is very common, some people have a tendency to question the psychiatrist’s competence and/or motivation . You should realize that a psychiatrist has nothing to gain from diagnosing you with bipolar disorder. Most doctors simply do their best to properly diagnose and treat their patients.
On the other hand, you should not blindly accept a diagnosis. Ask the psychiatrist to explain the basis and rationale behind a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Once you have received an explanation, you need to be brutally honest with yourself regarding the types of symptoms you are experiencing or have experienced in the past.
It may be more helpful to view the diagnosing psychiatrist as an important ally in your recovery from emotional turmoil, rather than as a messenger of bad, unwanted news.
Accept bipolar disorder as a chronic, recurring, and incurable condition.
Many people who are able to accept the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, often fail to appreciate the chronic and incurable nature of the illness. This failure will set you back even before you start your treatment. Know that your illness is treatable, but not curable. Accepting that treatment will be a lifetime need will put you in the right frame of mind to continue your treatment over the long haul.
Find a psychiatrist you are comfortable with.
People have different definitions of ‘comfort’ when it comes to a physician especially when choosing a psychiatrist. My advice: you should focus more on credentials, experience, and reputation, and less on style, personality, ethnicity, etc. Remember it is the substance, not the style of treatment that will have meaningful consequences for your recovery.
Discuss all treatment options.
This is especially true of medications used to treat bipolar disorder, commonly known as mood stabilizers or antimanic drugs. With recent progress in psychopharmacological research, we now have a much larger number of availlable options than we did just a few decades ago. You should especially understand the differences in side effects, quickness of action, drug-to-drug interactions, effectiveness on different types of symptoms, etc.
Reassess and manage your stress.
Significant stress can not only bring about the first episode of bipolar disorder but can also cause relapse. Learning to cope better through therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy may be very helpful.
Improve your lifestyle and physical health.
The interplay between physical and emotional health is important. Therefore, optimizing your lifestyle and monitoring physical health are paramount.
Do not lose sight of your family.
Remember, your family is not only the best source of emotional support but the most important stakeholders in treatment decisions and outcome. Also they are in the best position to monitor your symptoms and progress. Your family should also be provided access to support groups and professional mental health treatment, if needed.
Next Week: The Many Faces of Bipolar Disorder: Part 2B – Family & Friends: Walking On Eggshells