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I want to inform all of my readers that I am building a resource and community at

http://www.thrivewithbipolardisorder.com

and on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/teamTHRIVE

and MOST OF IT will not be duplicated at this blog.

This blog will only receive some of the new blogs posted by me, Robin Mohilner.

I hope you will continue to participate and join me at “Thrive With Bipolar Disorder”

And I hope you will join me on Facebook

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves have so much power.

One of the great lessons I have learned in my life is that what happens to us matters far less than the stories we tell ourselves about it.

The stories we tell ourselves shape how we think, what we believe about ourselves, the choices we make and the actions we take.

 

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I told myself the “I am crazy” story.  Here’s how it worked:

“I am crazy.” This is who I am.  It is my whole story.

How this story affected my thoughts: “It doesn’t matter what I think.  I am crazy.” and  “I am bad.”

How this story affected what I believed about myself : “I have no responsibility and no expectations for myself or from other people. I don’t have to do anything because I can’t.  I am crazy.”

How this story affected my choices: “I can’t do….”  “I can’t be…”  “I can’t try….”  “I can’t choose.”

How this story affected my actions: I stayed on the couch in a fetal position with my face buried in the corner.  I spoke to no one.

 

You can take out the word “crazy” from the “I am crazy” story and replace it with several other words and get the same exact effects and results.

 

This type of story drains away all self-esteem and self-worth.  It steals our ability to take responsibility for our lives and have expectations for ourselves. It robs us of qualities that give us strength and courage.  It does not allow space for resilience and persistence.  This type of story causes us to accept mediocrity.

If you have these kinds of stories in your life, I invite you to throw them away and re-author your stories.

 

On my Facebook page, Thrive With Bipolar Disorder, I shared an example of a form of storytelling that I do when I am feeling stuck, scared or judged.

 

Here, I will share some ideas for how to re-author the stories we tell ourselves about what happened to us and about ourselves.

 

Re-Authoring Stories

 

Part 1: Deconstructing the Problem Story

When I help people re-author stories the first thing I choose to do is listen to and understand the story they have been telling themselves.

I want to understand the role the story serves in their life and what makes the story a problem to them.

For instance, with the “I am crazy” story.  The role of this story in my life was that it defined my identity and who I could be.   What made it a problem was that it sucked the life out of me, as seen above.

 

 

I want to know how the story was invited into a person’s life.

In my “I am crazy” story, the story was invited by a medical expert putting a label on me and telling me that I had to take medication for the rest of my life in order to fit into society.

 

 

It is important to explore the effects a story has on a person.

The effects of the “I am crazy” story on me were:

  • I had no expectations for myself.
  • I took no personal responsibility for my choices and actions.
  • I had no self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect.
  • I felt useless and incapable of being anything.
  • I felt that I was bad.
  • I was afraid of myself.

 

 

I choose to know what the person does to support the story they tell themselves.  What actions and routines support the story.

In my “I am crazy” story, I refused to get off of the couch.  I did not want to go to school for the life of me, not because of what the kids would think,  but because I no longer believed I had a functioning brain and was capable of doing anything with my life.

My routine was to wake up, get on the couch and bury my face in the corner.

This carried over from my depression.  As I was coming out of the worst depression ever, I continued the behaviors that I had while I was experiencing full blown “I know longer feel alive” depression.

 

 

I explore what the problem story steals from peoples’ lives.

My “I am crazy” story stole my will to live.  It stole everything I believed about myself up to the point that I had my manic episode.  Until then, I believed I could be anything when I grew up and I was a great student and daughter.

This story stole my confidence, my courage, my intelligence, my creativity, my hope, my dreams….

 

 

Together we explore flaws in the problem story, times when the problem story is wrong about people and times when people have the upper hand.  We look at evidence that uncovers other possibilities and alternative ways of understanding the problem story.

When I explored this with myself, the problem story went from “I am crazy.” to “What I experienced during those handful of months in my life was beyond my control…it was crazy AND I have the ability to do something about it.”

Here was the evidence that I am not crazy.  For the entire fifteen years of my life (I was 15 soon to be 16 when full-blown mania came into my life) I was a very good student, I had friends and sort of the ideal teenager to my parents, I never got in trouble.

After the full-blown mania and depression and after I got stable on my Lithium…I still could read.  I still could write.  I still could speak my mind coherently and my thoughts were relevant and intelligent.  I still was a kind, warm, compassionate and loving person.  I still was playful, funny and loved to laugh.  I could still feel my feelings and was on a dosage of lithium that left me always slightly hypomanic (throughout much of my twenties).

 

 

Once we are able to identify the possibility that the problem story may no longer fit, I explore with people what gets in the way of letting the problem story go.  Together we slowly work on what hold’s people back.

In my case, I was afraid to let the problem story go because I did not trust myself.  I was scared of myself that at any point in time I could go into full-blown mania and crash into a lifeless depression.

 

One of the things that often keeps people stuck in their problem story is that they don’t have a different story to replace it with.  They don’t have a story that they want instead.  With this as a challenge our goal shifts from understanding the effects of the problem story to creating people’s preferred story.

 

In the Part 2 of this blog we will explore this process of creating a preferred story.

One of my goals is to normalize bipolar disorder by using myself as an example of what “normal” mania looks like.

Fifteen years ago, the mania I experienced fit the diagnosis of bipolar disorder perfectly to the extent that I was quoted by my psychiatrist to be used in some textbooks for higher education.

My experiences were normal for mania, not special or extraordinary at all.

Here I will share those experiences with the hope that it gives you the opportunity to feel normal and so you know that you are not alone.

Because this is educational, I will take apart and expose my experience of mania by:

  1. Using the diagnostic criteria of the DSM IV (the guide book used to diagnose mental illness)
  2. Type of Mania

Hypomania: mild mania that does affect functioning but one is still able to function

Full-Blown-Mania: severe mania that fully disrupts the ability to function and take care of yourself

My Hypomania

that grew into full-blown mania

Hypomania came into my life when I was fifteen years old and lasted for a few months until it peaked in full-blown mania shortly after I turned sixteen.

Diagnostic Criteria of Mania:

  • Mood that is elated, expansive, or irritable.

I was excited by EVERYTHING in life during my hypomania.  The slightest idea felt brilliant to me and could lead me to several minutes of pure joy until the next brilliant idea.

Behavior: My energy was like taking the sun into a pitch black cave.  It blinded people.  People described me as bouncing off the walls. Yet this was pretty normal for me, so no one noticed that anything was wrong.  At this time, I was not unusually irritable for a teenager.

  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity.

I felt truly important and special. However, I did not feel more important or more special than other people (human beings as a whole…I definitely felt more special than the people I didn’t like and those who were mean to me).  I believed that I existed for a specific purpose chosen by God and that I am a prophet.  Yet, I didn’t believe that I am any more chosen by God than anyone else, but during that time my energy and focus was on understanding God’s message.

I experienced Invincibility in the form of fearlessness.  I did not believe I could fly and breathe under water or have any super powers, yet I did believe that I was a super human who was capable of using all of my potential and brain power and that those powers were far greater than what most people are aware and capable of.

During hypomania, the rules simply did not apply to me.  It was NOT that I wanted to break the rules, I just felt so free from consequences to the point that I did not even consider the possibility of consequences in my actions.

Behavior: I was in high school…so I couldn’t do all that much with my belief that I was a prophet, I was only 15 when I had hypomania.  So I did what any normal prophet would do…I led my people.  I did not feel that my Chemistry teacher was effectively teaching his class so I led a walk-out and the entire class followed. I personally did not return to the class for two weeks until the principal and teacher met with me to discuss how he could improve as a teacher.

  • Not needing sleep.  Unable to sleep.

I stayed up all night studying and decoding the bible and other religious texts throughout the world, as well as studying quantum physics.  I believed I was uncovering messages from God on how to unite all people.  When I wasn’t studying, I drew intricate spiritual drawings.  When I was tired, I slept in school because it was so slow and boring.  Yet at the time falling asleep in class was considered relatively normal for teenagers.

  • Pressure to talk. Unable to stop talking.

Yep, that was me.  But it was not unusual for me at fifteen and sixteen.

  • Racing thoughts.

I had multiple thoughts traveling through my mind at once from an infinite number of perspectives.  At times my thoughts would get jumbled and would be difficult to express.  It was very difficult for me to focus in on one thought at a time.

Behavior: As a result, school was too slow.  The world around me could not keep up with me and I felt very bored in school.  Yet, at the same time I had more thoughts than I could express.  I spent my time in school drawing these intricate drawings that integrated ancient spiritual symbols (that I did not even know I was using) because it was the only way to feel quiet in my mind and to focus all of my thoughts.  In fact, my school work and exams were covered by this art.

  • Obsessed with a goal.  Unable to stop goal directed activity.

Yes.  I was secretly obsessed with being a prophet and put all of my energy into learning from God.

  • Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have painful consequences. This is where hypomania and full-blown mania begin to blur.

My sex drive was through the roof and I had difficulty containing it.  My values kept me from acting out my sexual impulses.  To keep myself from having sex, I took up boxing.

Because I was so sexually excited and had no income, I used my sexuality to try to get things I could not afford, like a car.

I went to a car dealership convinced that that the dealer would want to give me a car because I was “Hot!”.   It didn’t work, but I got him to drive home with me and try to convince my parents to buy me the car.

I was a brand new driver driving down surface streets at 80mph without even noticing it or without even feeling that I was going fast.

And I was just old enough to be dating.  When I met a guy, I unloaded all of my emotional baggage on him on our first date, then was very hurt when he didn’t want to date me.

If I had had money, I would have spent it ALL. And then I would have gone into incredible debt.  If the internet had existed, I would have stolen my parents credit cards and bought EVERYTHING. I was lucky that I was only 15-16 when mania came into my life.

Full-Blown Mania

I was not hospitalized because my mania peaked while my family was on vacation and there was no safe place at the time to contain me, other than jail…which was considered for my safety, but not the chosen option.  Therefore, I experienced the full experience of mania.

I characterize full-blown  mania by the severity of symptoms and the delusions I experienced.  During full-blown mania I went from wanting to serve God to being violently angry.  I was completely out of control both emotionally and physically.  I went from being fearless to completely paranoid and delusional.


I should have been hospitalized.  However, help did not arrive in my life until I had crashed deeply into a depression where I no longer felt alive because I could no longer think or feel anything.

What you are about to read is full of pain.  I share this to give hope to others who have experienced mania.  I want you to know that you are not bad or crazy.

Actions I took during full-blown mania:

  • I cursed at and told off the highway patrol man who gave my father a ticket for speeding.
  • From my vacation, I contacted every boy I had a phone number for in my high school (yet didn’t care about) and aggressively pursued having sex with them as soon as I returned home.  I scared them so badly that not one boy took me up on it.
  • I got in a fist fight with my friend in my vacation home.
  • I threatened to beat up a child for splashing water on my friend.
  • Every emotion I ever had came exploding out of me uncontrollably.
  • I viciously attacked my mom verbally and physically with rage and hate.  I was so angry at her.  I wanted to hurt her.  I wanted her to feel the pain that I felt.  And I wanted her to help me.

Delusions (beliefs that could not be disproven by anyone while I was manic, yet they were not real) = Psychosis:

  • I believed I was to be the mother of the messiah and needed to be impregnated by my best friend.
  • I believed I was gang-raped by the kids in my junior high who emotionally hurt me.
  • I believed my mom was trying to hurt me, so I called the police on her. (This is how the police got involved and wanted to put me in jail for my safety.)
  • I believed I was locked in a room so I found a hammer and destroyed the door. It turns out that the door was not locked.
  • I believed I was responsible for my grandmother’s death and my mother’s cancer.

This is painful to share, no matter how many times I have shared it.  Nonetheless, I share it because I am not alone in this experience.  So many people have experienced this and I want them to know that they are not bad, wrong or crazy…they lost control to mania.  This experience is normal for mania.

Over the years I’ve developed a good understanding of how my relationship with bipolar disorder works.  I’ve come to realize that bipolar disorder exists to help me cope with circumstances that I unconsciously perceive as beyond my control…times of stress, fear, uncertainty, change, excitement, pain, overwhelm or any circumstance that could potentially threaten my ego, quality of life or survival.

In this blog, we will explore some of my ideas (that are a work in progress) about how mania and depression work as useful coping mechanisms and how they may come to be an “emotional roller-coaster from hell”.

I notice that bipolar disorder responds to circumstances that are beyond control with the following responses:

  • Fight = mania
  • Flight = mania and depression together, known as a mixed episode aka emotional roller-coaster from hell
  • Freeze = depression

How mania works as a coping mechanism:

  • Mania replaces fear with euphoria, courage and intense focus (aka goal directed obsessions).
  • Mania replaces powerlessness and/or pain with rage and irritability as well as feeling invincible and taking action.
  • Mania dives in and takes action during times of uncertainty, excitement, threat and overwhelm.  It does not back down to fear.  Mania beats fear up and flies away like Superman.
  • Mania replaces self-doubt with grandiosity and exuberance.
  • Mania replaces “not knowing” with an abundance of ideas.


Mania is an awesome coping mechanism, yet many people don’t experience it that way.

A problem with mania is that it can go way too far.  It doesn’t have it’s “Coping Recipe” perfected. Mania gets a little carried away in the kitchen. Instead of a dash of exuberance and euphoria, it pours in the whole jar.  Instead of a pinch of rage, it empties it’s pockets into the pot.  Instead of “one plan of action” it throws in every possible idea you could ever have all at once.  Instead of a little self-esteem it freely pours in grandiosity and omnipotence.

Mania only knows how to do things in EXTREME. Maybe mania wants to not be afraid, overwhelmed etc…so bad that it just keeps pouring in the ingredients until there is an out of control roaring fire.

How depression works as a coping mechanism:

  • When emotion, pain or fear is too big, depression makes it so you can’t feel emotion.  Depression makes you numb.
  • When you don’t have the resources to manage your circumstances, depression waits our the storm which allows you to conserve your energy.
  • Depression does it’s best to release pain through tears.

A problem with depression is that not being able to feel can be more painful than the feelings themselves. Being numb can often cause people to not feel alive and want to be dead.  Depression often lasts longer than the circumstances that cause it.  Depression does not turn off after the storm leaves.  Crying uncontrollably often causes people to feel guilty and bad about themselves.  It is not okay in our society to openly experience depression; therefore, we have to hide it which makes it worse.

Mania and depression have been described as an “emotional roller-coaster from hell” and that is a fair description for what I described earlier as “Flight”.


How I make sense of “Flight” aka the “emotional roller-coaster from hell”:

Bipolar disorder doesn’t really know what is going on and what to do because we are going through fear, uncertainty, stress, excitement, change, threat etc…so it takes a gamble…

It throws in a little mania into the pot…a splash of euphoria with some hyperactivity, but the fear etc are still there.  It didn’t work…

So in order to cope, bipolar disorder throws in a grandiosity…but fear etc are still there, it’s still not working.

Bipolar disorder gets a little frustrated so it throws in some rage…it doesn’t work.  Fear etc  are still there.

So it gives up a little, it throws in sadness, frustration and guilt for not working…Fear etc are still there…so it adds a bottle of “numb”.

Now that  bipolar disorder is desperate, it dumps in the exuberance, the rage, the grandiosity, the impulsivity and obsessive goal-directed behavior all into the pot…there is an explosion.  But the fear etc. are still there.

Bipolar disorder keeps doing this until you take the fire away from the pot.

I was asked the question, “What is the difference between your Blog and Facebook Page and Therapy?”

Here’s my answer:

My Facebook Page shares my experience, ideas and lessons I’ve learned, as well as for those who choose to participate.  The Page is a forum for people with a common experience to come together, have a voice and contribute to each other’s lives.

I believe that information and ideas that are essential to people’s ability to function in their life should be accessible to all.  It only betters our society if everyone has the ability to contribute to it.

Therapy is a vehicle for growth and change that I provide to people as a profession.  In therapy I do not share my experiences.  The sole purpose of therapy is to work hard collaboratively with my clients with the sole purpose of making their lives better.

I’ll use an exercise analogy to explore the difference.  I am happy to freely share how I thrive with bipolar disorder.  It is like showing and giving people my exercise equipment, technique and form.  I want people to be able to succeed.  Therefore, I put myself out there and give you what I’ve learned because I believe it is the right thing to do.  It is my passion and I strongly believe that as a person who thrives with bipolar disorder, it is my responsibility and duty to help other people thrive with bipolar disorder.

Unfortunately for many people taking what works for me and trying to duplicate it on their own does not work, even though I did it on my own without therapy.  [Note: I did not trust that my therapists could help me because I did not feel that they could understand what my experience was like for me; therefore, I did not let them in.  I lost respect for my therapists because I was the one who educated all of my therapists about bipolar disorder. Because of I felt alone in my circumstances, therapy did not feel safe to me.]

The reason it does not work is NOT because I am holding out information, it is because we are all unique individuals with different drives, strengths, gifts and circumstances. No two people experience anything in life the same way.  In order to thrive with bipolar disorder, we each have to work hard and discover what works for us.

Going back to my exercise metaphor.  We all have at some point or another been drawn into a really cool gadget on TV that promises that if we use it we will lose 20 pounds only for $19.95 or pay monthly for a gym membership.  What happens, we use the gadget or go to the gym once or twice, don’t lose 20 pounds, never go back to the gym (but keep paying for it in case we go someday) and years later find the gadget in the corner of a closet.

It just doesn’t work.

Working with me as a therapist is going on the journey to thrive with bipolar disorder one step at a time with a coach, team, tools and resources who are all working together with you to help you build the life you prefer versus having a playbook and trying to be an entire team that defeats bipolar disorder all on your own.


Thriving with bipolar disorder is hard work that is not easy EVER; nonetheless, it is doable if you give yourself no other option.

Many people believe that to treat bipolar disorder, you just have to get the right medication and the right balance.

That belief simply has never been true for me.

For me, medication prevents mania and prevents mania from getting worse…that is about it.

What follows is my experience of challenges that are consistently present when thriving with bipolar disorder.

Ruminating Thoughts

Ruminating thoughts are thoughts that repeat over and over again that are very difficult to stop.  Ruminating thoughts often occur during times of stress, excitement, uncertainty and insecurity.

When I have ruminating thoughts, not only can I not stop thinking about them, but it can be very hard to not stop talking about them as well.  The thoughts just sneak out of my mouth.  During these times, I do a lot more speaking before thinking.  When I experience ruminating thoughts, they often get expressed at inappropriate times, such as 5am or during a romantic dinner.

In all my years of struggling with ruminating thoughts, I cannot say I have “the solution”.  However, what helps me is the ability to recognize the “Aha!  I am having ruminating thoughts right now”.  By recognizing what I am experiencing, I may not be able to stop them, but I can contain them and better keep them from freely flowing out of my mouth.

Emotional Roller-Coasters

I get so sick and tired of emotional roller-coasters.  Preventing emotional roller-coasters is a consistent challenge that I face and manage.

I believe that I experience emotional roller-coasters during the same circumstances I experience ruminating thoughts – stress, excitement, uncertainty and insecurity.

What I’ve learned from emotional roller-coasters:

  • They start with a fantasy about what “could” happen or “may” be happening.
  • My imagination builds on that fantasy creating an entire story around what could happen.
  • My emotions don’t know or care what is real, they simply respond to my thoughts.
  • My emotions respond to my fantasy as though the story I am telling myself is actually happening right now.
  • The emotions then create their own thoughts based on how I am feeling about the fantasy.

As you can see, the journey of an emotional roller-coaster gets further and further from my reality with every thought.  Without this awareness of what my thoughts and emotions are doing to me, it is very easy to become delusional.

For many people living with bipolar disorder this can be so severe that they experience severe psychosis in the form of delusions and hallucinations.

Racing Thoughts

Even with medication, I still have difficulty expressing my thoughts at times.  Like with ruminating thoughts and emotional roller-coasters…when I am under stress, excitement, uncertainty or insecurity, my thoughts race or get jumbled.  During these times I have a difficult time expressing myself.  I have taught myself skills to cope with this, but those skills are effective maybe 50% of the time on a good day.

Following the Unspoken Social Rules

Unspoken social rules are my weakness. At times I feel like everyone except me has the “Social Rules Handbook” full of details of all the social rules full of boundaries and appropriateness when with acquaintances.  I do not naturally know what is appropriate dinner conversation. At times I feel like an alien watching people wondering “why don’t they just say what they mean or what they really feel?”

What comes naturally to me is to be honest about what I’m thinking and feeling. That does not work for people.  I’ve made plenty of people uncomfortable.  I truly believe that I am missing that part of my brain that just gets what is socially appropriate.

My research has taught me that my brain may have less mass (depletion) in the part of the brain responsible for picking up on and internalizing the unspoken social rules (anterior and posterior cingulates).

It takes effort to pay attention to how people interact to learn what is appropriate social behavior and what is not and no matter what I learn, it does not come naturally to me.

Thriving with bipolar disorder is not easy, but there is no other option.

Bipolar disorder is a highly misused name whose sole purpose is to describe common and shared experiences and behaviors that occur in a significant percentage of the global population.

To appropriately receive this name (or as it is often called, “label”) one must have evidence of the presence of one single manic (severe) or hypomanic (less severe) episode.

how do you recognize mania?

  1. a person must have a distinct period of at least 1 week in which they experience persistently elevated, expansive or irritable mood

  2. at least 3 of the following symptoms

  3. mood disturbance must be severe enough to cause impairment in ability to work, relationships, social activities

Mood

  • elated mood – ecstatically happy with or without reason; bouncing off the walls with happiness.
  • expansive mood – covering a wide area of mood; mood swings.
  • irritable mood – angry; easily lashing out

Notice if mood is abnormally elated, expansive or irritable from how mood normally is.  Mood may swing between the extremes of elated and irritable as well as other emotions. Mood  may shift without any situational triggers or circumstances.  Emotion may be expressed in an out of control way.

If a person exhibits these moods, it does not mean that a person should be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, it does mean that bipolar disorder could be a reasonable possibility.

Symptoms

During the period of mood distrurbance 3 or more of the following symptoms must be present to a significant degree

Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity

  • perception of self is not in touch with reality
    • exteme (significantly greater than normal) sense of self-importance and specialness
    • arrogance
    • It is common for people to believe that they are not from this planet or are chosen by God.
  • profound sense of spirituality, ability and purpose

    • sense of invincibility, omnipotence, mastery and control
    • incredibly heightened intellectual and overall brain activity due to changes in the brain during mania
    • connection to the world around them; believing they can change the world by doing ________________.
    • perception of having special powers, gifts and abilities

This (and the ability to persist towards goals) is often the reason why people do not want to take medication.

Not needing to sleep (or unable to sleep)

  • significant decrease in need for sleep.
  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

If a person is having difficulty sleeping and/or does not have the need for sleep, this is an early warning sign of mania for a person living with bipolar disorder.

Medical problems must be ruled out when a person is experiencing sleep difficulties. This symptom alone cannot result in the diagnosis of mania. However, it is a very important symptom that must be monitored.

Can’t stop talking

  • pressure to talk
  • more talkative than usual

This is not about a person’s need to talk about themselves or be the center of attention.  They are simply flooded with so many ideas that they can’t stop talking.

Obsessed with a goal (goal-directed activity)…unable to stop.

  • unable to stop persisting on a goal (work, school, sexually)
  • neglect things like eating, showering, sleeping, family, friends etc to work on a goal

This is not Type A personality. This behavior is significantly different from how a person normally behaves.

Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities (impulsivity)

  • high potential for  painful consequences
  • often times impulsivity is expressed by spending lots of money frivolously (trinkets, clothes and unnecessary items) and goal oriented ways (investments, business, homes etc); however the investments are often not things that would be chosen by them normally.
  • sexual impulsivity – it is very common for people experiencing mania to have an intense and often insatiable sex drive

There is a difference between impulsive personalities and mania. A person experiencing mania is acting impulsively in extreme ways that they would not normally behave otherwise.

Flight of ideas or racing thoughts

  • these are thoughts that move so fast that they cannot be expressed or only make sense to you.
  • it is often having multiple thoughts at once that get jumbled together
  • these thoughts can be obsessive. You just can’t stop thinking them.

These racing thoughts often exist in people with bipolar disorder even when they are not experiencing mania.  Mania exacerbates them.

Easily Distractable (particularly by ideas or tangents,  this symptom is related to racing thoughts)

  • attention is easily grabbed by unimportant and irrelevant external stimulus

Similar to ADHD, yet ADHD does not have the mood component and distractibility occurs during the manic episode unless it is also a diagnoses.

Psychosis

can occur during mania and depression

  • delusions – refusal to accept that their perception and experience is not real to other people in spite of evidence that contradicts their perception and experience.
  • hallucinations – having sensory experiences (seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting) things that is not real to other people and rejecting that possibility in spite of evidence that contradicts their sensory experience.

Psychosis that takes place within a manic episode is common for mania.

However, when psychosis occurs outside of a manic episode, the diagnoses is schizoaffective disorder.

Note: Symptoms are not due to substance use or a medical condition. Medical conditions should be ruled out by a physician.

Have you ever had a friend who was in a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend that did their best to try to control them or change them or tell them, “You will never be…….I am the best you will ever have”?

Have you ever had a friend who was in a relationship with someone who did not want them to be around their family and friends or do any of their interests and wanted to keep them all to themselves?

Have you ever friend who was in a relationship with someone who did not want them to be happy, period, EVER?

If you were in this relationship, would you want to break-up as soon as possible?


This description is the relationship people have with Depression.

Depression is the unhealthy relationship who wants to control you.  Depression wants to change you in ways that will serve it’s purpose. Depression tells you, “You will never be……I am all there is.”  Depression wants to isolate you from all of your friends and family.  Depression wants to steal any pleasure and interest you have in your life.

Why is it so hard to break-up with Depression?

Just like in an unhealthy relationship, Depression convinces you that the problem is “YOU”.  Depression convinces “There’s something wrong with you.” “You are bad.”  “You are worthless.” “You don’t deserve to be happy.”  “No one cares.” “You can’t be…” “You will never feel happiness again.”

By believing this it causes you to own it.  It is like marrying Depression.  When you believe the fear that Depression feeds you, you are making a commitment to it.

How to break-up with Depression

[Note: these ideas will not be effective with all forms of depression.  Severe depression requires medical help and the monitoring of psychiatric and psychotherapeutic professionals.]

Breaking-up with Depression is a lot like ending an unhealthy relationship.  HARD!

  • Recognize and Identify Depression in Your Life.

Just like in the first step of ending an unhealthy relationship, you have to recognize that you are in a relationship with Depression, that the relationship is unhealthy and that it is not what you want for yourself and who you choose to be.

In order to identify Depression in your life, you have to be able to recognize what is YOU and what is NOT YOU.  For instance, is it YOU who doesn’t care about anything and chooses to stay in bed all day or is it Depression?  Is it you that finds no pleasure in things that are normally pleasurable or is it Depression?

This is the hardest part of the break-up with Depression and an unhealthy relationship. 

People struggle the most with this because Depression has them convinced that they are the problem and has them believe that they are Depression.

Once you are able to see that Depression is not who you are, it is separate from you, you can learn how it works.

  • Understand What Depression Needs to Thrive.

Depression may be a chemical imbalance in our brains, yet it behaves just like every other living organism.

Depression needs energy to survive.  And just like every other living organism on this planet, it needs to receive energy from someone or something else that is living.

Depression gets it’s energy by consuming energy from the people it inhabits.  Depression has a lot in common with a parasite, virus or bacteria that need a living host in order to survive.

As human beings, we generate and use the most energy by being active.  We do the most activity doing things that bring us pleasure, interest or reward.  Because we are human, we also receive energy by being connected to other people.

Therefore, it makes sense that Depression would consume our energy by inhibiting people from experiencing pleasure and interest…and by keeping people isolated.

  • Interrupt and Shut Down Depression’s Control.

Like an unhealthy relationship, Depression needs to be in control.  An unhealthy relationship needs to control your self-esteem and self-worth, so does Depression.  An unhealthy relationship controls what you do and keeps you isolated, so does depression.

Take a stand!  Depression does not want you to be active, find a way to be active anyway! Even if it is as simple as taking a shower and getting dressed.  It does not matter how big or little you do.  Simply do something.

Depression wants you to be alone.  Connect with people or pets!  I know this is hard to do.  Being around people when you are experiencing depression can make you feel worse, especially if they are trying to make you feel better.  However, if you don’t want to talk, don’t talk.  Ask a loved one to just sit beside you and hold your hand.  You don’t need words to connect and you don’t need to feel better.  You simply need to connect.

Don’t expect to feel pleasure during this stage of the break up with depression.  All of the actions you do during this time are  a part of the break up process.

  • Consistently Be Active and Stay Connected

Now that you know what Depression needs and how it is getting it, stop giving it to Depression as best you can.

This is difficult to do because depression has consumed your energy and made you feeling tired, sore and/or achy.  Nonetheless, your body still works, it can do more than Depression wants you to believe it can.   It is very difficult to not let your body stop you and Depression knows this and uses this knowledge against you.

I know it is hard.  Nevertheless, breaking up with depression means that you have to go against what your own body wants.   This is very similar to when you are in love and you have to force your heart to let go.

By no means is breaking up with Depression easy.  It is hard, yet it sounds simple “do something and connect”.  Breaking up with Depression and moving on is worth your effort.

In the news lately,  Catherine Zeta Jones has openly shared her story of being treated for bipolar disorder that may have been caused by the stress of her husband, Michael Douglas, struggling with cancer.

People are wondering about stress and its relationship with bipolar disorder.  By no means do I believe I have “the answer”.  However, I do have a perspective that comes from my own experience that may shed some light on the types of stress that trigger an episode.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Good stress comes from the combination of responsibility, goals and purpose with having a plan and structure to manage it.

Good stress is external, meaning it comes from doing something in the world.

Good stress may not cause a bipolar manic or depressive episode.

An example of good stress is, “I want to be successful in life.  In order to be successful I need to develop my abilities to do something that is meaningful to me.  In order to develop my abilities I need to learn information and develop the skills to apply them.  To learn information and develop skills I need experience.  In order to get experience, I need to get educated.  In order to get educated I need to study.  In order to study I need to pay attention in to my teachers and learn. etc…”

This example is full of stress and one that we all go through.  In my opinion, the stress of having to do these things is not what causes an episode for someone living with bipolar disorder.

This is productive stress that is goal oriented and task based.  This stress is emotion contained by a plan of action.

Bad stress is caused by internal pressures in response to overwhelm, urgency and fear.

It is caused by thoughts and feelings playing on each other without a plan of action.

Bad stress welcomes and ignites episodes of bipolar disorder.

BAD STRESS can take on multiple forms that build upon themselves:

  • Overwhelm

Overwhelm is a temporary state that occurs when we simply don’t have the interpersonal resources and information to achieve a goal.

In the example of good stress, there was a plan of how to reach a goal.  With bad stress there is no plan of how to achieve a goal.  As a result, a person may experience so much overwhelm that mania or depression gets invited as a coping mechanism.  Mania takes action or depression shuts you down.

Overwhelm is simply shouting, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” “This is too much!”  “I can’t handle this right now!”

So mania kicks in and the brain says, “Yay! I can do anything!” And it’s thoughts race a million miles a minute causing a person to focus on a goal for 20 hours straight using all of their brain power, even if the result makes no sense.

Or depression kicks in and the brain says, “I think and feel nothing.  I’m not getting out of bed. Lights are out, no one is home. Go away.”

  • Overwhelm + Urgency

Urgency is a real or imagined perception that something has to be done, RIGHT NOW.

This is a recipe for disaster for someone living with bipolar disorder because the imagined perception of urgency is a part of daily living.  Therefore, when it combines with overwhelm it can easily lead to mania or depression.

Overwhelm + Urgency are simply screaming, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have to do it RIGHT NOW!”

Mania kicks in and gets the job done or depression does nothing and simply shuts down.  Either way it is a coping mechanism to conquer overwhelm combined with urgency.

  • Overwhelm + Urgency + Fear

This is the worst.  Not only do you not know what you’re doing and it has to be done right now, but you have to deal with all of the “could’s”.

Example: “I could fail.”  “I could be humiliated.”  “I could disappoint everyone.”  “I could lose.” “I could lose the person I love the most in the world.”

When overwhelm, urgency and fear combine, which they tend to do eventually, you have the perfect storm for mania or depression.  It is a combination that is just asking for it in a person with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is interesting because it often causes many people to live with a sense of urgency regardless of an external source causing  urgency. 

In my own experience, I have to consciously remind myself that there is no external urgency in what I am doing.  I have to slow myself down.

The Hidden Stress

That doesn’t feel like stress at all

Excitement

When people think of excitement, they often don’t think of it as a stress response.  However, for a person living with bipolar disorder excitement is the match…or even easier a torch loaded with fuel.

People often ask me why that is…here’s what I believe.

We do not get excited about things that are familiar to us.

We do not get excited about things we know how to do well.

We do not get excited about things way off in the future.

Excitement is simply the really fun form of overwhelm and urgency.

Therefore, it is very common for people to experience excitement and have it lead to mania and possibly even depression.

This is a dangerous topic if misused that should be explored with caution and should not be attempted without the support and accessibility of psychiatric professionals.

By no means do I encourage any person living with bipolar disorder discontinue taking their medication or change their dosage in order to experience self-management (especially if you have not been medically treated and stable for several years).  To suddenly discontinue medication has the potential to be life threatening.

However, it is important that people living with bipolar disorder (and those treating it) know that contained mania can be a gift in a person’s life and permit them to continue to feel like they have not lost themselves.

There are some psychiatrists who prescribe so much medication that the experience of genuine emotion is not possible for a person. I take a stand against over-medication.

I have been stable with bipolar disorder for fifteen years and am in the process of becoming a licensed psychotherapist, what follows is how I experience mania without it becoming a manic episode.

Step 1: The Trigger

You must know your triggers.  You learn what they are by paying close attention to your episodes. Not all triggers will be able to be controlled and contained.

I have three types of triggers:

  1. Stress: that I’ve broken down to be defined as anything that I don’t have the interpersonal resources or ability to handle at the moment.  The lack of a plan of action.
  2. Excitement: Stress with a specific goal, yet I still don’t know what I’m doing, but it is so much fun figuring out how I will reach the goal and having the burst of excited energy.
  3. Urgency: When I feel the pressure to have or be something right now.

When either trigger combines with URGENCY that is a dangerous mania that I must contain as soon as possible. This form of mania could exacerbate rapidly into an out of control mania that could lead to full-blown mania if I am not paying attention.

The safest trigger for me hands down is EXCITEMENT. However, it’s a catch-22 because if I do not pay attention and respond carefully to the excitement, URGENCY will get involved and then I am in the danger zone.

My least favorite trigger is STRESS because I have no clear goal and no plan of action. I simply don’t know what I’m doing so I’m completely overwhelmed.

URGENCY is so dangerous because it causes us to ACT and those actions can change our lives permanently.  URGENCY also causes us to lose control on every level and mania takes over.

I cannot stress this enough.  The key is to pay attention. Keep an eye out for URGENCY.

Step 2: The Mania

I only allow myself to experience mania that comes from excitement.  Any form of mania that comes with URGENCY is dangerous to me and must be contained right away (see below).

My Actions of Mania:

I think about, research or work on a project or goal for several hours straight (significantly beyond 9 hours a day).  I become so obsessed on my goal that I can think about nothing else.  Key: I am unable to stop thinking about my project or goal and I cannot stop working towards my goal. I am obsessed.

How do I know when I am in trouble:

I am not able to sleep.  I stay up all night with both ruminating thoughts and new ideas.  I sneak out of bed to do research or keep working.  I do not disclose to people about what I’ve been doing all day because I don’t want them to know how obsessed I am.

How I keep URGENCY away:

Urgency is really hard to keep away.  It has taken me years of practice.  What it comes down to is throwing away the time-line for when my goal has to be achieved or the project I’m working on must be completed.  It requires the will and ability to put down and put away what ever it is that I am working on.

It was very easy to write those sentences, but very difficult to do in real life.  It takes me tremendous will power to prevent urgency.

Step 3: Containing Mania

I cannot say it enough how important learning how to pay attention is!

I allow myself usually only one day to experience mania because that is safest for me.  In the past I allowed myself a week and I really paid for it.  It took me months to recover and feel like myself again.

By giving myself only one day of mania, I notice that the recovery time only a few days and there are minimal consequences in my life.

Here is how I contain my mania:

  1. I get support.  I let everyone close to me in my life know that I am experiencing mania and ask for their support.
  2. I give myself permission to experience mania from when I wake up in the morning (which is really early since I was probably up all night being obsessed) until 5pm.
  3. I force myself to stop working on my goal in order to eat and shower.  This is not always easy to do.
  4. At 5pm, I have to completely remove myself from the situation.  I disconnect myself from whatever it is that was fueling my mania…the excitement. I do not give myself access to what excites me. If I am not able to do it, I ask for help from my support system.
  5. I eat dinner and usually with some form of prescribed sleeping aid, I take my lithium and go to sleep for about 10 hours.  Otherwise, my mind will not stop thinking.

When I wake up in the morning, often it is as though a reset button has been pushed; however, the manic energy is still somewhat present, but in a weakened form.

With the remaining mania, I do not allow myself to even get close to working on the goal that triggered the mania. Instead, I put it to work in some other productive way (like cleaning etc).

I spend the day doing self-care practices that include both exercise and repetition because it has a calming effect on me.

I continue my self-care practices until I notice that I am no longer triggered and that the fuel that fed the mania has been consumed.

I continue working on my project or goal once the excitement of it has worn off and it becomes “work” again.

This is my story for how to experience mania without it becoming a full on manic episode.  I hope this is useful to you.

In my years of helping people develop their ability to thrive with bipolar disorder, I have heard horror stories about interventions that were done on them.  As a therapist, I help teach people loving ways for doing interventions.

Out of love and desperation, people often do some very hurtful things to get someone to get help.


INTERVENTIONS GONE WRONG: Words that hurt someone you love when trying to get them help.

“Something is wrong with you.”

“You scare me.”

“I am ashamed of you.”

“You embarrass me.”

“You are crazy.”

“You are bad.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You are bipolar.”

It does not matter what words follow after these sentences.  The damage has already been done.

It is highly unlikely that a person will want to seek help, when the person trying to help them is hurting them.

Loving ways to do an intervention:

  1. Use “I” Statements.
  2. Focus on specific behaviors that you are concerned about.
  3. Asking your loved one to receive help.

“I” Statements:

“I am concerned that…”

“It hurts me when…”

“I get scared when…”

“When this (behavior) happens, I feel…”

“I don’t know what to do when…”

These types of “I” statements are effective because:

  • They do not blame or shame.
  • They do not judge a person.
  • They do not label a person.
  • The person sharing these statements is expressing how something affects them…they are owning it.

Focusing on specific behaviors:  (that are not normal for the person)

Examples:

“When you don’t sleep at night, I fear that…”

“You’ve been speaking so fast lately that I can’t understand you.”

“The way you drove today, really scared me.  I felt we were going to get into a bad car accident.”

“When you purchased _________ on a whim, I didn’t feel we could afford it and I don’t know what to do about that.”

“Your emotions have been so powerful lately. It scares me and I don’t know how to respond.”

“You haven’t stopped working on ___________ (goal) in four days.  You haven’t eaten, showered, changed clothes, slept or left the house.  This is not how you normally are. I am concerned.”

What makes it effective:

  • You are separating the person from the problem = not shaming, blaming and judging your loved one.
  • You are expressing your response to their behavior without labeling or diagnosing the behavior.
  • Your concern is NOT that there is something wrong with your loved one, but that their behavior is significantly different from how they usually are.
  • You bring awareness to the behavior.

Asking your loved one to receive help

The goal here is to:

  • Not make yourself an expert or “know-it-all”.  You do not want your loved one to have to defend their behavior.  Therefore, you acknowledge that you don’t know what it’s like to experience what they are experiencing. (Unless you too are living with bipolar disorder…then it is different.)
  • Acknowledge that you believe that their behavior could be beyond their control; therefore, it is worthy of receiving help and not a reflection of who they are.
  • Ask them if they are willing to receive help.  If their behaviors do not put them at harm to themselves and others, it is best to willingly choose to receive help.

Example:

“I don’t know what it is like for you to not be able to sleep and to have such powerful emotions (or whatever behaviors you are noticing), but it appears that what is happening may be beyond your control.  Are you willing to receive help?”

When to have a professional intervention

If you are not able to communicate with your loved one in a structured and constructive way, it may be a good option to have a therapist or specialist participate in the intervention to structure and guide the communication process.

However the role of the interventionist is not to diagnose your loved one, their role is simply to contain and structure the communication so that your loved one can have an opportunity to choose to receive help.

I highly value curiosity and welcome questions that can be generalized to be helpful to a lot of people.

Every thing that I write here is my opinion based on two things, my personal experience of living with bipolar disorder and my experience of helping people live with bipolar disorder both professionally and through out my life.

Here are the questions I have received recently:

  • What do you mean by “I am living with bipolar disorder”?

  • What are an M.A. and MFTi? (The letters that come after my name)

  • Can you treat bipolar disorder with just medicine or do you need therapy as well?

  • What does lithium do?

What do you mean by, “I am living with bipolar disorder”?

CLEARING UP CONFUSION: I, Robin Mohilner, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager. I do not write from the perspective of living in a home with someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

I do not own “bipolar disorder” as my identity.  It is not who I am.  I try to refrain from saying, “I am bipolar.” That gives bipolar disorder the upper hand in my life.

By having the attitude and mindset that “I am living with bipolar disorder.”, I have the upper-hand.

I am in a relationship with bipolar disorder. I experience it as separate from me.  It affects me and I affect it (powerfully).

It does not control me, but when I’m not paying attention to our relationship, it temporarily gets the upper hand and I lose my power and control.

When I’m not paying attention, bipolar disorder loves to take me on emotional rollercoasters.  It loves when I am nervous or uncomfortable because it gets the upper hand and off I go unknowingly breaking unspoken social rules and impulsively speaking before I think or it makes me think so fast that it’s difficult to get words out of my mouth.

On the other hand, I have spent fifteen years developing a strong upper hand.  I get how bipolar disorder works.  I know how to prevent and contain my episodes.  I know what bipolar disorder needs and wants.  I am skilled in the art of stealing its power and fuel so that it cannot control my life.  My passion is to develop this in others.

The key is that I exercise my “paying attention” muscle everyday.  This keeps me living with bipolar disorder instead of being bipolar.

What are an M.A. and MFTi?

This question addresses my professional credentials.

M.A. refers to the Master’s Degree that I have earned in psychology, specifically in Marriage & Family Therapy, with eligible certification as an Art Therapist.

I earned my Bacherlors degree from U.C. Berkeley in Psychology and my Masters Degree from Phillips Graduate Institute in Marriage and Family Therapy.

However, earning degrees does not make me a therapist.  I have spent years paying my dues, which will explain the MFTi.

MFTi stands for Marriage and Family Therapist Intern. For the past five years I have practiced as a therapist under the license of supervising therapists.

I have successfully completed all of the hours of experience that I need to become a licensed therapist; however, I am currently patiently waiting (it’s a long wait) for the state of California’s Board of Behavioral Science to approve my hours of experience and grant me permission to take two challenging exams.  When I pass these exams, I will be officially a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT).

Can you treat bipolar disorder with just medicine or do you need therapy as well?

You CAN do anything you want. Nonetheless, bipolar disorder is complex and it affects a person’s complete way of being in the world.

Bipolar disorder is a reflection of the way the brain functions. It affects both how people think (very fast), feel (passionately) and how people respond to things that cause excitement, stress, fear and basically any human emotion.  There are both profound strengths (example, many experience high levels of intelligence and creativity) and weaknesses (example, having no intuitive clue about what is socially appropriate).

Bipolar disorder affects people’s self-esteem, relationships and quality of life.  Medicine does not change that.

Medication only reduces depression and mania.  Bipolar disorder is more than just an episode.

Therapy helps one navigate through the complexity and develop their awareness of how they are affected by bipolar disorder and utilize their own strengths, abilities and skills to construct their preferred way of being.

What does lithium do?

Scientists still do not know how lithium works.

Nonetheless, they do believe they have found two ways that lithium affects the brain.

One way they believe the brain is affected is at the level of the axon in neurons. Neurons are the brain’s cells that do all of the communicating.  Scientists believe that lithium affects the myelin sheath on the axon (the part of the neuron that message travels down). It is believed that brain’s affected by bipolar disorder have deteriorated myelin sheath and lithium may help reconstruct it.

Another more recent finding on the effect of lithium is that scientists have found that lithium may build  brain structures that are deteriorated in people living with bipolar disorder. Some of these early findings show that scientists witness change in areas such as the amygdala (seat of emotions in the brain) anterior and posterior cingulates (seat of impulsivity, awareness of unspoken social rules, center of inhibition that are all diminished in people with bipolar disorder).

If this was helpful, feel free to send me general questions and I will do this on a more regular basis.

Have you ever felt like everyone else, but you, was given a guide-book for proper etiquette in various  work and social circumstances?

Some people just intuitively pick up on social rules and know how to behave or have an inner critic that keeps them from saying or doing something inappropriate.

Well, I don’t have that guide-book and I often speak before I think and lack a strong inner critic that inhibits me from speaking my mind or doing what I feel is right.

This is very common for people living with bipolar disorder.  Our brains have a unique design.

Not having these qualities has the tendency to get me in trouble, especially at work.  Here’s some of what I’ve learned from the challenges of not having an intuitive guide and inner critic.

This is the beginning of a series to explore challenges people living with bipolar disorder my experience in the workplace.

Challenge: Uncertainty

What makes it a problem:

In my experience of living with bipolar disorder I have discovered that uncertainty is a key ingredient in inviting mania into my life. Uncertainty by itself will not trigger mania for me; however, uncertainty combined with the other ingredients of excitement and a sense of urgency…and I have the recipe for a manic episode.  (It does not guarantee a manic episode, but it makes me vulnerable to mania.)

Uncertainty is a problem in itself because it has the power to trigger my fear of being out of control within myself. The fear of being out of control within myself is rightfully my deepest fear because of my experiences of mania and depression.

This is not true for everyone.  Everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently.  This is solely my insight into my experience of it.

Here’s how I believe uncertainty gets it’s power:

The FEAR of uncertainty ( fear of what could happen) triggers insecurity.

Insecurity happily welcomes ruminating thoughts.

Ruminating thoughts partner up with strong emotional responses.

And poof…an emotional rollercoaster takes off at high-speed.

In my mind, my emotions were in control and taking me for a ride, even though nothing in my circumstances had changed.

 

How to recognize when the problem is uncertainty:

I worked in an environment that lacked structure and expectations for what I was supposed to be doing in order to be useful and effective.

All people benefit from having structure and clear expectations; however, for people living with bipolar disorder it is a MUST.

Because I did not know what I was supposed to be doing, when I started, I dove in, got creative and tried to participate in any and everything that I could.  I did this because I needed to create structure and expectations for myself, so that I could function effectively.  The alternative, an emotional rollercoaster,  is not beneficial for me or for business.

Unfortunately my effort to create my own structure and expectations was not appreciated by my colleagues and supervisors.  My efforts possibly appeared to be a lack of respect and arrogance on my part to come in and try to change their system to fit me.

 

What to do about uncertainty:

No one can make uncertainty go away.  We will all live life “not knowing” something.  However, how we respond to uncertainty is crucial in how it affects us.

My greatest lesson in regards to how to effectively respond to uncertainty for me, was learning how to sit with uncertainty.  It was hard for me to learn because I used to normally respond to uncertainty with impulsivity (which got me in trouble.)

Therefore, I had to try a different response, on that was not impulsive.  So I chose patience. Patience was a tough choice.  Patience was something that I really wasn’t all that good at.  I didn’t even know what patience really looked like.  To me it was like sitting on my hands in front of the cookie jar…that’s sort of being mean to myself.

Since that wasn’t working for me, I chose a new response…“observation”.  This time, when I experienced uncertainty, I took the following steps:

 

Observed my thoughts

I simply noticed what I was thinking.  I wouldn’t run with any of my thoughts (add emotion to them) or take action.  (That is impulsivity.)

 

Observed the situation and environment

This was easy, all I had to do was pay attention.  I didn’t get involved in anything happening, I simply watched the interactions taking place and tried to notice patterns and rhythms in how everything worked together.

 

Identified needs, roles, weaknesses and strengths and what I could do that would be valued.

This helped me to give myself a structure and create expectations for my role in work. It also empowered me to be able to anticipate needs and opportunities to be effective.

 

The funny thing about learning how to observe is that it taught me how to be patient.

In the next post, we will explore lessons learned from OFFICE POLITICS in the workplace.

 

 

 

I am so thankful that I was not famous and incredibly wealthy when I had my worst full-blown out of control manic episode. I would not be where I am today and I would not be able to become a therapist that helps people thrive with bipolar disorder.

I am so lucky that full-blown mania came into my life at a time when I was able to overcome the consequences of self-destruction, public humiliation, loss and shame that mania causes.

I am so grateful that there was no one to document my actions and words besides my mother.

Therefore, I take a stand for Charlie Sheen because I believe his current words and actions may be those of mania and years of self-medicating drug abuse, not necessarily his character.

I am not treating Charlie Sheen, but in my opinion, the behavior he is expressing is quite NORMAL for someone experiencing full-blown mania and living with untreated bipolar disorder (even if never experiencing “traditional depression”).

I also believe that his lifestyle is quite NORMAL for someone living with untreated bipolar disorder who has fame and fortune.

When people have fame and fortune people are more readily willing to accept their manic “peculiarities” without calling it a diagnosis and without saying, “It’s not okay to treat me like this.” or “I think you have a problem and you need help.”

Charlie Sheen’s level of fame and wealth gives him access to the best drugs on the planet.  He can afford to make himself feel anything he wants to feel whenever he wants using drugs. I can understand why he would not see the value of a $10 bottle of Lithium that would make him feel more normal.

In my opinion, in order for him to want that $10 bottle of Lithium, he would have to experience the worst of the mania that many people never experience because intervention takes place before the mania peaks.

I probably wouldn’t be so committed to taking my lithium everyday if I had not experienced the peak of mania.

Where I believe Charlie Sheen is right now is in the best part of mania. Who wouldn’t want to truly feel omnipotent, divinely chosen and special and invincible?

Right now, to everyone else, Charlie looks out of control. However, my experience knows that he feels more in control of his life than ever before.

But I know what comes after that.  What came after that for me was so devastating and scary that I have not allowed myself to be fully manic since.

Every emotion I’ve ever had, came exploding out of me. All of my pain, rage and sadness exploded out of me uncontrollably.  I was haunted by delusions disguised as memories and obsessive paranoia that my family was trying to hurt me.  I used my words as knives to hurt people. Everything that was good in me, was gone.  All I could do was destroy my life.

This is why I take my medication everyday and do everything that it takes to remain stable with bipolar disorder.

Maybe Charlie Sheen needs to be in a safe environment. One in which he cannot harm himself and further destroy his life in order to hit rock bottom.  Maybe then, he can realize the priceless value of a $10 bottle of Lithium.

It doesn’t matter what you call it “emotional _______”: “…tide”, “…highs and lows”, “…rollercoaster”, “…waves”, “…rubberbanding”, “…disruption”, “…overwhelm”….we all go up and down or in and out in some way (even people without bipolar disorder).

So what do you do when you are in a relationship with someone and they are experiencing an “emotional…”?

Here are some of my ideas…

 

Common reasons for “emotional ______”:

Physical / Biological:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Sleep changes
  • Dietary or digestion changes
  • Lack of exercise
  • Chemical imbalance
  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Trauma

Emotional:

  • Stress
  • Fear
  • Uncertainty
  • Not enough connection / intimacy
  • Too much connection / intimacy
  • Need for independence / to be alone
  • Need for connection
  • Identity challenges
  • Financial stress / loss of income
  • You upset them / hurt their feelings
  • Self-doubt
  • Pain / Past emotional wounds
  • Self-worth
  • Trauma

These are just some possibilities.  The reality is that if you ask any person who is experiencing “emotional…”, they probably won’t be able to express this as they are experiencing it.

Why asking them WHY? doesn’t always help:

  • They don’t know.
  • Asking people “why” causes them to have to defend themselves.
  • Asking people “why” causes people to have to search for a problem and find one…that may not even be the problem at all.
  • It makes them feel worse when they are already feeling bad, overwhelmed or confused.

Ways to respond to your partner’s “emotional ______”

When someone we love is pushing away, withdrawing or pulling away, it is uncomfortable, scary and sad. Of course it is a natural instinct to want to be close. When they pull away it feels like we’re losing them, that we’re losing our relationship. It really hurts. “Emotional…’s” can be painful and a loss.

Often a mistake we make is to do the opposite of what they want.  We often smother them, lovingly of course.

Things to do instead of smothering:

  • Give your partner the space to experience their “emotional…”.

If they are pulling away, let them, and do so lovingly. Let them know that it is okay and that you love them, instead of panicking and feeling like the sky is falling down.

I know that this is hard and it is not easy to do at all, but in every “emotional…” there is a gift.  They may not always find it, but the gift is their own to be found.  You cannot give them that gift.  It is something they get to find within themselves.

  • Develop your awareness of your partners pattern or cycle for “emotional…” (and your own).

Ask yourself, “Is this a pattern?  How did it happen before?  What was the outcome? What did I learn?”

If you are able to see a pattern of emotion and behavior, then it is possible that what your own emotions and instincts are fearing may not be actually happening and it is simply an “emotional…”.

  • Do not take an “emotional…” personally.

(See the reasons above…almost all of them have nothing to do with you.)

  • Take good care of yourself.

Now is the time to focus on YOU.

What makes YOU happy?

What do you enjoy doing by yourself or with others that you may have not done in awhile?

What is something you want to try?

Give yourself love…

Don’t wait for anyone to bring you flowers, grow your own.

  • Therapy.

Therapy is both a vehicle and the developer of your own and your relationship’s tools and resources to better build the relationship you desire to be in.