What Influence Do Attitudes and Behaviour Have?

There seemed to have been some confusion regarding my last post, so I’m going to cover this topic more extensively today. I had talked about how the use of  “masks” can help to fill the void in between your mood and some type of normalcy.  This was not supposed to come across as hiding your true self and be fake but how the masks can have a positive effect. So lets talk about it more.

I read a post over the weekend that I loved and it may supplement this topic. If you have time, please read that post here. It talked about how our attitude can influence our behaviour and how our behaviour can influence our attitude.

“Leonardo da Vinci also observed that it’s no mystery why it is fun to be around happy people and depressing to be around depressed people. He also observed the melancholy that painters usually give to portraits. He attributed that to the solitariness of the artist and their joyless environment. 

According to Giorgio Vasari (1568) that while painting the Mona Lisa Leonardo employed singers, musicians and jesters to chase away his melancholy as he painted. The musicians and jesters forced him laugh and be joyful. This behavior created the attitude of joy and pleasure as he painted. As a result, he painted a smile so pleasing that it seems divine and as alive as the original.” 

This was an excerpt from the post I mentioned above. I found it quite interesting that something so simple could positively influence something that had such a profound effect. That being said, why can’t ones with a mental illness do this as needed?

Putting on a “mask” or projecting an attitude/behaviour that is more pleasing than our mood can have a positive effect. Those with a mental illness all know that no matter how hard you try to cover your moods/emotions up that they still peek through. When I’m depressed or irritable you are going to know it regardless so I’m not fooling anyone. But I choose to improve that by “masking” or projecting a more positive mood. Not only does that make me easier to be around but it improves (by however slim or great a margin) my mood. So when your mood is on the negative side of things, why not project a more positive outlook and actually improve it?


Which Mask Today?

Normal days are often few and far between for those with bipolar disorder. In my case the majority are down days, some normal days and then some days that are a little too good because I’m hypomanic. However your days measure out, there is a gap to fill in. You have to fill in the positive and negative gaps to get back to normal. So what mask are you wearing today?

It seems like depression is what requires the most covering up. There are days that the only mask that will fit is the one that barely gets you through the day. Other days, you only feel like a shell of yourselves and the mask you put on helps you fake it the rest of the way to happy. When you’re irritable you have to put on the mask that makes you somewhat pleasant and makes you seem like not too much is bothering you. Hypomania/mania has its share of masks too.  You may try to mask that your operating at hyperspeed or that you are close to spinning out of control.

You may be faking it when you put on your mask but the masks themselves aren’t. They’re still you, they just aren’t the you at that particular moment. Putting on the mask is a way of coping and compensating. It enables you to play a character that best helps you get through the day. It’s a tool of sorts. One that comes to our aid when we mentally cant do it.

The days of normal, when the masks aren’t needed are the best. Your personality is at 100% and your genuinely happy. For the days that aren’t like that I’m grateful that I have my masks. No, faking it isn’t ideal but I can still go through the day and actually live instead of just function. What about you? Do you have masks?

Bipolar Assets

Those of us who have changed our mental condition from bipolar disorder to bipolar IN order have something important to share. We have found strength in what was at one time a debilitating weakness. We have learned how to function in all states, including the extremes of mania and depression. The insights we have and the tools that we use can help our companies to function better in both boom and bust times. We can inspire everyone to move forward instead of being crippled by fear and doubt.”

This is an excerpt from a post on Psychologytoday’s website that was sent to me by a fellow blogging friend. This is just what I needed to read today. If you have time, you can read the rest of that post here. 

When facing major problems there is definitely an advantage to being Bipolar. However, you have to look at it that way. Whether your history of being bipolar is long or short, you have already developed skills that help you to function during the up times and the down times. Knowingly or not, these skills are there and you know how to use them. The advantage? People without a mental illness have never been forced to learn how to function under less than ideal circumstances on a regular basis but you have.

When a major problem arises you have the skills that can help you not only function but to handle things quite well. These problems don’t have to be debilitating because our minds have already drug us through that. We may have come out somewhat mangled on the other side but we made it. Now its real life slapping you in the face instead of your illness. But, you can have a been there done that attitude because you have the skills you need to survive and they are all at your disposal.

It’s all in how you look at things. Yes, this illness is debilitating and stress and problems can wreak havoc. But put some rose-colored glasses on and see things differently. Are major problems a pain? Yes. Are you bipolar and therefore have the best equipment for these situations in your arsenal? Yep. I’ll take the glass half full any day.

Starting Over

I know it’s not recommended to take a month off from blogging, but that’s exactly what I did. Life has changed drastically since I posted last. My husband decided he was better off without me and I now find myself in the middle of a divorce. I was happy before this, I’m looking forward to when I will be that way again. This isn’t a post on how horrible my life is but rather how a major upset can affect someone with Bipolar.

I find myself starting over. New place, job, people… That’s a lot to face at one time and I find myself at the edge of a cliff not wanting to make the jump. Decisions need to be made, but I’m not making them. The mental and emotional coping skills I’ve acquired with my illness have possibly helped me and then again maybe they’re hindering me. I file things away in my mind and don’t pull them out unless I have no other choice. This in a sense protects me from the stress associated with different things but it also prolongs the healing process.  Nevertheless, that is the approach I’m currently taking. If I am to function on a day-to-day basis I can’t beat everything to death in my mind.

I will continue to write. It’s great therapy and as much as I don’t like to admit it, I need that. My posts will probably reflect this starting over process. There’s no guide for being Bipolar and going through a stressful major life change. So some posts will center on that and how successfully or unsuccessfully I manage to handle this.  I promise not to lose the original focus that I started this blog with. Now, I just have a lot of added material that shakes Bipolar to the core. Bear with me…

Medication – My story

Ok, I promised I would tell a little bit more about myself especially when it comes to medication. I hope I can make this entertaining and worthy of reading.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II at 18. I’m currently 23, so I only have 5 years of the medication trial and error process under my belt. Looking back, I had this disorder early in childhood. My mom used to take me to doctors and counselors because I was depressed, anxious, couldn’t sleep etc… One of them that sticks out more than others was not being able to sleep. I would lay in bed for hours and not sleep. My mom didn’t know what to do with me. I was put on sleep medications and my body would somehow still be awake! Now I realize that I was probably manic. That would have been so nice to know then.

The other thing that stands out was how irritable and frustrated I got. Being a little kid I had no clue what was going on. I just knew that I got angry fast and it had to come out. That got me into trouble a lot. Again, looking back it was most likely due to my disorder. I was either manic or having mood swings that I wasn’t able to handle.

Bipolar never popped into my mind as a teen but depression did. My primary care doctor gave me different anti-depressants. Not being able to stand the side effects she referred me to a physiatrist. At my first appointment I had to relate months worth of experiences. She came to the conclusion that I was Bipolar II. That shocked me but it made all the puzzle peices fit. That’s when my official medication trial and error process started.

After many tries I finally found an antidepressant that not only works but that I can also function on. Since the day I was diagnosed I’ve gotten married, moved and have had a couple different jobs. That’s thrown off having insurance at times which has made my process a lot slower. What I currently need is a mood stabilizer that I can stand and possibly something to supplement my antidepressant.

In 5 years I haven’t given up yet. Surviving the headaches, increased/decreased sleep, zombie like feeling etc of medications is enough to make you want to quit. But when you find the one that actually helps and gives you glimpes of normal that’s when you realize it’s all worth it.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that glimpes of normal might be all I’ll get. I have been completely refined due to having this disorder. I look at the upside, depression makes you stronger and hypomania makes you brilliant.


Guest Post! A Personal Journey of Treatment – Medication

This was written by one of my readers. We started talking one day and I realized that she has a lot of experience and insight. She was particularly interested in sharing her story of finding the right medications and what a difference they can make;

“After a suicide attempt at age 16, I was diagnosed with unipolar depression. I was on and off tranquilizers and anti-depressant medications, which, along with serious self-medicating, resulted in a couple of other suicide attempts and some really bizarre behavior. After being un-medicated for many years, in my early-30s I was diagnosed with post-partum depression after the birth of my second child and was, once again, put on an anti-depressant (Prozac, which was new at the time). Life was good again. Then I had to stop before I became pregnant with my third child. While I don’t recommend it, and there was next to no information on the subject at the time, I nursed my third child while on Prozac. It got me through the days and nights and allowed me to cope with three young children. Fortunately, my daughter seems to have suffered no ill effects from it, but there is much more information available now and it’s a decision each person must make with their doctor. I was a better parent while medicated than I was when un-medicated.

After a few years of increasingly up-and-down roller coaster moods, I went into peri-menopause. What a nightmare that was! My moods were all over the place and I was so irritable all the time. Really, I was a bitch on wheels. I wanted to say and do inappropriate things. I wanted to run away. Some days, when I was on my way to work, I thought how nice it would be to just keep on driving down the interstate to wherever. I was still on an anti-depressant only but it wasn’t helping with the mood swings. I was getting increasingly irritable, angry, and my spending was out of control. After one particularly bad anger outburst I called a referral service to find a therapist. It felt like I was losing what little sanity I had. I began seeing a therapist but was still seeing my primary care physician for medication. At this point, my doctor told me she thought I was bipolar and added Abilify and low-dose hormones to my anti-depressant. She also suggested I see a psychiatrist. I strongly resisted the bipolar diagnosis and the psychiatrist — for two years. Finally, after having to make an emergency visit to my doctor, I had a serious meltdown. I broke down in tears in her office and she told me she could no longer manage my medications. I was having side effects from the Abilify; although it was working on some levels the side effects were intolerable, and the mood swings were not improving.

What I considered my “so-so mental health” began to become a full-blown mental illness so I took the suggestion of my doctor and got a referral to a psychiatrist. This was very hard for me because I had some terrible experiences with psychiatrists in my younger days. The new doctor took an extensive history and told me that anti-depressants may cause mania in someone with bipolar disorder. That one statement made everything in my life make so much more sense. She changed my medications, put me on a new “drug cocktail” and sent me on my way, telling me to come back in a couple of weeks. The new medications helped, but I was still having manic days which were interfering with my ability to work and manage myself appropriately.

After a month of the new medications, and at my psychiatrist’s suggestion, I agreed to go into an Intensive Outpatient Therapy program at a local hospital. This allowed me to learn skills to manage myself and my moods and, at the same time, have my medications “tweaked” while in a safe environment. During this month-long program I still worked half-days and was able to avoid hospitalization. Through a few hits-and-misses in the medication department, my doctor and I have found, for the moment, a medication regimen that seems to be working very well. I no longer have the crazy, wild-eyed look of someone in manic mode and I don’t have the “doom cloud” hanging over my head. I stopped thinking about death 24/7 and have stopped having debilitating panic attacks. A caring, compassionate doctor along with the right medications (for me) have saved my life. When I look back on all those years when I was mid-diagnosed and treated with the wrong medications, it’s a wonder I made it through raising three kids, going to school and working full time.

It has been a difficult trial-and-error process and not side-effect free, but I am a now a strong believer (a) learning about and accepting my diagnosis (b) taking medications for my illness, and (c) staying on my medications. Therapy and the study of my llness have given me enough insight to know when something isn’t working well. At my doctor’s suggestion I do a twice daily “denta health/mental health” check-up. I learn all I can about my illness and the medications I am on. It’s a never-ending learning process.”

Treatment & Therapies – Medications

Okay here’s the big dog, medication. It’s the main treatment for Bipolar/Bipolar II disorder. Some embrace it, others loathe it and some are still on the fence. Whether you are for or against it, we still need to talk about it.

There are several types of medications that are used for treating this disorder. Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, anitdepressants and sleeping aids. Let’s touch base on each of them.

Mood stabilizers These are usually the main type of medication prescribed to those with this disorder. They greatly help with mood swings and delay or minimize the up’s and down’s, sometimes both.

Antipsychotics – These help with mania/hypomania. Sometimes they’re only given during a manic episode and sometimes ones are given them to take full time as maintenance. It mainly depends on how severe your mania is which of course varies greatly from person to person.

Antidepressants – These of course help with your depression. Depression is a constant factor with this disorder. When mood stabilizers don’t quite do it with the depression, antidepressants come into play.

Sleep aids – These aren’t typically thought of as a treatment for this disorder. At times however ones experience constant insomnia and these are needed. I’ve talked before about how important sleep is when it comes to stabilizing yourself. So at times sleep aids play an important role.

I’m by no means recommending a certain treatment or drug. I’m just putting all your options out there. However, medication has been key for me personally. I can’t stress how important it is to find the right doctor for you and be open and honest with them throughout the medication process. It seems like a long, hard and never ending journey at times. Soon I’ll talk about my personal struggle with it (I’ll try not to bore you). How is your medication process going?

Tomorrow we will have a guest post. She talks about her personal journey with her disorder and medication. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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