Childhood bipolar diagnosis: The good, bad, and ugly.

I saw a post about whether or not children get diagnosed with bipolar and it sounded like a lot of doctors have changed their diagnosing and are waiting till the children are older. I don’t think this is wrong, a lot of children can have mental health episodes without being bipolar and I do think for a while we were over diagnosing everything from bipolar to ADHD. The fact is that children are hard to read, and I totally understand if doctors are hesitating to pull the trigger on really big diagnostics like bipolar disorder

But being a child (I was six) diagnosed with bipolar disorder I think there are both benefits and draw backs from being both diagnosed at that age and actually being bipolar that young.

The Positives:

  • I was able to learn the big lessons early: Being diagnosed early meant that I got to learn the hard mental health lessons young and didn’t have to struggle with them as an adult. I learned that going off your medications was a terrible idea and that my episodes of mania and depression weren’t cured they were medicated. A lot of young adults who are freshly diagnosed try to go off their medication because they feel better and they think that maybe everyone got it wrong. These unmedicated periods make the suicide rates so much higher for bipolar patients and can cause other major problems. It was easier as a nine year old to go off of them while being super supervised by my parents to make sure nothing bad happened.
  • I was able to learn coping skills while learning other daily skills: It’s easier to make pathways while your brain is growing! I was able to learn a lot of skills while I was still picking up life habits, that means they are seriously ingrained in me. This is great!
  • I’ve learned which meds worked young: I’ve had my trial and error phase with most medications. And while it’s possible for me to need a new medication at some point in my life, we still have a solid foundation to work with based on which classes of medication have worked for me in my (long) past! The trial and error phase is terrible, I think anyone can tell you that, so having most of mine behind me as a young adult is wonderful.
  • I spent a lot more time analyzing my emotions: I do better than a lot of freshly diagnosed adults at identifying my swings. It’s because I’ve had parents point out my habits over the years so I have a base understanding of them. This makes it easier as an adult because I don’t spiral as much because I have learned how to catch them before they get to bad (normally- I’m still human).

The Negatives:

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Book Review: Madness: A Bipolar Life

“An astonishing dispatch from inside the belly of bipolar disorder, reflecting major new insights

When Marya Hornbacher published her first book, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, she did not yet have the piece of shattering knowledge that would finally make sense of the chaos of her life. At age twenty-four, Hornbacher was diagnosed with Type I rapid-cycle bipolar, the most severe form of bipolar disorder.

In Madness, in her trademark wry and utterly self-revealing voice, Hornbacher tells her new story. Through scenes of astonishing visceral and emotional power, she takes us inside her own desperate attempts to counteract violently careening mood swings by self-starvation, substance abuse, numbing sex, and self-mutilation. How Hornbacher fights her way up from a madness that all but destroys her, and what it is like to live in a difficult and sometimes beautiful life and marriage — where bipolar always beckons — is at the center of this brave and heart-stopping memoir.

Madness delivers the revelation that Hornbacher is not alone: millions of people in America today are struggling with a variety of disorders that may disguise their bipolar disease. And Hornbacher’s fiercely self-aware portrait of her own bipolar as early as age four will powerfully change, too, the current debate on whether bipolar in children actually exists.

Ten years after Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, this storm of a memoir will revolutionize our understanding of bipolar disorder.”

-Goodreads

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The plus side of being open about your mental illness:

You probably have gathered that I really don’t care who knows I’m bipolar, seeing that I run a blog that is mostly on mental health. I’m not just open online though, I talk about it in person too. While I’m a firm believer that your mental illness isn’t the most interesting thing about you and you should never frame your identity around it, I also believe that it’s important to be able to talk about your illness.

Here’s why:

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Touched by Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament: A Book Review

The definitive work on the profound and surprising links between manic-depression and creativity, from the bestselling psychologist of bipolar disorders who wrote An Unquiet Mind.

One of the foremost psychologists in America, “Kay Jamison is plainly among the few who have a profound understanding of the relationship that exists between art and madness” (William Styron).

The anguished and volatile intensity associated with the artistic temperament was once thought to be a symptom of genius or eccentricity peculiar to artists, writers, and musicians. Her work, based on her study as a clinical psychologist and researcher in mood disorders, reveals that many artists subject to exalted highs and despairing lows were in fact engaged in a struggle with clinically identifiable manic-depressive illness.

-Goodreads

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I told people I’m bipolar on the first date:

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I told people I’m bipolar on the first date and I’d still be doing it if I was still dating.

Here’s the thing, I didn’t at first. I was terrified of what people would think of me, how it would effect my chances with someone. I wouldn’t tell a soul, I thought it was something that should be saved for a few months in, a “so I should probably tell you…” that comes when your ready to confess.

But why was I confessing? I wasn’t guilty of anything. I am bipolar, it’s part of me and it has been for a long time. I’m not ashamed of it, I’m annoyed by it a lot, but I’m not ashamed of it. It was out of my control and it made me stronger. It’s just there, a consistent part of me, and I share things about me when I’m trying to get to know someone, so why shouldn’t it be shared as well?

Sure, there is stigma, but there is stigma on all sorts of things, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be talking about it. Maybe by hiding our disorders we’re adding to the stigma. We’re acting ashamed, so they must be shameful! But it isn’t. Bipolar disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, so I started to act like it.

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Positive things my bipolar disorder has gifted me with:

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I wrote a post a long while ago about how it’s okay for people to call mental illness a gift. It’s one of my favorite posts. I can’t decide if it’s the bipolar jokes or the fact that it’s about Van Gogh, but regardless, it still stands. It’s is okay for people to call their mental illness a gift the same way it’s okay for them to call it a curse. Both can be true.

I spend a lot of time writing about ways to function with mental illness and to overcome some of it’s trickier parts, but I wanted to make a post about the good things my mental illness has given me. So here’s a list of positives that have come from my bipolar disorder:

  • Creativity: Bipolar and creativity have long been linked. For most the creative streaks come during the manic phases, for me it seems like my creativity hardly sleeps. I’ve been creative for as long as I can remember, which is fitting because I got diagnosed at age six. Over half of my hobbies are creative ones and I fully thrive in the environment they create. I love my hobbies and I love this skill set. There is nothing I would trade for it.
  • Healthy coping mechanisms: A lot of people have unhealthy coping mechanisms, in fact, I don’t feel like it would be a stretch to say that most people do. It’s hard to function with a mental illness without learning coping mechanisms, and unhealthy ones just don’t make the cut, they end up making us feel worse. So to function, I’ve learned healthy coping mechanisms, ones that work and can aid my medication to the point where I can handle most everything thrown at me. It took a lot of work to get them, but I’m so happy I have them and am able to fall back on them whenever I need them, whether those needs are triggered by bipolar disorder or just everyday life.

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Your mental illness is not the most interesting thing about you.

20181018_110356.jpgYour mental illness is not the most interesting thing about you, and it shouldn’t be. If you find yourself reaching for your disorders name when trying to define yourself you might want to take a hard look at why you’re doing that. I’ve talked about labels before, and one of my bullet points was about mental illness, but I don’t think that covered the topic fully enough.

You are a complete person, full of dreams, hopes, fears, interests, and memories. A lot of them may be tied into your mental illness. That’s fair, especially if you’re currently fighting it with everything you have. Your mental illness is a part of you, and at times it may be a really big part of you, but it’s still not the most interesting thing about you.

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Reflection: What makes a person’s personality consistent or spontaneous?

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If you know me now, you’ve known me since 11th grade. I wrote that I was thankful for our ability to edit and change ourselves in my thanksgiving post. I meant it, I know a lot of people who have changed for the better, I’ve changed for the better, but when I look at myself now compared to then, I realize that it wasn’t really change that happened, but more of a consistent polishing.

I’m a consistent person, a remarkable feat given that I’m bipolar, but I guess with enough time that becomes a constant as well. I remember talking to someone and telling them that I felt like I only knew one version of them, and that was all I could know, because they had changed so drastically over the years. Then I looked at myself and realized that there were only three versions of me. My outgoing crazy energetic and social childhood. My self loathing almost bullied to extinction middle years. And the adult version of myself, that surfaced a little early due to all that happened in the stage before. I say adult version lightly, because you can only be so much of an adult in high school, but if you knew me then you would see me now. There is a lot of similarities and though they’ve been edited, my dreams and wishes haven’t changed a ton.

Honestly, I wonder if it makes me a little boring. But I think I’m like this because I figured out some tough questions early on. It was easy for me to pin-point what mattered in my life, and I didn’t have to have violent revelations of self discovery. I fell into a pattern of picking up traits and interests that made sense, if you had been following along you’d see them and go “of course Anna liked and added that!”. Simple. Easy to define.

Again, maybe boring? But I don’t know if people would describe me as boring either, because I’ve got a lot going on, it’s just the type of things in my whirlwind of character are typical for me.

It makes me wonder what makes a person this consistent.

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