Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bipolar Insights: What am I to do?

From page B10 | July 22, 2013 | 3 Comments

Marcia Rose Democrat photo by Pat DollinsWhen any of us asks the age-old question, “What am I to do?” those words often echo throughout the room, bouncing back and forth filling us with confusion and fear.

Each week I hear the cries of those who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder and/or their families asking what they should do. Each person involved in a crisis is afraid and feeling very alone.

It is not an easy question and there is not one answer that fits each individual. So many variables exist once a diagnosis is made. Each situation is different and each individual is unique.

I struggle trying to find the words to offer hope and also provide assurance that there is a solution to the problem and together we can find it.

We all want a quick fix to our personal problems.

I, for one, wish there were a pill I could take to lose 50 pounds in an hour. Wishful thinking, of course, is unrealistic. Everything is a process. Finding balance in a life that involves bipolar disorder is no different.

Frequently I will bring a story to our meetings and ask for guidance, information and insight from the experts — those who have bipolar disorder. Everyone has so much to gain by listening to other group members who have managed their illness for several years and also from families who have learned how to support and respect their family member who has the illness.

For a moment, peek into our class and listen to the wisdom and knowledge of those who attend each week.

Scenario: I role-play with the group and suggest that a new member wants to know what the process is for getting one’s life in balance. One by one, group members want to know if the person has a diagnosis or is newly diagnosed and are medications being prescribed?

I answer, “All of the above.”

Immediately the hands go up wanting to respond. The first person states that accepting you have bipolar disorder is the first step. Another says facing the truth and surrendering to the truth is critical.

A young man interrupts and says, “Don’t ignore it.”

As the group facilitator, I state that all of this sounds good but how does an individual with bipolar disorder learn how to do this?

A woman in the back raises her hand and says, “You have to understand that bipolar disorder is not who you are, it is what you have.”

Quickly the other participants chime in with such things as: “Remember it is only an illness.” “There is no cure, yet!” “It is not your fault; it is genetic.” “Medications are your best friend. There was a time before medications were available that you would be put in a state hospital and it was believed you could never live a productive life. Boy were they wrong, look at me.”

Everyone laughed and agreed. He continued, “You must be self-aware and responsible to become balanced.”

I watch the family members as they listen and take notes. Now I ask for the family members to share their feelings. It is silent; they stare at me, surprised at the question. I encourage them to share their valuable experiences as a learning tool.

In the far corner of the room a woman lifts her hand. In a quiet voice she simply says that everyone must be educated about the illness.

My response? “Yes, and isn’t that the truth about all illnesses?”

Suddenly courage seemed to enter the room. One by one, I hear these comments: “I feel overwhelmed,” “I am afraid, frustrated and feel helpless,” “I have unhealthy patterns, expectations and I am impatient,” “My heart is breaking, I feel abandoned and guilty” and “I am supposed to protect my children.”

I turn to the white board and write, “Feelings, fears and helplessness are normal.”

I then turn to the class and say, “We all have the same feelings and fears as parents, spouses or siblings. It is difficult to accept that we do not have control over the decisions individuals make; that is their journey.”

A man in the back interrupts then quickly raises his hand and says, “I’m sorry,” and adds, “I know how family and friends can find hope. They need to accept that their family member or friend has bipolar disorder. Face the truth, surrender to the truth and don’t ignore it. Oh, and come to Bipolar Insights.”

Everyone begins to laugh and clap. Then an older man sitting in the front row reminds everyone, “We are all the same, whether we have bipolar disorder or not. It is what we have not who we are. It is not our fault or your fault. Bipolar disorder is an illness like any other illness. Medications are important, but it also takes time to find the right combination. We must all be responsible for ourselves, you can’t fix us. Your job is to support, not rescue.”

I am so proud of our members.

Isn’t it time you come and be a part of our classes? You will be glad that you did.

See for diagnosis and symptom information.
Bipolar Insights will be celebrating its 15th anniversary Saturday, July 27. Go to the Web page for further information.

The co-founder and facilitator of Bipolar Insights, Marcia Rose, can be reached at: Weekly classes start at 7 p.m., Sundays at Marshall Medical Health Conference Room 207/208, 681 Main St. in Placerville and on Mondays, in Room 304, Green Valley Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville, The fee is $5 per person.

Check for complete details and further information.


Discussion | 3 comments

  • Vicci NolanNovember 12, 2013 - 9:17 am

    I respectfully disagree. "Acceptance" should not be the first step. Asking questions. Educating oneself. These are the first steps. What is bipolar disorder? How is it diagnosed? Is the diagnosing physician competent to make this diagnosis? Why have I received this diagnosis? Are there other possibilities? When I was mis-diagnosed with bipolar disorder, 14 years ago, I accepted my diagnosis. I accepted medication as "my best friend." And I descended into a nightmare of psychotropic medications and side-effects lasting over a decade. I lost my career and the lifestyle it afforded. I lost years of sanity. I struggled with daily thoughts of suicide. If only I had started with the questions. Free from erroneously-prescribed medication for almost a year now, I am beginning to feel well again. Finally, I am asking the questions. And the answers are frightening. There is no objective test or study to detect bipolar disorder. The diagnosis is made by putting the patient's thoughts and behaviors in a category that has been essentially designed for billing purposes. The physician chooses medication based on information provided by pharmaceutical representatives, and adjustments are made as side-effects appear. This usually involves the addition of more medication. Questions and answers become very important. One of the medications I was prescribed at the onset of my "illness" listed ALL my "bipolar" symptoms as side-effects. I had moved so quickly into acceptance of my diagnosis and medications, I didn't see this. I accept responsibility for this now, although I hold my doctors, the FDA and the entire mental health system accountable, as well. It is not my intention to dismiss the value of medication for mental illness. It may be helpful and essential to many. My goal is to highlight the value of education. Do not be complacent. This is your life. Ask questions!

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  • Dan BoalsFebruary 22, 2014 - 1:17 pm

    Vicci... sorry to hear about your terrible experience, but it's not just bipolar disorder. If you were diagnosed with Cancer and just "accepted it" and got chemo and didn't have cancer, you would be in same boat. People have had wrong limbs amputated. Doctors make mistakes, no doubt about it. But if you had come to Bipolar Insights, you would have learned what the symptoms of bipolar disorder are, you would have learned what the treatments are, you would have learned all these things and would not have wasted 10 years of your life. Just because you had a bad experience with being misdiagnosed does not change the fact that over 1% of Americans have this illness and need treatment.

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  • Vicci NolanFebruary 23, 2014 - 11:25 am

    Thank you for your response. However, I did attend Bipolar Insights, for several years. Marcia and I are friends. I can't help but wonder, what if I hadn't been "taught" 1) By ALWAYS taking my medication, I was taking the most important step to get and stay well, 2) What bipolar symptoms are, but never that these were ALSO, the exact side-effects of the medications I was taking, 3) The complacency and breakthru-effects of anti-anxiety medication, and last, but not least, 4) I should embrace my "disorder." take my pills, journal and get on with my life. In no way, do I blame Marsha. Bipolar Insights helps a lot of people. And, Marcia doesn't teach anything that's not consistent with her experience, the literature and current thought on bipolar disorder treatment. Unfortunately, medicine hasn't caught up with the reality of science. I hold the greedy drug companies, the FDA and lazy doctors responsible. Much of the treatment is more harmful than helpful. There are more victims and survivors than most people can imagine. Where is the logic in taking an anti-depressant with the side-effect of suicidal thoughts? I may be crazy, but that's just plain looney-toons

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