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Bipolar Through the Years – Getting Your Diagnosis Right

Difficult to diagnose Bipolar Disorder?

I am not bipolar!  I am (insert other diagnosis here)

I received my first bipolar diagnosis when I was about 30… ish minus a few years.  I am 40… ish plus a few years, so for most of All About Bipolar Disorder20 years (yes I know the math doesn’t work out but this is a true story), I have known that I have Bipolar Disorder.

If you are bipolar yourself you will know that when I say “I have known” it really means “I was told”.  I didn’t believe it at first.  I thought of every other thing it might be and tried really hard to convince the therapist “that isn’t me… not really”.

As an untreated, newly diagnosed bipolar, I felt compelled to express clear objections to specific parts of the diagnosis that did not fit.  I was trapped by the details… a problem which I have often suffered – or more like, caused others to suffer because of.

Over the years and through several different diagnoses and many periods of “those” risky behaviors, going on and off various meds, wrecking certain parts of my life – and recovering once again, I find that those details don’t matter anymore.

I used to have a vitriolic reaction to the suggestion that I should want to be “normal”.  NORMAL, I said… I don’t want to be Bipolar TherapyNORMAL.  Normal is boring.  I was many things but boring was not one of them.

I no longer have that reaction.  My life would have been easier if it were normal.  I would have missed all the bright, scribbly colors.  I would have missed all the scary but fun stuff… but then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so tired.  Maybe I wouldn’t have had to shut the curtains and hibernate.  Maybe I would have missed all the scary and dark stuff.

Anyway – as usual, I veer off of my topic.  Today, I am 99 percent sure that I am bipolar but I do reserve that remaining 1 percent – just in case.

Over those years – starting before (way before) I was diagnosed as bipolar – I sought treatment.  At 14, I asked my parents to take me to a psychiatrist because there was “something wrong with my brain.” They said “no, there isn’t” effectively telling me that I was just a mouthy, disgruntled, histrionic teenager – which I was, but I was also bipolar.

I often wonder what might have been if I had been treated then and do watch my kids for the same occurrence.  Unfortunately at that time, a proper diagnosis was highly unlikely and probably wouldn’t have changed much.  Except I would have felt heard – and I didn’t.  I do try to hear my kids.

Once I was able to seek treatment for myself, I was diagnosed with several other things long before they hit the jackpot.  The first was “dysthymia” – oddly, this diagnosis came in the middle of a severe depression.

Dysthymia for a bipolar

I was in college, just a hair short of being suicidal, and had to sit down one day and decide if I was going to kill myself – or study.  Serious DoctorLacking concrete plans and lacking a sincere wish to die, I decided to study – but I did go to the student health center the next day where a kindly graduate student decided I was dysthymic and would benefit from group therapy.  Being the mixed-manic that I am, I was in a temporary state of “not so bad” and failed to mention the depth of my despair.

I went to group therapy with a bunch of whining college kids and two well-meaning graduate student supervisors for almost a year.  To be fair, some of these people may have had real problems.  A homosexual boy who was still “in the closet”, a secret cross-dresser, a bulimic, a giant athlete with a sever anger issue and mommy problems… and a couple of other whiners.

I never once mentioned that I was hallucinating at night… or that I couldn’t keep my thoughts going in a straight line….or that I was living in a dark grey fog… or that despite all this, I still wasn’t sleeping.  My dysthymic self simply whined away with the others about parents, childhood, professors…it may have kept me from killing myself but mostly it was just entertainment.  It also kept me from failing out of college, as the dean of my college was informed that I was “in counseling”.

Major Depression for a bipolar

When I finally admitted the hallucinations – that got some real attention.  It also got the notice of a physician – and her medical Medical Doctorstudent who proceeded to ask me stupid questions like “how much LSD have you done?”  I also got a very “fun” visit to a sleep clinic — where the results were inconsequential even though my case was examined by a neuropsychiatrist – or a psychiatric neurologist – whatever that is.

Still, I got the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder… I still wasn’t sleeping – and people were literally terrified of me.  Describing me as agitated would be like saying the Niagra River is a stream.  Major Depressive Disorder.  They did give me meds though, stopped the hallucinations and got rid of all that grey fog and I managed to finish college.

Codependent for a bipolar

Moving on a few years on and off antidepressants and anxiety medicines – never feeling right….risky this, risky that….institutionalization (not jail or at least not this time, but still…).  After a particular disturbance, one “therapist” told me I was “codependent”… little did he know how dependent I was…or on what.  I ignored him.

The “intensive treatment” did get me the diagnosis for bipolar disorder which I denied, and did so for many years.  On and off meds, risky this, risky that…back on meds…off…on.

ADHD for a bipolar

A few years later I was pregnant (married too, woo hoo) and had to go off the meds.  After I had my kids – the doctor that I saw said that I was ADHD – not bipolar.  Still not wanting to be bipolar, I took the prescription he gave me….which was of course an amphetamine.  Well that worked well – nuf said.  To be sure, my kids are fine.

Bipolar HeartbeatEventually, I came to reality and the bipolar diagnosis and back to the right meds.   This has required honesty.  Honesty with health professionals and honesty with myself and it requires taking my meds.  I am tired from all the bright squiggles and the darkness.  I do want to be normal.

Now, as a bipolar, I get to watch my kids and see if they have “it” or something else.  Either is scary, both are scary but I hope I will be more help than my parents were.  I still take my meds but I also still retain the right to act on the 1 percent in case something better than bipolar disorder comes up.

New Online Tools for Anxiety Disorders

What can online tools for Anxiety Disorders do for free?

There has been a dramatic upsurge in websites, smartphone apps and hi-tech gadgets to monitor health conditions such as blood pressure, heart rate, and calorie output – all physical measurementsMental health doesn’t easily lend itself to computer monitoring.  Most people who need intervention go to a therapist or other mental health professional.  When that isn’t affordable, people usually “go it alone” which can have disastrous results.

Online Tools for Anxiety DisordersA new company “Joyable”, is developing an online web platform for people with anxiety disorders.  The company is a start-up venture that aims to create online tools for a variety of mental health conditions.  So far, they have raised over $2 million from Venture Capitalists – and “Angel Investors” which may bode well for additional funding.  Joyable will be starting with Social Anxiety Disorder but plans expansion into other conditions such as generalized anxiety, OCD, PTSD and others.  The big problem with this development is that it isn’t cheap.

The company plans to offer their online tools for a significant cost of $99 / month. Though hi-tech has entered the medical field in other areas, costs are usually low, if not free and available on a smartphone.  The developers state that their program is usable on a smartphone or tablet through the internet. They also have plans to develop a native app for smartphones and tablets as well, but they will probably still charge for the service.

The NIH reports that 15 million Americans may suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder but only about 15 percent of those are adequately treated – leaving 12 million or so, with unattended issues.  The good news is that there are online tools for people with a variety of mental health conditions, and some of those are free.

Not to disparage therapy – but a lot of it is talk and even with insurance, it can be expensive.  You talk, the therapist talks, you talk, the therapist listens.  If you are in group therapy – you also have to listen while others talk.  Sometimes the problems match your own; sometimes they don’t.  In a lot of cases, you may be able to get some insight from hearing others talk about the same thing – but the best information is stuff that you learn about yourself.

The best place to start looking for help online is through forums – nearly always free.  You can find plenty of people with nearly any mental disorder that you can chat with and take or leave the advice as you want.  There is also no shortage of educational – and even entertaining websites (like this one) that offer information, quizzes, daily planning – all for free.

Smartphone for Anxiety DisorderIf you are willing to pay a bit, there are online therapists who are cheaper than going to an office.  Therapists who will attend you privately on the computer – or even by phone.  Joyable is planning on offering three categories of activities – education, cognitive exercises, and behavioral activities.  They plan to have “coaches” who are “empathetic” and “good listeners” – trained by the company.

Psychologists oversee the program, but it is not very likely that you will get personal attention from a licensed professional.   With a little bit of work, you can probably get much of the same service at a low cost – or even without spending a dime. But for the future, the attention that the service may bring might provide promise and signal hope for people with mental disorders.

One development often leads to another. An App, even at a cost may provide assistance for those who won’t otherwise receive adequate care – particularly with disorder such as PTSD that don’t often get enough or the right kind of attention.  For now, you can probably skip the cost – and gather up the services yourself.

Melissa Lind

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

man-suffering-an-anxiety-at

Social anxiety disorder takes many forms.

It can be described as an inappropriately inflated sense of self-consciousness. In some people, social anxiety appears in their constant worries that others are watching them critically. In others, it can lead to situations where they simply refuse to engage in any social interaction.

Almost everyone is, on some level, familiar with depression, but social anxiety disorder does not get as much attention as other mental health problems. Fairly well known is also, anxiety, in the form of panic attacks and similar problems. Despite the fact that social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental health problem facing Americans, it still is not well understood by most people.

The quality of a person`s life can significantly be reduced by social anxiety disorder in its less severe form, and in its more extreme forms, the disorder can be almost entirely debilitating, rendering a person totally unable to interact with others.

There is no cure for social anxiety disorder. Unlike the better-known problems of depression and panic disorders, no medications developed show any significant ability to combat the problem. Those diagnosed with depression, or who suffer with panic attacks, may be able to relieve symptoms with prescription medications, but the person with social anxiety disorder has to rely on other treatment modalities.

The only form of treatment that has shown to provide any real substantive change among those with a social anxiety disorder is therapy based on a cognitive model. It is possible for someone saddled with this problem to improve his or her health markedly over time, by increasing awareness, learning coping skills, and retraining thought patterns. Research indicates that many sufferers begin to notice a significant improvement in their condition after a few dozen visits to a behavior therapist. Often, group therapy is an included part of the treatment regimen.

It should be noted that not everyone who worries what others think about him or her has an anxiety disorder. The problem arises when those concerns become too powerful and prevent the individual from engaging in otherwise desired interactions. It is quite common to have a bit of concern about what others might think of your new haircut. It is perfectly normal, to allow your mind to be overwhelmingly preoccupied with such consideration, or to let your worries interfere with your ability to function, in an appropriate manner.

If a person experience significant discomfort as lumps in your throat, fear, or unreasonable worry about social interactions, he or she may be experiencing an anxiety disorder and should seek the advice of a medical professional. The problem is treatable with cognitive therapy, and it is possible to live a life without the irrational nonstop worries and inabilities to interact that are hallmarks of social anxiety disorder.