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major depressive disorder

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.

Bipolar Disorder and Exercise

Does Exercise Help with Bipolar Disorder?

Everyone knows that exercise is good for your health.  It is a no-brainer, and it is repeated so often that you have probably gotten tired of it.  I know I should do some physical activity. It is good for my heart, my bones… blah, blah, blah.

Bipolar DepressionOn the other hand, aside from needing to exercise because I am getting old and tired – the idea, that exercise might be good for my Bipolar Disorder, might just motivate me to do it.
Nothing else has.

A research study conducted in 2012 showed that exercise may have positive benefits for people with Bipolar Disorder.  I should have thought of that – but I didn’t (probably because I am bipolar and tend to ignore obvious things that might help me).

When asked – I have given advice to those who have depression (major depressive disorder, clinical depression, situational depression – or even bipolar depression).  What I tell those people is in addition to taking their meds, they should get up.  Get out of bed, get outside, and get some exercise – even if it is just around the kitchen.  Exercise increases the blood supply to your brain and helps to rise your energy levels – even if you don’t want to, it will do you some good.

Bipolar Disorder ShadowI give that advice to people when they are depressed, but I am not usually depressed.  My disorder tends toward mania or at least a mixed mood state.  So I don’t think about the need to increase my energy level.

Evidence has shown that exercise has some positive effects for people with Bipolar Disorder – even those that are not depressed.  In addition to the obvious health benefits, it can help to regulate your mood levels and “bring structure to chaos”.

As “bipolar“, we are often subject to disorderDisordered mind, disordered days, disordered environment.  One of the biggest tools for a bipolar patient to get and keep their body and mind regulated is the establishment of a schedule.

Go to bed at bedtime (and not at 2 am when you fall asleep in front of the TV). Get up in the morning, go to work on time, eat on a schedule – and take your meds when you should.
Establishing a routine does, in fact, help to keep from extreme ups and downs.

Exercise can be a big part of this – and physically reinforce a schedule on your body – that then affects your brain.  Just like getting up at the same time and going to sleep at the same time helps to establish a normal circadian rhythmexercise can reinforce that in a big way.

There are other benefits to exercise as well.  Physical activity naturally increases blood flow to the brain, which gives it the best chance of functioning at optimum level. It also helps to “clear out the cobwebs” that can be especially important if you are teetering on the edge.
Bipolar ExerciseExercise can increase your self-esteem that may have taken many blows in the past.  It can also increase social activity – that is apparently good for you, even if you don’t like people.  I don’t.

In my opinion, the biggest benefit may be “getting in touch” with your body.  When you exercise, you are more likely to stay within yourself.  One of the greatest problems in people with any mental disorder, and one of the reasons why people abuse drugs or perform any other risky behavior is the inability to be comfortable within your skin.  If you are exercising, you don’t really have a choice; you have to stay there.  Over time, you feel better about yourself, you feel more comfortable there, and you learn what is and isn’t “normal” within your body.

Perhaps this can lead you to better response when something is going amiss – when you may be slipping into disorder.

I tend to disregard the advice given by those who are not bipolar experts… either those with Bipolar Disorder or those who know the disease intimately, but this advice looks pretty solid to me.

Exercise and take your medicines!

Melissa Lind

Bipolar Disorder and Exercise as text to speech article

(Mental health video for blind and partially sighted people)

Getting Out of Depression

Some tips to get you out of depression

Major depression is the third most common mental disorder in the US.  Nearly 7 percent of the US population is affected in any one year.  Incidentally, if you are keeping track, the two most common mental disorders are Anxiety disorders and Phobia disorders, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Major Depression, also called Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) has an average onset of 32 years of age and is more common in women than in men.  It is also called “unipolar depression” by those who are familiar with Bipolar disorder.  It may include a subset of depressive disorders such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects people yearly – usually in the winter and Dysthymic Disorder, which is a less severe form of depression.

In order to be diagnosed with Major Depression, a person must meet the DSM criteria including at least five of the following for at least two weeks:
•    Depressed mood most of the day
•    Diminished interest in all or most activities
•    Significant, unintentional weight loss or gain
•    Insomnia or sleeping too much
•    Agitation or psychomotor retardation (slow movement) noticeable by others
•    Fatigue
•    Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
•    Diminished ability to think or indecisiveness
•    Suicidal thoughts

In some cases, depression can be relieved by changes in lifestyle or with psychotherapy, but in severe cases – medication may be warranted.  We are fortunate today in that there are a number of effective medications that have fewer side effects than previous treatments, and the category continues to evolve.

Even with medication – that may not begin working for at least several weeks – some lifestyle changes, and habits may help a person “emerge” from their depression and manage symptoms in the future.

Major DepressionLifestyle changes are difficult, particularly when depressed, but the effort it takes to “soldier through” is worth it in the end.  These tips for helping with depression are not easy – especially when you do not have any energy and don’t feel like getting up, but even though they may not provide a cure – they almost always provide some help.

  1. Get up and move – this is the hardest for most people to do.  It may take a tremendous amount of efforts but even simply getting off the couch or out of bed and walking around the house will help.  Getting up and moving around will increase your blood flow and heart rate will help increase blood flow to your brain and may convince your body that “hibernation” is over.
  2. Get dressed – you may have been wearing the same clothes for many days.  Changing into a “daytime” outfit can help regulate your time clock and may help you feel like you can accomplish something.  If you wear makeup or fix your hair, do so – and by all means, take a shower.
  3. Get out in the sun – don’t stay long enough to get a sunburn but studies have shown that bright light helps your brain wake up.  It resets your internal clock by adjusting your melatonin levels (a hormone responsible for inducing sleep).  It also triggers a “springtime” effect – that again tells your brain and body that winter is over, and it is time to come out of hibernation.
  4. Talk to a friend – making a phone call may not be tops on your mind, but even a wordless chat can help you feel like someone else is aware of your existence.
  5. Watch something enjoyable – even if you don’t want to enjoy anything, do something that would normally make you happy.  Just a little bit of happiness peeking through can go a long way.
  6. Go to bed and get out of bed at normal hours – sleep patterns are often destroyed by depression.  Reestablishing those normal patterns will help reset your internal clock to a natural level.
  7. Don’t take naps – again with both the normal sleeping hours and with the “getting up.”  Reinforcing physiologic habits will help establish normal brain functioning.
  8. Eat healthily – you may want to eat everything, nothing, or only certain foods.  Likely, no matter how much or how little you are eating, you are deficient in some of the necessary vitamins and nutrients – so eating a healthy diet and taking a multivitamin mineral supplement is a good idea.  B vitamins are especially helpful to restore nerve cell functioning, C and E are useful for combating inflammation that can cause sluggishness, D vitamins are useful to aid in the “sunlight” phenomenon discussed before, Calcium and Magnesium are good for the brain cells which are malfunctioning.

Most people who are depressed will find a lot of these activities difficult – and you may only be able to do one or two a day.  None of this is meant to be insulting, but there is science behind all of it – and others have been through it before.
With the help from the medication and the lifestyle adjustments – you will feel like you are coming out of the fog – and be able to do all of them – or sometimes, choose not to.  Choosing not to do something is different than feeling like you are unable to do something – and you want to have control of your life.

Melissa Lind

Suicide in Depression

Why does treatment for depression increase the risk of suicide?

Whether you are bipolar or suffer from major depressive disorder – when you start taking medication for depression, your risk of suicide actually goes up for a short period of time.

The risk of suicide in depression

Every time an advertisement for a medication for depressive disorder or bipolar depression comes on the television, one thing that seems to stick out is the warning that states “May increase the risk of suicide“.  This is often an arguing point for people who are opposed to psychiatric medications.  If it is supposed to improve your mood, why does the risk of suicide go up?  Shouldn’t the opposite be true?

How do antidepressants work?

Antidepressant medications work by increasing the activity of neurotransmitters in the mood centers of the brain.  Nerve cell signals are transmitted by the release of chemicals known as neurotransmitters.  These include naturally occurring chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.  The neurotransmitter is released from one cell which signals the next cell to react.  The same cell then “gathers up” the neurotransmitter to be used again later.

Most antidepressants specifically work by blocking the “reuptake” of neurotransmitters so that they are in the synapses or spaces between the nerve cells for a longer period of time.  This increases the likelihood that the neurotransmitter will send a “happy” signal to the next cell – sooner.

Why do antidepressants increase the risk of suicide?

Suicide and DepressionThe problem with depression and how long it takes to recover is twofold, because depression involves both mood and energy levels.  In a person with depression, the mood state is lowered because there are often not enough neurotransmitters available.  This leads to the mental effects of depression causing sadness and an inability to enjoy normal activities.  There is also a corresponding drop in energy levels making the victim lethargic and sleepy.

When antidepressants are prescribed, most healthcare practitioners make it pretty clear that the mood state will not really begin to get noticeably better for at least 2 to 3 weeks. What is not always made clear is that energy levels actually begin to improve before the mood level is increased.

Once this person with low mood level and low energy level begins to take antidepressant medication, their energy levels go up fairly quickly.  The mood level, however, stays depressed – sad and unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

If patients had been thinking of suicide as part of their depression, they may not have had the energy to make actual plans or to carry them out.  Once their energy levels are boosted – they may find themselves still having the same thoughts, but this time – able to act.

Are the newer medications worse?

This increased risk of suicide is not new, despite what the media has portrayed.  It is not specific to a certain medication or even a certain kind of medication.  It is a fact, a well-known risk that has existed since the beginnings of treatment of depression.

Suicide and MedicationOur medications, today, are really much less dangerous than medications of old.  Thirty years ago, your choices for the treatment of depression included only tricyclics such as Elavil and Tofranil or MAO inhibitors such as Parnate.  Both of these medication types carried a lot of very debilitating side effects (dry mouth, constipation, excessive sweating, dizziness, and food intolerances) as well as the increased risk of suicide.  While they were effective, they were also quite dangerous in the event of an overdose – possibly resulting in death.

We now have more advanced medications – the SSRIs or Serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors, Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (NRIs) and newer MAO inhibitors that have much fewer side effects and are less likely to result in a serious overdose – but they have not been able to eliminate the actual risk of suicide.  This is inherent in the treatment of depression because the energy improves before the mood.

With older medications, the psychiatrist would often only prescribe a few days’ worth of medication at a time because the old medications could be dangerous if too many were taken and lead to overdose by someone trying to commit suicide.  This often meant that the patient was seen once a week or more often during the first month.

Now that overdose is not such a risk, physicians often prescribe an entire months’ worth of meds at once, and no one keeps track of the patient during this dangerous period  – giving them plenty of time to plan and act.  Generally the newer medications cannot be used as a suicide tool but it does not stop patients from finding other tools.

What can help decrease the risk?

The solution is to know your patient – know your friends, know your family.  If you have a friend or relative who has been depressed and is placed on medication, be aware.Check on them frequently. Drag them around to social activities, out to eat, to outdoor events. Note any changes or patterns that indicate they may be considering suicide.  Help them through the funk.  You may get on their nerves, but you may also save their life.

A little effort and toleration of irritating friends is way better than going to a funeral and wishing you had done something.

 

Newer medications used for prevention of suicide in depression are much less dangerous than medications of old.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – Additional Information

feeling-blueAdditional information to what is written on the page : “Menopause And Depression

Major depressive disorder (MDD)

(also known as recurrent depressive disorder, clinical depression, major depression, unipolar depression, or unipolar disorder) is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities.

This cluster of symptoms (syndrome) was named, described and classified as one of the mood disorders in the 1980 edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual.
The term “depression” is ambiguous. It is often used to denote this syndrome but may refer to other mood disorders or to lower mood states lacking clinical significance.

Major depressive disorder is a disabling condition that adversely affects a person’s family, work or school life, sleeping and eating habits, and general health.
In the United States, around 3.4% of people with major depression commit suicide, and up to 60% of people who commit suicide had depression or another mood disorder.

Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings and physical well-being.
Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, worried, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless.

They may lose interest in activities that once were pleasurable; experience loss of appetite or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions; and may contemplate or attempt suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains or digestive problems that are resistant to treatment may be present.

Twelve Days of Seasonal Depression

The Twelve Days of Seasonal Depression – and How to Survive Them

Happy New Year, fellow freaks!

Congratulations on surviving the holidays. This time of year is rough on lots of folks. It’s so bad that psychologists actually had to come up with the term Seasonal Affective Disorder to give a label to the depression many people feel during this time of year. Statistically speaking, more people commit suicide during the holidays than any other time of year.

Bi-polar-2In case you can’t think of a good reason to be bummed, here’s a list. In fact, since we’re all so freakin’ festive, let’s sing it!

The Twelve Days of Holiday Depression (opus 42)

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

  • Twelve pounds of gained weight
  • Eleven in-laws bitching
  • Ten hours of sunlight (if I’m lucky)
  • Nine days snowed-in
  • Eight (eight, I forget what eight was for)
  • Seven months of payments on my…
  • Six maxed-out credit cards, and (deep breath)
  • FIVE EXISTENTIAL CRISES wherein I wonder if I’m celebrating for no reason other than to pad some corporation’s bottom line because there just might not be a God after all and this one life might be all I get and I’m wasting it just like my mother always said I would after I dropped out of law school to become an artist and now I have to look her in the eye and tell her “sorry, I couldn’t afford to get you anything this year, but I hand-painted you a card and no, it’s not supposed to be a fish, it’s supposed to be a Christmas tree so I guess you were right all along, so I think I’ll have cup after cup of eggnog until the gift you find under the tree tomorrow will be me, face down in a pool of my own vomit, but what the hell, it’s not like it matters anyway because Santa was a lie you told to get me to behave which makes me wonder if God might be one toooooo! (Pant… pant… pant…)
  • Four calling birds (birds piss me off, OK?)
  • Three French hens (enough with the damn birds, already!)
  • Two turtle doves (See? My TRUE LOVE gave me BIRDS! It’s like she doesn’t even KNOW me!)
  • And a partridge in a pear tree (sigh)

To make matters worse, you could be singing about all these things your true love got you and be single… on Christmas… again. So, now that we’ve had our little sing-along, here’s a bullet list for people who don’t have time for such silliness.

88% Nonsense-Free Checklist of Causes of Seasonal Depression (v2.0)Bipolar?

  • Weight gain leads to lowered self-esteem
  • Debt due to holiday overspending
  • Cabin Fever due to cold weather conditions
  • Stress (due to shopping, family, travel, debt, etc.)
  • Little exposure to sunlight
  • Religious doubt
  • Loneliness
  • Alienation, feeling like an outsider
  • Birds

If even “normal” people tend to get the blues in the winter, just think of how it can affect someone with bipolar disorder! With all of these forces conspiring to make angst the reason for the season, what can you do to avoid the deluge of yuletide despair?

  1. Set a spending limit. Does Uncle Frank in Hoboken, New Jersey really need that 88” plasma TV? Didn’t he get you a bird last year? Send him a more reasonably-priced gift. Don’t have an anxiety attack over whether or not you spent the same amount on someone as they spent on you. That’s not the point! If he or she is the kind of jerk who is going to judge you based on how much you spent on their gift, well… that’s one less person to buy for next year, now isn’t it?
  2. Take time off from shopping to talk with friends and family. Instead of buying someone a gift that will most likely “accidentally” get thrown out with the wrapping paper, take them out to dinner or a movie, something you BOTH can enjoy. Chances are, they need a break from shopping, family, etc. too.
  3. Slow down! Admit that you are human and cannot possibly attend each of the seventeen Christmas events in four different countries you’ve been invited to. Go ONE place Christmas Eve, and ONE place Christmas Day.
  4. Buy full-spectrum light bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs may be more energy-efficient, but they can completely suck your will to live. Full-spectrum bulbs are special bulbs used in light therapy treatments. They produce light that is nearly identical to sunlight. Natural light will work WONDERS for your mood. Seriously. I can’t stress this enough. FULL-SPECTRUM LIGHT BULBS. I keep one in my bedside lamp year-round.
  5. If you live someplace with terrible winters, get out of the house BEFORE the storm hits and again as soon as the roads are clear. Facebook will be there when you get back. I promise.
  6. If you ARE snowed in with your family, play in the snow. It’s exercise, which is good for your mood anyway. Consider having a snowball fight. It’ll relieve some of that pent-up frustration. If you live alone, launch a surprise snowball attack on an unsuspecting neighbor. The ensuing chase will provide a few extra moments of fun, and hey, technically, the police count as having company. Make sure to have plenty of cocoa on hand.
  7. Buy a cat. Petting a cat can lower your stress level. Your partridge, on the other hand, will not be pleased.

These are only a few ideas I’ve got on how to beat the wintertime blues. Can you think of any? If so, let us know in the comments section below. If they’re serious suggestions, great! We can use the help. If they’re silly, great! We can ALWAYS use a laugh. When it comes to depression, laughter might just be the best medicine.

Until next time, keep warm, and keep fighting!

-Bruce Anderson

Read more from Bruce: How I Became the Freak in the Corner