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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.

Kids and Mental Disorders – ADHD

Children and mental disorders – when is too soon for diagnosis?

I spend a decent chunk of my time cruising chat boards and reading journals, news, social media posts and such about mental disorders.  My own “specialties” are Bipolar Disorder, Adult ADHD, Autism Spectrum DisorderBorderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Abuse Disorders, OCD… nevermind – I really “specialize” in them all, because I know most Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorderof these disorders within my social circle, and I know them on a professional level.

Anyway, I was on a Facebook page the other day for ADHD. (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)  A woman posted a question about how to manage a kid with ADHD who wakes up and wreaks havoc within the house while everyone is trying to get ready for school and work.  Naturally he was disagreeable, confrontational, oppositional, had “meltdowns” – and it was all exhausting.  (pretty typical behavior for a truly ADHD kid)  A therapist once told me that the ADHD brain doesn’t “wake up” right away and cause all this trouble partly because their brain is not actually engaged yet.  The mom was asking for advice.

Comments on the page gave some really good answers. Some of them are common. Like plan your morning before you go to bed (get out clothes, get backpack ready, make lunch), let the kid make some choices – blah blah blah, stuff we have all heard.

Others were less common, but possibly better advice. Advices like; give the kid an extra 30 minutes to “wake up” in silence, give the child an incentive to get dressed NOW – like playing Minecraft after he is dressed.  I handle mine with the “don’t talk to him yet” option – waiting about 20-30 minutes before making him get busy.  His siblings aren’t allowed to bug him during this time either.  He can wrap himself in a blanket, stare at the wall or whatever – just don’t go back to sleep.

One lady suggested that the kid should be woken to take his meds an hour before he has to be out of bed. Then let him go back to sleep so that his medicines are working by the time he actually gets up.  I found that last piece of advice to be very helpful. My husband with adult ADHD takes his meds about 4 am and gets up at 6, ready to go rather than rude, obnoxious and unhelpful.

Mental Disorders - ADHDWhat troubled me was a comment from a woman who didn’t actually give advice, but chimed in to complain about how hard her four-year-old was to manage.  She said that he had been diagnosed with ADHD and was on meds, but also said that he had bipolar disorder, and still was a screaming banshee in the morning.  This gives me pause for concern.

I certainly can’t do anything about this particular kid, and I don’t really know the exact circumstances but I find the dual diagnosis with bipolar disorder very troubling for a four-year-old child.  Certainly, kids can exhibit ADHD symptoms at 4, and some will benefit from treatment.  But the medications weren’t working, and I am not so sure about the bipolar disorder.

Traditionally, until a few years ago, no one was willing to consider bipolar disorder as a pediatric concern.  Still today, though bipolar disorder obviously exists in childhood – most of the major issues don’t come out until adolescence.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not recognize the bipolar disorder in children under the age of 13

The National Institutes of Mental Health does acknowledge that bipolar disorder in children MAY exist but also warns that many children are misdiagnosed when the main problem is ADHDNIMH recommends that these children be labeled with Mood Dysregulation Syndrome until such time as a diagnosis can be relied upon.

The main problem in diagnosing young children with any mental disorder is that symptoms in children are vastly different from those in adults.  To complicate matters, symptoms of various Cerebrum Lobesdisorders in children are similar to one another.

Symptoms such as irritability, excessive mood swings, meltdowns, oppositional behavior, trouble in school, social inadequacies, explosive behavior, frequent frustration, and hyperactivity, etc. can point to a number of disorders.  Frankly the child may be ADHD, Bipolar, Depressed, Autism Spectrum… or even have food intolerance.

Because of our family history (not just mine), I watch my children very carefully.  I do analyze everything that happens, and I know that all of them probably have a disorder of one type or another.  Two may have ADHD, one is likely bipolar and one has Asperger’s or mild ASD.  I have sought treatment for some issues – but with others, I hesitate to run to a physician – likely a pediatrician who just doesn’t really know.

Our understanding of mental disorders is still evolving

I was personally diagnosed with the wrong disorder for over 15 years – and I was an adult.  How damaging would it have been if I had been labeled with a disorder that I did not have when I was only four years old?
The particular woman I described with the dual diagnosis child was beside herself.  Despite the fact that the four-year-old was receiving medical treatment for both disorders – it wasn’t working.  To me, this means that the treatment was with the wrong meds and for the wrong disorder(s).  In addition, her management skills weren’t the best.

As I said, I know that my children are likely to have disorders of their own but I don’t want to treat them for just any disorder.  I will want them to be treated for the right disease.  My advice to this parent, or any parent whose child had been put on medication that wasn’t working would be to seek a second opinion.

I am more emphatic about that advice if the doctor was willing to “add” a diagnosis to provide more medication; she should definitely seek another opinion.  Preferably the opinion of a pediatric Ritalin - ADHD Medicinepsychiatrist – or even a pediatric behavioral neurologist.  These specialists are few and far between, but it isn’t worth doing anything, but suffering through all the misery because the treatment isn’t working.

Medications are beneficial in the treatment of some types of mental disorders, but they do “change the brain”.  That is how they work – changing the brain can be harmful if you are changing it in the “wrong” directions.  Just seems like common sense.

Melissa Lind

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

“Mania Days” – Movie about Bipolar Disorder

“Mania Days,” Debuts at South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin

Mania Days” is a movie by Paul Dalio, features Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby as two New Yorkers suffering in the various stages of Bipolar DisorderMovie About Bipolar DisorderDalio, who in actual bipolar mode, wrote, directed, produced, edited and unbelievably – “scored” his own movie which is based on his own discovery of his bipolar disorder.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Dalio describes the Holmes character as what he was like when he had his first episode “really scared and ashamed of it”.  The other character, played by Luke Kirby is based on a period of when he “started to romanticize bipolar disorder” and “embraced lunacy”.

Dalio himself endured three years of bipolar misery but eventually adhered to treatment when he recognized the pain he was causing his family.  Now he credits much of his inner peace to meditation (in addition to medication) and adherence to a routine schedule – including sleep.

The film debuts at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Music, Film, and Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas which runs a number of independent films.  The film festival coincides with the world famous music festival and an “interactive” conference which includes “gaming” and interactive media.

Katie HolmesKatie Holmes’ presence in the film shows potential for commercial success, but whether it achieves stardom – it is a good thing for bipolar disorder.  Basically, any attention for bipolar disorder is good – even the “bad” of bipolar disorder – as awareness can only reduce bipolar stigma.

I know that in my own journey over 20 plus years, I have gone through many stages.  I don’t much remember being “scared” of the diagnosis – or even of my behavior.  I have chosen to steel myself with “it is what it is”.

I did, however, maintain a long romance with the idea of “crazy” is good.  I spent many years believing (and many hours arguing with my therapist) that being “normal” was boring.  The last thing I wanted to be was “normal”.

I would like to say I was young and stupid – which I was but maybe part of the truth was that I had been crazy for so long that it was “normal”.  Eventually, crazy is exhausting – and you can’t do it anymore.

In most cases – you are eventually stopped from being crazy – up against a wall, sometimes caught by family members but sometimes a lot worse.  You get normal – only to get bored and do it all again.

As much as I would like to say that there is a real way to stop this cycle – in many cases there is not.  Even with medication, the cycle will continue – for a while.  Eventually, hopefully, you just get too tired of doing crazy.  Lost relationships, lost jobs… lost stuff.  It is exhausting.

Today – I am stable on medication.  Like an alcoholic – I say today.  Tomorrow and likely next week I will be stable on medication.  I would like to say forever – but I remember (at least what I do remember) that someday I may not.  The best I can do is to be open and forthright about my disorder so that those around me may know the signs if I decide to do “crazy” again.

Even though, I live near the festival and have many friends who are attendees, musicians, event planners, and sponsors – I won’t be seeing the film in Austin… crowds, excitement, and all that are no longer my thing – but I will see it, and I hope it is good.  Even if it isn’t great, it is another step in the right direction for the disease.

The Movie about Bipolar Disorder, “Mania Days”, Debuts at Film Festival in Austin

Melissa Lind

Borderline Personality Disorder or Traumatic Stress Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder – What if it is a traumatic stress disorder?

When most people think of Borderline Personality Disorder – they think of bad behavior.  It is someone that is very difficult to deal with, someone that you have to be on guard against, Borderline Disordersomeone who will try their best to manipulate you.
But, while that may be the outcome, just like most psychiatric disorders, it isn’t exactly their fault.

One of the problems with BPD is that since it is a “personality disorder“, there is often no recognized medical treatment.

We simply expect that the patient should self-monitor and control their behavior.  Therapy may help this, but how many of us (psychiatric patients, in general) really want to go to therapy.

Many of us have already spent hundreds of hours with a therapist – who may or may not help.  In addition, the best therapists are likely people who can “see through the bullshit” and refuse to be manipulated.  This obviously goes against the nature of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.

In fact, the stigma is so bad that some therapists won’t even work with Borderline patients.

Co Morbid DisordersOne theory may help.  Some therapists have developed an automatic assumption that a Borderline patient is also a trauma victim.  While this co-morbid condition may not always be true, it can help some therapists feel more comfortable treating the patient.

Due to many soldiers returning from impossible battlefields in the Middle East, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is fairly well recognized.  Remember; I am not saying that it is easily treatable, but to some extent, the stigma is less.

When therapists look at Borderline patients as truly a PTSD patient, they may be more willing to treat the disorder. And they will attempt to get to the underlying causes of abandonment, impulsive and destructive issues, loss of control and poor self-image.

While PTSD is well defined by the professional psychiatric community, a longer-term disorder currently known as complex traumatic disorder is not.  Most examples of CTSD still involve soldiers, or they may involve women who had difficult pregnancies or who were violently sexually abused, repeatedly.

However, what if you don’t fit any of those recognized categories?

There are more ways to treat traumatic stress disorders such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or a newer one, Dialectical Behavior TherapyDBT focuses on four major areas:

•    Regulation of emotionsPost-Traumatic Stress Disorder
•    Tolerance for distress
•    Interpersonal effectiveness
•    Mindfulness

Unlike CBT, there is no “processing” component – making it work well as an initial treatment, starting before the patient has developed coping skills.  It builds up the feeling of emotional safety so that coping skills may develop.

Differentiating between “plain” Borderline patients – and those whose behavior is brought on by traumatic experience may help to eliminate some of the stigma still associated with BPD.  It may also offer actual, more effective treatment than CBT or other approaches.

Melissa Lind

Mental Health Professionals and Suicide

Suicide – Threat of Liability for Mental Health Professionals

Suicide is the third most common cause of death for young adults – and the ninth highest for the general adult population.  This means that a large percentage of mental health professionals will have a patient that commits suicide. It may be as high as 80 percent of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other therapists, that eventually have a patient who commits suicide.

Serious Mental Health ProfessionalYou might think that professionals are insulated against emotions that come with the death of a friend or acquaintance – but they aren’t.  Many health professionals report that even when death is expected (natural causes), they spend a great deal of time going over their treatment of the patient. They try to find out if they could have done anything different, (given another treatment) in order to help.

But, what may be surprising is the number of liability lawsuits filed against mental health professionals, when a patient commits suicide.  In fact, it is the number-one cause of responsibility lawsuits brought against mental health providers.
The threat of lawsuits, and also the stigma against people working it in the mental-health profession, has led to many psychiatrists refusals to treat the chronically suicidal. The profession sees it as a failure of the doctorMental health professionals are also less likely to see additional suicidal patients after they have had a patient succeed at suicide.

When a therapist or physician is unable, or unwilling, to treat a suicidal patient – it leaves the patient in the lurch.  It produces feelings of failure and hopelessness, without a doubt, compounding the fact that they are suicidal.  It may also be difficult for an extremely suicidal patient to find a new therapist or doctor.  Many patients report that the mental health professionals suddenly “don’t have time”.

We don’t think much about the way suicide will affect those around us – and certainly the professionals are way down the list of people whose feelings are important.

Mental health professionals also report that there is a lack of training on how to deal with suicidal patients, and processing the death of a patient.  More than half of professionals surveyed also Knocking on Heavens Doorstated that they really don’t believe they can prevent a patient from committing suicide.

Oddly, the complaint process against physicians has been shown to increase the risk of the physician becoming depressed. One of the consequences of this will be a worsening of the situation for mentally ill people. (Chronically suicidal patients)

This is a complicated process with no easy answers, but you should know that it is likely that all psychiatrists, therapists, social workers and other counselors probably need to be in counseling themselves.  When you find a new doctor or therapist – you might want to ask.

Even if you aren’t suicidal, you need to know that your counselor is as mentally healthy as possible, certainly healthier than you.

Melissa Lind

Mental Health Professionals Report a Lack of Training on How to Deal With Suicidal Patients