By Julie A. Fast
We spend a lot of time talking about people accepting the bipolar disorder diagnosis. There is another side to this story: People who get a bipolar disorder diagnosis and the people around them say, “NO! That is just an excuse. You are the problem!” Here is a letter you can give to someone who doesn’t believe in bipolar disorder.
My name is Julie Fast and I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed with the illness in 1995 at age 31. I created a treatment plan in 1999 that is now used by people all over the world to manage the illness. I have been close to suicide too many times to count and have had destructive manic episodes since the age of 17. I’m the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Get it Done When You’re Depressed. I wrote all of these books when I was depressed and often psychotic.
Bipolar disorder is a rotten illness.
I’m writing you on behalf of a person who cares about you very much. This person has been diagnosed with the illness bipolar disorder and is concerned you may not understand the reality and seriousness of the diagnosis. I hope that reading this letter can open a window of understanding to help you see that although bipolar disorder can look like someone is faking, whining, lying, making excuses, causing you trouble, making waves, being weak or just making it all up, it’s not. It’s a illness that originates in the brain. It’s a physical illness that comes out in emotional ways, which is why it’s so hard for people to understand our behaviors.
Interesting details about bipolar disorder:
– As with any major illness, people with bipolar disorder share the same symptoms- the symptoms are so similar for people around the world that I can list what a person says, thinks and does during certain mood swings without knowing their age, ethnicity, income or culture. Thus, it’s not random emotional behavior purposefully created to cause problems, but a very structured set of symptoms that lead to a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
– Bipolar disorder (especially the diagnosis bipolar two) is under-diagnosed because of the reasons you may feel it isn’t real- it looks like those of us with the illness just need to get a handle on our emotions! The problem is that we can’t without the proper treatment. If we could handle our emotions, then the overwhelming symptoms of bipolar disorder would be easy to manage.
– Bipolar disorder affects an estimated 17,000,000 million people in the US alone. (My coauthor Dr. John Preston and I use the well documented research that 4-6% of the US population has a form of bipolar disorder.) I find this a ridiculously low number as I meet people with a bipolar diagnosis almost everywhere I go. It helps to find perspective- it’s estimated that around one million people in the US have HIV/Aids – one million. Compare that to the 17 million who have bipolar disorder. You may know a lot more about AIDS than bipolar, but the chance of your knowing someone with AIDS is very slim. You already know someone with bipolar disorder and they need your help.
– In my opinion, bipolar disorder as an illness has not increased in the past 50 years, but there is a lot more awareness these days which makes it seem like doctors are going crazy with the diagnosis! Awareness is a good thing- the diagnoses are real. (Please note that I am not talking about the increase of incorrect diagnoses. I’m talking about the traditional occurrence of bipolar one and bipolar two in the general population. I don’t believe this has changed much.)
– I write treatment plans and can’t survive without one, but there is a fact that no one with the illness can deny:
Without medications at some point, especially during strong mania and psychotic mood swings, the life quality for a person with bipolar disorder can be low.
This means that most people with bipolar disorder need medication treatment at some time in life. Just as people with diabetes need insulin. We don’t deny medications to other physical illnesses. There is no reason to deny medication help to people with bipolar disorder when needed.
– All people with bipolar disorder struggle with relationship issues, work problems, physical health, parenting, cooking, going to school, thinking, traveling, etc, etc at some point in their lives. We all get overwhelmed very easily. Our struggles, as you may have noticed are far more emotional and often out of control than what is considered the norm. But….. there is a pattern to all of this. My books talk about managing triggers and making lifestyle changes for a reason. Our illness isn’t caused by our environment, but we sure do react to our environment!
– Anything that creates an emotional response can lead to a bipolar disorder mood swing. This means we can get sick if something wonderful happens! Our brain chemistry doesn’t react to life events like people who have regular brain chemistry patterns.
I write all of this to create a picture of what life is like for people like myself who have bipolar disorder. I have a career, but I can only work around 25 hours a week due to this illness. I have many friends, but I can’t have contentious friendships because I will get paranoid. I love to travel, but the time changes make me ill and I can’t sleep. This is my life with bipolar. Do you notice similar behaviors in your loved one? Nothing I do is out of spite. I am not in denial. I am a loving, kind, ambitious and very driven person. I simply have an illness that really affects my ability to have a regular life.
If someone who loves you has said they have bipolar disorder and you have your doubts of the diagnosis, or even feel that the whole thing is a sham, what do you feel is their motivation behind giving you the news? I say they are asking for understanding and help.
They have told you because they are scared and need your love and support. Bipolar disorder is an illness that has been documented for over 2000 years. It can be a killer- just as cancer is a killer. The medications can be harsh and without support, the person with bipolar disorder can lead a very difficult life. I know. I have been there many times!
It needs treatment and the best way for treatment to work is through education especially for the people who love us.
I recently asked my mailing list to send in questions for a new podcast. Hundreds of people replied and many people asked how they could get someone they cared about to believe the diagnosis and give them help, especially around medications. This is why I wrote this letter.
Please know that I feel your frustrations as well. It may be the person with bipolar has done some rotten things. Untreated bipolar disorder is no fun. This diagnosis is not an excuse, but it is an explanation.
I encourage you to talk about your anger, frustration, sadness and disbelief. These feelings are all normal by the way. when someone with bipolar disorder has affected your life.
You can then educate yourself and see bipolar disorder for what it is…..a very serious, but treatable illness.
Someone you love has bipolar disorder and they need your help. The rest is up to you.
Julie A. Fast
PS: My book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder explains bipolar basics and then gives people outside the bipolar disorder illness a way to help a loved one manage the symptoms. You can visit the Bp Magazine Facebook Page for more interactions with people who have mood swings. Many family members and partners talk on my Julie A. Fast Facebook page and ask questions about this illness. You are welcome to join us!
via bpHope – bp Magazine Community
Julie A. Fast