Saturday, May 03, 2008

Battling a Life Long 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.

Here are some 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 them. This is quite a party trick! Thus, it's not random emotional behavior that causes problems, but a very structured set of symptoms that lead to a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

- Bipolar disorder 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. I think this is a ridiculously low number as I meet people with a bipolar diagnosis almost everywhere I go. It's important to get this into 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 probably 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.

Bipolar disorder has killed far, far more people in the US than AIDS.

- 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.

- 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, the life quality for a person with bipolar disorder is very, very low.
This means that most people with bipolar disorder need medication treatment. Just as people with cancer need chemotherapy.

- All people with bipolar disorder will 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.

- Anything that causes an emotional response can lead to a bipolar disorder mood swing. Think of it this way- if our lives are a teeter totter- with our stable selves in the middle, we all have to struggle to keep our lives in balance. Get a picture of that teeter totter in your mind and then put a 10 ton weight on one side and see how hard it will be to find the middle stability. That is what it's like to have bipolar disorder- it's a ten ton weight that we didn't ask for. If it were golf, our handicap would be off the charts!

When the weight is too heavy and the balance is too hard, people kill themselves to get out of the pain.

- Up to 20% of people with bipolar disorder kill themselves. I get letters from family members quite often thanking me for my work - and then giving me the news that their son, daughter, father, mother, lover, grandmother, etc has died. They thank me because they know that we all tried to help the person who had the illness called bipolar disorder- but the illness won. Just as cancer wins sometimes. Suicide is NOT a weakness. It's an outcome of an illness that was just too strong. The 10 ton weight on their shoulders was just too much.

As you can imagine, I could go on forever here, but I do have a final question:
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, why do you feel they have told you the news?

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's a killer- just as cancer is a killer. The medications can be harsh and without support, the person with bipolar disorder can lead a life of constant hell. 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 my radio show- my mother was the guest and I wanted to get an idea of what information they needed. 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

I encourage you to let go of your anger, frustration, sadness and disbelief - these feelings are all normal by the way- and see bipolar disorder for what it is- a very serious illness. Someone you love has bipolar disorder and they need your help. The rest is up to you.

Julie A. Fast

Julie Fast -

P.O. Box 86728
Portland, OR

Like Julie, I have Bipolar as well. And I'll be on BlogTalk Radio on May 15th 2008 at 12 noon EST to talk about it with Beverly Mahone. For an encore presentation, I'll be on Straighttalk at 8:00 EST that same evening for an open discussion. Follow the link, sign up and you'll receive confirmation and a phone number to call and a code to use to access the teleseminar. The list of teleseminars are to the right of the signup form.

Come listen and ask questions. I look forward to "seeing" you there.