I am sure that most people in the Bipolar world have heard of Julie Fast. She has been living with Ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar II with psychotic features for about 15 + years. It’s not that far away from my own diagnosis of Bipolar I with psychotic features except i am usually in a mixed state which is just the worst. You are the most motivated depressed person and the least motivated manic person. They sort of bleed into one another.
Anyway, the book is Bipolar Happens! and it has a very unique outlook on managing Bipolar symptoms such as anxiety (I knew there was a connection), depression, mania, paranoia, and other subtle symptoms of Bipolar.
She starts the book with that familiar saying and complaint: “I just want to be normal.” She states that people are often taken aback by that statement. People often ask “What is normal?” or “is anyone really normal?” which personally I would find somewhat offensive because there is such a thing as “not normal.” She states it is not normal to not be able to hold a job for more than two years (hmmm, been there), or taking 8 years to finish college (hmmm, been there too). She says it is not normal to hear voices that tell you that you are worthless and you should just die.
She states in return to these statements that everyone is abnormal to some degree, but there are normal people out there. She knows that because she knows what it means to be NOT normal as I suspect many people with mental interestingness would attest to. She points out that “normal” people think about one or two thoughts at a time, not twenty (flight of ideas) whirling around inside your brain. Ms. Fast writes that it is not normal to break down every behaviour looking for the negative meaning. It isn’t about hearing voices that tell you that you’ll never amount to anything so why bother trying (I have experienced those voices for many, many years, and I would dare say that most people with Bipolar have also to some degree).
One thing that really resonated with me is her writing that normal people live day-to-day while Bipolar people have a tendency to live in the past and feel that there is no hope for the future. I am guilty of that. Especially of reliving my childhood where I was a weird kid, but not a Bipolar person, yet.
She writes a great deal on depression and how to combat it in the book (maybe because women are more likely than men to have depressive episodes). One thing that she talks about that I had already discovered on my own is how truly beautiful this world is. Instead of walking with your head down looking at all the garbage this world produces, look at the sky, the bees collecting nectar, the unsual arrangement of pots that make up a planter; of course it helps if you don’t have a car, but I have seen more beautiful things that I would have missed had I been driving. I have met some very interesting people as well.
She asks the question: are you looking up and seeing the beauty of the world and feeling better, or are you looking down and letting depression get you? I know it is hard when you are in the throes of depression to see any beauty in anything, however I have found that getting outside and walking can be very spirit lifting. Basically, she says you have to tell the depression NO! and fight it like an enemy. She suggests writing down the symptoms of your depression so you will know it is the illness talking and not something else. Basically, you have to learn your behaviours so well that you can feel them coming, and you can take action to stop them.
Another topic she writes on, which I think is terribly important, is for your friends and family to be educated about the illness so they can see when you are ill, and take steps to help you rather than as one person I know put it when I asked them to take me to the hospital, “I am so sick and tired of all of your drama and chaos!” That wasn’t what I needed to hear from that person. If a Bipolar is asking to go to the hospital, just take them. They know what condition their condition is in, and they are asking for help not being screamed at. At the time of the above occurrence, I had all my meds lined up in a row an the counter in the bathroom, and I was wondering if I had enough to kill myself. So, yes, I think it is extremely important for those who care about you and whom you care about to be educated about this sometimes fatal illness.
She writes on how to recognize the early stages of a manic episode and how to stop them. Of course, this is very personal in how the mania manifests itself. The are a myriad of ways that mania can insidiously crawl into your life. And, it can be a very destructive force in relationships, financial matters, work place etiquette, etc. It is important to know what triggers your manic episodes.
Basically, this is a fast read, and many of the techniques she describes are ones I have tried and been successful with. If you had asked me 5 + years ago how I was doing, I would have had to lie, and say fine. And, since I am really good at hiding my illness from others, people believe me, and are then rather shocked when I become so depressed I can’t get dressed or bathe. However, I find that sticking to a regular sleep cycle, always taking my meds, trying to eat right and exercise, and doing things I enjoy seem to help. All are mentioned in her book. I guess when you have been an untreated bipolar for 15 years and treated for 11 years, you sort of work out your own “health” plan. I do, however, recommend this book. It is short, simple and to the point. And, it makes a lot of sense. She does not claim to be “cured” just very well managed.