What I Discovered After Trying 4 Different Types of Therapy


Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Here’s a quick backstory, to put everything else I say into context: Six months and 18 days before writing this story, I was admitted into a psychiatric ward after a highly destructive period of stealing, lying and promiscuity. I could kill a bottle of red wine all to myself, and my debt was through the roof. My friends, save for a few, had left me — and I didn’t blame them. I was a mess, a con artist, a horrible person. I was also teetering on the verge of suicide — my Google search history said so, and the goodbye letters I had written on my notebooks said so too.

It turned out I have bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterized by two phases: mania and depression. And six months ago, I began my therapy journey. I tried many different types: a counselor, a shrink, group therapy and self-help books. I refused to wallow in the aftermath of my destruction and the ensuing “lost” feeling I had after being released from the psych ward. I drank all the advice, I devoured every morsel of wisdom, and I remained open to new ideas and questioned how I could apply them in my life. While this article is absolutely non-scientific and clearly based out of my own experience (and a few others’), I hope this might help at least one other person to seek help in his or her own way.

So where am I today? Well, I’m still continuing with therapy. I’ve picked up great habits along the way, habits that have helped me in my recovery: exercising a few times a week; journaling and mood monitoring; and meditation and prayer. I’ve gotten a new job as the head of a foundation that specializes in STEM education, and I’ve jumpstarted this blog/ business and I’m determined to make it work. I’ve also learned that recovery (and healing) is not a linear process — I’ve had some depressive episodes since, but I’ve learned how to deal with them through the tools available to me.

Here are the methods I tried:

1. One-on-One Counseling/Life Coaching

Lara* (not her real name) was introduced to me during my stay at the hospital. With a background in psychology, she specializes in addiction counseling, as well as life coaching. She’s a few years younger than I am, but clearly, could read me as effortlessly as a Dr. Seuss book. With every problem or question I posed to her, she would shoot back inspiring insights that would have me going, “Oh. (Long pause.) You’re right.” She would often give me assignments that would allow me to reflect on issues that bothered me. My latest one is to write an essay (actually, bullet points would do) on what aspects of my old and new lives I would want to keep as I struggle to find my “new normal.”

Notes: It’s a customized, one-on-one session that’s a two-way conversation. You convey your problems, and your life coach or counselor poses solutions or questions that can help guide you to a better understanding of yourself. My sessions were done either in my own home or in a nearby cafe, but that may not be the case for everyone. However, private sessions can be quite expensive. I was also quite lucky to have good chemistry with my counselor; I’ve heard stories of people shopping around for therapists.

Tips:

  • Get recommendations from friends, family, fellow patients or your general practitioner. While everyone’s experience may be different, getting the opinion of someone you trust may be crucial in choosing the right counselor or therapist for you.
  • Make the most of your session by being forthright with your therapist. It’s a time for you to discover yourself, and your therapist can help you tackle your issues.

2. Seeing a Psychiatrist

The main difference between a counselor and a psychiatrist is that the latter can dispense medication. My doctor is awesome; while I can wait about an hour (sometimes more) for her in the waiting room, the wait is often worth it. Like my counselor, she does take the time to listen to my problems and assess them. She asks how my body is reacting to the medication. Do I get depressive episodes? How are my sleeping patterns? Am I experiencing any other nasty side effects? These questions help determine the medicine’s dosage she’ll give to me; most of the time it’s the same amount, but at certain points, she would reduce the dosage based on my progress. However, not everyone is comfortable taking mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medicines and other psychiatric medicines. My rationale is this: just as with any other illness, there are certain medications that address them. Someone struggling with a physical illness sometimes needs to take a certain medication in order to recover. As such, someone with bipolar disorder sometimes needs mood stabilizers and antidepressants. Each psychiatrist is different as well; anecdotes from friends have ranged from gushing (“He’s the best! He helped me so much!”) to cautionary (“I wait two hours for a 15 minute session, and I always feel rushed.”).

Notes: Again, it’s a personalized session tailored around your needs. It can get pricey, so check with your health insurance provider whether sessions can be covered. Also, the effectiveness of your session may depend on the chemistry between you and your doctor.

Tips:

  • Recommendations and referrals are crucial here. Get them from your general practitioner, your family or friends.
  • Again, make the most of your session by disclosing as much information as you can. Your psychiatrist is there to help you.

3. Group Therapy (In-Person and Online)

Finding “your people” — people who understand you, your afflictions or your disorder — is a relief in the chaotic world of “normals.” A support group, whether in person or online, is certainly a valid form of therapy. Here, I’ve found helpful tips, practical advice, and a lot of willing, lending ears. Confession: where I live, we do not have a bipolar disorder support group. Or at least, I couldn’t find one. So I had to make do with the next best thing. First, I joined a 12-step group that specialized in gambling. While I certainly wasn’t a compulsive gambler, I did display a similar behavior: impulsive (and often compulsive) spending, particularly during my manic phases. And because I need more socializing (plus I like listening to people), I also joined two other 12-step groups, both of which specialized in narcotics addiction.

Here’s what I learned from them:

  • I am an alcoholic. Ok, I already knew that — I could tell from the way I drink.
  • I spend, a lot. And it could get destructive.
  • My afflictions would come together with my mania.
  • My afflictions affected my personal relationships, my career, my financial life, and my spiritual and moral life — so yes, I was an addict.

The principles taught in the 12-step program transcended any addiction; it also acknowledged the need for a healthy spiritual life. Then, I joined a Facebook group for those struggling with bipolar disorder. Now, my feed is rife with practical questions, tips, rants, raves and distractions. The group answered a few questions about bipolar disorder that I often thought about myself. For instance, can a person with bipolar disorder have a good, happy relationship with someone? (The answer is definitely — which gave me, a single AF woman, some hope.) What is bullet journaling, and how can it help someone with bipolar disorder? (OMG it’s awesome, and yes it can help anyone!)

Notes: The fellowship that comes with support groups can certainly boost one’s morale. It can also serve as an emotional outlet, as your listeners or readers would be people who can relate to you and your issues. The 12-step programs often meet daily or weekly, and you’ll often find people who welcome you warmly. They incorporate the importance of a spiritual life in recovery, regardless of one’s religion. The Facebook groups provide a convenient outlet for you to rant or rave or distract yourself from the daily issues you face. The best part of these groups? They’re free, save for minimal donations or contributions if needed. As with all groups, however, there may be some people who have stronger personalities than others; there may be some people who may be easily offended by what is said or posted in the group. I think socialization is a key component of recovery; my personal advice is to take the principles taught, and if you hear or see something you don’t really like that isn’t totally politically, sexually or religiously offensive, then either ignore or scroll past it. 12-step groups are available internationally; you can search for your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous. They’re also quite helpful when traveling. Facebook Groups can easily be found through the Facebook search bar.

4. The Self-Help Route

I love reading. In the past six months, I’ve read an obnoxious amount of books, three of which have truly inspired me. In these pages, the authors have given me practical tips, methods of meditation and insights to revamp my life. The first book, “Beyond Willpower” or “The Love Code” (it’s basically the same book, published under different titles) by Dr Alexander Loyd, is a fantastic read on achieving what we really want in life. It underscores the basic philosophy: the internal always gives birth to the external. He teaches active meditation and how to reprogram your mind to achieve what you really want, whether it’s love, peace or joy. Yes, we really want those. Not a million dollars. It’s love, peace or joy. The second book, “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, is an insightful take on dealing with grief and loss — whether it’s the death of a loved one, the trauma of an experience, or just a setback of life. “The 5 Second Rule” by Mel Robbins, meanwhile, taught me to get off my butt and just do something — anything. Together with the 12-step recovery philosophy of “one day at a time,” this book has taught me how to efficiently break down my career goals into a bite-sized to-do list that I fill up daily. I’m not too overwhelmed that I become depressed, and my mania doesn’t kick in with the amount of tasks I have to do.

Notes: Yes, the self-help section of Amazon is rife with thousands of titles. Before you fall into a rabbit hole of online shopping, I recommend starting with the three books I mentioned above — from personal experience, they’ve certainly helped. While the books do cost money, they might be available from your local library.

Today, I am in a good place. I am at peace with myself, and I have learned to live with my disorder. While I still have a long way to go in my journey, my life coach told me to look back and marvel at how far I’ve come. When I did, I was certainly surprised. I’ve picked up habits that have helped me push forward, like exercising, bullet journaling and expressing my emotions. My lifestyle has changed; I’m no longer the party girl/night owl, but rather the person that wakes up at 5 a.m. and meditates (it’s also a great feeling when you’ve accomplished most of your day’s work by 10 a.m.). As they say, recovery and healing is a process; I’m certainly happy to be walking on this path. I hope this helps you!

This post was originally published on Ideiya.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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