Bipolar Q&A: Answers to the Questions You May Be Too Scared to Ask
Have you heard of Quora? It’s like a crowd-sourced online question and answer center, where anyone can ask questions on practically any topic and request an answer from a specific person, or leave it up to whoever wants to answer.
I’ve used it myself for answers to questions about Ireland and about gardening. But since my Quora “credential” says I have bipolar disorder and have written two books on the subject, I get questions about bipolar (and other mental health topics), usually several a day. Some I can’t answer. Some have already been answered. But I answer a couple every day. I consider it part of my goal of spreading information about mental health wherever and whenever I can.
Here are some of the types of questions I’ve been asked and how I answered them. Maybe they’ll help some of my readers as well.
What is the best medication to take for bipolar?
This one is the question most commonly asked, and it is easy to answer. I don’t know which medication is right for you. Only you and your psychiatrist can figure that out, basically through trial and error. It may take a while to settle on a med or combination of meds that will work for you with the maximum effects and the fewest side effects.
I am thinking of quitting my meds, as I don’t feel I need them anymore or am having bad side effects.
Do not do this. There are dangers in going cold turkey, not the least of which is withdrawal symptoms. Work with your psychiatrist. They can help you decide whether it’s a good idea to quit a medication. If going off a med is a reasonable idea, your psychiatrist will help you do it safely, most likely tapering off the med you are on and possibly ramping up on a med that works better or has more tolerable side effects.
Besides, meds for bipolar are supposed to make you feel better, but it’s not a one-time thing. You have to keep taking them to keep feeling “better.” And if you go off a med and then decide to go back on it, it may not work as well.
Would bipolar disorder be eradicated if everyone came from a loving, stable home?
Sadly, no. While bipolar disorder may have a genetic component and may run in families, it can affect any person in any family. I had the most stable, loving family you can imagine, and here I am with bipolar II.
What causes bipolar disorder?
The jury’s still out on that. Some people will tell you the cause is genetic. Others will say it is caused by deficiencies or overproduction of chemicals and receptors in the brain. Still others will say that trauma, especially childhood trauma, can cause bipolar disorder. Personally, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it could be any one of them, or any combination of the three.
How do I help a family member with bipolar disorder?
First, you may be able to help them manage their disorder. In the early stages, you can perhaps help them find a psychiatrist, drive them to appointments, pick up their medication, and so forth. Be supportive. Tell the person you love them and hope they feel better soon. (They may not respond to you at the time, but later they will remember who stood by them and helped them.)
You can also help by helping the person practice self-care. Provide an environment that contains the things that comfort and help ground them — comfort food, soothing objects such as blankets or pillows, favorite scents, or even stuffed animals. Encourage them to bathe or shower and facilitate that: Have clean towels available and clean clothes or pajamas ready to wear. Make sure there is soap and shampoo handy.
For persons in the manic phase of the illness, you can accompany them when they go out, try to help keep them centered on projects at home, try to help them when it comes to overspending or other reckless behavior. Again, remind them you love them and will be there for them now and when they feel better.
How do I deal with a narcissistic, bipolar boss?
You can’t know your boss really has a personality disorder or a mood disorder unless you have read their medical files, which is illegal. They may have narcissistic traits or change their mind frequently (which is not the same as having bipolar disorder). You basically have two choices: Put up with it or quit. You will not be able to change your boss’s behavior.
I’m afraid my parents will find out I have bipolar disorder.
If you are underage, you probably cannot hide it from them. It’s not a good idea to delay treatment until you are of legal age, though. You can ask your family practice physician to recommend a good psychotherapist or psychiatrist. You can ask your school counselor to help you find help. There are telephone and text hotlines. The best bet may be to talk to your family about it, in a quiet, low-stress environment and explain what bipolar disorder is and why you believe you have it. Their responses may surprise you.
Will I be bipolar for the rest of my life?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Bipolar disorder is not a disease like some that can be cured. You will have to live with it, cope with it, and have treatment for it, most likely for the rest of your life.
But it’s not a thing to be feared. If you have the proper support, such as therapy and sometimes medications, you can live a fulfilling, “normal” life, and accomplish many if not all your goals. I have bipolar disorder and have completed grad school, have a loving, stable marriage, own my own home, and do paid work. You are not tied to a future of despair or fears or bad effects.
Getty image by Rudzhan Nagiev