Anja Burcak

@thecalculatingmind | contributor
Anja is a blogger with a passion for mental health advocacy. She often writes about mania, depression, and anxiety, from a first-person perspective. Being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (Type 1) in 2016 has given her insight into the struggles many face with finding the right diagnosis, treatment, and providers. She hopes that sharing her story will create more open, honest conversations about mental health, fighting the stigma one conversation at a time.

Let's Break Down These 5 Common Myths About Mental Illness

As someone who has been actively engaged in the mental health community on social media for the past few years, I have come across an alarming amount of misconceptions about mental health conditions. Many of these myths either minimize conditions (“Depression is just being sad. Cheer up!”). Others falsely stereotype entire populations (“People with psychosis are ‘crazy’ and violent.”). As someone who has a mood disorder myself, many of the misconceptions personally hurt me. I’d like to speak up about common misconceptions I’ve seen because it is time to fight the lies and illuminate the truth. Myth 1: You simply aren’t trying hard enough. Comments with this message have many forms. It may be a comment telling someone to, “just cheer up!” in regards to their severe depression. Many comments oversimplify mental illness. These conditions are not due to a shortage of yoga, kale, green tea or the latest health trend. Why do so many people feel the need to give unsolicited advice to people struggling with mental health issues? It is frustrating to get the message “you could be better on your own, but you simply aren’t trying hard enough.” Myth 2: Medications are not the answer. A lot of people go online to look for answers to their mental health questions. Unfortunately, there are many anti-psychiatry accounts. They will tell people medications are not the answer. While medications may not be the best approach for some people, for others, psychiatry can be life-changing, even life-saving. Some of these accounts call medications toxic. Others say “natural” remedies, such as certain diets (likely a diet from a book they are trying to sell you) can “reverse” or “cure” your mental illness. I’m not arguing a healthy diet or lifestyle changes cannot help, but often they are not sufficient for someone facing a debilitating, chronic mental illness. I believe this should be used in conjunction with professional help, not in the place of it. Myth 3: Prayer will make your mental health issues go away. During a hospital stay, I had a roommate who was very religious. I saw how her faith and community helped her through her difficult period of health challenges. Religion can be incredibly helpful. However, there are people who dismiss mental health issues or minimize them by saying prayer should be used in the place of treatment. A religious community can be a great support system. Support is a significant factor in one’s recovery. Once again, however, I believe prayer should not be used in the place of the help of a mental health provider. Myth 4: Mental health conditions are not that serious. It is clear based on people’s responses, much of the general public does not understand the seriousness of many conditions. Someone cannot will themselves out of their illness. That is not how it works. Mental health conditions are labeled as illnesses because of their severity. An anxiety disorder is not the same as the little bit of anxiety you feel before a presentation at work. Depression is not the equivalent of feeling a little gloomy on a dreary day. For example, people with anxiety attacks sometimes go to the ER because they literally think they are about to die. That is the level of intensity. It isn’t a joke. Mental illness interferes with academics, careers, relationships, families, finances and physical wellness. For some people, their entire lives revolve around their condition. Comments about being “so OCD” or “so bipolar” only add to this dismissive attitude regarding mental illnesses. Myth 5: All violent people are mentally ill. Mental illness causes violence. Unfortunately, there are many mass shootings in the United States. Based on my observations, I have seen a pattern. Often, the perpetrator is instantly labeled as “mentally ill.” Mental illness gets blamed for the violence by the media all of the time. This association between violence and mental illness emphasized over and over again by the news creates a very negative perception of those with mental health conditions. People with mental health conditions are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence. This type of recurring reporting is inaccurate and harmful. Fighting the myths. While they may not be that direct, often the underlying messages are people with mental health conditions are dangerous, manipulative, unstable, lazy or unsuccessful. This is not true. I have met an amazing network of inspiring, caring people affected by mental illness. I am tired of the harmful statements, the ones which contribute to both public stigma and self-stigma. Stigma often prevents someone from even seeking mental health treatment. Remember: Words have power. Make sure you use yours wisely.

Let's Break Down These 5 Common Myths About Mental Illness

As someone who has been actively engaged in the mental health community on social media for the past few years, I have come across an alarming amount of misconceptions about mental health conditions. Many of these myths either minimize conditions (“Depression is just being sad. Cheer up!”). Others falsely stereotype entire populations (“People with psychosis are ‘crazy’ and violent.”). As someone who has a mood disorder myself, many of the misconceptions personally hurt me. I’d like to speak up about common misconceptions I’ve seen because it is time to fight the lies and illuminate the truth. Myth 1: You simply aren’t trying hard enough. Comments with this message have many forms. It may be a comment telling someone to, “just cheer up!” in regards to their severe depression. Many comments oversimplify mental illness. These conditions are not due to a shortage of yoga, kale, green tea or the latest health trend. Why do so many people feel the need to give unsolicited advice to people struggling with mental health issues? It is frustrating to get the message “you could be better on your own, but you simply aren’t trying hard enough.” Myth 2: Medications are not the answer. A lot of people go online to look for answers to their mental health questions. Unfortunately, there are many anti-psychiatry accounts. They will tell people medications are not the answer. While medications may not be the best approach for some people, for others, psychiatry can be life-changing, even life-saving. Some of these accounts call medications toxic. Others say “natural” remedies, such as certain diets (likely a diet from a book they are trying to sell you) can “reverse” or “cure” your mental illness. I’m not arguing a healthy diet or lifestyle changes cannot help, but often they are not sufficient for someone facing a debilitating, chronic mental illness. I believe this should be used in conjunction with professional help, not in the place of it. Myth 3: Prayer will make your mental health issues go away. During a hospital stay, I had a roommate who was very religious. I saw how her faith and community helped her through her difficult period of health challenges. Religion can be incredibly helpful. However, there are people who dismiss mental health issues or minimize them by saying prayer should be used in the place of treatment. A religious community can be a great support system. Support is a significant factor in one’s recovery. Once again, however, I believe prayer should not be used in the place of the help of a mental health provider. Myth 4: Mental health conditions are not that serious. It is clear based on people’s responses, much of the general public does not understand the seriousness of many conditions. Someone cannot will themselves out of their illness. That is not how it works. Mental health conditions are labeled as illnesses because of their severity. An anxiety disorder is not the same as the little bit of anxiety you feel before a presentation at work. Depression is not the equivalent of feeling a little gloomy on a dreary day. For example, people with anxiety attacks sometimes go to the ER because they literally think they are about to die. That is the level of intensity. It isn’t a joke. Mental illness interferes with academics, careers, relationships, families, finances and physical wellness. For some people, their entire lives revolve around their condition. Comments about being “so OCD” or “so bipolar” only add to this dismissive attitude regarding mental illnesses. Myth 5: All violent people are mentally ill. Mental illness causes violence. Unfortunately, there are many mass shootings in the United States. Based on my observations, I have seen a pattern. Often, the perpetrator is instantly labeled as “mentally ill.” Mental illness gets blamed for the violence by the media all of the time. This association between violence and mental illness emphasized over and over again by the news creates a very negative perception of those with mental health conditions. People with mental health conditions are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence. This type of recurring reporting is inaccurate and harmful. Fighting the myths. While they may not be that direct, often the underlying messages are people with mental health conditions are dangerous, manipulative, unstable, lazy or unsuccessful. This is not true. I have met an amazing network of inspiring, caring people affected by mental illness. I am tired of the harmful statements, the ones which contribute to both public stigma and self-stigma. Stigma often prevents someone from even seeking mental health treatment. Remember: Words have power. Make sure you use yours wisely.

Ashley L. Peterson

Why Does Depression Make Me So Slow?

While psychomotor retardation (a slowing of movement and thoughts) has long been recognized as a symptom of depression, it’s not on most people’s radar when they think of depression. It’s a symptom I’ve experienced throughout much of the course of my depressive illness, and it’s a significant factor in the level of disability from my illness. However, it’s also quite difficult to effectively convey to people what it’s like unless they’re actually able to see me when I’m slow. What is psychomotor retardation Psychomotor retardation (PMR) is most often associated with the melancholic subtype of depression. It encompasses a range of disturbances, including: slowed movements that are objectively observable by others lack of facial expressiveness (“flat affect”) decreased eye contact speech changes: decreased volume, slow and monotonous speech with increased pauses, delayed verbal responses slumped posture reduced mobility in trunk and proximal limbs (upper legs and arms) increased self-touching It feels like trying to walk through molasses. It’s different from feeling fatigued; my body simply won’t move any faster. The changes in movement are objectively visible to anyone who happens to be looking my way. Most people wouldn’t know why I’m so slow, but they would immediately recognize that I’m somehow impaired. There’s a slowing of thought, too, although I find it hard to quantify because there’s no objective reference point. The slowness of thought and movement can combine to have significant impacts on my speech. It becomes very halting, as I can only get out a couple of words before I need to pause to let brain and mouth catch up. So why am I so slow? It turns out that science doesn’t really know. Possible biological mechanisms Dopamine appears to be the major neurotransmitter involved, although various others may play a role as well. The dopamine factor is likely why taking a stimulant (dextroamphetamine) is helpful for my PMR. I most certainly don’t look like someone who’s taking a stimulant, but without it, I’m even slower. Structural changes in parts of the brain appear to play a role. The basal ganglia is an area involved in movement, and it’s involved in Parkinson’s disease and likely in tardive dyskinesia that can occur as a side effect from antipsychotics. Decreased blood flow to several areas of the brain, including areas involved in movement, have been observed in people with psychomotor retardation. Another possibility is disruptions in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Yet another possible factor is changes in the brain circuits running from the cortex, in the outermost part of the brain, to the striatum, which is in the basal ganglia region, and back to the cortex. That’s a lot of possibilities with a big lack of certainty. What now? Clearly, science hasn’t figured out much yet. And in terms of research priorities, I suspect it’s relatively low on the list. My hope is that, at some point, a researcher somewhere will get an “aha” moment and figure out what’s really going on with the biology of psychomotor retardation. More than simple scientific curiosity, it matters because the current bunch of treatments available aren’t all that effective. Perhaps if it was better understood, a more targeted treatment could be identified to add on top of the usual depression treatment options. Until then, I’ll be that person moving only slightly faster than a snail. Is this a symptom you’ve dealt with as part of your own illness?

What to Know After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

What advice do you have for those newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Whew. What a question. As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder (type 1), this is one I’ve heard a few times. Bipolar disorder is complex, overwhelming, draining, sometimes painful and often all-consuming. So, where do you even start? Well, below are a few simple pieces of advice to help out! 1. Block out all the noise. There will be many people who have all sorts of opinions about mental illness, bipolar disorder, psychiatry, therapy and anything related to it. Examples of what you may hear (from family, friends, significant other, peers, colleagues, bosses, teachers, etc.): “Bipolar bisorder doesn’t exist.” “Psych meds are for crazy people.” “You don’t need a doctor. Just do yoga.” “You aren’t bipolar. You don’t act/look bipolar.” “Mental illnesses are fake (e.g., just attention-seeking behavior).” Try not to take it personally. There are so, so many myths and misconceptions out there. It can take a lot of time to undo those stigmatizing manners of thinking about bipolar disorder and mental health conditions overall. Honestly, some people will never put in the effort. You have to learn which battles are worth fighting. If someone isn’t attempting to learn, maybe it’s not worth arguing with them. 2. Put your health first. This is your brain. Your. Brain. Let me tell you this: physical health vs mental health is really a misleading divide. Mental health impacts physical health; physical health impacts mental health. Think about it: Depression can drastically change your appetite, diet, energy level, ability to function, sleep and much more. All of these things have a massive toll on the body. In reverse, a “physical” condition can negatively impact one’s “mental” health, like when someone’s cancer diagnosis leads to depression. It is your brain. Take care of it! 3. Do not suddenly stop taking meds. Yeah, I know. I’ve done it. I bet most of the people with bipolar disorder you talk to have stopped at some point (without doctor’s approval). So, I am here to tell you from personal experience: just don’t. Why? It is dangerous. Sudden changes in the brain from stopping/altering meds without doctor oversight can lead to mania, depression, mixed episodes, suicidal/crisis episodes, etc. You can make things worse for yourself. If you feel great, guess what? That might be due to the meds. If you want to taper off, discuss that with your doctor. Otherwise, you risk becoming unstable. With each episode, you increase the odds of developing another episode… leading to a worse prognosis. It is in your best interest to do everything carefully, following medical advice. Side effects? I feel you. I’ve had: Incredibly irritated skin. Episodic periods of loss of control over my eyes (acute dystonic reaction; oculogyric crisis; eyes stuck locked upward) which was terrifying. Medicine so sedating that it was hard to walk. So, I know that side effects can be unbearable. Discuss any concerns with your provider. This may be a dosage issue or an issue with the medication itself. 4. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find the “right fit.” The perfect medication dosage/brand/combo can be challenging to find. It takes a good relationship with a provider who is willing to really listen to the patient and ask the right questions. If you do not feel as if you are treated right, you can seek a referral. A strong connection matters. Please try not to get discouraged if it takes a while (or much longer) to find the “right fit” regarding treatment/your provider/your therapist. It takes effort, time and sometimes luck. Finding the “right fit” is life-changing and even life-saving. 5. Plan, plan, plan. Be prepared. Mood episodes happen. Crisis (full-blown mania, severe depression, etc) happen. Hospitalizations happen. Having a plan ahead of time can make it much smoother. What steps do you want to take? Who do you want to contact? Provider/therapist can help create a plan. 6. Don’t wait until “rock bottom” to seek help. You do not need to wait until “it gets worse.” I’ve heard this. I’ve felt it myself. You don’t need to reach a certain level of dysfunction or unbearable pain in order to justify seeking professional help. You are worthy of treatment now. If bipolar disorder is interfering with life, it is a problem. A lot of people call mental health care a “luxury” but honestly it is a necessity. Connecting to a provider while stable is easier than during a crisis! It is a lot easier to do preventative efforts than try to get help when a mood episode is already in full force. 7. Please do not lose your identity or sense of self in a diagnostic label. You are not bipolar disorder; you are a person who happens to have a mental health condition. This is simply a tool to help you on your journey to mental wellness and stability. This is not a label to fixate on or drag you down. Breathe. Even if you feel alone, you are far from it. There are millions of other people with bipolar disorder who have been in your shoes. It can be helpful to educate yourself on the condition and connect to others, finding a supportive mental health community (in-person or online such as on The Mighty). Wishing you the best, from one bipolar warrior to another.

What to Know After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

What advice do you have for those newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Whew. What a question. As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder (type 1), this is one I’ve heard a few times. Bipolar disorder is complex, overwhelming, draining, sometimes painful and often all-consuming. So, where do you even start? Well, below are a few simple pieces of advice to help out! 1. Block out all the noise. There will be many people who have all sorts of opinions about mental illness, bipolar disorder, psychiatry, therapy and anything related to it. Examples of what you may hear (from family, friends, significant other, peers, colleagues, bosses, teachers, etc.): “Bipolar bisorder doesn’t exist.” “Psych meds are for crazy people.” “You don’t need a doctor. Just do yoga.” “You aren’t bipolar. You don’t act/look bipolar.” “Mental illnesses are fake (e.g., just attention-seeking behavior).” Try not to take it personally. There are so, so many myths and misconceptions out there. It can take a lot of time to undo those stigmatizing manners of thinking about bipolar disorder and mental health conditions overall. Honestly, some people will never put in the effort. You have to learn which battles are worth fighting. If someone isn’t attempting to learn, maybe it’s not worth arguing with them. 2. Put your health first. This is your brain. Your. Brain. Let me tell you this: physical health vs mental health is really a misleading divide. Mental health impacts physical health; physical health impacts mental health. Think about it: Depression can drastically change your appetite, diet, energy level, ability to function, sleep and much more. All of these things have a massive toll on the body. In reverse, a “physical” condition can negatively impact one’s “mental” health, like when someone’s cancer diagnosis leads to depression. It is your brain. Take care of it! 3. Do not suddenly stop taking meds. Yeah, I know. I’ve done it. I bet most of the people with bipolar disorder you talk to have stopped at some point (without doctor’s approval). So, I am here to tell you from personal experience: just don’t. Why? It is dangerous. Sudden changes in the brain from stopping/altering meds without doctor oversight can lead to mania, depression, mixed episodes, suicidal/crisis episodes, etc. You can make things worse for yourself. If you feel great, guess what? That might be due to the meds. If you want to taper off, discuss that with your doctor. Otherwise, you risk becoming unstable. With each episode, you increase the odds of developing another episode… leading to a worse prognosis. It is in your best interest to do everything carefully, following medical advice. Side effects? I feel you. I’ve had: Incredibly irritated skin. Episodic periods of loss of control over my eyes (acute dystonic reaction; oculogyric crisis; eyes stuck locked upward) which was terrifying. Medicine so sedating that it was hard to walk. So, I know that side effects can be unbearable. Discuss any concerns with your provider. This may be a dosage issue or an issue with the medication itself. 4. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find the “right fit.” The perfect medication dosage/brand/combo can be challenging to find. It takes a good relationship with a provider who is willing to really listen to the patient and ask the right questions. If you do not feel as if you are treated right, you can seek a referral. A strong connection matters. Please try not to get discouraged if it takes a while (or much longer) to find the “right fit” regarding treatment/your provider/your therapist. It takes effort, time and sometimes luck. Finding the “right fit” is life-changing and even life-saving. 5. Plan, plan, plan. Be prepared. Mood episodes happen. Crisis (full-blown mania, severe depression, etc) happen. Hospitalizations happen. Having a plan ahead of time can make it much smoother. What steps do you want to take? Who do you want to contact? Provider/therapist can help create a plan. 6. Don’t wait until “rock bottom” to seek help. You do not need to wait until “it gets worse.” I’ve heard this. I’ve felt it myself. You don’t need to reach a certain level of dysfunction or unbearable pain in order to justify seeking professional help. You are worthy of treatment now. If bipolar disorder is interfering with life, it is a problem. A lot of people call mental health care a “luxury” but honestly it is a necessity. Connecting to a provider while stable is easier than during a crisis! It is a lot easier to do preventative efforts than try to get help when a mood episode is already in full force. 7. Please do not lose your identity or sense of self in a diagnostic label. You are not bipolar disorder; you are a person who happens to have a mental health condition. This is simply a tool to help you on your journey to mental wellness and stability. This is not a label to fixate on or drag you down. Breathe. Even if you feel alone, you are far from it. There are millions of other people with bipolar disorder who have been in your shoes. It can be helpful to educate yourself on the condition and connect to others, finding a supportive mental health community (in-person or online such as on The Mighty). Wishing you the best, from one bipolar warrior to another.

What to Know After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

What advice do you have for those newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Whew. What a question. As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder (type 1), this is one I’ve heard a few times. Bipolar disorder is complex, overwhelming, draining, sometimes painful and often all-consuming. So, where do you even start? Well, below are a few simple pieces of advice to help out! 1. Block out all the noise. There will be many people who have all sorts of opinions about mental illness, bipolar disorder, psychiatry, therapy and anything related to it. Examples of what you may hear (from family, friends, significant other, peers, colleagues, bosses, teachers, etc.): “Bipolar bisorder doesn’t exist.” “Psych meds are for crazy people.” “You don’t need a doctor. Just do yoga.” “You aren’t bipolar. You don’t act/look bipolar.” “Mental illnesses are fake (e.g., just attention-seeking behavior).” Try not to take it personally. There are so, so many myths and misconceptions out there. It can take a lot of time to undo those stigmatizing manners of thinking about bipolar disorder and mental health conditions overall. Honestly, some people will never put in the effort. You have to learn which battles are worth fighting. If someone isn’t attempting to learn, maybe it’s not worth arguing with them. 2. Put your health first. This is your brain. Your. Brain. Let me tell you this: physical health vs mental health is really a misleading divide. Mental health impacts physical health; physical health impacts mental health. Think about it: Depression can drastically change your appetite, diet, energy level, ability to function, sleep and much more. All of these things have a massive toll on the body. In reverse, a “physical” condition can negatively impact one’s “mental” health, like when someone’s cancer diagnosis leads to depression. It is your brain. Take care of it! 3. Do not suddenly stop taking meds. Yeah, I know. I’ve done it. I bet most of the people with bipolar disorder you talk to have stopped at some point (without doctor’s approval). So, I am here to tell you from personal experience: just don’t. Why? It is dangerous. Sudden changes in the brain from stopping/altering meds without doctor oversight can lead to mania, depression, mixed episodes, suicidal/crisis episodes, etc. You can make things worse for yourself. If you feel great, guess what? That might be due to the meds. If you want to taper off, discuss that with your doctor. Otherwise, you risk becoming unstable. With each episode, you increase the odds of developing another episode… leading to a worse prognosis. It is in your best interest to do everything carefully, following medical advice. Side effects? I feel you. I’ve had: Incredibly irritated skin. Episodic periods of loss of control over my eyes (acute dystonic reaction; oculogyric crisis; eyes stuck locked upward) which was terrifying. Medicine so sedating that it was hard to walk. So, I know that side effects can be unbearable. Discuss any concerns with your provider. This may be a dosage issue or an issue with the medication itself. 4. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find the “right fit.” The perfect medication dosage/brand/combo can be challenging to find. It takes a good relationship with a provider who is willing to really listen to the patient and ask the right questions. If you do not feel as if you are treated right, you can seek a referral. A strong connection matters. Please try not to get discouraged if it takes a while (or much longer) to find the “right fit” regarding treatment/your provider/your therapist. It takes effort, time and sometimes luck. Finding the “right fit” is life-changing and even life-saving. 5. Plan, plan, plan. Be prepared. Mood episodes happen. Crisis (full-blown mania, severe depression, etc) happen. Hospitalizations happen. Having a plan ahead of time can make it much smoother. What steps do you want to take? Who do you want to contact? Provider/therapist can help create a plan. 6. Don’t wait until “rock bottom” to seek help. You do not need to wait until “it gets worse.” I’ve heard this. I’ve felt it myself. You don’t need to reach a certain level of dysfunction or unbearable pain in order to justify seeking professional help. You are worthy of treatment now. If bipolar disorder is interfering with life, it is a problem. A lot of people call mental health care a “luxury” but honestly it is a necessity. Connecting to a provider while stable is easier than during a crisis! It is a lot easier to do preventative efforts than try to get help when a mood episode is already in full force. 7. Please do not lose your identity or sense of self in a diagnostic label. You are not bipolar disorder; you are a person who happens to have a mental health condition. This is simply a tool to help you on your journey to mental wellness and stability. This is not a label to fixate on or drag you down. Breathe. Even if you feel alone, you are far from it. There are millions of other people with bipolar disorder who have been in your shoes. It can be helpful to educate yourself on the condition and connect to others, finding a supportive mental health community (in-person or online such as on The Mighty). Wishing you the best, from one bipolar warrior to another.

What to Know After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

What advice do you have for those newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Whew. What a question. As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder (type 1), this is one I’ve heard a few times. Bipolar disorder is complex, overwhelming, draining, sometimes painful and often all-consuming. So, where do you even start? Well, below are a few simple pieces of advice to help out! 1. Block out all the noise. There will be many people who have all sorts of opinions about mental illness, bipolar disorder, psychiatry, therapy and anything related to it. Examples of what you may hear (from family, friends, significant other, peers, colleagues, bosses, teachers, etc.): “Bipolar bisorder doesn’t exist.” “Psych meds are for crazy people.” “You don’t need a doctor. Just do yoga.” “You aren’t bipolar. You don’t act/look bipolar.” “Mental illnesses are fake (e.g., just attention-seeking behavior).” Try not to take it personally. There are so, so many myths and misconceptions out there. It can take a lot of time to undo those stigmatizing manners of thinking about bipolar disorder and mental health conditions overall. Honestly, some people will never put in the effort. You have to learn which battles are worth fighting. If someone isn’t attempting to learn, maybe it’s not worth arguing with them. 2. Put your health first. This is your brain. Your. Brain. Let me tell you this: physical health vs mental health is really a misleading divide. Mental health impacts physical health; physical health impacts mental health. Think about it: Depression can drastically change your appetite, diet, energy level, ability to function, sleep and much more. All of these things have a massive toll on the body. In reverse, a “physical” condition can negatively impact one’s “mental” health, like when someone’s cancer diagnosis leads to depression. It is your brain. Take care of it! 3. Do not suddenly stop taking meds. Yeah, I know. I’ve done it. I bet most of the people with bipolar disorder you talk to have stopped at some point (without doctor’s approval). So, I am here to tell you from personal experience: just don’t. Why? It is dangerous. Sudden changes in the brain from stopping/altering meds without doctor oversight can lead to mania, depression, mixed episodes, suicidal/crisis episodes, etc. You can make things worse for yourself. If you feel great, guess what? That might be due to the meds. If you want to taper off, discuss that with your doctor. Otherwise, you risk becoming unstable. With each episode, you increase the odds of developing another episode… leading to a worse prognosis. It is in your best interest to do everything carefully, following medical advice. Side effects? I feel you. I’ve had: Incredibly irritated skin. Episodic periods of loss of control over my eyes (acute dystonic reaction; oculogyric crisis; eyes stuck locked upward) which was terrifying. Medicine so sedating that it was hard to walk. So, I know that side effects can be unbearable. Discuss any concerns with your provider. This may be a dosage issue or an issue with the medication itself. 4. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find the “right fit.” The perfect medication dosage/brand/combo can be challenging to find. It takes a good relationship with a provider who is willing to really listen to the patient and ask the right questions. If you do not feel as if you are treated right, you can seek a referral. A strong connection matters. Please try not to get discouraged if it takes a while (or much longer) to find the “right fit” regarding treatment/your provider/your therapist. It takes effort, time and sometimes luck. Finding the “right fit” is life-changing and even life-saving. 5. Plan, plan, plan. Be prepared. Mood episodes happen. Crisis (full-blown mania, severe depression, etc) happen. Hospitalizations happen. Having a plan ahead of time can make it much smoother. What steps do you want to take? Who do you want to contact? Provider/therapist can help create a plan. 6. Don’t wait until “rock bottom” to seek help. You do not need to wait until “it gets worse.” I’ve heard this. I’ve felt it myself. You don’t need to reach a certain level of dysfunction or unbearable pain in order to justify seeking professional help. You are worthy of treatment now. If bipolar disorder is interfering with life, it is a problem. A lot of people call mental health care a “luxury” but honestly it is a necessity. Connecting to a provider while stable is easier than during a crisis! It is a lot easier to do preventative efforts than try to get help when a mood episode is already in full force. 7. Please do not lose your identity or sense of self in a diagnostic label. You are not bipolar disorder; you are a person who happens to have a mental health condition. This is simply a tool to help you on your journey to mental wellness and stability. This is not a label to fixate on or drag you down. Breathe. Even if you feel alone, you are far from it. There are millions of other people with bipolar disorder who have been in your shoes. It can be helpful to educate yourself on the condition and connect to others, finding a supportive mental health community (in-person or online such as on The Mighty). Wishing you the best, from one bipolar warrior to another.

What to Know After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

What advice do you have for those newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Whew. What a question. As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder (type 1), this is one I’ve heard a few times. Bipolar disorder is complex, overwhelming, draining, sometimes painful and often all-consuming. So, where do you even start? Well, below are a few simple pieces of advice to help out! 1. Block out all the noise. There will be many people who have all sorts of opinions about mental illness, bipolar disorder, psychiatry, therapy and anything related to it. Examples of what you may hear (from family, friends, significant other, peers, colleagues, bosses, teachers, etc.): “Bipolar bisorder doesn’t exist.” “Psych meds are for crazy people.” “You don’t need a doctor. Just do yoga.” “You aren’t bipolar. You don’t act/look bipolar.” “Mental illnesses are fake (e.g., just attention-seeking behavior).” Try not to take it personally. There are so, so many myths and misconceptions out there. It can take a lot of time to undo those stigmatizing manners of thinking about bipolar disorder and mental health conditions overall. Honestly, some people will never put in the effort. You have to learn which battles are worth fighting. If someone isn’t attempting to learn, maybe it’s not worth arguing with them. 2. Put your health first. This is your brain. Your. Brain. Let me tell you this: physical health vs mental health is really a misleading divide. Mental health impacts physical health; physical health impacts mental health. Think about it: Depression can drastically change your appetite, diet, energy level, ability to function, sleep and much more. All of these things have a massive toll on the body. In reverse, a “physical” condition can negatively impact one’s “mental” health, like when someone’s cancer diagnosis leads to depression. It is your brain. Take care of it! 3. Do not suddenly stop taking meds. Yeah, I know. I’ve done it. I bet most of the people with bipolar disorder you talk to have stopped at some point (without doctor’s approval). So, I am here to tell you from personal experience: just don’t. Why? It is dangerous. Sudden changes in the brain from stopping/altering meds without doctor oversight can lead to mania, depression, mixed episodes, suicidal/crisis episodes, etc. You can make things worse for yourself. If you feel great, guess what? That might be due to the meds. If you want to taper off, discuss that with your doctor. Otherwise, you risk becoming unstable. With each episode, you increase the odds of developing another episode… leading to a worse prognosis. It is in your best interest to do everything carefully, following medical advice. Side effects? I feel you. I’ve had: Incredibly irritated skin. Episodic periods of loss of control over my eyes (acute dystonic reaction; oculogyric crisis; eyes stuck locked upward) which was terrifying. Medicine so sedating that it was hard to walk. So, I know that side effects can be unbearable. Discuss any concerns with your provider. This may be a dosage issue or an issue with the medication itself. 4. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find the “right fit.” The perfect medication dosage/brand/combo can be challenging to find. It takes a good relationship with a provider who is willing to really listen to the patient and ask the right questions. If you do not feel as if you are treated right, you can seek a referral. A strong connection matters. Please try not to get discouraged if it takes a while (or much longer) to find the “right fit” regarding treatment/your provider/your therapist. It takes effort, time and sometimes luck. Finding the “right fit” is life-changing and even life-saving. 5. Plan, plan, plan. Be prepared. Mood episodes happen. Crisis (full-blown mania, severe depression, etc) happen. Hospitalizations happen. Having a plan ahead of time can make it much smoother. What steps do you want to take? Who do you want to contact? Provider/therapist can help create a plan. 6. Don’t wait until “rock bottom” to seek help. You do not need to wait until “it gets worse.” I’ve heard this. I’ve felt it myself. You don’t need to reach a certain level of dysfunction or unbearable pain in order to justify seeking professional help. You are worthy of treatment now. If bipolar disorder is interfering with life, it is a problem. A lot of people call mental health care a “luxury” but honestly it is a necessity. Connecting to a provider while stable is easier than during a crisis! It is a lot easier to do preventative efforts than try to get help when a mood episode is already in full force. 7. Please do not lose your identity or sense of self in a diagnostic label. You are not bipolar disorder; you are a person who happens to have a mental health condition. This is simply a tool to help you on your journey to mental wellness and stability. This is not a label to fixate on or drag you down. Breathe. Even if you feel alone, you are far from it. There are millions of other people with bipolar disorder who have been in your shoes. It can be helpful to educate yourself on the condition and connect to others, finding a supportive mental health community (in-person or online such as on The Mighty). Wishing you the best, from one bipolar warrior to another.

What to Know After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

What advice do you have for those newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Whew. What a question. As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder (type 1), this is one I’ve heard a few times. Bipolar disorder is complex, overwhelming, draining, sometimes painful and often all-consuming. So, where do you even start? Well, below are a few simple pieces of advice to help out! 1. Block out all the noise. There will be many people who have all sorts of opinions about mental illness, bipolar disorder, psychiatry, therapy and anything related to it. Examples of what you may hear (from family, friends, significant other, peers, colleagues, bosses, teachers, etc.): “Bipolar bisorder doesn’t exist.” “Psych meds are for crazy people.” “You don’t need a doctor. Just do yoga.” “You aren’t bipolar. You don’t act/look bipolar.” “Mental illnesses are fake (e.g., just attention-seeking behavior).” Try not to take it personally. There are so, so many myths and misconceptions out there. It can take a lot of time to undo those stigmatizing manners of thinking about bipolar disorder and mental health conditions overall. Honestly, some people will never put in the effort. You have to learn which battles are worth fighting. If someone isn’t attempting to learn, maybe it’s not worth arguing with them. 2. Put your health first. This is your brain. Your. Brain. Let me tell you this: physical health vs mental health is really a misleading divide. Mental health impacts physical health; physical health impacts mental health. Think about it: Depression can drastically change your appetite, diet, energy level, ability to function, sleep and much more. All of these things have a massive toll on the body. In reverse, a “physical” condition can negatively impact one’s “mental” health, like when someone’s cancer diagnosis leads to depression. It is your brain. Take care of it! 3. Do not suddenly stop taking meds. Yeah, I know. I’ve done it. I bet most of the people with bipolar disorder you talk to have stopped at some point (without doctor’s approval). So, I am here to tell you from personal experience: just don’t. Why? It is dangerous. Sudden changes in the brain from stopping/altering meds without doctor oversight can lead to mania, depression, mixed episodes, suicidal/crisis episodes, etc. You can make things worse for yourself. If you feel great, guess what? That might be due to the meds. If you want to taper off, discuss that with your doctor. Otherwise, you risk becoming unstable. With each episode, you increase the odds of developing another episode… leading to a worse prognosis. It is in your best interest to do everything carefully, following medical advice. Side effects? I feel you. I’ve had: Incredibly irritated skin. Episodic periods of loss of control over my eyes (acute dystonic reaction; oculogyric crisis; eyes stuck locked upward) which was terrifying. Medicine so sedating that it was hard to walk. So, I know that side effects can be unbearable. Discuss any concerns with your provider. This may be a dosage issue or an issue with the medication itself. 4. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find the “right fit.” The perfect medication dosage/brand/combo can be challenging to find. It takes a good relationship with a provider who is willing to really listen to the patient and ask the right questions. If you do not feel as if you are treated right, you can seek a referral. A strong connection matters. Please try not to get discouraged if it takes a while (or much longer) to find the “right fit” regarding treatment/your provider/your therapist. It takes effort, time and sometimes luck. Finding the “right fit” is life-changing and even life-saving. 5. Plan, plan, plan. Be prepared. Mood episodes happen. Crisis (full-blown mania, severe depression, etc) happen. Hospitalizations happen. Having a plan ahead of time can make it much smoother. What steps do you want to take? Who do you want to contact? Provider/therapist can help create a plan. 6. Don’t wait until “rock bottom” to seek help. You do not need to wait until “it gets worse.” I’ve heard this. I’ve felt it myself. You don’t need to reach a certain level of dysfunction or unbearable pain in order to justify seeking professional help. You are worthy of treatment now. If bipolar disorder is interfering with life, it is a problem. A lot of people call mental health care a “luxury” but honestly it is a necessity. Connecting to a provider while stable is easier than during a crisis! It is a lot easier to do preventative efforts than try to get help when a mood episode is already in full force. 7. Please do not lose your identity or sense of self in a diagnostic label. You are not bipolar disorder; you are a person who happens to have a mental health condition. This is simply a tool to help you on your journey to mental wellness and stability. This is not a label to fixate on or drag you down. Breathe. Even if you feel alone, you are far from it. There are millions of other people with bipolar disorder who have been in your shoes. It can be helpful to educate yourself on the condition and connect to others, finding a supportive mental health community (in-person or online such as on The Mighty). Wishing you the best, from one bipolar warrior to another.

What to Know After a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

What advice do you have for those newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Whew. What a question. As someone who lives openly with bipolar disorder (type 1), this is one I’ve heard a few times. Bipolar disorder is complex, overwhelming, draining, sometimes painful and often all-consuming. So, where do you even start? Well, below are a few simple pieces of advice to help out! 1. Block out all the noise. There will be many people who have all sorts of opinions about mental illness, bipolar disorder, psychiatry, therapy and anything related to it. Examples of what you may hear (from family, friends, significant other, peers, colleagues, bosses, teachers, etc.): “Bipolar bisorder doesn’t exist.” “Psych meds are for crazy people.” “You don’t need a doctor. Just do yoga.” “You aren’t bipolar. You don’t act/look bipolar.” “Mental illnesses are fake (e.g., just attention-seeking behavior).” Try not to take it personally. There are so, so many myths and misconceptions out there. It can take a lot of time to undo those stigmatizing manners of thinking about bipolar disorder and mental health conditions overall. Honestly, some people will never put in the effort. You have to learn which battles are worth fighting. If someone isn’t attempting to learn, maybe it’s not worth arguing with them. 2. Put your health first. This is your brain. Your. Brain. Let me tell you this: physical health vs mental health is really a misleading divide. Mental health impacts physical health; physical health impacts mental health. Think about it: Depression can drastically change your appetite, diet, energy level, ability to function, sleep and much more. All of these things have a massive toll on the body. In reverse, a “physical” condition can negatively impact one’s “mental” health, like when someone’s cancer diagnosis leads to depression. It is your brain. Take care of it! 3. Do not suddenly stop taking meds. Yeah, I know. I’ve done it. I bet most of the people with bipolar disorder you talk to have stopped at some point (without doctor’s approval). So, I am here to tell you from personal experience: just don’t. Why? It is dangerous. Sudden changes in the brain from stopping/altering meds without doctor oversight can lead to mania, depression, mixed episodes, suicidal/crisis episodes, etc. You can make things worse for yourself. If you feel great, guess what? That might be due to the meds. If you want to taper off, discuss that with your doctor. Otherwise, you risk becoming unstable. With each episode, you increase the odds of developing another episode… leading to a worse prognosis. It is in your best interest to do everything carefully, following medical advice. Side effects? I feel you. I’ve had: Incredibly irritated skin. Episodic periods of loss of control over my eyes (acute dystonic reaction; oculogyric crisis; eyes stuck locked upward) which was terrifying. Medicine so sedating that it was hard to walk. So, I know that side effects can be unbearable. Discuss any concerns with your provider. This may be a dosage issue or an issue with the medication itself. 4. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find the “right fit.” The perfect medication dosage/brand/combo can be challenging to find. It takes a good relationship with a provider who is willing to really listen to the patient and ask the right questions. If you do not feel as if you are treated right, you can seek a referral. A strong connection matters. Please try not to get discouraged if it takes a while (or much longer) to find the “right fit” regarding treatment/your provider/your therapist. It takes effort, time and sometimes luck. Finding the “right fit” is life-changing and even life-saving. 5. Plan, plan, plan. Be prepared. Mood episodes happen. Crisis (full-blown mania, severe depression, etc) happen. Hospitalizations happen. Having a plan ahead of time can make it much smoother. What steps do you want to take? Who do you want to contact? Provider/therapist can help create a plan. 6. Don’t wait until “rock bottom” to seek help. You do not need to wait until “it gets worse.” I’ve heard this. I’ve felt it myself. You don’t need to reach a certain level of dysfunction or unbearable pain in order to justify seeking professional help. You are worthy of treatment now. If bipolar disorder is interfering with life, it is a problem. A lot of people call mental health care a “luxury” but honestly it is a necessity. Connecting to a provider while stable is easier than during a crisis! It is a lot easier to do preventative efforts than try to get help when a mood episode is already in full force. 7. Please do not lose your identity or sense of self in a diagnostic label. You are not bipolar disorder; you are a person who happens to have a mental health condition. This is simply a tool to help you on your journey to mental wellness and stability. This is not a label to fixate on or drag you down. Breathe. Even if you feel alone, you are far from it. There are millions of other people with bipolar disorder who have been in your shoes. It can be helpful to educate yourself on the condition and connect to others, finding a supportive mental health community (in-person or online such as on The Mighty). Wishing you the best, from one bipolar warrior to another.