My name is Ross Smith and unfortunately I suffer from bipolar disorder. I've found every day it gets harder and harder for me to cope; at some points they lead to serious panic attacks that I can’t control. What do you think I should do cause my parents say I fake it and doctors don't seem to be interested either.
JD Husky (age 25, United Kingdom)
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Are you sure you have bipolar disorder? Panic attacks are not the same thing as being bipolar. How did you come to the conclusion that you were? Bipolar disorder is a disease in which sometimes you are extremely depressed; this can be followed by manic episodes, although sometimes irritable and grouchy. Sufferers do not necessarily alternate between highs and lows, however. For example, they might have lots of depressive episodes but only occasional, and relatively mild, periods of being “up.” It’s like having your nerves go from sluggish to hyperactive in an unpredictable way. Have you been formally diagnosed?
Bipolar disorder is not only about one’s mood. The illness can also impair your memory and ability to concentrate, affect appetite and sleep, and give you anxiety attacks (this last one sounds like you). Suicidal thoughts are also a risk; if that happens to you, please get help immediately. You can call the national suicide hotline at 800-273-TALK or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. There is no charge. For the United Kingdom, go to http://www.samaritans.org/ or call +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90.
Being bipolar can make life difficult, to say the least. It makes it harder to form relationships, hold down a job, and makes you more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction, high blood pressure, migraines, and even heart disease and diabetes. Because of how it affects mood and impulsiveness, it might cause you to make rash decisions that are not in your best interest (like deciding to quit a job or break off a relationship for no good reason), and it can cause your self-esteem to plummet.
Many people don’t realize how incredibly complex bipolar disorder is, and no two people who have show exactly the same symptoms. Medical professionals have developed three categories for the disorder, therefore: 1) Bipolar I, which is the kind people usually think of with extreme highs and lows of mood; 2) Bipolar II, which involves milder highs (hypomania) coupled with severe depression; and 3) Cyclothymia, the milder form which is marked by cycles of hypomania and less severe depression.
If some or all of this describes you, then, yes, you could be bipolar, and if your doctor acts uninterested, then I would find another doctor. Too bad you can’t do the same for parents who are unconcerned about their own child’s health or call him a liar.
Some good news: even without medication, there are a few things you can do, non-medical-wise, to ease symptoms, including such simple things getting enough rest (and doing so at the same hours each day), eating healthy foods, getting exercise, and doing other techniques (yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, a relaxing hobby) to reduce stress. You can also keep a journal tracking your mood swings and other symptoms, which might help you figure out if there are some things in your life and environment that contribute to these episodes. People with bipolar disorder can, with help, lead normal and happy lives.
If you can’t get help from your family or can’t get a doctor, contact the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Their website has a wealth of brochures, and they offer peer support as well. Visit their site at www.DBSAlliance.org/FindSupport/. The DBSA is in Chicago. You can still take advantage of their publications, but you might want to contact an organization in the UK, so for that I would recommend Bipolar UK at http://www.bipolaruk.org.uk/.
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