26 posts in the category “Bipolar disorder”

Meet Paul, an artist “touched with fire”

Posted February 11th, 2016 by

“I’m a filmmaker, husband of my NYU film school classmate, father of two children and bipolar. Of these labels, the one I’m certain stands out in your mind is bipolar – and not in a good way.”

Being bipolar is not something that new PatientsLikeMe member Paul has ever tried to hide. On the contrary, he sees it as a gift that has fueled his creativity. Paul has written, directed, edited and scored a feature-film debut inspired by his experiences with bipolar disorder. Touched with Fire, starring Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, opens tomorrow, February 12, 2016, in select theaters.

Paul received his diagnosis at age 24 when he thought a manic episode was a divine revelation. What happened after that illuminated the path his life would take.

“I was thrown into a hospital, pumped full of drugs and came down only to be told that I wasn’t experiencing anything divine; I just triggered a lifelong illness that would swing me from psychotic manias to suicidal depressions with progressive intensity until I would most likely fall into the 1-in-4 suicide statistic – unless I took my meds, which made me feel no emotion.”

Refusing to accept what every medical text seemed to tell him – that is, if he stayed on meds, he could live a “reasonably normal life,” he discovered Kay Jamison’s book, Touched with Fire. It’s the first medical text that connects bipolar and artistic genius, profiling some of the greatest artists in history, including Vincent Van Gogh, Lord Byron and Virginia Woolf.

“For the first time, I heard words, shining right through every medical book’s thick printed clinical ink, describing something I could be proud to be. I was like, Yeah, that’s what I am. I’m ‘touched with fire.’

Just as it would be destructive for him to deny “all four seasons of the bipolar fire,” he says that “it would be unwise for a doctor to deny that on those manic summer nights, when we look out our hospital windows, we can see the stars pulsing spirals of fire across the sky, as God lifts the veil and unfolds the entire universe before our eyes.”

If doctors and patients partnered better and trusted one another, Paul asks, “How much more receptive would a patient be to treatment if the patient was told that the treatment was to nurture a gift they had, instead of terminate a disease they had?”

He often references a quote by Vincent Van Gogh, who conceived the beloved “Starry Night” painting while gazing out a sanitarium window: 

“What am I in the eyes of most people? – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.”

And so, like a true artist, Paul is using his gift – that fire – to change the way people think of bipolar disorder and to encourage others “touched with fire” to harness the power of their gift.

Share your own experiences and connect with more than 70,000 members in the Mental Health forum on PatientsLikeMe.

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Allison’s story

Posted December 3rd, 2015 by

Last month we introduced Allison, a member of your 2015-2016 Team of Advisors living with bipolar II. She recently opened up in a video about how sharing her data on the site helped her recognize when she might have an episode, and partner better with her doctor to prevent new episodes from happening.

You can see how much good data can do. During the month of December, we’re celebrating #24DaysofGiving. Any data you share on the site will go toward a donation of up to $20,000 by PatientsLikeMe to Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island to help fund life-affirming wishes for seriously ill children.

Data for you. For others. For good.

 

 

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The highs and lows of bipolar disorder

Posted October 7th, 2015 by

Since it’s still Mental Illness Awareness Week, we thought we’d share some facts on bipolar disorders, found in this dynamic infographic. Read our previous post for more information on how to get involved during this year’s awareness week – and all year long. 

Did you know bipolar disorder is a worldwide condition?

  • In Australia there are around 238,957 people with bipolar disorder.
  • In the UK: 723,248 people.
  • Germany: 989,095
  • Canada: 390,094
  • Iran: 810,038
  • India and China, each have 12 – 15 million people who are bipolar

By the numbers…

  • 5.7 million: number of adult Americans affected by bipolar disorder (or 2.6% of population) today
  • 25: average age for beginning of bipolar disorder
  • 50/50: men and women get bipolar equally
  • 3X: But women are 3 times more likely to experience rapid cycling with B.D.
  • 6: Bipolar disorder is 6th leading cause of disability in the world.

For more facts about bipolar disorder, visit the full infographic. And don’t forget to share your experiences with bipolar disorder with the PatientsLikeMe bipolar community.

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Recapping with our Team of Advisors!

Posted June 19th, 2015 by

Many of you will remember meeting our inaugural Team of Advisors from when we first shared about this exciting team last year! This group of 14 were selected from over 500 applicants in the community and have been incredible in their dedication and desire to bring the patient voice directly to PatientsLikeMe. As the team is wrapping up their year-long term as advisors, we wanted to make sure we update the community on all the hard work they’ve done on your behalf!

First Ever In-Person Patient Summit in Cambridge
Your team of patient advisors travelled from all over the country to join us for 2 days here in Cambridge. They met with PatientsLikeMe staff, got a tour of the offices and began their collaboration together as a team!

Blog Series
The advisors have also been connecting with the broader community as part of an ongoing series here on the blog! This is an impressive group and we hope you’ll read through to learn more about the team.  Some of the interviews featured so far include profiles on BeckyLisaDanaEmilieKarla, Deb, AmySteve, Charles, Letitia and Kitty. If you haven’t had the chance to read their stories and what they’re passionate about yet, feel free to check these out!

Best Practices Guide for Researchers
As part of their mission, this group discussed how to make research more patient-centric and ways that researchers can learn to better engage with patients as partners. Out of this work, the team developed and published the ‘Best Practices Guide for Researchers’, a comprehensive written guide outlining steps for how researchers can meaningfully engage patients throughout the research process. You can hear more about the whole process in this exciting video from some members of the team as they discuss their experiences with the creation of this guide:

Community Champions
The advisors have been wonderful community champions throughout the year, providing invaluable feedback about what it’s like to be a person living with chronic conditions and managing their health. This team has weighed in on new research initiatives, served as patient liaisons and been vocal representatives for you and your communities here on PatientsLikeMe. Whether it was sitting down with a research team to give their thoughts on new projects, discussing their experiences with clinical trials, giving feedback about medical record keeping or opening up about patient empowerment – this group has been tireless in representing the patient voice and PatientsLikeMe community!

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2014 recap – a year of sharing in the PatientsLikeMe community

Posted December 23rd, 2014 by

Another year has come and gone here at PatientsLikeMe, and as we started to look back at who’s shared their experiences, we were quite simply amazed. More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions opened up for a blog interview in 2014. But that’s just the start. Others have shared about their health journeys in short videos and even posted about their favorite food recipes.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who shared their experiences this year – the PatientsLikeMe community is continuing to change healthcare for good, and together, we can help each other live better as we move into 2015.

Team of Advisors
In September, we announced the first-ever PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, a group of 14 members that will work with us this year on research-related initiatives. They’ve been giving regular feedback about how PatientsLikeMe research can be even more helpful, including creating a “guide” that highlights new standards for researchers to better engage with patients. We introduced everyone to three so far, and look forward to highlighting the rest of team in 2015.

  • Meet Becky – Becky is a former family nurse practitioner, and she’s a medically retired flight nurse who is living with epilepsy and three years out of treatment for breast cancer.
  • Meet Lisa – Lisa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2008, and just recently stopped working as a full-time executive due to non-motor PD symptoms like loss of function, mental fatigue and daytime insomnolence. Her daughter was just married in June.
  • Meet Dana – Dana is a poet and screenplay writer living in New Jersey and a very active member of the mental health and behavior forum. She’s living with bipolar II, and she’s very passionate about fighting the stigma of mental illness.

The Patient Voice
Five members shared about their health journeys in short video vignettes.

  • Garth – After Garth was diagnosed with cancer, he made a promise to his daughter Emma: he would write 826 napkin notes so she had one each day in her lunch until she graduated high school.
  • Letitia – has been experiencing seizures since she was ten years old, and she turned to others living with epilepsy on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Bryan – Bryan passed away earlier in 2014, but his memory lives on through the data he shared about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was also an inaugural member of the Team of Advisors.
  • Becca – Becca shared her experiences with fibromyalgia and how she appreciates her support on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Ed – Ed spoke about his experiences with Parkinson’s disease and why he thinks it’s all a group effort.

Patient interviews
More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions shared their stories in blog interviews.

Members living with PTSD:

  • David Jurado spoke in a Veteran’s podcast about returning home and life after serving
  • Lucas shared about recurring nightmares, insomnia and quitting alcohol
  • Jess talked about living with TBI and her invisible symptoms
  • Jennifer shared about coping with triggers and leaning on her PatientsLikeMe community

Member living with Bipolar:

  • Eleanor wrote a three-part series about her life with Bipolar II – part 1, part 2, part 3

Members living with MS:

  • Fred takes you on a visual journey through his daily life with MS
  • Anna shared about the benefits of a motorized scooter, and a personal poem
  • Ajcoia, Special1, and CKBeagle shared how they raise awareness through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Nola and Gary spoke in a Podcast on how a PatientsLikeMe connection led to a new bathroom
  • Tam takes you into a day with the private, invisible pain of MS
  • Debbie shared what it’s like to be a mom and blogger living with MS
  • Shep spoke about keeping his sense of humor through his journey with MS
  • Kim shared about her fundraising efforts through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Jazz1982 shared how she eliminates the stigma surrounding MS
  • Starla talked about MS awareness and the simple pleasure of riding a motorcycle

Members living with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis:

Members living with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Dropsies shared about her frustrating Parkinson’s diagnosis experience and how diabetes might impact her future eating habits

Members living with ALS:

  • Steve shared the story behind his film, “My Motor Neuron Disease Made Easier”
  • Steven shared how technology allows him to participate in many events
  • Steve shared about creating the Steve Saling ALS residence and dealing with paramedics
  • Steve told why he participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge
  • Dee revealed her tough decision to insert a feeding tube
  • John shared about his cross-country road trip with his dog, Molly

Members living with lung cancer:

  • Vickie shared about her reaction to getting diagnosed, the anxiety-filled months leading up to surgery and what recovery was like post-operation
  • Phil shared the reaction she had after her blunt diagnosis, her treatment options and her son’s new tattoo

Members living with multiple myeloma:

  • AbeSapien shared about his diagnosis experience with myeloma, the economic effects of his condition and his passion for horseback riding

Caregiver for a son living with AKU:

  • Alycia and Nate shared Alycia’s role and philosophy as caregiver to young Nate, who is living with AKU

Food for Thought
Many members shared their recipes and diet-related advice on the forums in 2014.

  • April – first edition, and what you’re making for dinner
  • May – nutrition questions and the primal blueprint
  • June – getting sleepy after steak and managing diet
  • July – chocolate edition
  • August – losing weight and subbing carbs
  • September – fall weather and autumn recipes
  • Dropsies – shared her special diabetes recipes for Diabetes Awareness Month

Patients as Partners
More than 6,000 members answered questions about their health and gave feedback on the PatientsLikeMe Open Research Exchange (ORE) platform. ORE gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their opinion about each question in a researcher’s health measure. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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It’s time to recognize mental illness in October

Posted October 6th, 2014 by

Think about this for a second; according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 4 people, or 25% of American adults, will be diagnosed with a mental illness this year. On top of that, 20 percent of American children (1 in 5) will also be diagnosed. And so for 7 days, October 5th to 11th, we’ll be spreading the word for Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW).

What exactly is a mental illness? According to NAMI, A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. [They] are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.”

There are many types of mental illnesses. The list includes conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar II, depression, schizophrenia and more. MIAW is about recognizing the effects of every condition and learning what it’s like to live day-to-day with a mental illness.

This week, you can get involved by reading and sharing NAMI’s fact sheet on mental illness and using NAMI’s social media badges and images on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #MIAW14 if you are sharing your story online. And if you’re living with a mental illness, reach out to the mental health community on PatientsLikeMe – there, you’ll find others who know exactly what you’re going through.

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Getting to know our 2014 Team of Advisors – Dana

Posted October 3rd, 2014 by

Just last month, we announced the coming together of our first-ever, patient-only Team of Advisors – a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members that will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions. Over the coming months, we’d like to introduce you to each and every one of them in a new blog series: Getting to know our 2014 Team of Advisors. First up, Dana.

About Dana (aka roulette67)

Dana is a poet and screenplay writer living in New Jersey. She is very active in the Mental Health and Behavior forum. She is open to discussing the ups and downs of living with bipolar II and helping others through their journey. She has been through weight loss surgery three times and is very interested in the connectivity of diet to mental health—she believes that psychiatrist’s need to be aware of the whole person, and have an understanding about diet, physical health and mental health, not just focus on medication.

Dana is passionate about fighting the stigma of mental illness, which causes people to self-medicate. She believes there needs to be more positive examples on television. Here’s a fun fact about Dana: she won the people’s choice (top voted by peers) award in the PatientsLikeMe video contest for her video, I am not alone.

Dana on being part of the Team of Advisors 

It’s really quite an honor, considering the amount of people on the site. I’ve discovered what a wonderful group the advisor’s are and have had some meaningful conversations with a few of them online. I appreciate the opportunity in helping others in anyway I can to understand what we go thru on a daily basis. By getting a glimpse into the life of someone with an illness, I feel that I am educating them and helping them understand a person they might love or know or have dealings with in their own lives. And hopefully open their eyes a bit. 

Dana’s view on patient centeredness

Like those commercials for the Cancer Institute, where there are more than one doctor or professional to treat the whole patient instead of just the symptoms of one illness. Many times when you are mentally ill, it seems your body also suffers in physical ways, your diet also becomes poor. Patient-centered to me means that the doctor should look at your diet, your physical and your mental health. Just asking if you are taking your meds is not enough. Psychiatrist seem like pill dispensers and then dismiss you from their office and therapists talk, but really have no interest in the meds. More of a team effort is needed.

Dana’s contribution to researchers at the University of Maryland

PatientsLikeMe recently invited the University of Maryland (UMD) to our Cambridge office for a three day consortium that kicked off a partnership funded by their PATIENTS program, which aims to collect patient input and feedback on all phases of research, from ideas to published results. As one of the working sessions we invited Dana to join us remotely, to discuss her journey with bipolar II and share her perspective and expertise as a patient. Here’s what she experienced:

I was a little nervous at first, hoping I was able to answer their questions and provide them with what they needed to know. The questions were pretty specific at times and I found that to be interesting. Because it showed me that they really wanted to know and understand my views. I enjoyed the experience and hope that my interview helped them in some way.

I was very honest. Explained what it is like to suddenly become bipolar when you had no reference point in your life to prepare you for the physical and mental storm it brings. I stressed how it’s a 24/7 – 365 a day battle, even when the meds are working. At least in my experience it has been. I feel this was an important point to make and that they should consider this when dealing with participants in their research.

I would tell researchers moving forward to always remember the patient is more than a test subject. That what you are researching addresses them on a daily basis and some days, the best they can do is just get out of bed. That some type of break should be considered and might even work to their advantage.

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“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Eleanor writes about her journey with bipolar II: Part 3

Posted July 7th, 2014 by

Eleanor (right), her daughter Kalea (left) and granddaughter Malia.

Over the past few months, Eleanor (redblack) has been sharing about her bipolar II on the blog, and today, we’re posting the final part of her series (thank you Eleanor for being so open and taking the time to share with everyone)!

Eleanor talks about her relationship with her psychiatrist Jon and how they recently sealed “nearly four decades of struggle, pain and healing.” Read on for the final chapter, and if you missed Eleanor’s two previous entries, check them out here.

 

 

 

My Psychiatrist of Thirty-Seven Years: Jon Betwee

What can I possibly say? Jon Betwee became my psychiatrist thirty-seven years ago, a month after we moved to Maui from western New York. He retired February 1st, but not before personally placing a few of his patients with one of the very limited number of therapists here. I was fortunate to be in that group. I am seeing a female nurse practitioner, licensed to write prescriptions and well-versed in bipolar disorder. As my PatientsLikeMe friend, Kitty, said to me last week, “She’s no Jon, but she just might turn out OK yet.”

Jon is very reserved outwardly, but extremely discerning and compassionate inside. He became the best friend I’ve ever had and the rock to which I clung whenever I was drowning. Jon was available 24/7, at home as well as the office. He treated me for years for severe clinical depression. Twice during the thirty-seven years I was bedridden because of severe weight loss and inability to eat in the depths of my despair. Both times, Jon came to our home for sessions until I was strong enough to go back to his office.

I was hospitalized once in Honolulu and given – it was discovered later – a series of medically incorrect electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments. Jon later sent me to Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, where I received excellent therapy with my individual doctor, attended classes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Art Therapy, and received a thorough examination of my diagnosis, etc. I was also given ECT treatments, which I stopped. I consider ECT to be extremely inhumane.

About ten years ago Jon changed my diagnosis to bipolar II. He saw me through two suicide attempts. Frequently he communicated with experts on the mainland concerning my symptoms and medication. I was welcome to call him during the night when violent nightmares drove me to sit in the living room and ponder the value of ever leaving again, a darkness which had become my home. I seldom actually called. I would say to myself, “If it gets worse, I’ll call.” Then it would get worse and I’d say, “Well, if it gets worse than this, I’ll call.” Eventually the sun would begin to rise, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief. I had made it through another night. The important thing was not that I called, but that I knew I could call.

In my frequent cycling, it has taken years to accept his constant observations that when I am hypomanic, I think I am “cured” and ignore any and all red flags. When I am depressed, I cannot remember the healthy periods and feel it would be better for myself and my family to die. Having worked in a settlement house and been active in the Civil Rights Movement, I found a strong, liberal ally in Jon. Over the years we exchanged many books. He introduced me to Kay Redfield Jamison whose bipolar caused her to frequently change her hair color, re-arrange furniture and spend money she didn’t have on things, often for others, which seemed unbelievably desirable, rivaling “the rings of Saturn” in their beauty. Just – like – me. He gave me “Darkness Visible” by William Styron. It was like looking in a mirror. Jon studied my extended family and explained that I had come by bipolar disorder honestly through genetics. This relieved much of my guilt over an illness that frightened my children and challenged my husband.

Over the years, I have been on just about every medication that applies to depression and bipolar II. Some were ineffective; some had side effects severe enough to make me stop them. For two years my main medication has been Selegiline. Jon expressed caution about continuing it just before my therapy ended. Since then I have discontinued it with my therapist’s approval because of nightmares, weight gain and possibility of liver damage.

Two years ago, Jon gave me a detailed printed sheet for recording daily my mood levels, hours slept, and my place on a scale that went from deep depression to extreme mania. I also would write in any event that caused cycling. At each session he checked it, asking questions and pointing out how items I recorded affected my bipolar.

When he changed offices a few years ago, he gave me a painting of a depressed woman which had hung in his former office that I’d admired for years. It dominates my living room. I mention this to show how tuned in Jon was to his patients and how he looked for ways to be kind. There was a time when I couldn’t pay, but he assured me it could be made up whenever we could afford it. All this is vital to treating bipolar. Our lives are spent on a rollercoaster. Our loved ones are pained and don’t understand. A therapist who respects you, isn’t puzzled by your rapidly changing behavior, is never judgemental or impatient makes us feel we do have value and maybe continuing the struggle to live with bipolar is worthwhile. That’s why I am here, able to answer this survey.

Last August Jon told me he was retiring. I cried. For forty-five minutes. He said it would take some time, but he would help me make the transition. During the ensuing months we decided to meet twice a week, sifted through possible therapists until zeroing in on one, and tidied up a major issue that had plagued me on and off for years. I wished my last visit would be cheerful, showing my gratitude for all he had done, but that seemed impossible since every session now ended in tears. Before the last session I spent time preparing for it. I gained the realization that 1) my husband had become my main support 2) my friend, Kitty, on PatientsLikeMe – and other members – would continue to give me help and strength and 3) I reviewed what I’d learned from Jon over the years.

I was able to come to the last session in peace with a smile. We laughed about things that happened over the years. He said he would always be available by phone and we parted with a warm hug, sealing nearly four decades of struggle, pain and healing. I will always have what he’s given me. It is enough.

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“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Eleanor writes about her journey with bipolar II: Part 2

Posted June 14th, 2014 by

Back in May, Eleanor (redblack) wrote about her some of her experiences with bipolar II to help spread the word for Mental Health Awareness Month. She’s continuing this month by sharing about the personal support system she’s developed through a wonderful relationship with her husband Jim, her special bond with a particular mood community member and how she’s learned about the value of sharing the “whys” of her bipolar II.

If you’ve been following along, keep an eye out! We’re going to post the third and final part of her interview in July. Miss the first part? Read that here.

The benefits of spousal support

My husband of thirty-seven years, Jim, is my strongest and most dependable support. We met forty-two years ago teaching high school in New York State. I was the single mother of two boys, four and five, who are Native American and Black on their biological father’s side. Jim was a Catholic priest. The boys soon adopted him as a father figure. We married five years later and moved to Maui. Jim adopted Mike and Mark, and later, we had James and Kalea. Before our marriage, he had already helped me through one suicide attempt.

Over the years, we have always felt we were destined to be together. I can honestly say that in forty-two years, he has never even raised his voice to me. Because of abuse in childhood and my first, brief marriage, I could not have borne it. During our marriage, he has seen me through three other suicide attempts and multiple ECT treatments.

He knows my moods and when they change. During depression, he is my cheerleader, safe harbor and my memory, celebrating the loving, talented person he believes me to be, and reminding me of all my accomplishments. When I am in the pit, he makes certain I know he is with me, but never tries to force an affection frozen within me.

As I worked the last six months to survive without my retiring psychiatrist of thirty-seven years, I have become more aware that Jim is the center of my support and always has been – not my doctor. As this realization grew, our relationship deepened. I thought I knew what a loving marriage was. However, our current relationship is stronger and more beautiful than ever. He is the one person I know who, while having no real experience of being bipolar, knows what to say, how to provide safety and strength, and how to let go when I am able to enter life again.

Support from the members of PatientsLikeMe

After ignoring the other members of PatientsLikeMe for the first few years of membership, I felt compelled to respond when several people commented on my InstantMe daily entries. I had mentioned the difficulty of finding a therapist to replace my retiring psychiatrist, and one member in particular wanted to help me. She lives in a major city and suggested I go to the nearest hospital associated with a medical school where there would be residents available for counseling. I explained here on Maui, we raise pineapples and sugar cane, and most jobs are related to the tourist industry. Hawaii is expensive and lacks mainland amenities such as many doctors from which to choose, support groups for mental health, and large shopping malls (which seem to be a priority for would-be residents).

So Kitty became my sounding board, my comrade-in-arms in the challenging world of bipolar II, and most of all, my friend! I discovered I was often more open to what she had to say than when my doctor said the same thing. Being put together very much like me, she had a perception of a situation I might find perplexing. She cut to the heart of the matter. Once, she suggested a different take on the puzzling behavior of a family member, and after following her advice, the relationship was mended.

She is funny and optimistic despite many problems, and with pretty much daily communication, we manage to keep track of each other’s ups and downs. It raises my damaged self-esteem to be able to encourage Kitty and others. I have learned that friends and family, although well-meaning, are often clueless as to the nature and future of being bipolar. Seeing from PatientsLikeMe members that this is pretty much a constant, I’ve been more at peace and even forgiving toward comments such as, “I’ve tried to help you, but you don’t make any effort,” or “Hasn’t that doctor found the right pill yet?”

Members of PatientsLikeMe also assured me by the tone of some of their entries that I am entitled to lose hope and to want to – and actually do – give up occasionally, and even be quite irritable! None of us are saints. We often feel like the last soldier standing in a curious and never-ending war – and that’s OK!

I could have used their wisdom and comfort years ago, but I’m so grateful I have access to them now. Thank you, staff of PatientsLikeMe, for making that possible.

Using patient charts and InstantMe tools

As for the charts and InstantMe tools, I am making more use of them as time passes. The charts are very helpful – and surprising – since my memory has been seriously impaired by depression. I find myself wondering, “How was it last summer?” and then can go to the charts and see immediately how I felt. Remembering the events of those months, I am often glad to see I handled things well, or sometimes, that I struggled terribly and this struggle accounted for the relationship that fell apart at that time. Seeing and using the daily InstantMe e-mail is a reminder and little push to work again.

Now that I have connections with other people on PatientsLikeMe, I find myself always filling in the comment section on InstantMe, something I originally never did. This is because I now realize the value in sharing the “whys” of my InstantMe selection. I get feedback from others and formulating a reason for my choice helps clarify it in my mind.

Reading past comments of my InstantMe, I’ve been able to spot triggers that appear again and again. I learn what feeling and experiences should be red flags for me. Often having questions or doubts about a medication, it’s so helpful to be able to find out what others have experienced with it. After all, my doctor isn’t taking it. Other members of PatientsLikeMe are!

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“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Eleanor writes about her journey with bipolar II: Part I

Posted May 9th, 2014 by

Eleanor and her husband, Jim

 

We just posted that May is Mental Health Month, and so we wanted to help raise awareness by getting the patient perspective out there. PatientsLikeMe member Eleanor (redblack) first experienced bipolar II as a young woman, and she’s been managing her mental health with the help of her family and psychiatrist ever since.

She shared about her journey in a three-part interview series, and we’ll be posting one part each month. In this first edition, Steubenville talked about how twinkling Christmas tree lights gave way to thoughts of loneliness, how life in a convent seemed like the right plan, and how she learned to recognize oncoming depression and mania. Read on for her full interview and keep an eye out for part two in June!


Navigating the ups and downs of a diagnosis

Although I was diagnosed with bipolar II well into adulthood, I feel I experienced it very early in life. On a particularly joyous Christmas Day when I was about twelve, as the dusk fell early on a typical western New York winter afternoon, I stood alone, gazing at the twinkling Christmas tree, and suddenly thought, “This is how it will always be: cold, and dark, and lonely.” This is symbolic of the way I may still cycle during a single day, many times for no apparent reason. At that time, even on happy, fun-filled days, something I may have heard or seen might plunge me into a very dark place and hurl me into a struggle to hold back the tears.

Spiritual highs, melancholic music, lyrics of hymns and the all-encompassing silence of five years in the convent seemed to fit me like a glove. Bouncing from the precious fellowship of the sisters to sad reflection on the passion of Christ seemed normal to me, and I felt I had found the life I’d always craved. Later, when one of my four children whined, I’d reply, “Remember, the world is cold and life is sad,” words I’d often sung as a nun and always felt were such an apt description of life.

Besides the frequent cycling, I’ve experienced other unwelcome features of bipolar such as periods of irresponsible spending and lack of judgment in relationships. So often I found myself standing aside and observing a self who repeatedly cast aside her values and self-pride to pursue an elusive and imaginary gratification.

It took years of therapy and the patience of a saintly psychiatrist for me to begin to understand I had frequent mood shifts caused by mixed up brain circuits – and not existential, undisputable thoughts. First, the universe was amazing, full of possibilities, and anyone who disagreed was to be pitied. Then, suddenly, all roads led to hell. I was totally worthless and no one valued me. I could prove it!

My psychiatrist of thirty-seven years, Jon Betwee, helped me understand that when I was hypomanic, I could not remember depression. When deep depression took over, I was convinced all was lost forever, and the best way to spare others and myself further pain was to die. I tried – four times.

Now, when I see myself feeling a little too “high,” and I think I am funny, have brilliant ideas to share, and life cannot move fast enough, I tally these signs as being hypomanic and put the brakes on. No, I am not happiness and wisdom personified. I put in place some deep breathing, a quiet time of reading, or long conversations with my supportive, knowledgeable husband. Triggers can be too hectic or too frequent and demanding. Eliminating some social gatherings and frenetic activity helps.

I now recognize the approach of depression when I re-play sad and tragic DVDs, cry over everything or imagine hidden and antagonistic messages beneath the conversation of family and friends. Triggers may be letting myself get very fatigued, ruminating about past hurts, making mental lists of all my mistakes and weaknesses. Now I make myself get up, start a task that will absorb and re-direct my attention, and review “What would Jon suggest I do?”

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“Mind your health” – Recognizing mental health in May

Posted May 2nd, 2014 by

This May marks the 65th anniversary of Mental Health Month, which has been observed by Mental Health America (MHA) since 1949. The MHA’s 2014 monthly theme is “Mind your health,” and it’s all about building public awareness for mental health and wellness while learning about the complex connections between the mind and the body.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 26% of Americans ages 18 and older are currently living with a diagnosable mental health condition.1 That’s about 1 in every 4 adults. In fact, NIMH says that mental health conditions “are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada.” They can cause mood swings, anxiety, personality changes and more, and many times, the subtler emotional symptoms can be very tough to describe.

The mood community at PatientsLikeMe is more than 33,000 strong, and in addition to tracking symptoms and donating personal data through detailed health profiles, members are sharing their experiences in the PatientsLikeMe forum. People are talking about everything from sleep habits and mood research to favorite emotional movies, and they’re also sharing photos symbolizing how they feel. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, connect with others who are experiencing the same and know what you’re going through.

And if you’re looking for a few ways to raise awareness for mental health this month, check out some of the MHA’s suggestions below.

Don’t forget keep an eye out for a new monthly interview series next week. PatientsLikeMe member Steubenville will be sharing her experience with bipolar II in a three-part series, and part 1 will kick off Mental Health Month. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 later on this summer!

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1 http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml


National Depression Screening Day and National Bipolar Awareness Day

Posted October 10th, 2013 by

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As part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, today is both National Depression Screening Day and National Bipolar Awareness Day. It’s all part of a larger effort to raise awareness about the mental conditions that affect the lives of millions of people around the world.

So what are the stats on depression?[1]

  • Depression affects as many as ten percent of all people in the United States, an incredible 30 million people
  • One out of four young adults will experience a depressive episode by age 24
  • 10% to 15% of all depressions are triggered by other medical conditions (such as thyroid disease, cancer or neurologic problems) or by medications

Here are the facts about bipolar disorder:[2]

  • More than 10 million Americans are living with this condition, which is characterized by extreme mood swings and intense emotional states
  • More than half of patients are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25
  • Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally

But at PatientsLikeMe, we know that patients aren’t just a statistic, and that facts don’t tell the whole story. Your journey is unique, and this is why more than 15,000 PatientsLikeMe members with depression and more than 4,000 with bipolar disorder are sharing their stories with the greater mental health community and talking about what it’s actually like to live with these two conditions. In the past, you told us what depression feels like, and today, we are raising awareness for depression and bipolar disorder and learning to live better. Click here to sign in and share your experience today.


[1] http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/info-and-facts/depression.aspx

[2] http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Mental_Illnesses/Bipolar1/Home_-_What_is_Bipolar_Disorder_.htm