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Severity of Bipolar Disorder and Views on Treatment

December 3, 2012 Natasha Tracy

You’d let them take an ice pick to your brain if you thought it would help.

Bipolar disorder impacts different people differently. For some people, bipolar disorder is immanently treatable. These people find doctors, therapy and medication and walk off into the sunset with few bipolar symptoms left with which to contend. These people lead the same lives as everyone else and besides (likely) controlling certain lifestyle factor that contribute to stability, they don’t have to think about bipolar disorder on a daily basis.

Then there are the people who are more affected by the illness. These are people for whom treatment partially works. They likely find doctors, therapy and medication too, but in spite of best efforts, they live with bipolar symptoms every day. These people might live your ordinary life or might live a life that is more affected by the illness, such as one where they can only work part-time.

And then there are the people that are severely affected by bipolar. Even with treatment these people tend to have intractable moods and likely can’t work because of them. These people do not live average lives. They live lives dictated by the illness and the treatment. These people are in pain every day.

And it’s only chance that places you in one of those three groups.

Depending on the Severity of Bipolar, You May See Treatment Differently

And depending on what group you’re in, you may see the disease differently and you likely see treatment differently too. For example, if you’re in group one, and let’s say you have a well-controlled disease while only taking one medication, you might look at someone on six medications like they have tentacles growing out of their head. We have a tendency to judge each other, even within the community (which is sad).

But the fact of the matter is, some people with bipolar disorder are in pain on a daily basis. For some people with bipolar disorder, life is not worth living. For some people with bipolar disorder, every single day is the struggle of a lifetime and when they go to bed at night they have no idea how they made it through another day.

I identify with these people more than with the other groups.

Bipolar Severity and Pain

There are things about me that are high-functioning, to be sure, but I have felt that life wasn’t worth living for major chunks out of my life. And I can’t express to you the desperation. I can’t express to you what it’s like only to want to die but to deny yourself that desire every single day. I can’t express what it’s like to know that tomorrow will be the same. It all will be without meaning. It all will be with excruciating pain.

And I cannot possibly express to you much anyone in chronic pain wants it to end.

Because if I could express those things to you, you would understand that almost any price is worth paying to begin living life again. It is worth almost anything to want to get out of bed in the morning. It is worth almost anything to feel pleasure. It is worth almost anything to have the feeling that you are doing more than merely “existing” on this planet.

Ice Picks in the Brain

And as for ice picks in the brain? Well, that’s not something I would recommend to anyone. But there is a radical treatment out there known as deep brain stimulation where electrodes are being implanted directly into the brain and, who knows, maybe that’s something I’ll have to look into one day. And if you don’t understand why a human being would let someone give them a craniotomy and surgically implant electrodes into their brain with all the risks that entails then you simply don’t understand pain, that’s all.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, December 3). Severity of Bipolar Disorder and Views on Treatment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/12/severity-of-bipolar-disorder-and-views-on-treatment



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, Instagram and Facebook.

lisa
says:
March, 18 2015 at 4:16 pm
Just read this . . .I know I'm about 2 years late! I thought that the piece you wrote was beautiful. I'm in the 3rd category. I get it.
Thank you
Michael Hullett
says:
February, 26 2013 at 9:16 am
I fall between the second and third category. I've never actually known anyone in the first. At least, not that I'm aware of. I don't know if I would ever consent to wearing the label of having a brain based illness if the symptoms were mild and easily controlled.

I hate hope. I hate it, but I need it. I have to let it be a part of my life, even though, I will forever be convinced it will be proven false. I will hide from it, I will run from it, but I know I will eventually turn and embrace it. I always have before.

Funny thing. If I was saying that to people who haven't lived with this illness, I would spend pages now, trying to explain what I mean. Thank you Natasha, for providing a place where doing that isn't necessary.
Monica
says:
February, 19 2013 at 1:40 pm
C, my heart aches for you. I'm going through a tough time right now too, and I've been feeling hopelessness, but please hang in there, and I promise to too. I think I'm between 2 and 3, but more toward 3 right now. My doctor and I just can't seem to get my meds right, and she's mentioned electroshock treatment briefly, and that scared the hell out of me. I had a 2nd opinion appointment with another doctor in the practice, but that was useless. I really feel like I need a new doctor, but haven't done anything yet. I've tried therapy, but I don't get anything out of it and I feel like talking about my BPD gives it more power. I'm so frustrated! Thanks for the opportunity to vent anonymously.
C
says:
January, 13 2013 at 9:13 am
I'm in my 50's and fed up with it all;I cannot see living with these illnesses another 20 or 30 years without more relief. At least with cancer you get to die if you want!
So far all drug therapy has made me more manic and I OD'd on Xanax and alcohol and spent 4 days in ICU and 20 plus days in the hospital three different times just this year alone so now they won't give me Xanax for the panic. Weed makes me more paranoid and alcohol gives me a headache. Where is the hope!? Where is the fun?! I can't even concentrate on these wonderful blogs you write! I want to! I can tell they are full of good information but the depression takes over and I can't keep my eyes open. DAMN DAMN DAMN DAMN DAMN!
Karen
says:
January, 6 2013 at 12:39 am
Thankyou for your article, I see myself as moving between the middle group and last group. I feel I have had this illness from a young age, thus did not see that, what I was experiencing as a child was different from other peoples experience. I thought it was just my charactor. However things got worst and I was eventually diganosed after a hospital addmission. I know the mental pain that you speak off and have attempted suicide 4 times since I was 12 and wished for death a millian times. I try so hard to get on with life like other people and feel such a waste of space when I can't. It did not help when I was in hospital last, it was the first time I told some one I was feeling suicidal, and was told by the psychiatrist that my thinking was selfish, and that I should consider the effect on my family. I had thought of my family and I felt it was unfair to put them through this illness time after time, and that it would be better for them if I was not there. But they seem to forget you are mentally ill and not reasoning logically. They expect you to fuction like well people, and yet they are in mental health.
Janine
says:
December, 12 2012 at 7:01 am
Donna, I completely agree with you. When I had ECT my brain, soul, and body were not intact. Unfortunately, for me it did not work but many others find different degrees of relief from this treatment. I am considering TMS right now. I was diagnosed twenty-nine years ago and I have to say that the medications have improved, but still carry unpleasant side effects. I see three MH professionals each week...my psychiatrist for medication management, my psychologist for therapy, and another psychiatrist for EMDR to treat my PTSD. I average two hospitalizations per year for symptoms that are not treated my medication, therapy, and EMDR.

Is my way "right" or "the only way?" Not at all. This is what I am doing right now to try and deal with the symptoms caused by my bi-polar disorder and my PTSD. I hope and pray for a better tomorrow, but as I get older my symptoms seem to increase and the medications work less and less. (I have been on over forty medications in my lifetime.)

VenusH: I applaud you for expressing what works for you even though you knew it might offend. I was offended at first, but after reading your second post and spending some time thinking about it, I had to admit that everybody who suffers from mental illness has different experiences.

Natasha: Thank you so much for your article. It was well written, thoughtful, thought provoking, and obviously from the heart. This is the first time I have responded to any type of article, blog, or post.
Sharon
says:
December, 9 2012 at 12:04 am
I totally identify with Natasha. Thank you for just putting it out there in all it's ugliness. We have to live it. It hurts, it's hell. We have good days thank God, but many many days are such a struggle, we wonder why? just why?
Donna
says:
December, 6 2012 at 12:18 pm
"For me if it would be ECT or death… I’d pick death with my brain and soul intact."

I have to point out what should be obvious, if it has come to the point of ECT then either your brain, soul, or both are already not intact. If at my worst someone offered me a tiny glimmer of hope, then barring any moral objections I might have, I would grab on to it with everything I had. Pain of all kinds destroys people and it's understandable that people will do anything to make it stop.
Gabrielle Blackman-Sheppard
says:
December, 6 2012 at 7:32 am
Highly intelligent article as always.
some girl
says:
December, 6 2012 at 4:45 am
Or you're in the fourth group who can't get help so you just go along and try to hide it from everyone. And because you can't hide it, people think you're a lazy worthless human, even if you tell them what's wrong with you.
VenusH
says:
December, 6 2012 at 1:24 am
"I validate you that taking medication is shameful in your own eyes for you but why do you delight in encouraging others that it is empowering not to take medication? That you are better than those that take it to keep your mind untainted?"

no, that is NOT what I was saying. I am just refuting cutesy/condescending "that's all" conclusion. Taking meds is not shameful, it's like taking a painkiller. But eh, taking a painkiller doesn't make you brave and wonderful, it's just a solution for you.

And people are on social security even if they take meds, so it's not "I take mades, I am smart, you don't because you either don't suffer as greatly as I do, or are stupid".


And I am not claiming I am all rational in my position. I use no "that's alls" and "oh, yeses" as if I was the ultimate truth carrier.
Erin
says:
December, 5 2012 at 4:25 pm
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to bloom.
Erin
says:
December, 5 2012 at 3:13 pm
I validate you that taking medication is shameful in your own eyes for you but why do you delight in encouraging others that it is empowering not to take medication? That you are better than those that take it to keep your mind untainted? That you are doing it all on your own and refuse help? Your mind's chemical structure is already messed up. Egos are dangerous. The "Ego" always ends up destroying. I? I am not ashamed and I still have pride and I take medication. If your worry is that you won't have your "edge" or fear losing part of your personality to the effects of a medication, your personality and "edge" will always be there, it's a give and take. I am still the same Erin but I manifest myself differently. I've had to find different ways to express myself. I do have sadness for the parts of Erin that are asleep but it's a whole heck of a lot better than having them awake and being in utter chaos and pain along with my "edge". It is not shameful to give and take and you don't always lose whatever you are scared to lose.
Erin
says:
December, 5 2012 at 3:12 pm
I validate you that taking medication is shameful in your own eyes for you but why do you delight in encouraging others that it is empowering not to take medication? That you are better than those that take it to keep your mind untainted? That you are doing it all on your own and refuse help? Your mind's chemical structure is already messed up. Egos are dangerous. The "Ego" always ends up destroying. I? I am not ashamed and I still have pride and I take medication. If your worry is that you won't have your "edge" or fear losing part of your personality to the effects of a medication, your personality and "edge" will always be there, it's a give and take. I am still the same Erin but I manifest myself differently. I've had to find different ways to express myself. I do have sadness for the parts of Erin that are asleep but it's a whole heck of a lot better than having them awake and being in utter chaos and pain along with my "edge". It is not shameful to give and take and you don't always lose whatever you are scared to lose.


“And if you don’t understand why a human being would let someone give them a craniotomy and surgically implant electrodes into their brain with all the risks that entails then you simply don’t understand pain, that’s all.”

actually, no, it isn’t all. I believe to a degree it has to do with personal trust to medical science. and such.

so while somebody pops painkillers happily with every tiny headache, some people are stubborn and will not take them for pinched nerve and bad back pain. Not because with my back hurting as hell I don’t understand pain of hangover headache sufferer… it’s because I am bit paranoid when it comes to medicine.

I have a friend with MH issues and big trust in science. So they take pills and claim it works for them. I don’t take pills and it works for me, eventhough they sometimes wonder “so you rather go through these ups and downs, see things that aren’t there… then take few pills that can help a lot?”. Yup, I rather.

Yes, sometimes you are “I would do anything”, but maybe some value and fear for their egos and brains and pesonalities more. For me if it would be ECT or death… I’d pick death with my brain and soul intact. Dignity. Pride. All these. And if I am wrong, I don’t wanna be right.
Emily
says:
December, 5 2012 at 2:06 pm
It is true VenusH, I have met people who are so anti-med that they will tolerate a depression that costs them their jobs, friends, and family, rather than take meds. Some of them are now on social security disability. I obviously haven't met the people who have killed themselves rather than take meds, because they are dead. But whenever I have added a new medication in recent years, it has been because I either got to the point where I couldn't function anymore (and I do want to remain employed) or because suicide started looking too good. And I don't want my niece to have suicide in the family. If meds can help me get out of those places, great. If not, well, they can't make me much worse off at that point. I had hit my limit 3 months ago, I decided my life was over- it was kill myself or give something else a try. I decided to go to the hospital for a few days, go on Lithium, the drug I hadn't wanted to take, and it worked well at the lower doses I take it. Does it make me less me? Perhaps, but if the person I was couldn't function, couldn't stop crying, wanted nothing but an end to the pain of life- then damn, change me. I'm alive. And today I had a pretty good day.
Marrianna
says:
December, 5 2012 at 9:30 am
I can empathise with Linda I had a traumatic childhood and adolescent life.A difficult adult life, although I have had children and studied to the MA level I am at the point where I retired but cannot work and I have lost all my friends and family. I take the minimum dosage of my meds. but my big problem is the lack of support from my family. I dare not make a mistake because Iam judged more harshly.Living with someone who is an alcoholic and very competitive and abusive does not help. Iam not competitive once Ido something it is not for the world to see. I love people around me and when I am alone I find it hard to look after myself . I stop eating and that makes my condition worse. Sometimes I feel so very lonely so it is great to visit this site and read about our struggles. I get so much insite here.
Alex_NY
says:
December, 5 2012 at 7:00 am
I was able to help myself by (1)self-realizing that we are #human #biorobots; (2)realization the #God as ALIVE #Cosmos. This is very important for your #spiritual #health. It will protect you from thinking you are some kind of Angel of special son/daughter of God. I have been not increasing medication, but decreasing it. I now take 4-5 times lesser doze then my doctor prescribed me. I can sleep well & function pretty good. I take only two drugs [moderated]. Also I would recommend Primal/Feeling Therapy. Please read Arthur Janov's books such as The New Primal Scream. Doctors practicing primal therapy can possibly help people with BPD, in less harmful ways. I've also become VEGAN. I would recommend juice therapy such as http://www.Gerson.org. I would also recommend water fasting. Try to use lesser number of drugs, thus you will sleep better & have less side effects.
VenusH
says:
December, 5 2012 at 4:32 am
"And if you don’t understand why a human being would let someone give them a craniotomy and surgically implant electrodes into their brain with all the risks that entails then you simply don’t understand pain, that’s all."

actually, no, it isn't all. I believe to a degree it has to do with personal trust to medical science. and such.

so while somebody pops painkillers happily with every tiny headache, some people are stubborn and will not take them for pinched nerve and bad back pain. Not because with my back hurting as hell I don't understand pain of hangover headache sufferer... it's because I am bit paranoid when it comes to medicine.

I have a friend with MH issues and big trust in science. So they take pills and claim it works for them. I don't take pills and it works for me, eventhough they sometimes wonder "so you rather go through these ups and downs, see things that aren't there... then take few pills that can help a lot?". Yup, I rather.

Yes, sometimes you are "I would do anything", but maybe some value and fear for their egos and brains and pesonalities more. For me if it would be ECT or death... I'd pick death with my brain and soul intact. Dignity. Pride. All these. And if I am wrong, I don't wanna be right.
Polly
says:
December, 5 2012 at 1:06 am
I am relatively newly-diagnosed with Bipolar and you articles are very important to me. Whenever I check facebook and see that you have posted an article I read it immediately. It is like being drip-fed comfort and understanding along with real insight about the illness. I often feel like those around me think I am lazy, disorganised, selfish and heartless. I can't work a normal job and I struggle socially, going long period without talking to people. My mood can change very rapidly and it scares me sometimes but I find your articles really helpful to draw a line between what behaviour is because of "me" and my personality and what behaviour is a symptom of "my brain under stress" (I know I am talking about past articles here, sorry for not keeping everything relevant to this one)
Linda
says:
December, 4 2012 at 4:35 pm
Natasha, I am very thankful for youand Breaking Bipolar.

I believe as Sarah said, I am in a group of my own. However, I identify more with the last of your comparisons. I have struggled with this disease since the age of 13,amidst a very dysfunctional family of alcoholics and physical and sexual abuse. Not surprisingly, I developed BPD.

As you were saying "I cannot express..." This is my life of up and down. Wanting and planning to die everyday because the pain is overwhelming. The never ending cycle of, "What is going to happen next?" Then I get up the next day and "exist" all over again.

Thank you for giving all of us a place to go and to see that we are not alone.

Have you ever written on treatment-resistant Bipolar?
Ash
says:
December, 4 2012 at 3:00 pm
I've been in the second group mostly, though I appear high-functioning to most people. I've just started on a new medication, and so far it looks promising. I've felt the most "normal" I have in years. If the drug doesn't quit anytime soon, I may end up in the first group. I don't know yet.

Very interesting pos
Todd
says:
December, 4 2012 at 2:45 pm
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS has worked for me. I've been doing TMS for two years now. I have to go weekly for maintenance, but it works well enough for me to function and to enjoy this Christmas with my family.
Thom Slavin
says:
December, 4 2012 at 8:42 am
I identify with malone 305. Most days, BiPolar no longer keeps me from getting to work. I have been classified as SMI (Severely Mentally Ill) which actually puts me in a higher bracket for services. I'm down to just four meds for MI. Today is difficult because I didn't sleep last night; but these days those nights are rare. In a week or so, I'll be receiving a settlement from Workers' Comp, ending the controversy dating from 1994 as to whether I suffered my initial breakdown as direct result of an accident while working in the ICU, or if my illness reared up due to a predisposition. Overall, I have a much healthier vision of myself, my future, than I did a few years ago. These days, I spend time with my "Health Coach" twice a week and have an excellent Case Manager with whom I've met weekly for these last five years. These encounters have made a tremendous difference in my life. I would like to give Malone my support as she finds her way through the challenges of BiPolar. It does, I believe, get better.
George Ison
says:
December, 4 2012 at 8:33 am
I've thought about it many times and I rarely see it addressed... so good entry, Natasha.
I guess I've always been in the group of the middle but I've belonged to the other groups for a while, too. There have been times when I've just feel as if I didn't have anything (taking meds), however, it hasn't been so in 3 years.
Hang on!
Sarah
says:
December, 3 2012 at 6:36 pm
I think I'm in my own group
malone305
says:
December, 3 2012 at 1:51 pm
I think I am in the second group. I used to take 7 meds just for Bipolar and 3 others for conditions caused by the medications that I have taken over the last 15 years. It has probably been a week since my doctor discontinued all anti-depressants. They weren't helping, possibly making things worse. Now I just take mood stabilizers. So despite treatment my whole life revolves around Bipolar disorder, every aspect is affected. I am able to work most of the time but there are always days where I just can't function. People at work just don't understand that. I am very good about putting up a good front at work. I also take meds before and sometimes during work to get me through each day. I never know what kind of day I will have until I wake up in the morning

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