Living With Bipolar Disorder

WebMD Live Events Transcript

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 2 million American adults have bipolar disorder, a severe brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. On July 14, 2005 our guest, Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, author of "The Unquiet Mind," shared her perspective as both a psychiatric expert in the disease and someone living with bipolar disorder.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Jamison. Thank you for joining us today.

JAMISON:
Thank you for asking me, I'm delighted to be here.

MODERATOR:
We have a very vibrant and active bipolar community here on WebMD, especially on our message board. Several of them have questions for you so let's get started.

MEMBER QUESTION:
It is an honor to have you join us. The bipolar support group is especially tight and your books are recommended reading often for newcomers.

One thing that consistently splits us is the topic of meds versus no meds. I consider myself lucky to have found stability on lithium and an antidepressant since 1980, but others continue to struggle with med combos. A big controversy is when someone declares meds is a problem and advises others that this is a valid choice. My experience is, especially as I age, that at any given time, I am about a week away from trouble if I don't have my meds. You know, you lived it, and you've done the research. Is no meds a valid option for those with bipolar diagnosis?

JAMISON:
Very rarely. The scientific and clinical evidence is overwhelming that the best treatment for bipolar illness is medication and often medication combined with psychotherapy.

MODERATOR:
Dr. Jamison, at what point in your life did you discover that you had bipolar disorder?

JAMISON:
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 28. I first got ill when I was 17 or 18, when I was a senior in high school. And like many people who have bipolar illness there was a long period of time between my first episode and getting diagnosed.

"There are certainly many overlapping symptoms between ADHD and bipolar illness. Sometimes people have both illnesses. Sometimes people have only bipolar illness and are misdiagnosed as having both."

MEMBER QUESTION:
I was recently diagnosed at age 21 and I cannot accept the fact that I am indeed bipolar. I know that my life isn't exactly normal but I just cannot accept this is me. What would you suggest?

JAMISON:
I think one of the hardest things to do after being diagnosed and ill with bipolar illness, is to learn to live with the reality that one has it. I think that the support group is one of the best ways to do that; other people who have similar problems are often best able to deal with how you cope with the problem. Psychotherapy is another really helpful way of learning to deal with the notions of yourself and what it means.

I think what happens over time is that you begin to realize, once you have been well long enough, that the illness doesn't have to define your notion of yourself by any means. It is part of who you are and it is part of what you have to take into consideration in your life, but it's not something that has to dominate your life.

MODERATOR:
How did you come to accept your diagnosis?

JAMISON:
With difficulty. I suppose I did several things. One is I rebelled, which was very, very unhelpful and nearly cost me my life. I went on and off my medications. I became very suicidal. I was very, very severely depressed for 18 months and after I nearly died from a suicide attempt, I realized that I was either going to die or accept my illness. But it's hard to do. It's not very consistent with the way you're brought up to believe life is going to be.




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