Bipolar Disorder, Living With (cont.)

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.

I think reading can be helpful and talking with other people can be helpful. I was fortunate in having quite a bit of understanding from friends and family, but there's no question that it is a very, very difficult sort of thing to deal with and anyone who says otherwise probably has not been there.

I don't think that you would get any argument from anyone who has bipolar disorder or the people who live with them and love them.

I am 17 and have bipolar and have ADHD. Will I have to be on the meds the rest of my life? I was diagnosed with ADHD first. Could it be that I don't have the ADHD but just have bipolar? I'd like to stop some of the meds. I'm a athlete and think the meds mess up my body.

It's possible that you have only bipolar disorder, but obviously, I couldn't say. But if you have any doubts, you should get a second opinion.

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.

I obviously couldn't say in your particular instance, but I would learn as much about both of the illnesses as I could, and I would talk to my doctor and ask as many questions as you can.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997. The doctors are now telling me that I have had thyroid disease all my life, and the antidepressants are making it worse. None of them ever worked -- I just kept getting worse. What do you know about the correlation between thyroid disease and bipolar symptoms? Is there a brain scan or anything yet where they can make an absolute diagnosis? I'm so tired of being called "psycho" when all I can think in my heart and my head is, this is not who I am.

PS: Your book The Unquiet Mind is amazing and I have so much respect for you that you never let it stop you from getting what you wanted out of life. You are truly one of my mentors. Light and love.

Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

There certainly is a correlation between thyroid problems and mood disorders. People who have mood disorders are much more likely to have a history of thyroid illness. Some people who are put on lithium develop thyroid problems which are pretty easily treated by thyroid replacement. We know just a lot of things about what goes on in the brain and one of the things is that there is a relationship between thyroid functioning and mood disorders.

As far as antidepressants go, we also know that with certain kinds of bipolar illness, antidepressants can make the illness worse. It can precipitate mania, it can precipitate mixed states, it can make the illness more rapid cycling and more difficult to treat. That's not true for everyone who has bipolar illness but it's certainly true for many people who have bipolar illness.

Once you let people know you have bipolar disease, how do they treat you? A few people know about my disease and some treat me like I'm a "head case" even though I try very hard to control things. I'm on meds and doing well. What can I do about the way they treat me?

"I think the good thing is that people are learning a lot more about these illnesses. People are more tolerant than they used to be. They are still not nearly as tolerant as one would like, but they are more aware of what we know about the brain and research and treatment."

Again, it's hard. It's hard to know when to come out, it's hard to know how to come out and it's hard to know how to deal with people once you are out.

I was actually quite delighted, in general, with the response of my colleagues. I had always told the colleagues I worked most closely with that I had bipolar illness, but I had not told most of my colleagues and they were more supportive than I really thought that they would be.

There's no question that people look at you differently and treat you differently. There's on occasion the very patronizing remark. You are, I guess, just regarded differently. I think that you can only influence other people's opinions up to a point, and the most important person's opinion that you can influence is your own.

One of the best things that you can do is really just become convinced yourself that that's not a negative, that it is part of who you are and just take strength from it. Take strength from what you learn from the adversity and just don't give other people the power to make things even more difficult. Having said that, I realize it's a lot easier said than done.

I admire you so much. I've only been diagnosed since March. Did your family accept it and help you, or did they make things worse? Mine made it worse.

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