Bipolar Disorder, Living With (cont.)
The other two people in my family made it more difficult, not because they wanted to make it difficult for me, but because they had actually the same illness that I have and they really very much believe that medication was bad, that it was a weakness to depend upon medication, and it made it difficult for me to accept the idea. I came from a military background and a really conservative background -- not politically but socially. And it wasn't done -- to see a psychiatrist. It wasn't done to admit you had that kind of problem. So they inadvertently made life more difficult than it could be.
I think what you have to do is surround yourself with people who make it easier for you and who try to understand you. I think what you find is that many people are eager to be educated about it and to learn about it. Try and get people that are in your family to read about it, learn about it as a medical illness, learn about the treatments, learn about the consequences of not being treated and if it's appropriate, have them come in and talk to your psychiatrist or psychologist with you so that they can learn more. It's a place where education goes a long way.
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. And I think as the years go by, people are going to get even more tolerant as they understand more.
The illness progresses if you don't get treated, or tends to progress -- not in everyone but in many people it does tend to get worse over time. The great advantage of treatment is that it prevents that progression and it largely prevents recurrences when the medications are working properly. That's one of the really terrific things about medication -- it can prevent the illness from getting worse over time.
I think one of the things that has been very helpful, and I could not say enough good things about good psychotherapy and enough bad things about bad psychotherapy, is that when psychotherapy is done properly, one of the things that it addresses is exactly that. How much of this is my response to other people, how much of it is my character structure, how much is my personality, how much of it is my mood disorder? Those are very complicated medical issues and existential issues; psychotherapy, in the hands of someone who is very well informed about the biological aspects of mood disorders, can be a lifesaving sort of thing.
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