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Hard-won lessons from a bumpy road



In this post, we’ll pick up from the previous one in which I shared excerpts from Tracy Windsor’s essay, A Bumpy Road: Worth the Ride that was included in the Navigating Bipolar Country anthology. Here, Tracy shares insights about lessons she learned along the very difficult road she had to travel in her early years with bipolar disorder. Sincere thanks to Tracy for permission to share these excerpts here.

Interspersed and offset throughout, I have phrased some questions for you to reflect on.

After surviving several years of very dramatic bipolar episodes, seven psychiatric hospitalizations, suicidal ideation and a serious suicide attempt, Tracy writes:


Since then, I’ve been more-or-less stable—no further hospitalizations. With luck, the seventh will be my final hospitalization! …

 

I continued my college studies, and in 2015 started a Bachelor of Social Work, doing a maximum of three courses at a time. I graduated in November 2019….


“Right now, I’m in the first year of a Master’s in Social Work program, studying part-time, by distance education….


“All-in-all, I live a full, meaningful, and interesting life, and I have goals I believe I’ll be able to fulfil while I keep my bipolar under control.


“After the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d like to get back into teaching spin classes, and maybe start teaching other forms of group fitness. I also want to travel to different parts of the world and attend conferences related to mental health.”


What a truly remarkable difference from all the ups and downs of Tracy’s earlier years!


Stick with it: with proper treatment and perseverance and support, your road will hopefully smooth out eventually.

Q1:  If you have bipolar disorder yourself, have you experienced a similar dramatic recovery to Tracy’s? Or if you’re a caregiver, has your loved one shown signs of recovery like this?

Tracy then includes three sections in her essay where she reflects on insights for different groups of people.


1. Insights for people with bipolar

“You decide whether to take meds or not take them, engage in therapy or not, change your lifestyle to accommodate bipolar or not… It’s your choice. But you have to think about what kind of life you want to live, and whether your illness gets in the way of that or not, and what you can do to manage your bipolar so you can live the life you want.


“I personally am more middle-of-the-road: I favour a biopsychosocial model using a combination of meds, therapy, and family and community support together with lifestyle adjustments including exercise, nutrition, sleep, relaxation, and so on.”

Q2:  What decisions have you made about how to manage your bipolar, and why? What changes might make your disorder more manageable for yourself, your family members, your friends, and your colleagues?

On the point of lifestyle adjustments, recent research published in The Lancet Psychiatry concludes: “A subgroup of individuals might have a high genetic risk of developing a psychotic disorder [bipolar or schizophrenia] and using cannabis. This finding supports public health efforts to reduce cannabis use, particularly in individuals at high risk or patients with psychotic disorders.” Food for thought, right?

2. Suggestions for family members

Tracy continues: “To family members, I’d caution: Don’t value your affected loved one’s compliance with a treatment program over your relationship with them. Instead of focusing on the ‘problem to be fixed,’ remember there’s a real person in there, needing love, support, and attention.


“Work together on a safety plan, directed by the affected person when they are well. Give them as much autonomy and decision-making power as possible. This is their life, after all.


“Encourage them to talk to their mental health professionals about issues they’ve shared with you as family members. If professionals are expected to treat the disorder effectively, they need to know what’s truly going on in the person’s life (side effects, medication non-compliance, drug or alcohol use, suicidal thoughts, and so on).”

Q3:  Are any of these points relevant for you, and why (or why not)?

3. Suggestions for health professionals

“Looking back, I can honestly say the only time I felt stigmatized or that my voice didn’t matter was in the psych ward. I empathize that it could be because the nurses are tired and don’t want to deal with people who have alternative views of what constitutes reality. I imagine that could be quite exhausting, day in and day out. It was horrible to be treated that way, though. There seems to be quite an ‘us-versus-them’ attitude on inpatient wards, and I’d like to see that changed. Nobody deserves to be treated like that, no matter how little sense their words seem to make. In the group home and in various services provided in the community, on the other hand, they made me feel very much seen, heard and respected.”

Q4:  If you’ve ever been a psychiatric in-patient, did you find some of the staff dismissive or judgmental? If so, how did that make you feel, given your fragile mental state at the time?



Q5:  What additional lessons would you share, given your personal experience as someone living with bipolar, or as a caregiver?

I’d like to end this post with a brief insight from Tracy about bipolar disorder itself.


What I’ve learned about bipolar

“While bipolar might totally disrupt your life goals, you’ll probably be changed by the experience, and it’s entirely up to you how you react to that change. Only you can determine that.”

 

Wise words from a young woman who lived through a devastating series of bipolar episodes before she came out the other side.      

*          *          *

Many thanks again to Tracy for allowing me to excerpt from her essay here. For the full account, please read her chapter, “A Bumpy Road: Worth the Ride” in Navigating Bipolar Country.


In the next post, we’ll hear from Tracy’s mother, Gail Windsor, who was Tracy’s primary caregiver for several years.


Do you have any additional questions to consider after reading this? Or any personal reflections? Please share in the comments below.


Cheers,


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