I write a lot about bi-polar, PTSD and self-medicating. It’s kinda my thing! I’ve been accused of using mental illness as an excuse or a crutch, and I feel the need to explain why I think it’s important to recognize a “diagnosable” mental disorder. I’m sure many people use mental illness as an excuse but there are other reasons to identify whether or not you have one. The word excuse has a negative connotation and suggests that a certain behavior or action should simply be excused. While I feel that mental illness and self-medicating are the reason I’ve acted irresponsibly, I’ve never claimed that my actions where OK. Knowing that I’m bipolar means that I have to act accordingly and learn about my condition. I have to be accountable for my own actions and I have been, I have no regrets—no guilt. I had to decide whether or not a mood-stabilizer was right for me; after much research and many consultations with mental health professionals I decided that I did need medication to help correct the chemical imbalance I was born with. Lamictal is a medication commonly used to treat bipolar. It regulates the sodium channels in the brain essentially creating a floor and a ceiling on my emotions—something that I, unfortunately, am unable to do naturally. Sometimes I think about the fact that I’m a better person when I’m on medication. My real personality isn’t good… is that OK? Am I not a good person? I actually have to change my brain chemistry in order to interact and live successfully. I tell my story to help others understand mental illness; I show them what it looks like. Each individual has to choose their own path but I feel that understanding a little about how the brain works and that there are notable chemical imbalances can be advantageous.
I quit drinking almost two years ago because I just couldn’t control myself when I was under the influence. My medications DO NOT mix well with alcohol and it didn’t take a whole lot before I lost myself. I was drinking one night and decided to go take some alcohol that wasn’t mine. I thought it would be OK—turns out it wasn’t! I was in a manic phase and found my self delusional. I was confused but I never asked anyone to excuse my behavior. I paid my debts and went further to share my story so others could avoid making the same mistakes.
In the first blog I ever wrote, Summertime Mania: The Incident, I referred to a study that explained, “Bipolar disorder is characterized by marked difficulty in regulating the pursuit of goals (Johnson, 2005), with the onset of manic and depressive episodes linked to the attainment and failure to obtain goals, respectively (Johnson et al., 2008). Although particularly elevated during mania, impulsivity represents a trait feature of the disorder.” (Strakowski et al., 2010). This information helped me understand myself and allowed me to compensate. I realized that I needed therapy and, unfortunately, medication. I’ve worked hard to recognize impulsive behavior. Some people think that’s just silly, “Why wouldn’t someone think before acting.. how stupid!” Believe it or not I had to teach myself to think before acting. There is something inside me that drives me to act immediately. Sometimes it feels like I’m a completely different person when I’m manic and I have to act before I change my mind. “It’s a brilliant idea! I must act before my other side thwarts my plan!” I’ve learned to talk to someone I trust before making any big decisions. We are finally able to learn what’s going on inside of the brain and offer more than a simple hypothesis. Here is an interesting exerpt from the study I referred to above. “We hypothesized that in bipolar disorder the weighting of valuation signals converging on ventromedial prefrontal cortex are more heavily weighted towards ventral striatum inputs (lower-order), with less weighting of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex inputs (higher-order). Twenty euthymic patients with bipolar disorder not in receipt of antipsychotic medication and 20 case-matched controls performed a roulette task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Activity in response to high-probability (‘safe’) and low-probability (‘risky’) prospects was measured during both anticipation, and outcome. In control subjects, anticipatory and outcome-locked activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was greater for safe than risky reward prospects. The bipolar disorder group showed the opposite pattern with preferential response to risky rewards.” Follow this link to view full study.
You may not understand this information fully, I certainly don’t, but I do see how far we have come and how capable we are. I really hope my writing and my story helps someone understand what it means to have a mental disorder. These disorders are very real and there is a stigma associated with them, which causes many people to hide their illness. If those who are affected, share their stories—and take pride in exposing their true selves—hopefully more people who are in the dark will see, and maybe even empathize with those who struggle.