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    Bipolar Disorder: Managing the Balancing Act

    Bipolar disorder symptoms include dramatic shifts in mood and the ability to function. Successful bipolar disorder treatment requires a careful course of medication, psychotherapy, and discipline to stay on track--and avoid an emotional crash

    Balancing Act continued...

    After a series of personal events ranging from being misdiagnosed with a brain virus and being told he had six months to live, Bernard was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 22. And even though he knows full well that going off the lithium could result in hospitalization, Bernard says that he flirts with the idea every day.

    "I don't want to take them lately," he says of the pills he has been on for more than a dozen years. "I don't have any side effects from the medication -- I just don't feel like taking pills anymore. But the main thing is, I know what the consequences are. It's pretty simple: When I haven't taken my pills, I have a breakdown. So I am not stupid."

    The 'Learning Curve'

    Bernard, who also serves as a spokesman for the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), admits that there has been a learning curve. "I did go off for one year and had a breakdown, and then I went off for two and a half years and I had a breakdown," he says. The last time he stopped taking his medication, he threatened to kill his wife, Paula, and ended up in a psychiatric facility.

    Regardless of the downsides, the mania can be compelling. "I felt like God was talking through me at one point, and I bought lavish gifts for my girlfriend [now wife]," Bernard recounts. "It's the feeling of being high and feeling like you are the messiah." In an upcoming story on General Hospital, his character Sonny -- who also has bipolar disorder -- will traverse the manic stage of the illness.

    "You feel like you are on top of the world and nothing can stop you. And then, of course, the real problem is having to deal with the crash," says Bernard.

    "I understand that patients who feel elated [also] feel wonderful ... it's like being on cocaine and can be extremely attractive and very seductive," says Joseph Calabrese, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve and director of the Mood Disorders Center at the University Hospitals of Cleveland, Ohio. "There is one problem," he adds. "One hundred percent of people have a depression after a high.

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