Welcome to Bipolar in Focus, I'm Jane Pauley.
What is it like to live with a disorder that no one can see? Psychologist and author Xavier Amador joins us now.
Unless you are in terrible trouble, if you're just living with bipolar as millions of people are, you don't look sick?
You don't seem sick? You don't act sick? But you feel not like everyone else. What are the challenges of living with a disease like that?
Well, I think the biggest challenge you've just described is that the disease is invisible to other people. They don't believe it. They don't think how could this really be affecting you?
If you're in treatment and you're doing well, you still have difficulties. You still have problems. You still have to pay attention to triggers.
If you're feeling stressed in a social interaction and you have bipolar disorder and you know that certain interpersonal stress is going to maybe trigger some problems and even symptoms.
And you tell the people you're with, "You know what, I need to go take a walk or I'm going to leave the party early or I don't want that second drink or whatever."
"Oh, come on!" "No, really, I need to go."
That's a perfect example of when you really are facing the invisibility of the disorder.
You're protecting yourself, you're making decisions based in the fact that you know you've got some vulnerabilities. The more people you can tell, the better. Just choose who you tell carefully.
What do you mean?
Well, when you have social support. When people know that the reason you're leaving the party early or the reason you don't want the drink,
or the reason you don't want to continue an argument is because you have a vulnerability, because you have a disorder that --
-- that when you're very stressed and the chemical changes and the body better affiliated with that kind of stress can produce symptoms, they're going to support you.
They're going to say, "Absolutely, no problem!" Even the person you're arguing with is going to say, "You know what, I'm sorry. We can come back to this later."
What are the challenges that go along with managing the illness?
First is separating yourself from the illness. Sometimes I use the analogy of the tide coming in onto a beach. So you know where the water starts and the beach ends. But it moves, doesn't it?
So if you're really aware of the signs and symptoms of the illness, you'll know that they wax and wane. So knowing when to separate –
you know, where do I end and where do the symptoms of the illness begin is a big challenge,
but it's an essential challenge because it has an impact on how you see yourself and how you communicate to your loves ones and ask for support.
So understanding how to separate yourself from the illness, doing that research, keeping a symptom log, what are my symptoms and how are they today?
Rating them on a daily basis, I mean that may sound silly but again, in diabetes, we look at our sugar several times a day, right?
Well, why not look at your symptoms at least once a day and keep track of them and become knowledgeable. So that's a big, big challenge.
The other big challenge is remembering you have the illness. I mean, the best news about bipolar disorder is you can recover.
It's a highly treatable illness. People get better. And then, when you're better, what happens? You can forget.
And I've seen that happened to quite a few people who really, because of the stigma, because they're doing so well, sadly,
I think succumb to the symptom of the illness that leads them down the wrong path which is, "I don't need treatment anymore." And they go off their medicine.
You talk about secondary symptoms that might not even be obvious to other people even to the person who has bipolar?
They're invisible even to the person who has the illness and they include problems with attention, concentration and memory.
And these are what we technically call cognitive impairments that persist even when the person is doing really well and is on medicine. So it's important to be aware of those secondary symptoms.
How do you deal with issues of guilt, you know, or negative self-image?
Well education cannot be overstated as a powerful healing tool. You're not alone, first of all. You're not the only person that has a bipolar disorder.
And understanding that the illness does create difficulties for not only you, but for your family. But it's the illness, it's not you.
And I've really, really worked hard with people on this issue. Stop saying, "I'm bipolar." You're not bipolar. You have an illness that is bipolar disorder and this causes problems.
When you learn to separate yourself from the illness and see yourself independent of it -- you're going to feel a lot less guilty about many of the things that the illness causes.
Thank you again, Dr. Amador. And thank you for watching Bipolar in Focus.