Education is Key – A Meditation

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When we have a mental illness, it’s imperative to learn all we can about it in order to understand it, because understanding leads to the best collaboration with healthcare professionals when making decisions for our care and medication and treatment choices. Understanding leads to the best advocacy for ourselves when dealing with employers, family, and friends who may or may not get how mental illness affects our performance and behaviors. Understanding leads to self-compassion and patience during times when we are feeling low and can’t do what we want. Knowing it is part of the disease and not part of our character can help save our self-esteem and self-worth.

Today, I will ask my healthcare professional for, or research on my own, two sources to learn something I didn’t already know about my mental illness.

Another Brain Region Linked to Bipolar Disorder

For several years, neuroimaging studies have noted differences in the prefrontal cortex and limbic areas (which includes the hippocampus) of the brains of individuals with bipolar disorder compared to those without bipolar disorder.  Now, a new study is suggesting that the genes and proteins found in the striatum are linked to bipolar disorder as well.  The striatum acts as a reward pathway and helps to regulate motivation among other things.

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“Our finding of a link between bipolar disorder and the striatum at the molecular level complements studies that implicate the same brain region in bipolar disorder at the anatomical level, including functional imaging studies that show altered activity in the striatum of bipolar subjects during tasks that involve balancing reward and risk,” said Research Associate Rodrigo Pacifico, who was first author of the new study.

Researchers are hoping that their findings will lead to the development of diagnostics and treatments.

The more research I find, such as this, the more I realize that bipolar is so much more than a “chemical imbalance.” It truly is a brain disorder. Our brains are anatomically and molecularly different from those without bipolar. It’s so much more than a simple lack of neurotransmitters (i.e., serotonin, dopamine, etc.)

We should all be proud of the progress we’ve made considering what we are up against. Thank goodness for continued research which will hopefully lead to improved treatments. Let’s continue to do our part by taking care of ourselves as best as we can and never giving up!

Source: The Scripps Research Institute

Why Being a Hermit Doesn’t Work

We all have problems. Let’s face it: humans are problems. We create problems, we live problems, we solve problems, we prolong problems, we complain about problems, we hate problems, some of us love problems, we…well, you get the idea.

Whether your problems come from within such as in the case of an illness, or from something outside of you, such as your demanding boss, research shows that we are more likely to better cope with our problems with some kind of support from peers who have been in the same situation as we face.

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By coping better I mean we may live happier lives, have less stress, increased psychological well-being, and decreased negative symptoms.

Now, while you might not join a support group to deal with an a-hole of a boss, you may want to consider one if you deal with chronic mental or physical illnesses, bereavement issues, weight loss or addiction issues, or if you are a caregiver for someone who is ill or dependent.

In one study (1), 82% of the 129 members of the Manic Depressive and Depressive Association were hospitalized before joining the support group. After joining, only 33% reported any hospitalizations.

In a substance abuse study (2), 180 participants with high self-help (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous) attendance rates used alcohol and/or cocaine less than half as much as did those with low self-help attendance. In a second study (3), in the 18 months following treatment, the more days the patient attended Alcoholics Anonymous self-help meetings, the longer their abstinence lasted.

In a bereavement group study (4), 197 widows and widowers over age 50 who participated in self-help groups experienced less depression and grief than the 98 nonparticipants if their initial levels of interpersonal and coping skills were low. (If their interpersonal and coping skills were high they still benefitted after eight weeks of participation.)

I have been attending support group meetings for alcoholism for the past 10 years and believe I would not have remained sober for this long without doing so. Currently, I am participating in an online smoking cessation support group that is proving to be an invaluable part of my quit program. And let’s not forget this wonderful blogging community, which I consider to be a large part of my mental health “support group.” Thank YOU for that!

The greatest thing in the world to hear while you’re in the depths of your struggles, whether it is with an addiction, a mental illness, the loss of a loved one, or just a crappy day is, “I understand how you feel. I’ve been where you’re at. You are not alone.” And that, my friend, is why hermithood is not for me.

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Resources:

(1) Kurtz, L. F. (1988). Mutual Aid for Affective Disorders: The Manic Depressive and Depressive Association. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 58(1): 152-155.

(2) McKay, J. R., A. I. Alterman, et al. (1994). Treatment Goals, Continuity of Care, and Outcome in a Day Hospital Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program. American Journal of Psychiatry 151(2): 254-259.

(3) Pisani, V. D., J. Fawcett, et al. (1993). The Relative Contributions of Medication Adherence and AA Meeting Attendance to Abstinent Outcome for Chronic Alcoholics. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 54: 115-119.

(4) Caserta, M. S. and Lund, D. A. (1993). Intrapersonal Resources and the Effectiveness of Self-Help Groups for Bereaved Older Adults. Gerontologist 33(5): 619-629.

Treating Multiple Mental Illnesses

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With my multitude of diagnoses and their over-lapping symptoms, I often wonder which illness has a hold on me. Am I on edge because I am hypomanic or anxious? Am I depressed because of a hormonal change/Bipolar issue or because my husband is working long hours/Borderline (BPD) issue? Am I exhausted because I’m depressed, because I’m not sleeping well due to anxiety, or because I’m overwhelmed with the kids being off school for the summer (BPD thing again)? You see my dilemma?

I know from experience what is usually causing my symptoms. Right now, I know I am dealing with anxiety because change is hard for me and with this being the first week the kids are home from school there has been a big change in my daily activities.

I also know from past experience that anxiety exhausts me physically, and that being physically exhausted makes me feel depressed. I say “feel” depressed because I know that it is just a feeling – I am not clinically depressed as in I need a medication change (yet.) First, I’d like to give myself time to adjust to the new schedule, and see if the fatigue and anxiety subside on their own.

I came across a study that looked at the interactions of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Bipolar Disorder over the course of 10 years. They found that BPD impacted major depression remission and relapse rates, and vice versa, but argued for the treatment of the BPD as a priority.

BPD and Bipolar Disorder remission and relapse rates, on the other hand, were largely independent of one another except for one area: bipolar type II lengthened BPD’s time to remission. (Wouldn’t you know that would be my case!) BPD did not affect bipolar mood swings. The study suggested that BPD and Bipolar be treated as independent disorders.

I do have rapid cycling bipolar and I also have borderline personality traits, so both on a physiological and psychological level I am battling quick fluctuations. Can anyone else relate to this? How do you cope with over-lapping symptoms from multiple diagnoses?