What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?
Medication is very important to me. A lot of people with bipolar find that medication “flattens” their personality, but I think I have finally found the right combination: it fits kind of like a decent bra, in that it fits my contours. And, of course, you don’t notice it until it’s gone. Excuse the metaphor.
I also found the following advice from a friend helpful: You are not like other people. Sometimes you are going to feel shit. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I try to use that as a coping strategy.
Of course, I also need and use coping strategies for my self-harm. Running and (unfortunately) smoking are what work best for me at the moment.
What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?
The pros and the cons are often the same thing, flip sides of a coin. Here are some examples of how that works.
A lot of people imagine that a mental illness makes you naturally more empathic or creative. I don’t know that this is true, and I do know that in the depths of depression I would trade empathy, creativity, anything at all to feel better. In depression, I feel that everything I write or make or do is awful and that stifles, rather than aids, my creativity. Nonetheless, I think that my creativity has been affected by my experiences with bipolar, in that I feel things intensely and find that my creativity, if not heightened by mental illness, has at least not suffered for it.
For me, the “best” thing about struggling with mental illness is that I have fought harder for the things I have. Without my struggle, I might be an average underachiever (I did tend to underachieve when I was younger… followed by some pretty intense overachievements, thank you bipolar). But because of my mental illness, I have struggled to do better both because of and despite it. It has given me a real determination to do better, to be better and to prove myself. This can be a con as well- as I am always trying to prove myself, I have become a perfectionist, which isn’t always a healthy or productive thing to be.
The other positive/ negative is that with hypomania, I achieve a lot. The flip side of that, of course, is that it makes me long for hypomania and sometimes skip meds in the hope of an episode of it. Since my hypomanias have been far less frequent than my depressions, this is usually an unwise move.
As to the cons. The main one I can think of is the blinding depressions I have suffered, and their adverse impact on my life- sometimes their actual threat to my life. The mood swings also affect how I interact with others, and have caused problems in my relationships, particularly when I am low and have been mean and angry because of it.
I have never genuinely suffered from stigma around my bipolar; for the most part the people around me have been, or at least tried to be, understanding. But I have received some genuinely negative comments around my self-harm: attention-seeking, all the rest of it. I have also found that with a diagnosis of bipolar, as opposed to depression, I have felt far less stigmatised: https://balfourthrb.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/some-people-have-real-problems/ is an entry I wrote about a doctor who basically told me to “get over it” and the pain and distress that that caused me. I think that my friends with major depressive disorder, or depression, have received more negativity than I have, because people don’t see depression as a “real” illness. In fact, depression affects every aspect of a persons life, both emotionally and physically. Something needs to be done to clear the impression that it is anything less than a serious, life-threatening illness.
Anyway I hope I have succeeded in explaining how bipolar can be both a “pro” and a “con” in my life…