I have a serious mental illness and I don’t want to die young

No one ever said having bipolar disorder is fair.  Not only does it take years to find the right combination of medications, it also takes a great deal of time to sort out how to best take care of ourselves.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is we must learn how to advocate for our best interest as patients.  We have to take care of not only our mental health but our physical health too.

Research has shown people who live with serious mental illness die 25 years younger than those in the general population.  There are many reasons for this statistic.  One of the main reasons is because the very medications which work to treat bipolar disorder have significant side effects.  Many cause substantial weight gain and that leads to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Ask yourself the question, “When is the last time my psychiatrist talked to me about the side effects of all the medications I’m taking?” 

I’ll say upfront I have an excellent psychiatrist.  She’s helped me more in six years than all the doctors I’ve ever had combined.  What probably helped save me was her insistence that I have a blood test once a year to measure cholestoral and blood sugar levels.  Because one of the medications I take raises cholesterol and blood sugar levels.  All the medications I take cause weight gain.  Weight gain increases the risk for diabetes.

But my doctor never had the candid conversation about medication side effects and what the risks are.  Perhaps because it was imperative to work on getting my mental health stable first.  Her job is not to pay attention to my physical health.  And honestly I’ve been fearful of my increased risk for type 2 diabetes since I first started taking anti-psychotics (e.g. Risperdal, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Saphris, Latuda).

At the same time, when I haven’t been taking an anti-psychotic my mania went off the charts and I had dangerous psychotic episodes.  The trade offs for taking these medications come with a cost.

My day of having these medication side-effects and my lack of following a better nutrition plan has now put me in the position of having diabetes.  I’m not happy about it.  It was something I feared.

In my most recent visit to my psychiatrist my blood work showed I’m .01% away from having type 2 diabetes.  Which essentially means, I have it.  My worst fear came true.  But now that I know I’ll be following up with my primary care doctor and getting on a plan to have better health.

The number one cause of death for people with bipolar disorder is cardiovascular disease.  Managing bipolar disorder means managing overall health, not just mental stability.  Everyone who has bipolar or any other mental illness should make an appointment and see a primary care doctor at least once a year.  Learn the side effects of the medications and take them seriously.

A lot can happen in 25 years.  I’d like to be around to see it.

 

I have bipolar disorder and it’s not my fault

I’ve been really open about my struggles with bipolar disorder.  Before I had a good handle on this illness it really rocked my world.  I’ve come to learn that bipolar disorder will destroy your life if you don’t get the proper treatment and learn how to manage the condition.  It can be life threatening during times of severe depression episodes and suicidal thoughts.  It can put us at risk during manic episodes which often lead to psychotic episodes.

After my initial diagnosis I felt terribly ashamed.  The other day I was thinking about an analogy people might be able to relate to.  If you’ve ever had a night of drinking way too much alcohol and you engaged in embarrassing behaviors, the next day you might wake up with not only a hangover but guilty feelings about your behavior.  The things you said and did while drunk didn’t take away the fact you said and did those things.

This is what happened to me during manic and psychotic episodes.  I’d say and do things and then when I was stable I’d have to deal with the guilt of what happened.  The guilt leads to shame and the terrible tapes rolled in my head about what a bad person I was for having been sick.

But after many years of learning about bipolar disorder, I don’t feel badly about what happened to me while sick.  I’ve come to learn that I have bipolar disorder and it’s not my fault.  What is my accountability is now that I’m stable I need to manage my condition so well I won’t ever end up in a compromising position again.

But if for some reason I have break through symptoms, I’m not going to be ashamed.  I’m going to be proactive and do everything I can to manage my condition.  And if I have moments where I feel a little paranoid, make up a story or two based on that paranoia, I’ll live with it too.

One day people are going to realize mental illness doesn’t make you crazy, it just makes us vulnerable.  I wouldn’t blame myself for having cancer.  I’m not going to blame myself for having a mental illness.  And neither should the general public.