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Bipolar Disorder: You Too Can Walk In Recovery

Bipolar Disorder: You Too Can Walk In Recovery

With the recent revelation of American rapper, Kanye West, being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, the condition has been brought into the spotlight. The term ‘Bipolar’ (meaning “two poles”) signifies the polar opposites of emotional highs and lows. As the name suggests, Bipolar Disorder is characterised by episodic, extreme mood swings in which the individual experiences intense mania and severe depression. Formerly known as ‘Manic-depressive Illness’, the disorder is a fairly common, yet serious mental health condition. 

 

For individuals struggling with the disorder, manic episodes can last days to weeks and are often associated with hyperactivity, an irritable mood, rapid thoughts, increased recklessness, or an exaggerated sense of self-esteem and power. On the other hand, a depressive episode can last weeks to months. In this phase, individuals may experience increased restlessness, a loss of interest in activities (including those that they usually enjoy), poor concentration or disrupted sleep patterns. In more severe cases, these people may also possess suicidal thoughts and behaviours. 

 

In order to help us better understand the condition, we interviewed Deborah Seah, a peer support specialist at Psaltcare.  

Deborah Seah

Deborah started experiencing extreme mood swings in her early primary school years. Having known that her paternal family had a history of mental illness, she identified that her condition was most likely to be genetic. However, she had chosen to suffer in silence until 2 decades later, when she sought psychiatric help for postnatal depression and work-related burnout. At that point, she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder as well as Generalised Anxiety Disorder. For Deborah, the disorder reigned control over her life – straining her relationships with her loved ones. Before her diagnosis, others could not understand why she was being so unpredictable, and her erratic behaviour had unfortunately caused numerous misunderstandings.

 

“It was very challenging to manage my mood swings at the tender age of 8,” she shared. “When I was experiencing my highs, I would talk very fast, have tremendous amounts of energy, get very excited, or become easily irritable and agitated. On the other hand, when I was experiencing my lows, I would feel very sad and experience low energy levels. I could cry for hours or days over trivial matters and be even suicidal at times. The experience of dealing with bipolar disorder consisted of feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and loneliness as I could not predict or control my emotions and energy.” Deborah’s experience with bipolar disorder led her to face an identity crisis – being confused over her contrasting “personalities”, and not knowing which was the real her. 

 

Just like any other mental condition, there are bound to be misconceptions of the Bipolar Disorder, especially if people don’t open up and address it. One such misconception is that individuals struggling with Bipolar Disorder are incapable of managing their mood swings. However, Deborah takes this as an opportunity to debunk such a sentiment: “After a certain point in time, I’ve arrived at a higher level of self-awareness towards my early warning signs, and it has enabled me to gain self-mastery over my condition. When my mood or energy level starts to dip, I’m aware of what could effectively help me to increase my mood and energy. When my mood or energy level is overly high, I know that I need to be extra mindful of not going into overdrive.”

 

While on the road to recovery, Deborah made a commendable effort in helping herself cope with the disorder. This included reading up on the condition proactively to ensure that she could better achieve self-mastery. Of course, finding a silver lining and staying positive is essential over the course of recovery. Keeping up with articles on others’ success stories and breakthroughs helped her to stay hopeful and confident that recovery is not impossible. 

 

Being highly motivated to make headway towards recovery, Deborah knew that she needed to make changes to her lifestyle. For starters, Deborah:

 

  1. ensures that she keeps to a good sleep routine and to have sufficient rest
  2. adopts a healthy lifestyle by having a balanced diet and staying active through exercise
  3. stays in a conducive environment for recovery where all potential triggers are removed as much as possible.

 

She also notes that her Christian faith has played an essential part. Daily prayer and spiritual devotion helped her to calm her mind and provided her with the much-needed inner peace. However, Deborah stresses that one should not brush aside the idea of peer support or psychiatric intervention. The active use of medications coupled with peer support contributed to the turning point in her recovery, and restored any lost hope when the future was seemingly bleak. Connecting to like-minded peers can help one explore new coping strategies and stay on a personal wellness plan.  

 

“Upon knowing my diagnosis, my family took the initiative to purchase books on Bipolar Disorder to understand my condition better,” Deborah recounted. “My family gave me space when I needed it and continually held hope for me even when I gave up on myself. They didn’t pressurise me to make quick progress on my recovery but assured me that they genuinely only wanted me to be happy and that is all that mattered to them. I was deeply touched by their love and concern for me and felt motivated to work hard on my recovery because I realised that they would always be affected whenever I’m suffering.” Through her experience, Deborah holds a strong belief that the hope and support from her loved ones had an immeasurable, significant impact on her, and encourages those who are also supporting their loved ones with mental conditions to stay hopeful. 

 

As of today, Deborah has made promising progress and is well on her way towards achieving mental wellness. After consistently attending a Recovery and Wellness Sustenance (RWS) Workshop at IMH, Deborah graduated with a certificate of participation. Recognising that she benefited much from the workshop, she returned as a Mentor to co-train the subsequent class of peers. In addition, Deborah also completed a module conducted by the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) and was involved in the facilitation for the 3rd and current 5th batch of Peer Support Specialist (PSS) training. She said, “It gave me confidence and reinforced my own recovery as I pay it forward and encourage my peers in their recovery journey. Moreover, it has equipped me with effective coping skills to deal with my mental health condition and it brought my recovery to a higher level.”

 

To end off, Deborah hopes to pass on an important message to the readers: “To me, there is no shame to be on psychiatric medication or seeking psychiatric help. Just like how people with diabetic conditions need to be on insulin while some people who are asthmatic need to be on Ventolin, people with psychiatric conditions need to take psychiatric medication too. Resilience in Recovery requires these 3 things: Courage – to embrace the past, Gratitude – for the gifts of the present, and Hope – to make the most of the future. I believe that everyone can recover from a mental health challenge, as long as he or she does not give up hope because I am the Evidence of Recovery myself! Everyone recovers at their own pace, just like every flower blooms in its season – let us hold the hope for our loved ones and for those who are battling mental health challenges by cheering them on and being their source of support to believe that recovery is indeed possible.”

 


References:

https://www.healthhub.sg/a-z/diseases-and-conditions/49/topics_bipolar_disorder (Accessed 01/08/2020)

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml (Accessed 01/08/2020)

Photo by Samuel Clara on Unsplash

How to be a Mental Health Supporter to Your Friend

How to be a Mental Health Supporter to Your Friend

“I’m depressed”, “I need help”. How do you react when a friend of yours approaches you, hoping to seek help and comfort? In a society that unfortunately stigmatises mental health issues, many of us are most likely incapable of tackling such situations appropriately. Sadly, people would feel a sense of awkwardness, then attempt to shrug it off by changing the topic. Worse still, some may distance themselves from their troubled peers – being unsure as to how they can help and would rather stay away. To date, mental health issues are considered taboo, and many would prefer to avoid talking about it. 

Unsurprisingly, it has come to light in recent times that mental health is ranked second in a study conducted on concerns among Singaporean youths, amid others such as employment opportunities. At the fundamental level, we’ll need to be more informed on how we can assist those around us to seek help from mental health professionals when things get hard, and how we can better support them to cope with their condition. The reason behind this is that many would favour talking to their friends before all else instead of consulting a counsellor or a therapist. Besides the stigma of having to seek therapy, the trust and bond between friends nudges them to find comfort in their peers, allowing them to express themselves more easily. To a certain extent, we are at the frontline and act as the safety net for our troubled friends, thus exponentially increasing the need for us to be more mindful of how we respond and act. 

What are some good steps to take if you know that your friend needs help? The most helpful thing you can do if they choose to open up to you is to simply listen. When someone approaches you to tell you their problems, it is extremely important that you lend them a listening ear and to hear them out. This will mean the world to them, for it probably took them quite some time to gather the courage to speak up. Set aside some time to provide an open and non-judgemental space for them to be fully transparent with you. It is vital that any distractions are limited, so that they are assured they have your full attention. Revealing their deepest, private thoughts to someone else is never easy, and when they choose to, it will be greatly beneficial in knowing that the other party truly cares for them. 

With that said, let your friend take the lead in the conversation. Let them take control over what they’re willing to share, and what they’re not willing to. We have to understand that ultimately, they have the right to guard their personal feelings and privacy, and we should never, under any circumstance, force them to reveal matters that they aren’t ready to talk about. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on them and let them talk at their preferred pace. You could very well be the first person that they have been able to open up to, and it is crucial that you do not break the trust and confidence they have in you.

Oftentimes, people may tend to get overly-absorbed in the conversation, and take on the role of a “therapist”. Unknowingly, they may start to second guess or make assumptions as to what is wrong, and subsequently jump into conclusions with a possible diagnosis or solution. However, hold your horses – bear in mind that you are neither a trained therapist nor a psychologist. Don’t label them with what you think is going on. Focus on providing them with a reliable listening ear or a shoulder to cry on instead.  

Providing words of comfort may seem easy enough – but there are pitfalls in which we often walk into unintentionally. “Things will be better tomorrow”, “I felt the same when I…” Such words are rarely made out of malice, but rather because it is easier to fall back on such overused expressions whenever we struggle to find the right words. However, this could backfire, as the underlying tone may come off as dismissive, unhelpful or even judgemental. Instead, validate their feelings and thoughts. Assure them that you will be there whenever they need someone to talk to, and that it is okay for them to feel what they feel. Moreover, avoid making comparisons between their experiences and yours. Every individual’s journey is personal and unique to them – try to make the conversation less about you and give them a space to express themselves freely. 

Focus on how your friend is coping as the conversation carries on, and be alert to any red flags. If it becomes obvious that your friend needs help dealing with emotional issues or a mental health problem,  talk to them about receiving proper treatment from a mental health professional. It may be tough to start such a conversation as a person’s culture, family background and experiences may influence their perception about seeking help, which makes such a topic about therapy an intense and personal one. Initially, you may expect some resistance, as they might feel a sense of shame and failure. Remember to reassure them that receiving therapy is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sensible way to deal with their troubles. If possible, simple gestures like offering to accompany them to their first session can also be comforting, for they will be less likely to feel abandoned. 

Being patient with them is key, even if your friend is rejecting professional help. Your conversation may have started getting them to consider it, even if it doesn’t mean seeking help immediately. Try to see things from your friend’s perspective and just be there to support and encourage them. Doing this will help facilitate on-going deep and meaningful conversations, and can make your friend more receptive to reaching out to you and for professional help in the future when they are ready. 

 


References:

Mental health, job opportunities among issues raised by youths in engagement sessions (Accessed on 13/06/2020)

Photo by Felix Rostig on Unsplash