Everyone’s Bipolar Is Different

We may have the same disorder in common, but how it manifests in each of us is different.

Obviously, bipolar 1 and 2 are different. But the way I see it, really, everyone has their own personal version of bipolar disorder.

For example, I have bipolar 2 with anxiety disorder. I get very few hypomanic episodes – mostly just  depressive ones. I seem to have ultra-rapid cycling. I take a “cocktail” of medications that includes an SSRI antidepressant, an anti-anxiety medication, a hypnotic (for sleep), an anti-seizure drug, and an “atypical antipsychotic.” I am triggered by loud noises or voices, crowds, financial difficulties, and memories of the rotten ex-boyfriend who almost ruined my life. I have never been an inpatient. I have never had ECT, though I once came close. I am able to work, part-time, from home.

I doubt I could find many people with the same diagnosis, the same symptoms, the same categories of medications, the same specific drugs, at the same dosages, and the same triggers. There may be someone out there who has them, but it doesn’t seem likely, especially given the number of different medications I tried before my psychiatrist and I arrived at this particular mix of medications.

Those are some of the reasons I shy away from giving advice in online support groups when someone asks: Has anyone else taken this medication? What are the side effects? Who has tried CBT or mindfulness? How has that worked out?

If we’re honest, we must say, “I have done this and tried that, but it may not work the same for you.”

Especially the medications. The effects and side effects are pretty specific to each individual. Think about Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (a potentially fatal rash) or tardive dyskinesia (permanent uncontrolled movements). These are extreme side effects that can occur with certain medications. You could get them, but most people don’t. If you recommend that no one ever take them, you might steer others away from a potentially very helpful treatment that would have no bad effects at all – for them.

Even lesser effects and side effects differ from person to person. I’ve taken meds that have given me nightmares, or made me feel like I was jumping out of my skin, or made my hands shake, or caused me to gain weight. Would they do the same for you? I certainly don’t know. There’s no way to tell, except to try them (under your doctor’s advice) and see.

When I see or hear these types of questions, I find myself falling back on a few standard responses:

· Ask your doctor.

· Ask your pharmacist.

· It worked (or didn’t work) for me, but that doesn’t mean it will (or won’t) for you.

· I found the side effects bearable, but you may not.

In fact, the only advice I can reliably give regarding medication – and have given over and over – is this: DO NOT stop taking your medication cold turkey, or without discussing it with your doctor. This is potentially very dangerous. (And the corollary: Don’t tinker with your dosage without consulting your doctor.)

Other than that, about all I can do is share my own experiences, as individual as they may be, and talk about what has worked for me and others I know:

· My sister said that to me, and here’s what I told her.

· If someone treated me like that, I would seriously consider kicking him to the curb.

· Sometimes a good cry, or a purring cat, or a certain kind of music helps me.

· When that happens, I leave the room and make myself a cup of tea.

There is a kinship among people who have bipolar disorder, but like any kinship – any family – no two people are identical. We are individuals, sharing a disorder, but widely varying experiences of it. We can come together to offer support, but always with the knowledge that YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary.

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