I live with bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed at 18-years old after years of fighting symptoms that included intermittent depressive bouts, extreme insomnia (due to hypomania), and crying spells. The catalyst for my diagnosis was a friend’s suicide (you can see more of my diagnosis story here in this short documentary MSNBC filmed). In addition to bipolar disorder, I live with polycystic ovarian syndrome (diagnosed at 19), myasthenia gravis (a neuromuscular autoimmune disease at 24), asthma (24), and psoriasis (30). Overall, (for me) living with bipolar disorder has become more manageable. (Of course, when multiple illnesses are acting up at the same time, excruciating pain is be a trigger.) Things aren’t perfect but they are better. One of the best tools I’ve found in fighting stress and managing mood disorders (depression or bipolar disorder) is talk therapy.
8 Tips for Maximizing Talk Therapy:
No. 1–Be persistent: Finding the right therapist can take time. If you really don’t like someone, I would not give up. It can take a while to find the right person. (Unfortunately, the caveat here is that sometimes we have fewer choices because of insurance companies, laws, and other factors. Check out this article from everyday HEALTH, “6 Cheap Ways to Get Mental Health Care.)
No. 2–Make a list: I get more out of therapy when I make a list of things I want to talk about beforehand. Especially when I have a lot going on in my life, (so like most of the time), my thoughts wander. In the past, when I didn’t make lists, I walked away from sessions and thought, “Oh I wish I brought this up! Forgot about that…”
No. 3–Set goals: What do you want out of therapy? Is it a concrete diagnosis? Is it coping tools for dealing with work and school? Strategies for dealing with confrontation and advice on relationships? Do you have a trauma from the past that you need to address? Goals can change over time as we change. It’s important to re-evaluate goals periodically.
No. 4–Do Mood Charts: If you have bipolar disorder (or think you might have it), I highly recommend doing mood charts as I blogged about here in “3 Tips for Making Mood Charts Work.” One of the pitfalls in living with bipolar disorder is that during a depressive episode, it can feel like we’ve been depressed “forever” even though that’s not true. Moreover, people with bipolar disorder are more likely to seek help when they are feeling depressed and not when they are feeling manic. This often leads to people with bipolar disorder being misdiagnosed for years as having (unipolar) depression.
A mood chart gives us perspective during depression because it helps us remember periods of stability, mania (or hypomania for those with bipolar 2), and mixed states (both depression and mania/hypomania). You can find a variety of charts online. Depending on the chart, you can track your moods using numbers, colors, and words.
No. 5–Bring a list of medications: The most tedious aspect of therapy was being handed the clipboard before the appointment when I was asked to list all the medications I’m on, how many times I took them, and what dosage. Seriously: I have five illnesses and I still don’t know how to pronounce the two medications I take for my psoriasis! Now, I bring a spreadsheet of all my medications. I also bring this spreadsheet to all other medical appointments. I update it whenever I have a new appointment.
No. 6–Try web therapy: I do not recommend online therapy (Skype, V-see) if you have a new therapist. However, there are times when it’s appropriate. Web therapy is ideal for people who can’t leave the house (whether that’s due to the inertia of depression or other illnesses), have physical disabilities, lack of transportation, or autoimmune reasons. Where I live, winter is six months of the year. Because of the myasthenia, coughing and sneezing people are a threat to me. I’m constantly avoiding germs. During flu season, I see my therapist online. My therapist has known me for years so she can read changes in my vocal inflection and subtle body language signs.
No. 7–Bring documents of your medical history: If you’re just starting therapy or have switched therapists, this is really helpful. Have a record of past and current symptoms and if applicable, any medications or hospitalizations.
No. 8–Coordinate information between therapist and psychiatrist: There is a difference between therapists and psychiatrists. Therapy is the shorter version of the word, psychotherapy. While a therapist can talk to you about your problems, he/she cannot prescribe medications. By contrast, psychiatrists can prescribe medications in addition to providing talk therapy. A psychiatrist has an MD degree (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy). (To read more on the differences between therapists and psychiatrists, click here.)
Psychology Today database (US. and Canada) You can find a detailed listing of therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors anywhere in the United States and parts of Canada
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno