Treating Bi-Polar with Yoga… and medication

This post isn’t actually about yoga. It’s about bi-polar and how it has affected my life, possibly a lot, possibly hardly at all. There’s so much about bi-polar that people don’t understand, and even that science doesn’t have answers for.

As you’ll know if you’ve read the previous posts in this series, I lost someone last year who had been struggling with bi-polar disorder for most of her life. I shouldn’t really say that ‘I’ lost her… the world lost her, her family lost her. I never really knew her. We’d kept in touch for 18 years after meeting in an online support group. She posted a lot of funny cat memes. This series started because she passed away on Let’s Talk day. And because I’m finally ready to talk about it. All of it.

I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder shortly before my 20th birthday.

To be honest, I don’t especially want to get into all the things, that my own mind-body did, during the years leading up to the diagnosis. Let’s save that for my memoirs. haha. What I do want to talk about right now, is the fact that the diagnosis didn’t stick, the why not, and the why it doesn’t matter.

See, at the time, I noticed a lot of stuff that wasn’t real. One thing I noticed, and believed was real, was the list on the wall of patients who had the same doctor as me. It was probably a real whiteboard, and not a hallucination. It was probably even a real list. And I think I really talked to all the patients on the list, and we had really all been diagnosed with bi-polar. A more obvious reason, that occurred to me much later, was that we were all placed with a specialist. The reason I saw at the time, was a specialist seeing what they are trained to see. Potato potato.

It didn’t stick because I refused to accept the label. Part of the reason it’s taken so long for me to share this is that I don’t want to mislead anyone. My major hesitation in write this is that sometimes people with bi-polar believe at some point, that they should go off their medication, and Usually They Shouldn’t.

Bi-polar is a lifelong illness

Last year, shortly after my friend passed away, I was once again rehashing my own mental illness history. When a yoga instructor I follow popped up in my news feed with an article titled Treating Bi-Polar with Yoga, Tarot and Harry Potter… I checked it out, naturally intrigued, and reached out to the yogi tribe member who the article was about.

It turned out that she was also treating bi-polar with medication, as is generally needed, and completely okay.

I only took lithium for one year, to appease my family, and then continued on only anti-depressants for another year. I’m more hesitant still, in admitting that I decided to go off all medication during a stressful time. Maybe it shows a lack of forethought, that you might even associate with mental illness. I chose to see it as an excellent time to test myself. I was opening my store and going though a breakup, stressful things, but nothing insurmountable.

The first year was challenging. I was going to the bar four times a week and had started smoking cigarettes again, when something changed. I saw the light. Just kidding. My boss came onto me. It was gross. I was annoyed with everything. That’s the point in my story when I met my husband. He was the most solid and supportive person I have ever met. He was also, probably, the only other vegetarian web designer in our little town.

I could easily have just believed I wasn’t good enough.

Mindfulness to the rescue. The MBSR program showed up right when I needed it most. I dove in and learnt that by honouring myself, by taking time for myself, I could build up a sense of worth. The things I learnt in that program have come to my rescue again and again, through many ups and downs. I haven’t taken any medication in over 10 years.

Why it doesn’t matter

Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. But I’ve done my homework, and it really doesn’t matter. All but one source say bi-polar is a lifelong illness.

One study suggested there could be a differentiated form, that when diagnosed between 19-23, can later go away completely. It’s over 10 years old and no further research has been released. What we do know is that sometimes bi-polar people go years without a serious episode. They can basically have no symptoms and still have the illness. In fact there have been cases of people being diagnosed in their 50s, after having their first serious episode.

What we do know is that sometimes bi-polar people go years without a serious episode. They can basically have no symptoms and still have the illness.

So I might be thriving with a serious illness, it could possibly have gone away completely, or it could have been a misdiagnosis from the start. Potato potato. My friend is gone. And I miss her.

The stigma

Before I opened my store, I worked in an office. Sometimes I would go across the street when I was overwhelmed, and see a crisis worker. I liked her, and when she went on maternity leave, I didn’t want to ever re-tell my life to another counsellor.

One of the front desk ladies used to give me a ride home, because I hadn’t learnt to drive yet. I had just started a new job, it was pretty cool. Then one night she told me that a woman who used to work in our office was bi-polar. It was clear that she thought that made her unfit to hold a job. 

Growing up in this small town, starting a business here, being younger than the general population, has all been challenging for me at times. Sometimes very challenging. I’ve survived though, and that’s way more badass than it seems. And I’m done with putting what anyone else thinks before myself and what I need to do. Take care of yourself, take care of each other, take care of the planet. #EndTheStigma

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