What’s me and what’s my illness?
You’ve always thought of yourself as creative, productive and sociable. Now that you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you wonder how many of the qualities that made up “you” are symptoms of your disorder.
Where do you stop and the disorder begin?
“Were my periods of high energy, creativity and accomplishment nothing more than signs of an illness?” you might ask yourself, says David J. Miklowitz, PhD in The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide. “How much mood variability am I ‘allowed’ before people think I’m getting sick again?”
It feels now that it’s all about your illness. You may wonder when you’re happy if it’s a sign you’re becoming manic or if when you’re sad it means you’re depressed. But your feelings might be the same as those other people experience.
It’s important to separate your personality, habits and attitudes from your symptoms, says Miklowitz. Being especially energetic for several days may not be a symptom, but not being able to sleep for several nights may be.
Compare your personality traits to the symptoms you have when you’re manic or depressed. It may help to ask those close to you what they observe, he says. Here are some examples from The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide:
Your personality traits
Your manic or depressive symptoms
|Sociable||Full of energy|
|Intellectual||Unable to concentrate|
“Having bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you have to give up your identity, hopes and aspirations, says Miklowitz. “Try to maintain a healthy sense of who you are and think about how your personality strengths can be drawn on in dealing with the illness.”
Many people with bipolar disorder, productive people with successful relationships, accept their need to take medications and have developed strategies for managing life’s stresses, he says.