I am a opinioned person. I give out information as though I’m an expert. I offer information for the frequency of having / not having / reported / unreported statistics. I even offer opinions of diagnoses based on my observations. But this is based on years of post graduate study and thousands of interviews.
The truth is, I have no psychiatric educational background, I have an Associate’s degree in Accounting. I couldn’t properly diagnose my own illness, and fought the professionals for decades before I finally gave in. No pharmaceutical education either. All in all, I have no right offering opinions or facts.
But I do have some justification for my opinions, if not formally recognized. I have been in one treatment or another for almost 40 years. I have been treated in private practice and by county programs. I’ve had private rooms in some of the finest hospitals, and in overcrowded wards in the worst of the state run hospitals. I’ve been prescribed scores of different medications, and experienced many of the side effects. And I have had specific experiences and study that lends at least what I hope is some credence to my opinions. That being said, I am NOT a professional, I will offer Opinions only. Always, always, always seek professional help, Trust them and respect the years of education and experience. All I’m trying to do is share my experiences in the hope that it might be recognized by others and perhaps offering some comfort that they are not alone.
So where does my information come from? Even though my treatment began in my early teens, I was too young and naïve to know what was happening. It wasn’t until I had been married for a few years that I really began the self study and research. I believed that my wife was suffering from some form of mental illness, and she refused to go to a professional for help. So I did my own research to see if I could get a handle on what I suspected was the root cause. It started with the DSM III. Then I started studying the DSM III Case studies. Then I read the PDR for ideas on effective medications. And since then I’ve continued with the DSM IV and the soon to be released DSM V. Of course, having this assumed knowledge didn’t change anything, but having something that could possibly explained her behaviors and gave me clues as to better ways to deal with it. Was it correct? Did it work? I’ll never know. She never got the help I believed she needed. Of course, I totally ignored the fact that I was suffering from my own illness, which included grandiose thinking and overconfidence.
Even though I was misdiagnosed, or more appropriately ignored the diagnosis, over the years I delved deeper and deeper in to the physiology and influences to see if I could figure out why I felt so bad. The medications I tried had various levels of effectiveness and side effects. I’ve always had an issue with tolerating medications, so the chances that I’d have the side effects were high. Then there was an overdose (Intentionally unfortunately) that gave me insight into the reaction of the medical community, the damage you can do to your body, and the consequences that can result. I’ve seen the effectiveness and limited side effects progressing immensely over the last 40 years. The internet is an incredible resource for research, although it does come with a risk of information overload and inaccuracies. I always try to remember that not everything you read can really be trusted. It is fortunate that there are so many good choices, and such rapid development of treatments and medications. There is a hope today that didn’t exist then.
Then there were the hospitalizations. One thing I’ve noticed is there has been a radical change in how mental hospitals approach health care. My first hospitalization was in a private institution, and I was inpatient for over 30 days. There was constant therapy, from groups to physical activities, to entertainment. We even had a pool table and ping pong table. (I guess they hadn’t figured out yet what good weapons pool cues and ping pong paddles could be). You spent at least 30 minutes per day with your attending psychiatrist. There was an overall focus on treatment rather than just keeping you safe. There was Biofeedback training, self hypnosis, and many other life skills to help you cope with your illness after release. I’ve seen that evolve until now the institutions are there for a brief decompression to take away an immediate threat. Not that there aren’t still facilities that have some of the help beyond immediate safety, but I’ve seen nothing to compare with my early experiences.
So, am I an expert? No. Am I formally educated? No. Am I credentialed? No. What I am is a person with bipolar disorder, who has gone through a lifetime of evolution of treatments and medications. One who has experienced thirty years of the sometime horrible and sometime exhilarating symptoms that come with this illness. Intelligent observations, self study, heavy interaction with other sufferers, along with extensive therapy and self analysis has provided an insight that I hope can be beneficial to others. If I had someone who shared their own story that I could have related to and compared what I was feeling to their experiences and education I might have been able to accept my diagnoses much earlier, and avoid a great deal of suffering.
And that’s my hope. Not to tell anyone what is wrong with them. To tell them what’s wrong with me. If it helps even one other person, it’s worth it.