Hello! Welcome to the Bipolar Parent’s Saturday morning mental health check in.
How has your week been? Have you been spending time on your self-care or has that fallen by the wayside? How have you been sleeping? Hopefully well! Have you been able to adjust back to your daily routines from the holidays, or has that just been a mess? Let me know in the comments!
I’ve been facing some depression and exhaustion this week.
I missed my meds on Tuesday morning, which is my Wellbutrin, an antidepressant. I took half a dose in the afternoon, but because it shares a pathway in my brain with caffeine, it kept me awake at night. Unable to sleep on Tuesday, I took a sleep aid, which left me groggy and tired all day Wednesday, even after a nap when my toddler was at preschool.
But mostly, I’ve been having a hard time adjusting from Phoenix’s sun to Washington’s overcast skies, cold weather, and 100% humidity.
I just haven’t been able to get myself going this week. We arrived home last Saturday and I didn’t unpack until Friday night. My multivitamin, vitamin D, and iron supplements that I normally take every day were stuck in my suitcase for a week, which I’m sure has been affecting my mood.
All of this has left me worn out and down this week. I’m hoping next week will be better. I’ve unpacked, so that’s a start. But here’s hoping that I’ll adjust to my daily routines again–and soon.
The holidays can be a source of great joy for many people. But the season of celebrations can also be fraught with tension, especially when families get together. But if you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder, then navigating the heated conversations at the dinner table can be triggering and difficult. Read on to find out how to communicate effectively with family during the holidays when you have a mental illness.
1. Know Your Limits
One of the most effective ways to communicate with difficult family members starts with you knowing yourself. Before you find yourself pushed to your limits, advocate for breaks for yourself. Excusing yourself for a brief walk or a breath of fresh air will do wonders for your disposition. There’s no shame in seeking time away to ground yourself. If you suffer from bipolar disorder, check out this post on common bipolar triggers and how to manage them to avoid falling into a depressive or manic episode.
2. Redirect the Conversation with Humor
When you find yourself facing people asking probing questions about anxiety-producing topics like your reproductive plans, try gently redirecting the conversation using humor. Don’t answer the question if you don’t feel like doing so, but do try to give the asker a witty (and possibly self-depricating) comment. This is easier said than done, of course, and if this puts more pressure on you, use the next tip instead.
3. Firmly Establish Conversational Boundaries
Some family members may have the unfortunate tendency to expound on their offensive political opinions to others, especially captive audiences around the dinner table. Don’t take the bait and argue with them. Instead, firmly establish conversational boundaries. Try saying something like, “Aunt Mildred, I understand that you feel that way. But I don’t want to talk about X, Y, or Z tonight. Let’s just enjoy the party, please.” If Aunt Mildred continues, then use tip one and gently extricate yourself from the conversation to take a break.
4. Enlist the Help of a Trusted Family Member
If you have a loving spouse or partner, or even a beloved family member you are close to, enlist his or her help in managing other more divisive people. Check in with your partner and ask them to check in with you every half hour or so during parties or other family gatherings. If needed, develop a signal between the two of you so he or she can rescue you from unpleasant conversations.
5. Lean on Existing Support Systems
If you are traveling and won’t be able to meet with your usual therapist or psychiatrist, then make sure to have crisis hotlines or warmlines programmed into your phone. If you’re bipolar, one national warmline provided by Nami Orange County can be called at 877-910-9276. Online support groups can help as well; try HealthfulChat’s room focused on bipolar disorder.
6. Avoid Alcohol
This isn’t a fun tip, but alcohol can add fuel to the fires of family conflict. Staying sober will reduce the chances of your saying something you regret. If you do choose to imbibe, then know your limits, and drink plenty of water to avoid having a hangover the next day.
7. Eat Properly and Get Plenty of Sleep
This tip is similar to tip 1: take care of yourself. Try to avoid sugar as much as possible, stick to your normal, healthy diet, and go to bed at reasonable hours. If you take care of your body, then you will be better equipped to handle family members who talk your ear off. Also, take your meds.
Communicating with your family during the holidays when you have a mental illness isn’t an insurmountable task. Just make sure to take care of yourself–removing yourself from conversations if necessary–avoid alcohol, get support, and establish firm boundaries.
To treat bipolar disorder, adhering to a medication regime is crucial. The medications used to treat bipolar disorder are antidepressants, antipsychotics, antidepressant-antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, and mood stabilizers. Downing your pills day after day keeps you from becoming manic, or worse, suicidal. But some side effects to medications are difficult to deal with. But there are better ways to deal with side effects than simply stopping your medication.
A Dangerous Side Effect: Suicide
A dangerous but very rare side effect of bipolar medication is suicide. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has placed warnings on anticonvulsants–which are sometimes used to treat bipolar disorder–and antidepressants, especially in the case of adolescents taking them. Antidepressants aren’t frequently used to treat bipolar due to the risk of inducing rapid cycling or mania. Anyone starting these medications must be monitored closely by a treatment team looking out for worsening depression or the resurgence of mania.
The antidepressants mirtazapine (Remeron) and venlafaxine (Effexor) were found to increase the risk of suicidal or self-harming behaviors, according to a 2010 study. Also in the class of antidepressants that increase these risks are all selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
Side Effects That Tend to Diminish Over Time
Many of the side effects of bipolar medications are temporary, and will diminish over time. While all medications and individuals taking them are different, side effects that tend to be temporary include:
Digestive issues, such as diarrhea and constipation
Nausea, bloating, or indigestion
Side effects of bipolar medication should be reported to a doctor, as they could be indicative of a larger issue.
Managing Other Common Side Effects
Other side effects of bipolar medication can be tolerated or treated with lifestyle changes. Some common side effects and the ways to manage them are;
Dry mouth: treated with an over-the-counter gum or spray. Sucking on ice chips also helps
Sexual issues: treated by reducing the dosage of medications used, changing medications, or using sexual aids
Sensitivity to the sun: use sunscreen or protective clothing, or stay out of the sun entirely
Sensitivity to cold: avoid cold weather and dress more warmly
Joint and muscle aches: ibuprofen and other over-the-counter pain relievers may be used
Menstrual issues: birth control may be prescribed
Anxiety or restlessness: changing medication dosages or adding a drug can reduce this side effect. Yoga may also help
Heartburn: treated by changes in diet and exercise, but over-the-counter and prescription meds are used as well
Increase in blood sugar, Diabetes: medications used to manage the blood sugar can be taken to lessen this side effect
Acne: medication is available to treat this side effect
Mood swings: adjusting dosages and types of medications taken is generally the only way to handle this side effect
Weight gain: see mood swings. I will be covering weight gain specifically in a future post.
The Bottom Line
Side effects of medications are an unfortunate and expected part of treating bipolar disorder. Fortunately, most side effects can be managed, or diminish over time.
If you suffer from intolerable side effects, talk to your doctor about how to manage them better. Don’t stop taking your meds without a doctor’s approval, and never stop taking bipolar medication immediately. Treating your bipolar disorder is worth dealing with side effects. For example, it’s better to manage acne than to have to pick up the pieces after a manic episode.