Let’s be honest. Living with bipolar disorder sucks. There’s no sugarcoating that truth. If that weren’t tough enough, trying to manage bipolar with other health issues can feel almost impossible.
On any given day with bipolar, you never know if you’re going to wake up as Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, or some other random monster. Of course, that’s only if (a big IF) you slept at all the night before.
Since mental illness can be such a hard animal to tame, what can you do if you also have other health issues to deal with? Is it possible to survive? How does bipolar affect other health care? Do other conditions influence bipolar symptoms?
This post will look at a first-hand account of how bipolar can affect other health conditions and treatments.
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Who Am I?
If this is your first visit to Speaking bipolar, Welcome! This blog is dedicated to helping people live successfully with bipolar disorder, discover new paths to self-improvement, and face the struggles of coping with chronic illness.
My name is Scott, and I’m the man behind the keyboard. You can read my personal story in the series Surviving Bipolar. I don’t have any special qualifications and am not an authority on anything.
I do, however, face each day with Bipolar 1. Add to that, I have a genetic condition known as Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF). If that weren’t enough, I also contend with gastroparesis, anxiety disorder, acid reflux, migraines, eczema, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), etc.
Yeah, my health conditions bingo card is pretty full. That’s my life.
None of this is meant to be taken as whining or complaining. I only mention my issues so that you have a little background on the words to follow.
Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Other Health Conditions?
Yep, let’s start with the hard question first: What’s the relationship of bipolar with other health issues? Does one affect the other?
The truth is, there is no easy answer. The answer can be yes and no. It depends on what you are looking at and who you ask.
From a purely clinical view, there’s probably very little impact of brain chemistry on other conditions. At least that’s what the doctors will tell you.
I whole-heartedly disagree.
For one, bipolar causes me to have chronic insomnia. When I don’t sleep, the pain and severity of attacks from FMF are much worse.
Two, bipolar depression makes my anxiety much worse. Increased anxiety adds to digestive issues and increased problems from gastroparesis and IBS.
Three, bipolar causes a lot of noise in my head. When that noise is incessant for a long period of time, migraines are usually triggered.
So, does bipolar disorder directly influence other health conditions? Maybe not, but its aftereffects can make other condition’s symptoms worse.
Do Other Conditions Affect Bipolar?
For this question, I don’t care what any “professional” might have to say on the subject.
The answer is unequivocally YES.
Why do I say that?
Take a typical day with Familial Mediterranean Fever. In addition to insomnia causing more pain, bipolar worsens other FMF symptoms.
Mania is a common occurrence with Bipolar 1. The problem with mania is that you typically can’t pace yourself or set reasonable limits. As a result, you may end up doing much more physically than you are capable of withstanding. For example, rearranging all the furniture in the house or deciding to build a new burn pit in the backyard when you’re already sick, not that I know anyone who would do either of those things. (Clears thought sheepishly.)
Overdoing physically almost always brings on an FMF attack. Not only that, but the attack that comes is usually much more severe and lasts longer.
On the flipside, bipolar depression can leave you feeling incapable of doing anything other than staying in bed with the blankets pulled up over your head. That’s not good either.
You would think all that extra rest would be beneficial, but it turns out that spending too much time in bed also makes the FMF worse. It also brings on another attack and generally makes me feel like I want to die from all the increased pain.
What About Medications?
Have I thoroughly depressed you yet? Bear with me. I promise to be more positive, but first, one more negative issue to discuss in terms of managing bipolar with other health issues.
It seems like most physical illnesses require some sort of medication. Whether it’s FMF, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, etc.
The big problem, though, and this is true for most mood-altering medications, is that not all drugs play nice together. Some medicines will render antidepressants and antipsychotics less effective or negate them altogether. That’s not a good thing.
For this reason, it’s important that all of your doctors work together and have the same up-to-date information. Every member of your healthcare team needs to know what medications you are taking and when.
However, you can’t rely completely on your doctors. I can’t tell you how many times a doctor told me it was fine to take two meds together, but then later either my pharmacist or my own research revealed that the two should not be taken at the same time.
Sometimes things can be fixed by changing the time of day that you take each medication. More often than not one of the meds will have to go.
Finding the right combination of pills to successfully manage bipolar disorder can be a long and slow process. As a result, it’s important to consider whether you want to vary your mental illness treatment plan or find other solutions for your other health conditions.
Can You Survive?
So, here’s the good news. Living a productive life while having bipolar with other health issues is possible. You can do it. It’s possible to survive and thrive. I’m living proof.
(Okay, so I’m not always thriving, but I’m working on it.)
To achieve success, you need to take control of your own health. You can do that by learning as much as you can about each of your conditions and the treatment plans available. In addition, closely monitor your wellbeing.
The Value of Health Journals
I’m a firm believer in keeping a health journal. If you maintain one, be sure to note how you feel, both mentally and physically, at various times of the day. List when you take your medications and what you eat.
Be sure also to include what activities you have participated in, how much rest you got, and any other health-specific stats such as blood pressure, blood sugar, body temperature, etc.
Next, use your health journal to help you see what things are working and what are not. This is often the fastest way to see if a new antidepressant is effective or not. In addition, it can reveal food allergies and behaviors that negatively impact your overall health.
The better you know yourself and your conditions, the better your everyday life will be. In many ways, your health is in your hands.
For me, I’m able to work a full-time job and manage this blog even with all the conditions I listed above (and a few I didn’t mention.) Success is possible, but it does take work and effort on your part.
Just know that the work is worth it because it will lead to a better quality of life.
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What Works For You?
Are there things you’ve found that help you to successfully cope with bipolar and other health issues? Please share your condition and your tips in the comments below.
Next up, be sure to read the post 4 Things a Chronic Illness Teaches You
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