Alas, many people with bipolar think their doctors will tell them what they need to know. Most of the psychiatrists I have seen gave me an abbreviated (and sometimes disingenuous) description for potential side effects of the pills they prescribed. And that's it.
How do I actually live with this beast? Take my meds. What will it mean for my life? Not so much as a pamphlet.
Psychoeducation for bipolar disorder has been shown to reduce recurrence of depressive, manic, and mixed episodes, all three, and to reduce hospitalization, as well. It includes information about the biological roots of the disorder, the rationale for medication, other treatment options, early warning signs of episodes, and common triggers. It aims to improve adherence to treatment plans. It usually is offered in a group setting.
It isn't offered often.
NAMI's Peer to Peer course gives a bit of this information. It crams in a lot of material for a lot of mental illnesses. It's a start.
To live well with bipolar, do your own study. There is a lot of information out there. And there are a lot of people who can help you find it.
Here is a sampling to get you started:
- For your basic, what is this/do I actually have it/how do I treat it book written in easy to understand language by two highly regarded clinicians, try Bipolar, Not So Much: Understanding Your Mood Swings and Depression, by Chris Aiken and James Phelps. My review is here.
- For family members who want to understand and to help, I recommend Understanding Bipolar Disorder: The Essential Family Guide, by Aimee Daramus. My review is here.
- For therapists who want a more effective treatment protocol, my life turned around and my recovery began when I discovered Treating Bipolar Disorder: A Clinician's Guide to Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy, by Ellen Frank. I wrote a four-part review on this one. The last post, with links to the earlier ones, is here.
- For something different, an exploration of that connection between madness and creativity, Kay Redfield Jamison wrote Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. Redfield Jamison is the expert with lived experience in this list. She co-wrote with Frederick Goodwin THE textbook, Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression. Her personal story is An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness.
- And in the humor category, let's not forget Prozac Monologues: A Voice from the Edge, my own memoir about which the previously mentioned Chris Aiken (editor-in-chief of The Carlat Psychiatry Report) said, You'll gain a textbook's worth of knowledge about depression and bipolar disorder without ever feeling like you read a textbook. Ellen Frank (Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at UPittsburg School of Medicine) said, Brilliantly written, engaging from the first page, Prozac Monologues is a bit like a great evening at a first-rate comedy club.
Knowledge is power. So power up!