124: The Intersection of Recovery and Bipolar Disorder (Sort Of)


We explore the world of being in recovery from substance abuse and also having bipolar disorder. Erin joins us to help describe the world of bipolar. What’s the overlap like? Are parts of recovery from one struggle also relevant to helping recover from the other? Are there any practices that we generally suggest to people in recovery that might not be the best for individuals that deal with bipolar? We start out explaining the diagnostic criteria of bipolar disorder, move into what it might feel like, look at some of the risk factors, address some of the triggers, and finally talk about some of the best coping strategies. Listen in and learn about bipolar disorder, to either help yourself in your recovery or maybe better understand someone close to you. Join the conversation by leaving a message, emailing us at RecoverySortOf@gmail.com,  or find us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, or find us on our website at www.recoverysortof.com.

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Transcript:

recovery sort of is a podcast where we discuss recovery topics from the perspective of people living in long-term recovery this podcast does not intend to represent the views of any particular group organization or fellowship the attitudes expressed are solely the opinion of its contributors be advised there may be strong language or topics of an adult nature

welcome back it’s recovery sort of i’m jason a guy who has wondered if he’s bipolar at times and i’m billy i’m a person in long-term recovery and today we’re joined by aaron hi erin hi how are you guys today doing all right how are you pretty darn good that’s awesome so if you haven’t guessed which you probably have because i make it plainly obvious in my introduction we’re talking about bipolar today and uh you know we had spoken with aaron and she she mentioned that that was part of her story and we thought you know how many people maybe have this struggle or don’t know they’re having this struggle or are unaware of what’s going on and and there’s such correlation between uh mental health and you know substance use and abuse and and however you want to refer to that that we just thought it was key that people getting off of substances and into recovery might want to explore their their mental health journey and so i’m already talking too much i will let aaron explain exactly why she is here to help us out with this episode oh my goodness okay well thank you for giving me this opportunity um so i got into recovery um my my recovery date is november the 16th of 2008. and when i got in i had suffered from depression or depressive episodes most of my life since my teenage years and i came from a family that would either throw money at it or throw meds at it so i had been on antidepressants one sort of way or the other for years in my 20s which is when my drinking and using started to really take off um i would have you know horrible breakdowns and it was one of the you know it’s like it’s in the anti-basic text you know it says like could it be the drugs you know and um so i was i i always knew there was something wrong i just didn’t know what it was so when i got into recovery everybody uh at the time was seeing a very specific psychiatrist in the area so i went and uh and was sort of reticent about getting on meds at the time because at the time that i got clean there was kind of a split of people who were like well you don’t need to be on meds you know it’s just you need the steps and recovery and then the other half was like maybe you should get on meds um so there also at that time period you know depression and bipolar disorder which i hadn’t even really you know delved into wasn’t as socially acceptable as it is today you know today it’s like if you’re bipolar you’ve got you know a t-shirt and you know a website and and there’s you know a million people coming out and they’re just like i’m bipolar also you know it was it was not uh trendy or chic at the time it was um usually used as a punchline you know i was like oh my girlfriend’s crazy [ __ ] she must be bipolar you know and um and they’re probably not wrong so at the time i didn’t that was not even a thing that was thrown around so around you know i got into recovery i got involved you know i stayed clean for about five years and around five years i got involved with a really abusive person where i lived i got kind of isolated from my fellowship and isolated from meetings and isolated from everything and i was living out in the middle of nowhere and um and i just started to deteriorate mentally and when i got out of that relationship um i ended up in the hospital and in the hospital they were like yeah you’re a bipolar too uh and bipolar 2 disorder as opposed to bipolar one um is characterized by what’s referred to as hypomania so mania is how i like to describe it um hypomania is you know i’d like to write a book about jaws and mania is i am jaws so that’s uh how you would describe it which means that the the manic part of it with bipolar one is where people usually get people get um hospitalized for you know thanking their god and having sort of paranoid delusions if you will whereas with hypomania it’s characterized by you know excessive thoughts excessive talking excessive swearing excessive shopping you know which and you you made this uh comment about how well it’s what came first the chicken or the egg you know what i mean like is this a like am i just an addict or am i an addict that deals with mental illness and since i’ve had five years off of substances you know they were able to make that distinction and say no no this is different you know this is something very different and i wanted to rebel that was a big thing was i could deal with being an addict i could deal with being an alcoholic i could deal with being you know labeled as you know depressed but i could not deal with the the bipolar tag i just hated it so uh they basically told me at the time they said okay so you need to find a therapist so yes that is definitely good advice they said find a therapist and um you’re going to have to be on a medication combination so instead of like being on just an antidepressant they put me on an antidepressant and an antipsychotic or also referred to as a mood stabilizer so um so you know and thus began the journey really because it was a lot of trial and error and it was confusing um and i yeah like i said there were there were no you know bipolar support groups at the time and there was no like bipolar facebook chat you know there wasn’t any of that stuff so i um i found myself doing a lot of research you know a lot of books and trying to figure out what this meant and that this meant that this was going to involve a lifestyle change just as in recovery when you know you come in and they tell you you know it’s like okay you’re gonna go to meetings you’re going to get a sponsor you’re going to find a higher power that works for you you’re gonna work steps it was exactly like that it was like learning a whole new way to live um but way more in depth i would say you know like just way more serious as far as you can’t do this you can’t do this you can’t do that

so yeah i mean the main thing that happened was i had to learn that you know meds and therapy were all well and good but it was really important what i put into my body and what i uh did in a day that was it was learning a routine that worked for me and um so manic depressive which is what i prefer because i hate bipolar

manic depressive just sounds like you know i’ll turn on any minute you know it’s great um but manic depressive uh roughly translates from the greek it means mania to speed up and depressed to slow down so there’s two poles like this and the way that it progresses is that there’s a rise so right here this is where it’s fun it’s very similar to being on speed i would say um so you’re you know you got all the ideas you know you got all the ideas you’re super creative you’re super talkative you know maybe you’re swearing a little too much maybe your filter is gone um it’s very uh like the world is going a million miles an hour and you’re the smartest person in the room and that’s like a tuesday yeah

right um there’s fight there’s um i i sent y’all a message at one point but like there’s there’s a movie with bradley cooper called um limitless and it’s where he takes this magic pill and the magic pill makes him like you know smarter than everyone else faster than everyone else a sex god you know just like it’s all of the wonderful feelings in the world of mania basically but what happens is that just as a car cannot run 90 miles an hour every day your body your mind your everything cannot do that and so it hits its peak and you think oh this is the best i want to feel for the rest of my life and then that slowly turns into anxiety rage agitation annoyance and then it spirals into depression and then you have the aftermath of that so uh there’s a episode you guys did um honesty and i think it was it was like four episodes back or something to that effect and um you brought up an aristotle quote which i love which is virtue consists of finding an appropriate middle ground between two extremes and the ultimate goal of any bipolar person is to live in the middle it’s not to let things go here and not to let things go here uh and my my best friend amanda says it best she said it takes a lot of work to be you

and she’s not wrong um you know it it is incorporating things that you learn in recovery like honesty open-mindedness willingness incorporating the steps incorporating personal responsibility but on the other side it’s also you know don’t mess with your sleep don’t mess with your meds and it’s your job not anyone else’s job it’s your job to create and design a lifestyle that keeps you in the middle so i don’t know if that was five to seven minutes or five to eight or more than that it was great it was great uh yeah so i mean where to even begin with you know talking about some of the things you said i mean for one i definitely want to say that pop culture has you know it’s good in a way that it reduces stigma about some of these mental health uh you know they say disorders i don’t like the word but whatever these these mental health challenges um but in another way it really warps our understanding of what they really are right i think so and maybe it’s we’ve moved away a little bit from this now but for so long the whole bipolar thing was like you’re moody right you’re happy one second and mean the next or whatever and it’s like oh they’re just bipolar and i’m like that’s definitely not what bipolar is and maybe that’s actually a good place to start what the hell is bipolar right um and so if you want to look at the diagnosis it’s bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 are both you know characterized by these these periods of like you said mania and hypomania and you did a really good job explaining that and i was glad you did too because you said i’m bipolar 2 and i was like not bipolar also bipolar 2 the number the roman number of course and then you also have periods of depression and so your mania or your hypomania these episodes you’ll have abnormally upbeat jumpy or wired times you’ll have increased activity energy or agitation you’ll have an exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence also you know referred to as euphoria you’ll have a decreased need for sleep unusual talkativeness you touched on that racing thoughts you touched on that distractibility which is it and this is where it gets so confusing when you’re operating in the mental health world right because so many of these also can look like adhd or adhd can present us so many of these and so it’s really tricky and it takes a lot of like you said monitoring and self-honesty to really nail down because a lot of mental health is uh self-reported like that’s how we figure out what’s going on with people they tell us themselves and so you got to be an accurate self-historian in order to to really get a good diagnosis uh and then back you you know it says poor decision making which i think in the moment of bipolar does not feel like poor decision making feels feels like really really smart decisions but it gives examples of going on buying sprees taking sexual risks or making foolish investments all right so maybe that sounds like wednesdays and not tuesdays um and then you know your your major depressive episodes sound a lot like any other major depressive episodes you’re going to have depressed mood such as feeling sad empty hopeless or tearful marked loss of interest or feeling no pleasure in all or almost all activities significant weight loss when not dieting weight gain decrease or increase in appetite either insomnia or sleeping too much either restlessness or slowed behavior fatigue or loss of energy feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt decreased ability to think or concentrate thinking about planning or attempting self-harm and i always like to joke with people when i’m kind of evaluating them for depression it’s almost like if you do anything you have depression right it’s like you eat more you eat less you sleep more you sleep less like it’s really about the fluctuation from your norm that is helpful um let me ask you interview it there’s no uh i guess what you would call like a medical diagnosis for this it really is just a like something itself like you said like self-reported like you have to be honest about your thing there’s no like brain tests they can do or no no brain testing yeah unfortunately mental health uh we don’t know how to test the brain necessarily for for a lot of these things right so it i mean it’s it’s self-reported in the sense of like you share the symptoms that you’re having um but i i think a good doctor psychiatrist therapist is going to be able to also see some of the signs right like generally people don’t come in and say oh i think i’m bipolar because i’m having these ups and these downs they’re just like man this week i have not been able to concentrate on stuff i like spent too much money that i really don’t have and they’re they’re telling you things and so you’re kind of picking up one and maybe you see the shift in how they present in session right you’re like damn last week you were like really down and barely here and this week you will not stop talking about your week and so you know there are some physical signs that you see in people as they they go through this but as a as a therapist that’s hard to see for one hour a week and pick out whereas like your partner probably has a much better bird’s eye view which is you know sometimes useful to bring a partner into session and be like what do you see going on in this person’s life i’m uh i’m very lucky that my partner is also bipolar we’re both bipolar too so i think if one of us i think we we’ve actually talked about it and he’s like yeah if i was bipolar one we wouldn’t be together like because you would have killed me by now i’m curious if two bipolar people living together do your do your uh your shifts in mood level like sync up like two women with their periods right thankfully uh we do not live together um but what we do in our relationship our relationship started because i got diagnosed and had no one to turn to and he i had a friend of mine and she was like you know you should meet christopher because you know he um he deals with the stuff you deal with that was just how it was put it was not put like he’s bipolar or whatever and we touched base because um one of the things and they didn’t even mention what’s interesting they didn’t mention it in that giant list of things you do when you’re hypomanic uh but social media is another one it’s both a trigger and it’s also a warning sign so if um if i’m posting thing after thing after thing they’re all you know like i hate my life and why can’t this get any easier than you know this whole thing and that’s what happened is he saw that and he he sent me a mat this is back when i was actually still on facebook i’ve been off for about two years and that was a mental health decision as well and uh i went on and i posted something like very similar to that and he messaged me and he said uh mood follows action and i was like this [ __ ] here i i was just oh i was ready i was like oh you school your ass you know um and uh i said some of us deal with depression and some others deal with bipolar disorder so righteously indignant and uh and he said and i’m one of them kiddo he said i’ve been in and out of institutions since i was 12 years old and that began a friendship and i said i don’t i don’t know what to do i said i can deal with being an addict i can deal with the things that go along with that i can’t deal with having this particular mental illness i don’t know what like literally i just said i don’t know what to do and he said you need to find your bipolar superpower and i said i don’t know what that is and he said it’ll come in time so we uh we developed a friendship we became best friends and that in turn uh developed into a relationship later on and we’ve been together for about four years so we we do we don’t sync up necessarily but we we do um keep each other in check you know uh we have a rule called the ten day rule which is if you have a big idea if uh if that big idea is still a big idea in 10 days you’re allowed to pursue it but most of the time it’s not you know what i mean because i i we would do stuff like he would come and say like you know i’m gonna start a school and i’m gonna do this and i’m gonna do you know and i’d be like okay you know or i would come to him and say i want to be a vegan like and i’m going to get a vegan cookbook and i’m going to start a vegan uh web website and i’m going to learn how to cook vegan and you’re going to cook vegan too and we’re going to be vegans together and he would just be like okay okay so 10 days and i’m like yeah 10 days and usually three days later i’m just like yeah that was a stupid idea

and he’s like i know babe

and for reference for the listeners uh the bipolar superpower is not the days where you put on underwear and wrap a towel around your neck like a cape and run around the neighborhood that is not your bipolar superpower that might be mania the bipolar superpower is um as what i’ve found is that i’ve i’ve been able to use my self-awareness of my particular mental illness to help others i’ve met quite a few people both in and out of recovery who have dealt with that who have seen maybe they saw a post maybe they heard me on you know they heard me in a meeting discuss it because whenever i tell my story that’s a very large part of my story uh and then they come to me and say you know will you sponsor me or can you can i put you in my support network or um i just got diagnosed how do i do this uh you know those types of things and and so it that’s become my my bipolar super super power is um is just being able to be useful and helpful to others um because it’s a very uh scary thing you know because just as we are addicted to a high of being high um people who deal with mental illness especially this particular one get really addicted to mania uh you know i talk to some friends when they’re manic you know and they’ll say i’m manic and i’ll be like you know sad face and they’ll be like yeah but this is so cool that i’m like okay and i just you know my my next my next typing text is usually what closes up must come down yeah and i i think that’s what one of the things you know amongst mental health people tend to feel better at some point if they receive some form of medication and i think they decide they don’t want medication anymore and this is kind of across the board but very much in bipolar it’s so easy to understand because once you’re leveled out you’re leveled out and you don’t feel that that rush that good times anymore and and like you said the lows suck but the highs feel you know the highs the mania portion feels incredible and like who wants to give that up when you feel like you have this like god-like ability for moments of time in your life and so people do you know they have a little bit more incentive to come off their medicine than you know somebody else might and that’s scary but but it’s a real thing and it’s easy to understand why yeah it’s it’s kind of why i said like you know the my one of my cardinal rules that i live by is don’t mess with your meds don’t mess with your sleep um sleep is so important that it i mean it is as my therapist would say like it’s number one because if your sleep is if your circadian rhythm is off or if your sleep is off in any way it will pull the rug right out from your meds so it and it’s very precarious because a person’s sleep is affected by all kinds of things it’s affected by daylight savings time it’s affected by getting a puppy it’s affected by um for women you know god bless them it’s affected by their hormonal changes so you know you’re you’re consistently uh dealing with a house of cards and you’re consistently trying to be like okay i have to go to bed at this time and that means personal responsibility that means telling people around you like look i can’t watch another tv show you know like i can’t watch one more episode like i have to go to bed um or else it will be very bad for myself and you know the people around me um and then nutritionally it’s just important to know that not necessarily like i’m not gonna sit here and be like you know like i eat grilled fish and vegetables and you know that’s [ _ ] oh i mean eighty percent of the time i eat like a death row inmate on suicide watch you know uh whatever whatever’s in front of me i’m gonna do it i’m gonna eat it um which i’m working on right now but the two things that i am very like hard-lined about is um i don’t drink caffeine after 12 and i don’t like 12 p.m yeah i don’t drink caffeine well right and um i don’t eat sugar i don’t eat refined sugar uh because i i found that it disrupts it basically if it disrupts my sleep it’s out so i can’t take um you know like gnc supplements you know like the fun stuff the green tea extract you know um you might as well just give me lines and lines of cocaine uh because it affects it it affects my sleep and if it affects my sleep it’s like it’s it’s completely makes me uh useless in the bipolar superpower department so the way you describe it it makes me think and maybe this is true for all humans but but maybe more so for people with a mental health challenge it’s like there’s a game of jenga sitting in front of you and there’s almost like this alter ego of yours like pulling out the blocks on one side and you’re on the other side trying to figure out how to like roll up paper to fit in and hold the damn structure together like no we gotta fill these holes and like you’re almost fighting against it and it’s not life that’s doing that to you but it is these disturbances that just come about and you’ve got to find ways to kind of plug in resources to make it work anyway and that’s super challenging it is it is very much a challenge um i have i have a great mix of people that are not mentally ill in my life and i have a great mix of people that are what we call hashtag team bipolars all the people i have on my group that deal with it and understand it and we reach out to each other we do team bipolar check-ins you know like hey how are you doing this how’s your mania this week how’s your you know how’s your depression are you are you in the middle you know um before i realized that it was as much lifestyle and it was as much the steps and it was as much other stuff as it was meds or therapy i was having a manic episode maybe once every two months you know it was like back forth back forth back forth or what we call rapid cycling and um once i learned what worked for me and what what worked for you know my particular lifestyle um then it was one a year uh usually happens so it’s it’s important to know what um what can trigger a bipolar episode um one could be a big it’s a big event right so it could be getting a new job which is both exciting and scary at the same time it could be a new relationship it could be the death of a parent uh it could be the anniversary of someone’s death um sometimes the holidays trigger people sometimes it’s seasonal uh so like for instance daylight savings time whereas most people are like i get to sleep an extra hour you know um for us it’s like oh [ _ ] you know it’s like okay all right so now we gotta okay gotta gotta go to bed earlier gotta go you gotta get up this time gotta get up this time you know um we uh we try not to live our lives very like fly by night like i can’t afford to you know what i mean like i can’t afford to be like i’m gonna stay up till one in the morning today you know and it’ll be fun i’ll just sleep all day nope it’s like it’s like meds at 8 30 bedtime at 9 30 wake up around 7 30 you know and lather rinse repeat right right yeah and and i’m i want to preface what i’m about to say by saying uh there’s a lot of smart people who’ve done a lot of research to come up with this diagnostics and statistics manual and figure out these different you know as they’re referred to disorders and and the i still tend to question like the dsm frequently um right now what i’ve been seeing is a lot of people diagnosing bipolar at the psychiatry level and and handing out the abilifies and the mood stabilizers the antipsychotics all over the place and i’m not saying they’re wrong like i’m not one to question anybody i have no idea but i definitely i get really curious about the diagnosis and i think one of the hard things about it for people who might experience this and not understand that they have it or they’re going through it it’s like there’s this fine line between depression is not permanent and so there are periods during depression where you get like a relief of that depressive feeling and if you’ve been depressed for three four six months and you have a week or two weeks where you don’t feel depressed that [ _ ] feels [ _ ] great and you want to run with it and like so like where is like that’s one of my curious questions all the time is like where is this line between hey you had a couple of weeks where you weren’t feeling depressed and then it’s actually mania and i don’t know that there really is a huge difference in the two and and that’s you know i i mean i have not been diagnosed with bipolar but that’s definitely something that i you know i i kind of just don’t let people diagnose me with bipolar because i don’t ever want to know that i am if that’s the case and it seems manageable right now and that’s another big piece of this too right if your life is functional and manageable and there’s no life disturbance then you’re not qualified for this you know this uh diagnosis basically like all diagnosis are you know preemptively decided on the fact that you need to seek help because it’s disturbing your life and so if you’re functional and it doesn’t really matter if you have bipolar or not because you’re fine and you don’t need to go see about it but when when i guess would you say is a good time for someone to think about looking into it like what kind of things could be happening in their life that could say hey maybe i just need to think more about this and go ask some some people about help so i would advise anybody if they’re in recovery and they’re new in recovery i would advise them to give themselves some time because you know in you know as well as anyone that it’s about you know you have to be clean and or you know or or whatever sober depending on your flavor um a certain amount of time before your brain starts to repair itself and make you know normal decisions um so you know a lot of stuff like would be just changes in mood that are so erratic but not like i think i don’t say i hate this but like i remember being in a meeting this is like a great story at the time i was super offended but now i think it’s funny um but at the time it was like i i told my story and the whole bipolar thing and and someone came up to me and this is a direct quote they said my sister goes from like zero to [ __ ] in like 2.5 seconds i think she’s bipolar you know like yeah that’s not really how it works um you know because we’re especially in addiction or especially um depending on the kind of drugs did uh you know we have a tendency to to slide from pole to pole anyway um and for me it was the frequency of these changes and it was the severity of the of the changes so like for instance before i got before i got clean i um would go to the therapist when i was depressed like i would have very specific you know like i said i’m from a medical family so it was very much you know it’s like okay well i guess you’re going to go to a you know psychiatrist so they would see me depressed right and then they’d prescribe a med you know usually an antidepressant i’d get on the anti-depressant everything would be fine i would come back to therapy and i was probably manic during that time and i would just be like yeah man i’m great you know i’ve got energy and i’m i’m working on this and i’m working on that and you know i don’t think i need this therapy thing anymore you know and then the therapist would just be like um yeah i think you should come back and and i’d be like no

[ __ ] off um so you know like i love the way i feel don’t take this away from me you know so i would say the frequency and the severity so i just to discuss like really the downside i mean there’s there’s trust me the the spiral and the after effects of a bipolar episode are um a lot of the people i’ve talked to that had friends that committed to pride or friends that you know that didn’t really like make it necessarily were because of the after effects of a of a bipolar episode meaning the shame the guilt you know the fact that they had maybe said something they shouldn’t have said done something they shouldn’t have done um you know they talk about excessive spending excessive sexual you know different choices um and that’s you know that’s a that’s a big thing um it’s the excessive spending you know i mean i’m i’m here to tell you i got six credit cards okay and none of those credit cards were gotten you know when i wasn’t hypomanic i mean it was just like oh i got one oh that’s so exciting okay oh they sent me another oh this is so great

and then before you know it you’re paying 217 in monthly fees and you’re wondering why the hell you can’t you know go get a bed if you want to you know i mean so it comes down to like if it’s life-threatening in a lot of ways and it’s not really necessarily like life-threatening is one very big part of it but if it compromises your um ability to have a life and if it’s um your quality of life too you know i was one disinvited to thanksgiving dinner because of the way i acted when i was manic um i want to say it was brought on by a breakup i think is what happened and oh no it wasn’t uh it was a pharmacy mess up the pharmacy had given me double my dosage of meds and uh i didn’t know that i i started taking them like normal and i didn’t feel right and i just couldn’t figure out why i didn’t feel right and then i peeled off the label just i was just screwing around you know like just like we do fidgeting and i peeled off the label and it had a different thing on and i was like oh these are i’ve been taking the wrong medication but by then the damage was done you know i had already yelled at people and um you know you you lack a filter so you just kind of say whatever you’re thinking and there’s no you know there’s no uh there’s nothing to stop you once you’re once you’re in the you know once the horse has left the stable you know um that’s the horse has left the stable all you can really do is minimize the fallout and uh and it can be in the fallout of it can be very um emotionally crippling you know another thing that happens is that a manic episode tends to follow the same chemical makeup as a um an epileptic seizure so after an epileptic seizure you usually have a very foggy brain and you can’t remember what happened during the seizure and it’s very similar to that with a manic episode where after the manic episode is done you’re very foggy you can concentrate you’re sort of like oh what did i say what did i do and that’s horrible because then you’re left going okay who do i apologize to okay what do i need to do and then people will come to you and say oh you said this or oh you did this and that is very scary you know so like i said aristotle stay right here

because mania in theory sounds fun you know in theory it sounds great because you’re super creative and you’re super you know you’re the life of the party and um all of that but then like i said it just there’s it turns it just like drugs turn you know

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does it seem like certain things trigger manic episodes and certain things trigger depressive episodes or is it just any major life changes can trigger whatever so in order for you to get to the depressive episode you have to have a manic episode so in other words depressive episodes don’t happen without one one doesn’t happen without the other basically um now there are other there there the you know the journal of medicine is trying to make it a spectrum disorder in which case there would be like a bipolar 3 and a bipolar 4 and a unipolar and you know a lot of other things where people experience you know more depression and then more mania and more you know but i mean in the in the way in which i have it which is bipolar 2. it’s like yeah you can’t get here without getting here

big life changes anything that interrupts your sleep um it’s it’s also where it comes from is very important i didn’t know if you guys had done any research on that but it’s 80 genetic and it’s 20 environmental so my father was bipolar my great grandfather was bipolar i didn’t really stand a chance you know yeah the way you describe that it did uh it sounded a lot like the the drug use right when when you have the drugs and they’re plentiful and everything’s flowing everything’s a great time and then coming out of that into that you know that down period that sadness and and not really having a clue what in the [ __ ] just what happened for that period of time uh you know you mentioned the genetic part of this and uh they talk about the risk factors and so risk factors don’t necessarily mean that like if you do this you have this or any of that but there are things that highly correlate right so when they talk to people who have bipolar they say oh they have all these things in common as well so they’re like correlating risk factors and basically the correlating risk factors are someone in your family or drug or alcohol abuse it’s like oh okay um and and and that’s one of those things like we say someone in your family but this hasn’t been around all that long we haven’t been really monitoring all that long stigma has kept a lot of people from seeking help and so there might not be any diagnosed people in your family it doesn’t mean that they weren’t there or didn’t exist and i think that’s also talking about the drug or alcohol abuse portion you know maybe bipolar is a little over diagnosed in regular population but it’s going to skew towards our population of people in recovery having a much higher percentage than the typical population of society so it’s definitely prevalent and out there for sure absolutely and i would agree that for instance my father i didn’t find out that my father was bipolar until he died um because i i had a long discussion with my uncle and we sat there talking and he was like you know your dad was manic depressive and i was like you know jessica you know my father the mensa member the doctor the engineer the guy who rode motorcycles like that guy was bipolar and he was like oh yeah

he said he would get really obsessed with things for periods of time where he would like buy a bunch of stuff and then he’d be really into it and then he would be not into it at all it was like it never happened and i was like yeah that sounds about right and my father who was also an alcoholic he used i believe that he somehow managed to make it work and that his mania was what drove him to be you know the the best baby doctor in town at the time he delivered over 6 000 children and i think that his when he would come home you know you’re still kind of up here and i think in order for him to calm that i think that’s why he drank you know i think i think there was a a part of that that was there was a genetic component because his father and grandfather are both we’re both alcoholics but also i think it was you know being someone who’s unmedicated and you know living a very sort of fast-paced lifestyle and uh from a different generation from a generation where that kind of thing wasn’t really uh diagnosed or discussed not to mention doctors don’t like to admit that they’re sick

they’re the worst patients ever um so yeah i don’t yeah it’s you know correlation doesn’t equal causation kind of thing but like i i feel usually the people i know that are bipolar have some family member in some way that had that you know that dealt with that um but like i said if you’re from a family where that’s not talked about or you’re from a family where they you know don’t necessarily agree with like going to therapy or anything like that it would be very hard to find that it’d be very hard for someone to find out you know like that they had it or not had it so for me it it required a lot of um just a lot of research you know just a lot of research and finding the right therapist was another one you know finding a i found a therapist that was both in recovery and understood and understood bipolar disorder and and i had seen people at the time in recovery who were bipolar who were on a very specific med that i will not mention but it’s very popular with bipolar and um and i told him i said don’t put me on that i don’t want to be a zombie that was my my whole thing was i don’t want to lose i don’t lose my edge like i don’t want to be i don’t want to be i don’t want to be a zombie i don’t want to lose my personality i don’t want things to be muted that was very important and he was like no i would never put you on that med because that med is a salt and you live in florida and you will sweat it out your glands and it won’t be as effective and i said okay cool you know um which was interesting because my boyfriend was on it at the time and he had an outside job where he would sweat and sweat and sweat and he would start to have episodes and i said you may want to talk to your doctor about that because my therapist said this and this and then he talked to his doctor and got switched over to something else then he didn’t have those issues anymore you know so we he and i have a tendency to educate each other when we find out information you know we’re very gentle with going like hey are you a little manic today

if you’ve got the overwhelming urge to deliver six thousand babies or to father six thousand babies you you might want to go get checked out for sure i mean it’s almost like i would love to do like a you know like the old like jeff foxworthy you might be a redneck it’s like you might be bipolar right right maybe that’s your superpower coming up yeah like if you think it’s a good idea to write a book about yeah i mean it might be bipolar um but the um the other important thing is um how the steps play into uh the recovery from mental illness is another one because granted the steps are not everything as we said you know we talk about there are other their other things as far as medication and therapy and such but the steps help you get a leg up in my opinion they they helped me get a leg up because it taught me the idea behind you know ask for help and don’t tell the help how to help you was important uh you know divorce yourself from the results you know um and clearing out the wreckage of the past was a big one making amends i had to make amends for not paying rent to a relative to the tune of 4 800 because i experienced a manic episode i was on the wrong the wrong meds but i was on a different med cocktail and i was just that was what i was doing with my rent money i was just spending it and eating it and you know whatever i could and uh so when i got to eight and nine that was a thing i had to do you know i had i had to make amends for that and that occurred in recovery you know that didn’t that wasn’t i couldn’t blame it i couldn’t say like oh yeah well you know i was high i don’t remember blah blah blah it was like no i you know this happened and this happened and the importance of honesty open-mindedness and willingness because had i been honest from the very beginning and said look i don’t think that i can number one i don’t think that i’m responsible enough to have a house and rent it number two because i think i only had like six years clean at the time uh and number two um i’m experiencing these changes in my body and i don’t know what they are and i think i’m in trouble you know if i had said that at the very beginning none of that would have happened you know if i had just been honest about it and then you know with 10 it’s a constant you know understanding that if i if i you know fly off the mouth and say something that’s inappropriate and you better make amends immediately you know and uh keeping keeping things level and then 11 you know developing a relationship with a higher power that’s not me you know because of course when you’re manic you know you are your higher power um and then and then 12 you know and then taking taking that information and using it to be useful and helpful to others you know so it all uh it all plays into it you know um but i’ve always said that it’s not it’s not all there is i have been to meetings where people have shared about mental illness or shared about you know going through something and having people immediately retort with you know well it sounds like you don’t have the willingness um it sounds like you’re not working the steps yeah and i think another while i don’t always necessarily buy into the the actual addiction definition or that it’s a total thing i’m a little you know iffy about all that but i i love the way it reduced shame for me when i walked in the door it’s like oh i suffer with this thing not so much that it’s me right and i like that that can kind of translate over to any mental health challenge as well it’s it’s this thing it’s not me do i need to own the things i’ve done absolutely but i don’t necessarily have to take on that i’m a bad person because of these things and i i like that that correlates over as well to bipolar absolutely um i i can tell you that when my brain starts to speed up and i can start to see it i used to get really scared like i used to get like oh my god like why the hell can’t you just be normal what did you do did you sleep wrong did you did you eat the sugar what did you know and then just beating myself up in this like shame spiral whereas now it’s like okay so i’m sweating profusely i just ordered a bunch of [ __ ] off amazon that i shouldn’t have i’ve been a little bit of a chatty kathy lately okay so perhaps we need to do some things to put us back in the middle and we also need to let our support network know that we’re in a little bit of a not a danger zone but a gray area right now where it’s kind of like

this could or could not be bad you know um which is importance of having a supportive partner even if your partner’s not you know bipolar um it’s just the importance of having a partner that understands and that can communicate and that can also you were talking about can see those sort of almost imperceivable changes in a person’s uh mood or or you know the things they’re doing you know like it’s like six credit cards show up you know well and with the steps so i have someone i’m close with in my life that’s bipolar and is also in recovery and i know for her like the steps let her or help her figure out like morals and values and then how is the way i’m living is that in accordance with these values because as she’ll say sometimes like she’ll get into these episodes where she wants to just blow [ __ ] up you know what i mean just quit her job quitter life quit everything run off somewhere do something else and it’s like was that in accordance with you know the mom that i want to be or the wife that i want to be or the partner that i want to be and maybe not so maybe we shouldn’t maybe we should think about that for a minute before we react so the steps have been really you know crucial in that area as well absolutely absolutely the other thing is um managing your schedule you know like i going to i i do i do mainly zoom meetings like i i still do zoom meetings i do all my stuff work over zoom and you know we’re in kind of a a state right now in the area in which i live in where people just you know pretend like we’re not in a pandemic so so it’s easier for me to just kind of stay safe and stay healthy um so i i have that and one of the things is like if people invite me to like big events even if we weren’t in a pandemic you know it’s up to me to know what my mental state is to say yes or no you know if someone says hey i need you to drive 45 minutes to this celebration i will basically say hi i would love to i’m not going to um but i will be there in spirit and congratulations on your recovery um and that’s that’s not something that i used to know how to do you know because you want to please everybody you want to be everyone’s friend do you want to be that go-to person for things and it’s like no if it’s a if it’s a big event i that’s usually it’s like i get one big event a week

whatever that is i get to decide but i mean i just can’t i i wish that i could do all the things like i used to in my 20s when it was just like you know i’m going to stay up all night and i’m going to go to

work i think you’ve touched on this entire list of triggers but i want to run it down for people who either a are are new to the bipolar community and want to know more about what can affect you know their their swings or for people who just want to kind of monitor themselves and think oh do these things make a difference in my life so we we talk uh stress from major life events both positive or negative lack of sleep erratic schedules caffeine and alcohol certain medications such as antidepressants or corticosteroids seasonal changes stopping bipolar meds or varying the treatment schedule thyroid problems and substance abuse and i think the only one that you hadn’t mentioned was thyroid problems but yeah those are are all things that can definitely trigger uh shifts for your bipolar so if you wanted to maybe if you journal like this is where journaling comes in a lot of handy and if you write down you know things you did each day and then your moods and you can kind of see patterns so then we get to coping strategies as if these are going to be super helpful but no they they’d mention things to help you cope if you are struggling with bipolar and you’ve mentioned some of these as well you know control stress is one of the biggest ones and i think the first thing that comes to my mind is how the hell do you do that right but i think this is another place where recovery can come into play right talking about acceptance and surrender to things outside of our control the serenity prayer right this is ways to control stress um keeping a regular schedule you’ve mentioned that practicing healthy sleep habits uh one that i i don’t know that we’ve talked about on here yet is get moving studies show regular exercise can help improve mood i’m not sure that that’s totally you know i totally forgot to i totally forgot about that that’s it’s funny because my my therapist is always like you know you you you get an exercise and it’s like like you can even tell he says it’s not negotiable aaron um so one of the wonderful things about getting a puppy was that uh i was super out of shape like i mean cardiac wise i was just like a you know i couldn’t walk from here down to the stairs i was just not in good shape and um i got a puppy and all of a sudden i have to move every hour and i have to go down two flights of stairs every hour and up two flights of stairs and i have to carry a puppy and i have to do all of these things and so it got me moving and it got me into really really good shape and then as a result of that i started lifting weights and i found that the lifting weights actually helped with the sleep um and it also helps with keeping your hormones level and it just helped with like my mood i mean i hate to be that [ _ ] you know it was just like you know like i feel shitty before i exercise no i feel so good you know it’s like i need to i do i hate to be that person but dude exercise works it means i mean granted i ain’t gonna become a crossfitter like that’s not happening um but walking is something that has helped me get in touch with meditation you know and just because it’s the time that i can just kind of like go and focus and enjoy nature and get sunlight which is very important um traditionally people who suffer from mental illness or bipolar disorder are vitamin d deficient anyway so sunlight is very very very important and when i can’t get sunlight because you know it’s [ _ ] florida and sometimes it rains um i have a happy lamp which mimics vitamin d light and i plug it in and as long as i don’t leave the damn thing on all day uh you know i can get a little bit of a little bit of vitamin d action so to speak um but yeah exercise movement in general is important it’s important just you don’t have to go to you don’t join orange theory you know what i mean like you don’t have to get a you don’t get a trainer you know it’s just like you know hey i took a walk today

well i think one thing people forget about sometimes with physical movement is the fact that it is a a meditative slash mindful experience right anytime you’re moving you are connecting your brain and your body more so than you were previously and a lot of times especially if you know we start in the the not greatest shape we’re connecting to our breath too because we’re like holy [ _ ] i’m out of breath right this is hard to do so there there is a lot of self-monitoring in that which i think is absolutely beneficial even besides the the movement and you know all the other parts that you mentioned another uh coping strategy imagine that write it down keep a journal that makes note of big events stresses and how much sleep you’re getting and what you’re eating and drinking shocking right like these are inventory there it is right inventory right and you know big big big letters patterns just pay attention to the patterns in your life like you said this isn’t something that you kind of figure out right away when you you know you might get some inklings that something’s a little off but a lot of things are off when you first take all the substances out of your system but yeah it’s it’s watching these patterns over time figuring out exactly what’s going on why and all of this can very much come from a program of recovery that helps you look more at yourself and keep track of yourself and you know take tabs on you and what’s going on and so i i can see how a lot of recovery processes definitely could assist with this um and it’s unfortunate like you said early on i kind of encountered a similar thinking in a lot of people of like nope you don’t need any of the mental health medication that’s all just more drugs to mess with your brain you just need these steps and you’ll be good and you know it’s your fault if you can’t do it and i i hope we are moving further and further away from that kind of message because that is none of our goddamn business in a meeting and that would be i guess a follow-up question would be besides just that idea are there other things in recovery that maybe don’t apply to people with like a mental health issue or with bipolar are there some things that are like maybe that’s an area that you need to stay away from interesting well okay yeah yeah okay i’m gonna say it um it’s uh it would be getting involved in too much service and i know that sounds like okay well that’s kind of contrary to the things that we learn because you learn like you know you’ve got to be of service you’ve got to sponsor the person in front of you and and you learn all of that but um i know that it is very easy especially when a person is manic or hypomanic to start signing up for committees you know and get you know it’s like involved in area service and and public service and oh nh and i and i’m going to do this and sponsor nine people and uh oh we should set up a sponsorship tree group like i mean dude i’ve been and i’ve i’ve been that person man i’ve been the person who was when they were hypomanic like started just signing up for random you know like like oh a learning day of course i’ll come you know um and what usually ends up happening is that once that ends and you’re starting to do that like spiral you don’t want to be around anybody you know i i made a really good illustration which was what a list looks like when you’re when you’re manic and it’s very uh you know it’s very long and it’s very detailed and there’s all these types of things on there and then when you’re when you start to do the agitation depression part of it you’re just you take like a big marker and you’re like [ _ ] all of this you know you know because you you start to become when when i start when i start doing this like sort of spiral all of a sudden you know people you love become people you hate you become more sweepingly judgmental of things uh and you just don’t want to be around people uh things are very irritating uh people are irritating you can only imagine if you sign up for you know you sign up for all of these committees and then all of a sudden you’re in the committee i mean you’re just like sitting there like this just like man [ _ ] these [ _ ] people you know

and so like like i talked about managing managing schedule and lifestyle um one of the things that you have to you have to be aware of in recovery is just you know don’t go crazy with the service um it’s very easy to burn yourself out and it will trickle down into the people around you right just you know hey maybe one commitment is good you know like because i i’ve heard it service junkie you know i’ve heard that expressing and um for people that are for people that deal with bipolar disorder it’s like oh okay you know and uh when that happens or when i feel like things have become very overwhelming because i’ve made a list or something like that what i do is i dumb it down to threes so it’s like i can do three things in a day yes i can do three things in a day i can do three self-care items in a day yes that’s not overwhelming to me that’s the middle in my opinion the threes are the middle because it’s not [ _ ] all of you or i’m gonna do everything it’s like okay i can i can do these things right here this is manageable this is okay um the other thing that’s not on that list is um because i talk about stress management music is another really big one for me um you know if i’m if i’m listening to the same frenetic song over and over again like some kind of [ _ ] teletubby you know just like again again again then um there’s a chance that i could be edging into mania you know but uh if i tend to keep my music choices very you know soft rock if you will um then it kind of it actually lowers my blood pressure which then lowers my heart rate and keeps me more you know on this little level right yeah and there’s a lot of research being done right now about uh not just music but music’s tie into movement and how movement and rhythm can affect our regulation as bodies right and if you think about bipolar like uh you think about mania as more like you said frenetic maybe more jerky type movements i want to say and and you think of like depressive sides of that as like not much movement at all and so you know this regulation and rhythm of like this fluid kind of middle ground exactly like you’re talking about um we are running up against time here erin is there any final thoughts about bipolar or anything you want to share yes uh you know if you if you do get diagnosed or you think you might be bipolar um you know it’s important that you gotta you gotta be your own health advocate you gotta ask as many questions as possible you’ve got to you’ve got to interview your therapy your potential therapists and psychiatrists and doctors as if you were you know interviewing a sponsor um you know ask as many questions as humanly possible do the research um and then really understand that this is your life and become self-aware and you know understand that this what what works for one person may not work for another and um you know things everything is subject to change uh because the way that i led my life in active addiction versus the way i led my life in early recovery versus the way that i live my life today is very very different and there’s a certain amount of acceptance that has to be practiced with that like where you just have to be like well this is just how [ __ ] is right now you know okay it could change no but um the other thing is it’s not a death sentence um you know you can you can look at it as an affliction or a gift and the important thing is knowing that you know if you have a good support network and you’re able to stay in the middle you know um you’re gonna be okay and you’re just just that you’re gonna be okay if i can if i can touch one person or educate one person about it today with this then i’ve done my job that’s so awesome so i i think we’ve done everything i can do with this episode that’s for sure uh we really appreciate you coming on aaron and sharing your your story the the highs and lows so to speak of it and um man just keep doing the thing you’re doing and helping people we appreciate that yeah thank you very much thank you so much for this opportunity you guys have a great day you too take care

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One response to “124: The Intersection of Recovery and Bipolar Disorder (Sort Of)”

  1. Hi! I’ve been following your blog for a while now and
    finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Texas!
    Just wanted to tell you keep up the great work!

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