Dr. Fred Von Guten Shares His Personal Story of Dealing with and Overcoming Bipolar Disorder
The following is a guest post by Dr. Fred Von Gunten, a retired Optometrist specializing in developmental and behavioral vision for more than 33 years, and the author of The Power of Positivity for Bipolar and Anyone Else, a book in which he explores the challenges of living with bipolar disorder and his ultimate achievement of episode-free stability. Dr. Von Gunten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and invites readers to follow him on Facebook at Promoting the Power of Positivity and his Personal Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/fred.vongunten.
I wrote this article to help others understand what bipolar is like and that living episode-free is possible using my own experiences with both. At 74, I have gained the knowledge and experience from which others may benefit when it comes to dealing with Bipolar Disorder. I lived with over 50 years of Bipolar I, and for the first 25 years, I dealt with five episodes. Since then, I have transformed my life by changing my thoughts (cognitive-behavioral) and committing to a consistent supply of Lithium (physical-psychiatric-mood stabilizer).
I was one of the first to receive Lithium when the FDA approved it in 1971.
I have maintained 32 years of “episode-free emotional stability.” Some would classify this as being a “Functional Bipolar,” but I like to view it as “Functionally Cured.”
Self Medicating My Bipolar With Alcohol
The term “self-medication, is defined as “the process by which some individuals may abuse substances in attempting to use them to relieve other problems such as anxiety, pain, sleeplessness or other symptoms of bipolar disorder.” Obviously this is a very serious and widespread issue, but why? What makes those with bipolar disorder turn to alcohol?
Research and theories about this abound, but for the most part it is generally believed that a biological or physiological cause may be the root. There is an “underlying vulnerability of the individual that precipitates both mental illness and substance abuse.”
When I entered my beginning manic episodes, I felt like overnight, I was in high gear—getting by on three hours of sleep. There were nights I would go to the bar for a couple of drinks before heading home from my office hours. Looking back, I now acknowledge I was self-medicating. “When Fred was manic, he became a person I didn’t know and who was hard to live with,” says my wife, Linda. “It was lonely, it was difficult, and there were long hours not knowing where he was.”
Co-occurring Disorders | Dual Diagnosis – Bipolar and Substance Misuse
I then needed to consider the comorbidity of bipolar disorder and substance use illness, including its prevalence in my daily life. There was an impact on the course and presentation with this bipolar disorder, and the associated diagnostic and treatment difficulties I experienced; along with the pharmacologic approaches to my treatment. I discovered that dealing with bipolar disorder is very likely to co-occur with alcohol or drug abuse, and that bipolar patients who also abuse drugs or alcohol have an earlier onset and worse course of illness compared with those who do not. I need to also warn that those of us with bipolar who also abuse substances are more likely to experience irritable and dysphoric mood states, increased treatment resistance, and a greater need for hospitalization.
It was seventeen years ago that I started a new phase of my life (since January 1999). It included retirement, contentment and enhancement of stability with bipolar disorder. And I have to thank my wife, Linda, who for 52 years and counting has supported me during my episodes – I owe her my life.
In terms of retirement, I wonder whether the retired mind frees us from the constant biochemical changes that cause bipolar disorder? Perhaps it is the changes in environment that relaxes the mind in retirement. I don’t know for certain, but in my opinion, therein lays a possible answer to enhancing stability. To answer the questions why I feel it is so important to maintain a positive attitude with bipolar disorder, I felt that I needed to “change” so many areas in my life. The negative symptoms with bipolar required a positive change in dealing with everyday demands.
And it was the practice of using the power of positive thinking to overcome the many challenges of living with Bipolar Disorder that prompted me to write my book. I share these in my book as well as what it took for me to ultimately achieved episode-free stability. I hope it can help others achieve long-term stability, to encourage “positive thinking”… to inspire…to motivate…to give hope…to answer questions or concerns regarding bipolar disorder.
Dr. Von Gunten can be reached at email@example.com and invites readers to follow him on Facebook at Promoting the Power of Positivity and his Personal Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/fred.vongunten.
A Note from Julie: I also call this post Growing Older with Bipolar Disorder- Fred and I are past our early years with this illness and as we age, we learn more ways to successfully manage our symptoms. We do get better with age.
Take care of yourself today. Take care of your mental health. No matter what happened in the election, there is one thing that does not need to happen today. You do not have to get sick.
If you have a mental health disorder, sleep is paramount. Make sure you sleep tonight no matter what. If you have a tendency towards psychosis as I do, watch for signs of paranoia and do something about the signs now. If you’re depressed, anxious and worried about our future, focus on yourself and staying stable.
Change is a part of life. Sometimes we like the change and sometimes we don’t. Half of our country is deliriously happy and the other half is completely devastated.
I’m not going to read too much about any of it. I know what obsessive reading and checking does to my brain. I know that I did my part and now I have to be respectful of what has happened. I believe in democracy and this is a big wake up call for many of us who assumed our path was the one that would be chosen.
I accept what has happened and will now do what I can to stay stable.
Treat bipolar first.
If you’re obsessively checking the internet, you can turn it off.
If you’re itching for a fight- looking for answers or raging with a feeling of injustice, talk with your therapist. Wanting to do something doesn’t mean you can. Bipolar often decides for you. It does for me.
If you’re elated at what happened, please respect the deep fear that others feel and talk with them about it.
Our mental health community is a team. We can’t be divided.
Do everything it takes to stay stable. This is not a political issue for me. My mental health goes way beyond politics.
I can focus on outward change in the world only if I’m stable.
I originally posted this on my Julie A. Fast Facebook page. Please join me there for more regular updates. I also love to hear from readers in the comments section.
PS: When I have a tough day, I remind myself to do the things that make me happy. This morning I worked on my hair art. I feel better when I take care of my physical appearance. This is always a challenge when my mood is low and my anxiety is high. You can also see my noise cancelling earphones!
Beer, food, meth, stimulants, energy drinks, video games, unprotected sex, bad relationships, obsessive internet checking, smoking, tattoos, spending, raves, ecstasy, pills, hard drugs, new shoes, new relationships, have a baby, nachos, lottery, obsessive friendships, junk food, caffeine, new lipstick, pot, new haircut, hard liquor, party, buffet, new roommate, new city, fantasy football, … anything to feel … alive, better … something!
You are NOT alone if you have a similar NOT-SO-GREAT bipolar disorder coping list.
My list used to be very long. I drank a lot in order to calm down. I got caught up in manic internet dating and now have an STD to live with for life. (I am always honest about this as STDs are a consequence of mania for many of us.) Constant moving and walking into contentious relationships were also big items on my coping list.
I have fixed these behaviors over the years. I have changed.
I have a much shorter list now: Social media checking, sugar—especially ice cream and pop, obsessive binge watching of Scandinavian mysteries on Netflix and expensive restaurants! These are still problems, but I’m working on changing even more.
I am so much better than when I was first diagnosed and used a huge coping list to get me through the ups and downs that I simply couldn’t explain until I found out I had bipolar disorder.
What does your not so great coping list look like?
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Just answered this great question from reader and advocate Judy Fryer on my live chat with Martin Baker and Fran Houston for the launch of their new book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. (I often do live question and answer sessions on my Julie A. Fast Facebook account.)
Julie, In the UK, the drs are very reluctant to diagnose children with a mental illness. It is very difficult to discern if a child is displaying signs of mental illness or being ‘naughty’. The danger is, we put their ‘ bad’ behaviour down to puberty and we miss the signs. Any pointers as what to look out for?”
The first step is to examine the family history and see if the child has symptoms that were seen in other family members. For example, bipolar disorder is a genetic illness. If you have a young child who is depressed at age 10, ask around and see if this happened to a relative. It may be the first time this topic has even been addressed, but it’s essential it comes out sooner than later. Here is a scrip you can use. “Our sweet boy Marcus is having some down thoughts about himself and why he can’t make friends. We have noticed that he is spending more time alone in his room and that he cries when we try to ask him a question. It’s so important that we get him help now. We are asking family members if they or anyone they know of in the family has had a similar experience. If this is the case, we can let doctors know there is a genetic predisposition to depression in the family and we can get Marcus the help he needs.” This can be done by email. All it takes it ONE PERSON being honest for a whole family history to come out!
Bipolar disorder anxiety and voting.
It’s time to vote here in the United States and as always, I’m amazed at how anxiety can rear up and affect our ability to do the things in life we hold dear! Voting is an amazing right and experience, but for people with anxiety, it can be a stressful time. Here are a few suggestions that I used myself to get my vote recorded. We have a mail in ballot in my state and even thought I pushed the deadline close, I got my ballot finished and sent in!
1. Recognize that anxiety around voting is absolutely normal and you are not alone if all of the little dots and squiggles you have to figure out are causing you a bit of brain alarm. That is ok! You are normal!
2. Focus on how you will feel after you vote. Remind yourself that anxiety won’t kill you- even if it feels like it will. Getting out tomorrow and making a difference can create GREAT feelings afterwards. Not voting due to anxiety might be far more stressful if the illness wins.
I want to encourage all of us to vote- even if voting feels a bit overwhelming right now. As I say in Get it Done When You’re Depressed. You don’t have to feel motivated to get things done. You don’t have to feel good. You don’t even have to feel that you can make a difference! Instead, you can focus on the doing. Get out there and vote no matter what. Fight that anxious feeling and ask for help. Get someone to go to the polls with you. Ask for help to fill out a ballot if needed.
We can do anything once we know what we are up against. When I was finally diagnosed with #bipolar disorder at age 31, I had an answer to the eternal question of, ‘What is wrong with Julie!?” This gave me a platform to change. I learned about the illness and came up with a management plan. It’s in my books. I use it daily. It works for anyone affected by bipolar disorder. Parents and partners are my focus and believe me, you can learn to help someone with bipolar disorder even if the person doesn’t want to accept your help right now.
You can- we can- anyone can learn the signs of this very obvious and easy to spot illness once the signs are listed. It’s not complicate to recognize bipolar disorder once you know what to look for.
As you will see in the comments, the most common response is, “Oh yes! I have seen this in myself or my loved one many times and I simply didn’t know it was part of the illness!”
Let’s educate ourselves about bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. We can change.