Below are the reports of two people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder who both have been through a course of CBT. They volunteered to share some of their experiences with other people.
“Bipolar disorder was very scary before the therapy. After CBT, I learned that having bipolar disorder means that I need more balance in my life if I am to avoid the extreme highs and downs of the illness. This can be done. CBT can offer you support and is tailored to your needs. Talking to the therapist made me feel understood and both the therapist and I worked together in a team to find ways to cope:
- I learned how to relax and be in a calm state of mindfulness – a revelation to me.
- I learned to recognise when I feel stressed and irritable and not to surrender to my mood swings or things will escalate.
- I learned how to deal better with anxiety and depression by finding distractions for myself, doing regular exercise, trying to resist escaping the situation or avoiding people if I am down, and reducing social events if I am too high or manic.
- I can now choose with better care the activities I am involved in and their intensity as well as the activities that are not appropriate at certain other times.
I can now manage things better by charting my mood, any symptoms and factors that trigger problems. I am now on my own but the therapy has made me aware that I am in the position to combat the illness by understanding myself better. Finally, CBT has been of great help for me in starting to build my self-esteem and feel valued and satisfied rather than feeling the need to please others constantly or to have to smile and feel happy all the time”.
“When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was both disheartened and relieved at the same time. I was afraid of having more attacks coming out of the blue, worried what other people might do to me in this vulnerable state, and terrified of getting confined to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of my life. But I hoped that I could now get the right treatment, or a miracle drug that would fix everything. That didn’t appear, but when I started psychological therapy, things that I believed would have worked for me started to happen.
I find now that finally I have a better understanding about myself, what might have triggered my past attacks and the things that provoke the symptoms and their reoccurrences. Each session we went back to recent events, and to those further back in the past, to study my behaviour and moods. We then looked at what could be the effects of my behaviour during different moods, and I tried out dealing with these kinds of situations in new ways.
For example, I learned that I could get locked into a situation in which I was getting emotionally abused by other people. I needed to break the cycle, either by walking away, or by standing up for myself in an assertive (but not aggressive) way, expressing to them that they do not have the right to treat me in this way, and setting boundaries for the future.
I used to try to ‘save the world’. After therapy, I learned that there are some things that really nothing much can be done about. I don’t worry about these things as much as I used to because I remind myself that other people often have to take the responsibility too. I have learned that family life is valuable as long as everyone can learn how to treat one another well.
And I now know that when I am organised and have a routine – sleep, regular meals, exercise – that most of my symptoms are under control.
I now feel that I know what I am about, what I can really do, and still continue to look after myself and love life just like other people”.