The subtitle of Michael Pipich’s new book, Owning Bipolar: How Patients and Families Can Take Control of Bipolar Disorder, should be enough for those with bipolar disorder and their family members to want to pick up this book and embrace it. Bipolar disorder takes away a person’s feeling of self-control and this book gives hope that control can be taken back.
People who are bipolar will appreciate that Pipich understands how it feels to the patient. He tries to remove the stigma of having bipolar, explaining that it is NOT the patient’s fault. This alone makes the book worth reading.
He then provides a thorough explanation of how bipolar can develop and discusses genetic predisposition. He explains how bipolar might be misdiagnosed as a personality disorder, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia, or not diagnosed at all. Because of the complexity of bipolar, patients and families must try to be patient as possible diagnoses are tested.
Pipich also offers a good explanation of the different types of bipolar and the diagnosis process. Once diagnosed, Pipich describes how patients or family members may have a difficult time accepting bipolar. This may be based on health or behavior reasons, but sometimes it is the stigma of having a mental illness. Because much of our society still has difficulty seeing mental illness as they do other illnesses, patients and families may be embarrassed to acknowledge bipolar. Pipich tells readers not to be. This is important.
Some patients may actually like the periods of mania, when they might feel especially creative or energized. For some people who work in creative fields, they may even feel their livelihood is threatened by a bipolar diagnosis and care. They may not want to lose that part of them. An important part of treatment is to show them that is not true in the comprehensive picture.
Pipich uses pre-stabilization, stabilization, and post-stabilization to describe the three phases of treatment for bipolar. Because of the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, stabilization is an important way to visualize the goal of treatment. He also makes clear that bipolar is a chronic disease that last a lifetime. In each phase, there is a place for medication and support from professionals and family and friends.
The pre-stabilization phase may include some aspects of crisis, self-harm, drug use, or other dangerous behavior. Denial, if present, must be addressed. The patient and family must accept the need for treatment. Establishing trust and creating understanding are important.
The stabilization phase is marked by establishing the right medication for the patient. While many patients respond to certain medications, such as lithium, this is not true for everyone. The treatment in this phase turns from treating symptoms to treating the disorder and the whole person. There is a detailed and helpful “Reference Guide to Bipolar Medications” at the end of the book.
The post-stabilization phase is a long-term maintenance phase. The patient learns to accept her or his new identity as a changed person. The “real” personality emerges. Support from family and friends continues. Pipich stresses multiple times the critically important role that close friends and family members play in supporting and encouraging the patient. Patients are experiencing a new world as they become stabilized and medication balances their moods. They need encouragement along the way. They also need someone to support them when they have doubts or stumble in their recovery.
I have read quite a few books about bipolar disorder and Owning Bipolar is one of the best. It helps non-professionals understand a very complex illness that presents social, physical, and mental challenges. It is comprehensive and seems to anticipate the reader’s questions. Pipich is sympathetic to what patients and families experience. I would highly recommend reading this book if you or someone close to you is processing a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Owning Bipolar: How Patients and Families Can Take Control of Bipolar Disorder
Citadel Press, September 2018
Paperback, 220 pages