What Does ‘Recovery’ Mean to a Person Living with Bipolar?

When people have a virus or an infection, they can be treated with antibiotics and other medication that will allow them to recover. But when people have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, recovery takes on an entirely different meaning. Bipolar (BD) is another mental health challenge that clinicians and clients do not often associate with the word recovery. However, being in a state of recovery means different things to different people. Psychologists and psychiatrists treating individuals with bipolar may see them as recovered when their symptoms are in remission and they are responding well to medication and therapy. But the clients may not see themselves as recovered if they experience adverse side effects from the medication and are still unable to function well.

Clinicians can help individuals with bipolar by learning what recovery means to them. To better understand what recovery means from a client’s perspective, Erin Michalak, associate professor in the Mood Disorders Centre in the Department of Psychiatry of the University of British Columbia, recently interviewed 13 participants who reported having either bipolar I or bipolar II. She found that when asked about measuring recovery, the most common answer from the participants was gauging quality of life. The participants suggested that clinicians should view recovery from a different perspective, because they believed that full recovery, or being cured, was not an option.

Instead, the participants believed that working towards a better quality of life and striving to effectively manage the symptoms of bipolar would be a more viable goal. They described the “art of managing BD…” as ensuring treatment adherence, getting daily exercise, and allowing family members to lend support when needed. Additionally, the participants said that they had to let go of the idea that they would ever become the person they were before they developed BD. Rather they said it was much more beneficial to focus on moving forward with their new identity. Michalak said that these responses will help those living with and treating people with BD better understand what recovery means to the clients. She added, “Lastly, a collaborative therapeutic relationship is fundamental to enabling individuals to rebuild a sense of self and lower the stigma associated with living with BD.”

Reference:
Michalak, E. E., Hole, R., Holmes, C., Velyvis, V., Austin, J. (2012). Implications for psychiatric care of the word ‘recovery’ in people with bipolar disorder. Psychiatric Annals, 42.5, 173-178.

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  • michale f

    michale f

    May 29th, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    Living with bipolar and being considered recovered is very different from another type of illness that you may have.
    With bipolar disorder one or two missed doses of medicine can make a huge dent in your life.
    Whereas with something else missing a dose or two is not always such a big deal.

  • Dorothea

    Dorothea

    May 29th, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    It has to be about small steps.
    No matter what you are facing, with recovery it is all about taking things day by day.
    You may have a really good day one day, and the next could be the hardest that you have ever faced.
    But that is a part of the recovery road to discovery.
    This is the time that your strength is going to be tested to the limit.
    The real challenge will be in knowing how you will respond and make the choices that you need to make to take you to the next day of recovery.

  • NYC cabbie

    NYC cabbie

    May 30th, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    The important thing to remember is that recovery and what it means will always be something that is unique and individual to each person who is recovering. That person with BD has to find a level of comfort within his life and a pace that is on track with his own experiences with BD. This does not have to be some horrible life sentence, but there are things that will work for one person that may not make as much sense for another. It is all about discovering the ways that BD most profoundly affects you and determining with the help of your therapist how you are going to tackle this and win.

  • daisy

    daisy

    May 30th, 2012 at 12:37 PM

    You said it best, or rather the participants did, by mentioning that for us this is not necessarily about recovery being a closed end deal. This is something that we know is on going, something that won’t end when we get to a cetain point, and that it is all about managing the crazy stuff when it pops up in life. I wish there was a definitive beginning and end but there isn’t, so again, like many in this study, I look to improve my life on a daily basis, not heading toward some vague and unattainable goal, but doing little things every day (taking my meds, keeping my appointments) that improve my life in small bits at a time.

  • Greg

    Greg

    May 31st, 2012 at 1:27 AM

    Its not easy but not impossible either! A good support system and hobbies can go a long way in helping to recover not just from the disorder but also at a deeper level.

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