Discussing your illness with your doctor

After being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, it is often a challenging, frustrating, and  even sometimes frightening path to where you are able to easily manage your illness. Finding the right treatment doesn’t happen overnight and requires the proper combination of doctors, medication, and personal self-care. 

Each patient and treatment is different, but let’s discuss some strategies for good communication with your doctor–this will help make the path a little less bumpy while living with your illness, whether it’s the first month or the 20th anniversary of diagnosis. 

Working with a doctor or team of doctors for Bipolar management is key to finding a treatment therapy that works for you. Preparing for doctor’s appointments will help you share useful information about your disorder, so your doctor can help design an appropriate treatment plan. It will also allow you to cover all pertinent information and can help you feel more relaxed–especially if you are meeting with a new doctor for the first time.

Before scheduling your appointments, consider the most convenient times for you and see if those can be accommodated. Having a convenient appointment will increase your likelihood of keeping it and make it a less stressful impact on your day.

Using eMoods  (or another mood tracking app or simply a paper notebook), maintain a daily record of your moods, sleep patterns, medications, and any other pertinent information. Bring this log to your doctor’s visit and discuss it with them; this will help your doctor better understand what you are experiencing so they can design an effective treatment plan. Also, keep a list of any new/unusual symptoms that you’re experiencing. Make note of how long they’ve lasted and if there are any significant circumstances surrounding them.

Write down questions when you think of them and bring them to your doctor’s visit. And, if you are comfortable, consider bringing a trusted friend or family member to the appointment. They can assist you with asking questions and note-taking, so you can focus on engaging with your doctor.

If your doctor proposes a treatment plan you do not understand, don’t hesitate to ask them to further explain or clarify it. Be sure to ask details about medications and their side effects, as there can be several, especially if you are adjusting your medications or changing your dosage. Also, discuss when you should expect to see changes following a change in treatment. Knowing what to expect will help you maintain compliance and feel confident and informed about your treatment. While some symptoms or medicine side effects may seem embarrassing, don’t hesitate to mention them to a doctor. If you find you are uncomfortable with a treatment approach, you should voice your dissent and ask about alternatives.

In addition, if you’re visiting a new doctor for the first time, be prepared to provide a full health history, and pertinent information related to family diagnoses. Having this information, along with your current medication list, will assist the doctor in best assessing you.

Having Bipolar can be a struggle, but clear, informative, and productive visits with your doctor can make the process a lot easier. Being a prepared and active participant in your doctor appointments allows your doctor to better understand your experience, provide the most holistic picture of your health, and help you to take control of your illness.