Am I bipolar?

Seventeen year old Katie sat uncomfortably on the old green velvet sofa in my office, with a look that reminded me of a rabbit caught in headlights.

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Eyes wide, Katie described how her mother had encouraged her to go and see her GP when she discovered that she had been self harming. The GP suggested she might have bipolar disorder and arranged for a formal assessment.

Katie was now very frightened indeed. ‘If I'm bipolar, mum won’t let me go to university and live away from home. My whole future is wrecked. Why did this have to happen to me?’ she sobbed.

Whilst waiting for the formal assessment, Katie's mum had also helpfully suggested she come along for some therapeutic coaching. I was glad she had. My encounter with Katie was to prove life changing for her.

‘Am I a mentalist?’

‘What were the symptoms you reported to your GP’ I asked Katie.

‘Well, sometimes I'm really down and don't have the energy to even get out of bed in the morning and other times I'm jumpy and on edge. I'm restless and up all night. I can't sleep. I can’t seem to concentrate either and my memory’s really bad. Then I started cutting myself’

‘When did this start Katie?’ I asked.

‘I was absolutely fine until about two years ago’ Katie replied, thinking hard, ‘and then the anxiety started. The cutting seemed to help me calm down for a while.’

‘What was going on in your life at that time?’ I probed.

I suppose the biggest thing was that mum and dad split up. It was horrible. One minute dad was there in the house and the next minute he'd gone and mum was distraught. I felt I needed to support her. She was just crying all the time.’

‘And what’s the situation now Katie?’

‘Mum’s calmed down. In fact she’s got a new partner, but my life’s in ruins. Mum went on holiday recently and all the relatives kept calling or phoning to check if I was all right. They must think I'm some kind of mentalist. I bet they’re planning to put me in a mental hospital or something!’

An explanation rather than diagnosis

It seemed to me that Katie had become completely emotionally hijacked.

What had started with high anxiety due to mum and dad splitting up had soon evolved into depression, as her sleep became disturbed due to chronic worrying. Her energy levels subsequently dropped and she stopped doing many of the things she used to enjoy.

The trouble is when you go and see a GP, he or she will tend to look at your symptoms through ‘the lens’ of the medical model. They may refer to DSM V, the diagnostic and statistical manual GPs and psychiatrists use, to connect presenting symptoms to a mental health ‘label’ from which a recommendation is made on the appropriate course of action and/or medication.

Fusion® on the other hand, is a recovery and resilience model and looks for an explanation for what has happened rather than a diagnosis. Even doctors suggest that ‘when you hear hooves coming up behind you, it is more likely to be a horses rather than zebras’. In other words, look at the most probable explanation first.

This is how I helped Katie using the Fusion® model, the system, the tool box and the manual.

Fusion®: The model

The underlying principle of the Fusion® model is that our emotions and behaviours are always trying to help. Depression and anxiety are viewed as messages from the emotional brain trying to prompt you to take action to get your needs met.

After mum and dad split up, 15-year-old Katie's anxiety went through the roof. She began to worry. This affected her sleep which crashed her energy and serotonin levels, so that she began to withdraw from activities she usually enjoyed.

Perhaps prompted by peers or something in the media, she decided to try self harm as a way of controlling her distress and anxiety. This can work for a while as it releases endorphins into the bloodstream, but is obviously not the most helpful strategy for dealing with stress and can also become addictive, so that when you want to stop, you simply cannot. It starts out as a way of taking control, but soon begins to control you.

Looking through the ‘SAFE SPACE’ lens, it was clear that, at that time, Katie's life had gone from the ‘okay’ zone to ‘not okay’ pretty quickly and her needs for safety, attention, control, family and engagement with life really were not being met at all.

Fusion®: The system

I taught Katie how to mindfully step back from anxiety by focusing, counting and breathing to re-engage her rational brain. I showed her how to respond mindfully rather than react mindlessly to distress. She now had a much more helpful way to manage anxiety.

I explained to Katie that we can all be ‘a bit bipolar’ when we get emotionally hijacked. Our fight or flight system, sensing danger, will send us straight into a polarised, black or white way of thinking that will convince us our whole life is a mess and nothing will ever go right in the future.

The fact is, the more emotional we become, the more stupid we become, as the emotional brain climbs into the driver’s seat of our mind and switches of fthe rational thinking of the neo cortex. Katie had to learn how to use the STOP System ™ to stop the hijacks and take back control, particularly from the self harming pattern she had fallen into.

Fusion®: The toolbox

I suggested that Katie control her yo-yoing moods by practising mindful breathing for 10 minutes twice a day to lower her anxiety. To raise levels of her feel-good hormones, she should get outside every day for at least 20 minutes, to enjoy the benefits of full-spectrum light, fresh air and exercise.

Amongst many other interventions, we also played the ‘let’s spot your thinking error’ game, as it looked to me as though Katie had become a bit of a catastrophiser.

Fusion®: The manual

Everything I told Katie was backed up with clear and concise written explanations from the Fusion® manual that she could take home, read and use. Using the coaching wheel of life, we looked at her life holistically, set goals and brought together ‘a toolbox’ of mind management skills that she could draw on, to build the emotional resilience that would act like a kind of ‘psychological inoculation’ against future mental health problems.

I gave Katie the client progress log from the manual and asked her to record all the improvements she noticed as the result of our work together.

The outcome

Knowledge truly is power, particularly when it comes to mental health.

The combination of a better understanding of how the brain works together with sensible and practical exercises, tasks and tools worked their magic.

After just one session, Katie began to calm down and her mood swings levelled out. Not surprisingly, her sleep, memory and concentration all improved too, and by the time she went for her assessment, she was found to within the normal emotional range with no evidence of bipolar disorder.

My young client had reclaimed her confidence in her mental health and reconnected with a vision of a bright future that would begin with university and see her move into a career in medicine.

How different it all might have been.

Rewind, imagery, positive mental rehearsal, dissociation, goal setting, therapeutic story, mindfulness, new paradigms, reframes, fast track learning, perception shifting, self actualisation, positive psychology, reframing, metaphor, personal empowerment, psycho education, affirmations, motivational thinking, lifting depression, the happiness principle, resilience and resourcefulness, human flourishing, anchoring, rewiring your brain, the STOP System, the SAFE SPACE happiness recipe, holistic coaching and working on the continuum of wellbeing plus many other professional theories, tools and techniques underpin the content of the fast paced, fast track, Fusion training programmes.

Frances A Masters

Psychotherapist, Coach, Writer. Live your best life.

Do you want to be happier and more resilient? Some people seem to just 'bounce back' no matter what life throws at them. We can't choose many of life's events but we certainly do have a choice about how we respond. My passion for mental health began 25 years ago when I suffered postnatal depression and realised the help I needed simply wasn't there. The pills didn't work. In fact they made things worse. What I really needed was to understand how anxiety, depression and emotional ill health can develop. I needed to learn good 'mind management' skills which would act like a 'psychological inoculation' against future problems. When I recovered, I made a decision to find out how and why I had become so depressed and made a personal pledge to do something to provide the kind of help for others which I had needed. I wanted to prevent people suffering unnecessarily. So I embarked on a personal and professional journey and, along the way, developed a brand new approach to health and well-being. My journey began with four years of traditional counselling training, followed by a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapy. I studied cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), hypnotherapy, coaching and cognitive neuroscience. I built up 30,000 hours professional experience which I brought together into the new happiness and resilience programme l named 'Fusion.' I also wrote a book about how to resolve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), founded a therapeutic coaching charity and trained volunteers to work in this new way. This training programme would later become the nationally accredited Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma and Distance Learning Skills Certificate. Now... The journey continues. Now I want to reveal all my professional secrets about good mind management to as many people as possible through social media and by training Fusion Breakthrough trainers from all over the world. One of them could be you... Something new.. Something different.. Something which lasts.. What if you could experience one day which could actually change your life for good; giving you your own eureka moment; not only helping you create a vision of the life you want to live, but actually give you the real skills to get there and stay there? Fusion is a tried and tested system which combines the best of psychotherapy and coaching into a powerful new formula for lasting change. My aim is to help and empower as many people as possible to feel their best, be their best and live their best lives. Perhaps I could help you too....