By Yasmin Headley
Editor’s note: The author is an accredited Integrative Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) psychotherapist in private practice in London, UK. Yasmin is also studying for a PhD in Mind-Body Medicine and Integrated Mental Health. She has followed EastEnders on and off over the years. You can reach her at email@example.com and read more about her background at www.yourhappiness.com and www.thecompletelife.com.
We are all a subject of our history. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something or is invested in you continuing to live as you are.
For some this is a good thing, for many this is not the way to go. Many would love the magic elixir that would get rid of every negative break with the past but it is not possible to find it in a bottle, a happy thought or magic.
In looking at a psyche of a person we would look at their history, their present life and their thoughts and behaviour. We would look at the support system and resources they have in their lives and we would look at what they do when they are stressed.
In some therapies, such as the psychodynamic and the psychoanalytic, a great deal of time is spent on the patient’s past and in the unfurling of their history. In the version of Integrative Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is the approach I take, I spend some time there, but I also look at their feelings, thoughts and behaviours. These are key to helping an individual change. Modern-day research shows how we are not just a subject of history and genetics but are also affected by epi-genetics. Epi-genetics is our environment, those whom we have around us, the food we eat and the activities we do.
Patient File: Stacey Slater
She’s beautiful, strong and tells it like it is. You will always know what she is thinking, and she does not suffer fools gladly. Stacey seems to move quickly through life, ever so active; moving from one job to the next, one house to another, and from one man to another. She gets bored quickly and has a short attention span for work, men, people and places. She has had a difficult life as a teenager, with an abortion, drug abuse and a very troubled relationship with her mother. She has married and cheated and then divorced and then cheated again. She moves in and out of Walford, too. Nothing seems settled and nothing can be taken for granted with Stacey. We never know for how long she will stay or when she will go. She seems to have this energy that makes her up and leave suddenly. What is apparent is her heart of gold and her good intentions. She is really a very kindly soul who seems to care and fight for the people she is close to.
What is it though that makes it difficult for her to settle into work with any career progression, have stable relationships or stay and live in one place? Stacey has bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a “manic-depressive illness, a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks” (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml). I know many people who have bipolar disorder, and they are brilliant, clever, creative and fun. They can also be exasperating, frustrating and have moments of such sadness.
It is not incurable. Many with bipolar disorder do not know that they have it. It can sometimes hide within the symptoms of addiction – alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, work and/or sex. Treatment can be a lifesaver for the person with bipolar disorder.
Stacey does not choose to live within such a nightmare of indecisions and pain. In order to salve the pain Stacey tries to self-medicate. Self-medication comes through unhealthy addictions. It is such a hard world to live in. We have often seen Stacey drink herself to oblivion and then regret her actions the next day.
Nowadays there is medication available. It is possible to balance her ups and downs and states of mind with medicines; usually a mood stabilizer with antidepressants and or anti-anxiety medication. It does take some fine-tuning but it is possible.
A good psychiatrist with time and effort would be able to work out the appropriate medications. Each medication interacts differently. Some do try to do it without medication but the highs and lows of moods without medication can be too difficult to balance out at times. What is important is that there is routine, and this is kept up regularly.
Stacey would need to keep up with being self-disciplined and being organized. This is easy to say but is hard for someone with bipolar disorder, it is difficult…but not an impossible task.
There is a higher risk of suicide for those with bipolar disorder. Unsafe sex, binge drinking and eating, these are all risky behaviours. In order to get better, Stacey would need to eat healthily, and avoid drugs and alcohol.
Integrative psychotherapy and CBT often helps those with such a disorder in maintaining healthy eating and exercise patterns, to keep organized, note behaviours and patterns and learn to make inroads into new ways of being. It would also be good for her to learn different meditation approaches; guided imagery, hypnotism, mindfulness and autogenics: approaches that help a person to relax and bring on the relaxation response. Those with bipolar disorder live in a state of stress and do need to learn to relax more than most. But, and this is a big but, where would the risk-taking behaviours be if Stacey did go on medication and did keep to routine?
Where would EastEnders be without the Stacey we know?
N.B. Please note that these are imaginary musings and do not represent an actual clinical case study.