Coping with Comorbidity

Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar Disorder (Photo credit: SheriW1223)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Comorbid as :  existing simultaneously with and usually independently of another medical condition.

Wikipedia says: In medicine, comorbidity is the presence of one or more additional disorders (or diseases) co-occurring with a primary disease or disorder; or the effect of such additional disorders or diseases.

The following is from my personal experience and research on comorbidity in psychiatry.


One example of comorbidity in psychiatry would be having bipolar disorder type 1, with alcohol dependence and PTSD.

In my experience I have been treated for comorbidity for years and it seems to me the best way to treat this in psychiatry is to never treat one independently of the other.

When trying to recover from a psychiatric disorder that is mixed in with another psychiatric disorder, the key is to treat the WHOLE person.

In treatment centers they may refer to a psychiatric illness mixed in with an addiction disorder as Dual Diagnosis, or Substance Abuse Mental Illness (SAMI)

Another example can also be a person with bipolar disorder that also has PTSD from trauma.

As always I believe that the best coping tip is gaining all the knowledge you can.

1.  Ask your doctor what your diagnoses are.

Are you bipolar disorder NOS, bipolar disorder 1, bipolar disorder 2, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, or rapid cycling, or cyclothymic, or mixed episodes, etc. etc. Then…

2. Write down and ask questions.

Ask your doctors and nurses and case managers and therapists and anyone that will listen who knows ANYTHING, to tell you who, what, where, when, and how. Any and all the questions you can think of. You are not imposing, being difficult, or anything like that. Their JOBS are to answer any and all of your questions. Then…

3.  Research

Now, although I know that you are reading this blog on the internet, there is good and bad information all over the internet. Before you take anyone’s advice on a “treatment” such as an herb or a pretty bracelet, get a second opinion. Double check information you get as well since most information on the internet is inaccurate information or just opinion. This does not apply to this blog, research is my favorite hobby an if I realize that I need to go back and edit or delete a post then I do. I just include my personal experiences unlike some other blogs, I feel that people are more likely to read an informational blog that includes personal experiences. I use some trial and error before relaying the information.

4. Find Support

You may already be seeing a psychiatrist, therapist, etc. but finding support from a person that can understand the shoes that you walk in because they wear those shoes… this helps. I mean attending a Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA) meeting, NA/AA group, Emotions Anonymous group, or even a support group in one of your local psychiatric support agencies or psychiatric hospitals may hold.

5. Fill your toolbox

Some people refer to it as a toolbox, tool belt, coping skill kits. It doesn’t matter, it’s all the same. To get by we all need coping skills that will work in our time of need.  These might be an enjoyable activity, journaling, relaxation techniques such as visualization and deep breathing, or exercise like yoga and running.  Make sure that some of this are coping techniques that time up either, time or energy. And make sure you have a few that are portable ad you can pull out of your toolbox no matter where you are.

For example I can color a mandala if I am experiencing anxiety at home but I can’t exactly use that tool when I am in the grocery store. So there I visualize a big radio with a volume dial turned all the way up and I slowly turn it down while breathing in as deep as possible.

If you want to you can even consider taking your medication as prescribed as a tool in your toolbox. That is an important one for me.

6. Stop the self-punishment

All anyone can ask of any of us is to try. Practice does not make perfect, practice just keeps us growing. You have to learn to be flexible with life and with yourself. We all make mistakes and fall on our backsides, but the point when we fall is to learn from our mistake and get back up and try again. I find that I am most likely to trip up when I take on more than I can handle. I need to realize that I have all the time in the world, slow down and be patient with myself. Stop being so hard on yourself and beating yourself up. You and others have done it long enough. It’s time for all of that to end.  Try being nice to yourself for once and then stand back and see how much the world changes.

I heard in treatment a long time ago that:

“You know you are doing well when you can sit alone in a room and know that you are in good company.”



One thought on “Coping with Comorbidity”

  1. As a three year member of my local DRA group, I’m in full agreement about the absolute importance of this wonderful “tool” for managing a mental and/or emotional illness along with substance abuse issues. Thanks for a great blog post!

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