Bipolar is a very misunderstood illness. It’s comes with a stigma. But here are 7 things about bipolar I want people to know.
Mental illness. It’s almost a dirty word. Okay, so it’s two words. But these days there is a lot of misinformation surrounding bipolar disorder.
So let’s start with the basics. First bipolar is a mood disorder. It creates high (mania) and low moods (depression) in a patient. Psychosis (being out of touch with reality) can also occur during severe episodes. It also affects circadian rhymes, thereby disrupting sleep and furthering the symptoms. The episodes can last weeks or months. It is not uncommon to rapidly cycle between them at the same time. It is created by an imbalance in neurochemicals. Lots of scientific studies suggest it is both hereditary and genetic. However, situational and environmental issues can increase or affect episodes. There are several types of bipolar but two are most prevalent. Type I patients who spend a great majority of time in manic moods and Type II patients who spend most of their time in a depressive state.
Depression can be characterized by hopelessness, specifically a lack of joy or the inability to enjoy things. You can be plagued with thoughts of suicide or self-harm. You can feel excessively guilty, have difficulty concentrating, and may gain or lose weight. In extreme episodes, it includes psychosis which manifests as delusions or hallucinations (both auditory and visual). It’s common for untreated patients to self-medicate through substance abuse.
Mania / Hypomania
Mania is odd because it can be like a euphoric “high” or it can be excessive anxiety. It can include obsessive, racing thoughts. It makes you impulsive and extremely irritable. You can become a thrill-seeker and even sexually promiscuous. It makes you have poor judgement and can result in spending excessive amounts of money. It can cause you to lash out at others and creates long bouts of insomnia.
Okay, now that we are through the scientific and more sterile descriptions, let me say, I was diagnosed with bipolar as a preteen after first being misdiagnosed as a child with major depression. That’s very common at that age.
Lastly, this post isn’t designed to scold anyone. It’s about educating people about an illness that is grossly misunderstood. Here are 7 things about bipolar I want people to know.
Things About Bipolar I Want People to Know
We Don’t Like Being Called Crazy
This should be a given. But I’m still shocked at how many times people use the word “crazy” to describe someone who has bipolar. It’s really hurtful. We aren’t “crazy.” You wouldn’t call an amputee “stumpy.” See? We feel the same being called “crazy.” We have an illness. It’s a physical illness that affects us mentally. It’s caused by the brain not producing neurochemicals like serotonin. Similarly, we don’t like being asked mockingly if we are “off our meds.”
We Aren’t Bipolar
Allow me to explain. There is such a huge stigma surrounding mental illness, but in particular bipolar and schizophrenia. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve heard people say, “she’s bipolar.” We aren’t bipolar. We HAVE bipolar. You’d never say, “she’s cancer.” It dehumanizes us. We’re aren’t our illness. It doesn’t define us and therefore not our identity. It’s just one aspect of our life.
You Don’t Need to Be Afraid of Us
Contrary to what the media and non-medical professionals would have you believe we aren’t going on a rampage. And no, psychotropic drugs don’t turn us all into mass shooters. Those people have all kinds of contributing factors, including circumstances completely unrelated to mental illness.
Not all bipolar patients are violent. In fact, that’s not as nearly common as you might think. For example, with Type II patients we are far more likely to hurt ourselves.
We Don’t Want to Disappoint You
We hate when we have to cancel on you because we’re sick. We’re just as disappointed. It’s embarrassing – especially if our caregiver (a spouse, parent, etc.) also has to cancel to take care of us. And please, don’t say we should “plan better.” No one plans to be sick. We have no way of predicting when our mood will change and no way of gauging how bad it will be. I don’t even have words to describe how hurtful and abhorrent that is.
Can you imagine saying that to someone who has cancer? Seriously. Imagine someone has cancer and is going through chemotherapy. They have an important function and can’t go to the event after a chemo treatment because they feel horrible. You would never say things like, “well you should have planned better. After all, you knew you had cancer. You knew you were going to have chemo. You should have planned better.” Yeah, it’s that disgusting and insensitive.
We Say Things We Don’t Mean
They say bipolar is the great melting pot of mental illness. It has anxiety, depression, irritability, OCD tendencies, hallucinations, insomnia, and sometimes what looks like ADHD. When we are in a manic stage, we are often impulsive and irritable.
Being impulsive can cause us to not think through the consequences of our actions. When you combine that with irritability, it makes for lots of unkind words. Oh we regret it afterwards, believe me. But in the moment, there is little self-control. We damage and lose relationships over it. It hurts us as much as it hurts you. When those feelings pass, we are embarrassed by the destruction we caused.
Suicide Is Always Knocking On Our Door
This is a really sensitive issue, but it needs to be discussed. We might seem okay. We might even seem thick-skinned. But we are always resisting the urge to kill ourselves. We have a hard time coping even with the simplest of life situations. If something upsets us deeply, we can despair very quickly.
Then there are times when we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s exhausting to fight this everyday. We just want it to stop. We want peace. Suicide is a very tempting option.
We Pretend to Be Okay
Most people have heard the old adage, “fake it ‘til you make it.” However, for us, it’s really true. I don’t want to make it seem like we are lying to you everyday. But the truth is we’re always trying to make it through the day. Similarly, it never goes away totally. I’d say we are either better or worse. Medications don’t cure it. They only make it more manageable. Bipolar is a chronic illness and therefore we live with it everyday. We just don’t always talk about it. We deal with it on our own as much as we can.
Those are the things I want people to know about bipolar. I hope I’ve provided some insight on bipolar. If you suffer from bipolar, I’d love for you to leave a comment below about what you would want people to know. If you’re looking for other wellness topics, check out Setting Healthy Boundaries in Your Marriage.