Not claiming to be an expert, but I feel it is necessary to delve a little deeper into something that has been in my life since day one.
To this day, it blows my mind that more people are not aware of Bipolar One Disorder and it’s complexities. Everyone and their mother seems to be diagnosed with this disorder everyday, yet don’t take time to research it – spreading ignorance and misinformation world-wide. Even some that suffer from this disorder are not aware of its nature and how it can affect them. To those that suffer, I suggest doing research and a lot of it. It’s almost a requirement in order to manage your mental illness. For those that have loved ones that suffer from this disorder or simply do not understand the nature of it, I suggest doing research as well as many of your questions can and will be answered. There is always going to that person and asking them as well, because unlike what most people think, we do actually need and want to talk about what is going on in our minds. Talking it out solves a lot of issues and has the ability to stop symptoms in their tracks. It’s amazing what a simple vent or therapy can do.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar One Disorder in October of 2010, when I was 32 years old. Despite popular belief, that is not that abnormal, as women tend to develop symptoms from ages 28-30, whereas men develop symptoms when they are much younger. About 5.7 million U.S. adults are living with bipolar disorder. That is roughly 2.5% of the U.S. population, although it affects people all over the world.
Now, I am one to believe that we all us human beings have our ups and downs. I cannot tell you the amount of times that someone has tried to ‘cure’ me or ‘comfort’ me by saying we all suffer from Bipolar Disorder and we all feel depressed and high at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help. Because it’s not the case for sufferers. What we go through is markedly different than the general, so-called ‘healthy’ population.
Bipolar One Disorder is a mental illness that has genetic components. People who have this ‘brain disease’ suffer from a wide range of symptoms, but are diagnosed mainly on the fact that they have experienced one or more manic episodes in their lives that can last anywhere from 2 weeks to approximately 6 months. True mania, seems to be the ‘calling card’, so to speak and it is what differentiates those suffering from Bipolar One and the less severe cases of Bipolar Two. Some may say that is abnormal to suffer from mania that long, but I assure it is possible. Untreated and unchecked, it can run it’s course for 6 months, as I myself have experienced now twice in the last four years. I believe that it goes unchecked and untreated in many because the nature of mania is in fact alluring and dare I say, addictive. The likely hood of you going to your psychiatrist to treat mania, is less than if you were to be suffering from the throws of depression.
Now, I am no expert, but I have dealt with this disorder my whole life and have been diagnosed with this disorder, studying it everyday for about 5 years now. I am a classic case, signed, sealed and delivered. I am a sufferer that is simply trying to wrap her head around something that has baffled people for ages. In my attempts to write about this and speak up on the subject to those that want to listen, I am trying to put the fire out on stigma by not letting it get the better of me. I have found that suffering in silence leads me into a spiral of depression that I would rather not visit longer than need be. I am speaking out because I have a voice and I think it is important to write about, illustrate and/or demonstrate those things about which we are most passionate.
In my years dealing with this disorder, I have found myself wanting to say the following 5 things to people to help them better understand what it is like for me and those I love:
1. Bipolar Disorder is Not a Character Flaw
I cannot tell you the amount of times that people have made me feel like I have character flaws or personality defects. All my life I have dealt with being different from the majority. I assure you, that isn’t fun to grow up with. The amount of times that I have jokingly been called crazy or made to feel as though I was a madman for the way I perceived the world in which we live. Not only me, but my mother as well who was diagnosed in her 20’s.
Bipolar Disorder has a strong genetic component. Personality suggests an environmental upbringing and development. Simply put, the disorder is not something that we choose or can mark off as character defects that need to be addressed.
We are not crazy. Who defines that anyway? To me, it is all relative. We simply feel emotions on a deeper spectrum than most and happen to see the world in a different light.
2. We Cannot Just ‘Snap Out of It’
I speak of both mania and depression when it comes to the notion that we can simply snap out of it or get over it. Again, I cannot count the times where people have told me to snap out of this ‘phase’. One person once said to me after I confided in them about my ongoing struggles with mania, “Oh dear, I thought you were over this by now.” Yet another said, “I don’t know how, but you need to get over this hill.” All endearing thoughts, and certainly they were trying to help, but it needs to be stated that these cycles have to run their course and we cannot necessarily control them, other than quelling symptoms with anti psychotic medications.
For me, I suffer mainly from manic states that last long periods of time, unmedicated. Once they begin, it is not something that most want to stop because, quite frankly, it feels real good to feel good after feeling so shitty while in the hands of depression. Who would want to stop a natural high? I since have learned that it is necessary for me to stop this in its tracks, because I tend to be thrown into the grips of psychosis shortly thereafter.
Now depression on the other hand is something we all do not want to experience. It is displeasurable to say the very least. Again, once it hits, it is a mountain to climb to get over. Meds help, but they are no cure. We simply cannot take the suggestions of others that are trying to help: “Go for a walk, exercise more, eat this, eat that, think positive thoughts, change you attitude,” etc, etc, etc….
It simply does not work that way. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain that scientists, psychiatrists and the like are still trying to wrap their heads around.
3. Bipolar Disorder and the Creative Edge
Call it the madmen, the matter hatter syndrome, the tortured artist or the creative genius… the creative edge found in many people suffering from Bipolar Disorder has been widely regarded as truth. Not many know of the ‘positive’ side of Bipolar. It is the flip side of the coin, one in which I personally have had a lot of experience with.
“No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” ~ Aristotle
Some forms of emotional distress are more common among writers, artists and musicians. Some of the most creative and brilliant minds I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, suffer from Bipolar.
“Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said the findings of some 20 or 30 scientific studies endorse the notion of the “tortured genius.” Of the many varieties of psychosis, creativity appears to be most strongly linked to mood disorders, and especially bipolar disorder, which Jamison suffers from herself. For example, one study tested the intelligence of 700,000 Swedish 16-year-olds and then followed up a decade later to learn which of them had developed mental illnesses. The startling results were published in 2010. “They found that people who excelled when they were 16 years old were four times as likely to go on to develop bipolar disorder,” she said.” ~ Live Science
4. Scientific Evidence Suggests that Bipolar Disorder Plays a Role in Evolution
I have just started to research this idea. I am no expert, but I was curious to know why I felt mania mostly in the spring and fall months as opposed to depression in the summer and winter. So, for now, I will simply copy and paste some interesting data found in my research.
“The hypothesis suggested that bipolar behaviors evolved in the northern temperate zone as highly derived adaptations to the selective pressures of severe climatic conditions during the Pleistocene. Given evidence of Neandertal contributions to the human genome, the hypothesis is extended (EOBD-R) to suggest Neandertal as the ancestral source for bipolar vulnerability genes (susceptibility alleles). The EOBD-R hypothesis explains and integrates existing observations: bipolar disorder has the epidemiology of an adaptation; it is correlated with a cold-adapted build, and its moods vary according to light and season.” ~PubMed.gov
“Benefits of Depression
When I’m in a depression I’m hard-pressed to see any benefit. In fact, someone telling me there is a benefit is a bit of a slap in the face. But looking evolutionarily there may have been some benefit to depression. For example, if you were in a lower class (in any type of society there are always classes) where other, more powerful humans would use and abuse you and take your things no matter what you did, it might make sense to sit around and do nothing. It might, in fact, make sense not to fight back if your opponent would always win no matter what you did. It might make sense to eat everything you could get your hands on because of scarcity of food supply tomorrow. The physical symptoms of depression might, in fact, protect you.
Benefits of Mania
The benefits of mania are pretty obvious. You can get more done than your fellow homosapiens. You’re braver; you’re bolder. You’re willing to take greater risks and earn bigger rewards. You can talk yourself and all those around you to go into battle and conquer the neighboring tribe. You might also be able to find more creative solutions to the problems facing humans at the time.” ~Healthyplace.com
Evolutionary Psychiatry and Bipolar Disorder:
5. Medications Quell Symptoms But Do Not Cure
It’s simply fact. There is no cure for Bipolar Disorder, although I did happen to read tonight that scientists are in the process of developing a cure in possibly 10 years time. I can’t say that I would change this or cure it if I had the chance to do so. Maybe that is because it is all I know and have known for so long. It is what makes me, me and what makes me tick…creatively and otherwise.
As many sufferers know, treating Bipolar Disorder is very challenging indeed. Not only are we notorious for going of our medications, but the wide range of symptoms are hard to treat with a simple cocktail of meds. One size does not fit all. It is purely on an individual basis, case by case.
Sure, they help, but they do not cure. Again, I have been asked many times ‘why I still show symptoms of mania and depression if I am taking medication.’ Ask yourself this if you suffer or deal with this disorder….How many times have you been asked, “Are you taking your meds?” I really resent that question. Because it just shows that the majority don’t want to get to the bottom of some issues we deal with and it is as if to say, “Let’s just shut her up with medications and push this under the rug and it will go away.”
For me, it just seems that either the meds need to be adjusted and that changes with time, or it means that the symptoms and severity of mania and depression outweigh the effects of the medication. It is a tricky business and I just feel that some psychiatrists out there are shooting in the dark, hoping for a clean shot…just as so many of us do that suffer from the disorder.
I have been hospitalized on many occasions in the past 5 years. And each and everytime I was greeted, upon release, with friends and family that simply assumed all was well and cured because I was under doctors care and was on a new regiment of anti psychotics. I can tell you for a fact that this is not the case for many. Upon release from my latest hospitalization, I still showed symptoms of psychosis well into two or three months afterward. Like I said, the grips are hard to free yourself from once the teeth sink in.
I believe that it is more about prevention than anything else. I am now taking medications religiously and I am participating in intensive therapy, as my last psychotic episode scared me straight.