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Bipolar Tag


Contents

Opening Thoughts
       Introduction to this Mood Disorder
       Origins of Bipolar Disorder

What’s in a Word?
       Precision of Language
       Depression and Bipolar Disorder
       Describing and Evaluating Behavior

A Matter of Balance
       Good Versus Bad, Parts Versus the Whole
       My Magnificence
       Touched by the Disease

Naughty, or Just Plain Nasty?
       Fun and Games
       Interchangeable Parts
       No Shame Here

No Rules or New Rules?
       Note from Home
       Initiative
       Phase of Treatment

You’re Not the Only One with Problems
       A Challenge
       Heading Toward Mental Wellness
       The Real Truth
       So Who’s Perfect?

Closing Thoughts
       Review
       Sounds Like a Plan



Opening Thoughts


Introduction to this Mood Disorder
The diagnosis of “bipolar disorder” elicits a multitude of reactions. Some people respond with fear, misunderstanding, or even disbelief. There are those who witness hope, but many give up in despair.

Bipolar disorder is identified by terms such as depression and mania. These are familiar terms to medical professionals. But many people use these terms so loosely, that their application is very much different from their medical definitions.

When you are hurting, you don’t really care about the technicalities of how a word is used, or if it is even relevant to your situation. All you know is that you are in pain and are looking anywhere you can for relief from your suffering.

Sometimes we need to recognize buzzwords to serve as common denominators in discussion. Recognizing patterns -- their cause, impact, and possible resolution -- can often accelerate the healing process. However, it is beyond the scope of this article to address the many considerations for this disease. But I would like to shed some light on why people are so confused about this topic. And hopefully alleviate some of that confusion. I am writing this as a limited profile, combining my experiences with what others have shared with me about theirs.


Origins of Bipolar Disorder
Genetics can certainly play a role in the probability that a person will develop bipolar disorder. Mental illness can run in the family. But, for the people I have had contact with, there is a more important factor. Many people who are bipolar experienced abuse, trauma, and/or illness during childhood.

Events can alter the chemical processes in our brains. We have fight-or-flight responses to situations. Our brains produce (or step up the production of) certain chemicals to deal with an immediate, temporary confrontation. But when the stressful circumstances continue over a period of time, the brain produces “emergencies chemicals” past the timeframe they were meant to handle.

This extended period of altered production can cause long-term changes in the way the brain functions. So, even after the drama has stopped, the brain still thinks the trauma continues and maintains an abnormal level of certain brain chemicals.

The observations I make here are also influenced by factors other than just bipolar disorder, such as anxiety disorders. But is seems when someone has one type of mental illness, another type is often present too. Attempting to treat one condition can actually trigger another, especially when prescription drugs are introduced.

Regardless of how things came to be, I still must try to accept responsibility for my actions. But the battle between the anxiety and the mania can tear me apart. The mania tells me to do something, while the anxiety says, oh, no, you’d better not.

I ask myself, is the price I pay to keep the mania in check really worth it? To lock myself up (figuratively or literally) to avoid making “mistakes”? What is the tradeoff? Is it better to possibly give up some of my integrity to save my sanity, and grasp at some peace of mind? What part of living a full life do I miss when locked away?


photo ©iStockphoto.com/DSGpro


What’s in a Word?


Precision of Language
The term “depression” is not a valid measure or indicator of a person’s mental state. Depression is a generic word. Much like the word “Kleenex” is the name, or label, of a specific brand of facial tissues. Now kleenex is accepted as any brand of facial tissues. But a kleenex may or may not technically be a Kleenex. When is a generic kleenex not a real Kleenex? When is an everyday depression not a real depression?

If the word “clinical” prefaces the word depression, there is more respect from the medical community that your depression is a brand name depression, not just a generic depression. Brand name depression is debilitating and may continue for long periods of time. Generic depression is not much more than having the “blahs” and is transient in nature. A quick fix may be appropriate for generic depression, but clinical depression takes a mix of treatment and patience.


Depression and Bipolar Disorder
A depressed person is really bummed out. What is a person said to be when sometimes he is bummed out and other times he has a really good buzz? Right! He’s bipolar!

Bipolar: the bummed or buzzed disease.

Being depressed has one extreme. Being bipolar has two extremes: depressed and manic, which is the flip side of depressed. Depression subdues you and brings you down well below a stable mood level. Mania hypes you up well above stability. A depressed person is subdued. A bipolar person alternates between subdued and all hyped up.

There is a checklist of different types of behavior for helping to diagnose depression. It is based on the types of behavior you engage in. Bipolar disorder has a checklist, too, but its checklist is much more complicated and subject to interpretation. There are many groups and subgroups for bipolar disorder, each of which is qualified by its own identifying characteristics, using its own specific terminology. Bipolar disorder even has a term "mixed states" in which you engage in behaviors that are on the manic list AND the depressive list. That's right. You can be manic and depressive at the same time! Irritability and agitation may be seen in any mood level.

So with all these factors, many people are misdiagnosed. Then they are treated for the wrong illnesses, which usually makes them even worse. And it is common for people who have one type of mental illness to have others too. Just more behavior patterns to chart out and further complicate making a correct diagnosis.


Describing and Evaluating Behavior
Certain combinations of behaviors will lead your personality in definite directions. (Or is it the other way around?) Your own unique set of behaviors tends to run its course, indicating this is just the way it is, not the way it could be or should be.

There are many types of behavior that may, or may not, indicate the presence of mental illness. When you are considered to be mentally well, the types of behavior you exhibit, as a whole, are viewed as neutral, or merely descriptive in nature.

However, in the diagnosis of depression and bipolar illnesses, types of behavior are grouped as being negative and undesirable. Or perhaps what some would consider unproductive and destructive. At some point, types of behavior go beyond being descriptive; they become symptoms and signs, used to evaluate your state of mental health.


photo ©iStockphoto.com/DSGpro


A Matter of Balance


Good Versus Bad, Parts Versus the Whole
In other words, the whole is no longer the dominant factor in determining your state of mind. Certain parts (behaviors) override the whole and you are diagnosed as being depressive or bipolar.

These symptoms and signs take on a more extreme nature when you are mentally ill, to the extent that your life becomes unmanageable. They rob you of the joy in activities you want to do. And they undermine your ability and focus to meet your responsibilities in those things you have to do.

When you are considered ill, your negative behaviors are sought out, listed first, and overshadow your positive behaviors. When diagnosing a mental illness, I have seldom seen any consideration of what positive or GOOD behaviors could be factored into the mix, to get an average of your behaviors. It is always bad versus good. With the good never being acknowledged.

Many people who tend toward mental illness may be pushed there more quickly and withdrawn from there more slowly because the total worth of the person is never acknowledged.

In other words, doctors look for bad behaviors to diagnose you as being ill. However, when determining if you are making a recovery, is there more emphasis on what bad behavior is being subtracted or on what good behavior is being added? Should you be fighting against the bad, or fighting for the good?


My Magnificence
In the story of the ugly duckling, it had the cooties. The scorn. The disease. But, as many fairy tales do, the tale has a happy ending. The ugly duckling is transformed from the clumsy, frumpy scourge of the earth, into the magnificent creature known as the swan, long considered to be the epitome of grace and elegance.

With patience, can you start out a mess and end up on top, like the ugly duckling did? Maybe the most bang for your buck doesn’t come from a magic bullet, a revolutionary treatment method, or sheer will power. Maybe the magnificence of the swan… I love that word… magnificence. Go ahead. Say it out loud and hear just how good it feels rolling off the tip of your tongue. Don’t worry what people will think. Don’t just state the WORD magnificence. Exist in the STATE of magnificence! Declare, “I am magnificent!”

Are people looking at you like you really do have a mental illness? Good. Acceptance of your cooties is the first step in getting rid of them. Actually, you don’t get rid of cooties. You have to pass them on to someone else. So, like cooties, some fear bipolar disorder and being “touched” by it.


Touched by the Disease
Have you been “touched” by this disease? Were you able to claim your magnificence a few statements back? Is your magnificence a symptom of mental illness? Or is it a part of yourself you have simply never claimed as your own?

I encouraged you earlier to declare out loud, “I am magnificent!” How many of you did? It was fun getting people to stare at you. Now you have to say out loud, “I have a disease.”

If you CANNOT admit out loud that you have a disease, you might be depressed. But you probably aren’t bipolar. If you were bipolar, you would say whatever you had to in order to become the center of attention. In fact, you probably don’t even have much preference for whether what you say is socially acceptable or not. You just know what works. And sometimes you milk it for all it’s worth.


photo ©iStockphoto.com/DSGpro


Naughty, or Just Plain Nasty?


Fun and Games
You tend to become overachievers during times of mania, but the thrill of even great accomplishments can become a drag, so new outlets for amusement must be found. What better pastime that to make others squirm? What devious pleasure we sometimes delight in.

But other times this fun-and-games “ha ha you’re it” kinda mentality gets out of control. You start slipping up and things may go too far. You goof up with no way to repair the damage you have done.

That’s what being bipolar is all about. Sometimes you hide in the bottom drawer of your dresser to escape. But other times you hide in the top drawer, giving you a higher vantage point to plot (and launch) your next great misadventure.

When you do things that are, well, ornery, how do you deal with that in terms of how others may respond to your, shall we say, antics? When you are on your bad behavior, do you say the cootie bug bit you? You are just trying to shake it off? You admit you have a disease when it is convenient, like a cover up, a way out, or an excuse. A way to avoid blame or responsibility. When you are on your good behavior, you want to normalize your behavior so others won’t think your cooties are contagious and start running from you.


Interchangeable Parts
Maybe they aren’t actually afraid of getting cooties. Maybe they just don’t find sharing space with a cootie bug that entertaining. They just don’t want to watch you pull a leg off and try to insert it where your proboscis goes. I can’t blame them for that.

Who knows, if you are successful in mastering interchangeable parts, you just might try it out on the poor fellow sitting next to you. Things could take an ugly turn here. Maybe he is ultra conservative in his thinking and is uncomfortable with the thought of his head being moved anywhere besides the top of his neck.

I am very conservative too. I am too close-minded to remove my head from my shoulders. But I sure do like to make it spin around. Wheeee! Is my head pointed in the wrong direction? Doesn’t matter. I always have options. You do too. When your direction is undetermined, you have your choice of spinning your head back in place. Or spinning your body around to go with your head.


No Shame Here
Should I be ashamed of myself for pulling all this nonsense? Ashamed? Embarrassed? Amused? Proud? I LIKE that idea! I want YOU to be proud of ME!

A person who is clinically depressed may be treated by his Primary Care Physician, such as a Family Doctor or GP. His doctor may prescribe drugs and/or counseling to treat the depression. Or his doctor may refer him to a specialist, like a psychiatrist. When you start the treatment, you are labeled clinically depressed. When the treatment is successful, you no longer can wear the label “depressed”, although you may still occasionally struggle with generic depression.

Doctors have their checklists to declare when a depressed person is no longer depressed. But what about the bipolar patient? (Remember the bummed or the buzzed bud.) As he goes through treatment and his symptoms become more manageable, do the doctors strip him of his label bipolar? (And then he is just generic bipolar?)

Does he still have the bipolar disease? Or from now on, when his symptoms manifest themselves from time to time, is he now just considered lazy or a jerk? Maybe he just moves from one episode stage to another.


photo ©iStockphoto.com/DSGpro


No Rules or New Rules?


Note from Home
Being bipolar is like having a note from your mom saying it is ok to skip gym or P.E. (or whatever your decade calls it). She writes you a note. A permission slip. Permission to make the rules null and void. But is it really possible to change the rules? Well, if your mom can’t, who else could?

So the label bipolar can be a ticket either way you like. It’s flexible. Kinda like a genie waiting there in a bottle to do your bidding. (Not a bottle of pills.) If you don’t want to participate. Fine. Your permission slip’s got you covered. You went a little too far? No biggie. Your label is your ticket out of trouble. Quick in. Quick out. Nobody gets hurt.

Nobody gets hurt? Now who are we trying to fool here? You, or the people who have to put up with you? If you are bipolar, the distinction between illness and wellness is much more difficult to determine than for someone dealing with depression. When you are bipolar, the pills can’t tell you for certain. The talk therapy can’t tell you. That’s another odd term, talk therapy. Sometimes when I talk to myself, that is the best therapy. They say I am a good listener!


Initiative
So, then, Doctor Jeff, how DO you make the distinction between illness and wellness. In a word: initiative. The drugs don’t fix you. They just stabilize you while you fix yourself. “Fix yourself.” Does that make you feel empowered? It should. Remember earlier you already admitted you are magnificent.

Initiative. That means the drugs give you a little boost, but you have to continue the momentum and take responsibility for yourself: your life, your actions, your successes, your failures. It’s not the disease anymore. This is YOU! You are calling the shots now. When you slip up, do you want to keep using the excuse, “Oh, I’m bipolar, that makes it ok. Get off my back.” Or do you want to quit hiding behind your momma’s excuse note, and letting her take the heat for you?


Phase of Treatment
If you have read this far into my discussion you most likely are getting into the phase of your life that the drugs have done just about all the good they are going to do. It’s up to you now. I know you can do it! I just sometimes make it look like you can’t so you will surprise everyone in the end when you finally pull it off. Just another bipolar thing I guess.

Just another bipolar thing? We’ve come to the conclusion you have been doing fairly well with your treatment plan from your doctors. Your family and friends may not know the true extent of this progress. (Your doctor might not even know.) But YOU know it. You know how much better you feel about yourself and how much more control you have over your emotions and behavior than you used to have.


photo ©iStockphoto.com/DSGpro


You’re Not the Only One with Problems


A Challenge
So I have a challenge for you. The next time you need to make an excuse for yourself, look at it this way. Is the bipolar disease manipulating you into a lifestyle you loathe? Or are you manipulating the bipolar disease to defend the lifestyle that you choose to continue, without regard to how it makes others loathe you? Ahhh… You DO care if people loathe you and judge you. You do care if they will treat you differently… if they will cut off your options.

That bipolar label finally came in handy for something. There is a saying, “He is not a bad child. He is a child behaving badly.” Don’t hate ME. Hate the bipolar label. I am not a bad person. I am just a person behaving badly. It’s not my fault though. My old bud, Bipolar Buddy, put me up to it. No, this sounds even better. My Bipolar Buddy SET ME UP! I think it’s really the other way around. YOU set up Bipolar Buddy to take the rap for your personality “quirks”.


Heading Toward Mental Wellness
Mental illness becomes mental wellness when you set the label bipolar aside. Depressed people are “unlabeled” depressed. So with more effort, why can’t you be “unlabeled” bipolar? Granted, you may require ongoing, possibly even permanent, treatment for this disease. But does it have to dictate your outlook on life and how you live it?

I know it isn’t as easy as all that. But it is a starting point. It’s a place where initiative can take root and thrive. Bit by bit, in each part of your life, you have to start claiming you as being you.

YOU ARE NOT BIPOLAR. (Don’t quit your meds just because I said that.) But you may have a bipolar attitude. What is a bipolar attitude? You have succumbed to the brainwashing that says bipolar people live, breathe, and think a certain way. They want you to accept the fact that being bipolar is what is wrong with you and is the root of all your unhappiness. But that is not fact. It is fiction.


The Real Truth
Here’s the real truth. You are not unhappy because you are bipolar. You are a mess because you are a human being with all the weaknesses and frailties that come with the package. Yes, I agree that we as people can soar to great heights. But there will still be some pretty deep, low valleys in there along the way to the high places.

As a human being, I know people will always find reasons to be disappointed in me. But I can’t change that. I can try to do my best in any given situation, but failure is just another part of life we have to accept. I am not perfect.

Most of us sincerely do the best we can. Can’t we just cut each other some slack and try to get along here? I am not even going to go to the “make the best out of a bad situation” line. Bad situation implies hopelessness. As in can’t be fixed.

We can’t make ourselves perfect. But we CAN get to the point that we know the difference between mature acceptance of reality, and playing tag with the kids at school. You can’t say, “Tag! You’re it!” to get rid of the cooties. To be completely honest, there never were any cooties to begin with. It was all just a game to pass time.


So Who’s Perfect?
Look around you. How many perfect people do you see out there? We’re all in the same boat here. People expect me to act a certain way. They expect me to be a certain person. That isn’t always going to happen. It just isn’t possible. I am human. I am not perfect. I promise to try to do my best, but you have to promise to try not to rub my nose it in when I slip up.

You do need an awareness of what people think. But as an indicator to yourself how well you are doing well, not as another way for them to discourage you when they know nothing about what they claim to know.

Some people will always judge you no matter what. They will make careless comments. They will lump you into categories you don’t wish to be associated with and you don’t agree with. They don’t care if they help or they harm. So you must care. You must take care of yourself. You know in your own heart and soul that you don’t fit into these gross generalizations. But people will continue to wield power through the misuse of terms they know nothing about.

Your individuality (or anyone else's) makes it dramatically more difficult for anyone to gauge behavior. Does your behavior make you a candidate for being bipolar, or do you simply behave differently than expected because every person is unique in his own ways?


Closing Thoughts


Review
In review, just as the meaning of the word kleenex has broadened over time, the term “bipolar” is being used beyond its original medical definition. It can be assigned to a disease a person has. It can be assigned to personality traits people may have great difficulty changing. And it can be assigned to a lifestyle some people CHOOSE as a way to get what they want.

If your friend or loved one is labeled “bipolar” because of mental disease, do everything you can to love and support him. I encourage you all to bend over backward to mend broken bridges that will lead to a better way of life. Even a person no longer labeled bipolar still needs some support, and even some tolerance (remember: all in the same boat…)

If he has bipolar personality traits, don’t crucify him for telltale signs left over from a disease which is being successfully treated. (Or he may never have been truly bipolar.) He’s not perfect. Neither are you.

Trust and respect have to be earned. They cannot be handed out as a gift. Does he know what these words mean? If he has chosen to “act” bipolar as part of a lifestyle, give him a deadline to get his act together. And stick to it. No second chances. Then you have to be prepared to ask yourself a tough question. If he chooses to continue with the choices he has made, you have your own choice to make. Is your life better with or without him? At the point you realize he is not going to change, you have to either let go of criticizing him, or let go of him.


Sounds Like a Plan
But regardless of how any medical term is applied, no one but you truly knows your mind. They can’t feel your emotions; they may be more confused than you are. But as for you… you have a plan! You must take the initiative to find a better way of living.

Always remember, “We are beautiful swans! WE are magnificent!” When your life or the life of someone you love is not as elegant as you would wish it to be, keep this in mind. Even when we don’t appear to be full-fledged swans, we can still carry ourselves with grace and dignity. As long as we continue to take the initiative to be our best at every opportunity.