With a new documentary series about to start on British TV about Bipolar Condition, it has become the buzz-word on social media and although I welcome any factual, sensible insight that will help the general public overcome their fear of mental health issues, I would like to make a few observations. I would like to state at the outset that I am not an expert on Manic Depression, just on my experience of suffering it most of my life.
Fashion. Just as sports and clothing become popular from the number of celebrities using them, so illnesses get a fan-club. Strange as it may sound, it is probably comforting to some people to think that they share some aspect of the life of one of their heroes. When a well-known person is diagnosed with a condition, the name becomes familiar and people jump on it.
Self-diagnosis. Having heard the name, it is now possible to go on-line and take a questionnaire to check if one has any of the relevant symptoms. That is fine if one continues onto the next step which is obviously to consult a doctor. I fear that many people now are throwing the name “Bipolar” around without having got a professional diagnosis, which in my own experience is notoriously hard. I went for 30 years being shoved from one prescription to another until I was finally referred to a psychiatrist who took less than half an hour to diagnose me. This is often because Bipolars only present themselves to the doctor when they are “down”, not when they are in manic mode because that high feels normal.
It sounds better. Just as I have a friend who never suffers from a mere headache but always a “dreadful migraine”, people love to have a name, label or hook to hang their symptom on, the more severe the better. Nobody wants to be thought to be swinging the lead. I wouldn’t wish Bipolar Condition on my worst enemy so you’ll understand my discomfort when some folks use it as an excuse for having no control over a bad temper or self-centred nature. Yes, on a bad day, that is exactly the way I behave, to the consternation of those around me, but it isn’t ALL the time. On a good day I am tolerant, kind and generous which is what people have come to expect.
What kind? Excuse me, but Bipolar Condition is a bit of a cover-all word for a huge range of symptoms. I am really delighted that we now talk about people being “on the autistic spectrum” showing that there are differences in severity and reaction in that condition. I wish we could find some way of expressing the fact that every sufferer from Bipolar Condition is different, has been through a variety of experiences that aggravate or ease their plight. Just as we are genetically predisposed or not, our upbringing and lives can trigger or leave the gene alone. A fine example of this distinction NOT being drawn is in this, otherwise very good, newspaper article. I am one of the fairly rare “cyclothemic” Bippies which means that my mood swings really DO change within a day or couple of days. Were I un-diagnosed, seeking help and reading that article I might come away with the idea that my problems lie elsewhere. I hope I would then go to a decent doctor to get a professional opinion!
Finally, I hope that the new series is as good as Stephen Fry’s wonderful documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” and dispels myths rather than fostering them. What I would like to hear them say is “If you think you are Bipolar, you most probably aren’t but, get to a doctor and find out. Oh and be prepared for them to find it hard to diagnose!”
PS – if you know a happy, smiley person who is always up for a laugh, do watch out for the backlash – you may see them on a “bad day”.