Mad about Bipolar

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”.




7 thoughts on “Mad about Bipolar

  1. Really interesting post. As you know, the article has made me question my diagnosis, but I just don’t know anymore!

  2. Excellent article, Ailsa. I agree with you that the label seems to have become a fashionable ‘excuse’ for many, when in fact it can be such a heartbreaking condition for sufferers and those who love them. My son suffered at the hands of someone whose diagnosis we never saw confirmed, refusing to visit a doctor to seek help, which throws the diagnosis into grave doubt of being correct. My best friend was also a sufferer. Much more understanding is needed, particularly for the general public and I don’t think this lumping all kinds togather under a single label that is easily misappropriated is going to help any.

  3. Bless you for writing this piece, Ailsa. People need to be educated on these health conditions. It required 3 doctors in the U.S. to certify and declare my husband bi-polar. Of course he wouldn’t admit he was, and fought against taking any medication for it. That caused us big trouble. I know you understand what a problem that could be. His cycle of depression or mania can last for months before it changes. He is now 84, fell, and broke his hip. Because of that, he now has a caregiver who sees to it he takes the necessary medication. I hope one day more people become educated about the condition. It needs to be discussed, not be a fad. Thank you again. I’m reblogging this on Musings On Life & Experience.

  4. It really is my pleasure to have written this. I sincerely hope that it prompts others to go and get medical help if possible.
    Obviously, I would love to influence public opinion on the subject but if all of us keep sharing the word around, it might happen. xx

  5. Great post! I have been becoming increasingly frustrated with how it has become a fad. This illness has almost killed me.It is invalidating. People lives have been ruined. Some have had to make it stop the only way they knew how, and ended it. People have suffered with this for years, hiding it from people. I used to be terrified for anyone to find out because of how it would change how they see me, or get fired or some terrible thing, ashamed. Truthfully I still am very careful about who I tell. Now the reason I don’t want people to know is largely because I think they will equate me with someone following the latest fad. Sick trend if you ask me. If you have bipolar you would know there is something horribly wrong. I was diagnosed first by a gp but I didn’t believe it. A couple years later I was sent to the hospital and was diagnosed by a psychiatrist and then sent to a mood disorder clinic where I went through two hours of evaluation by another psychiatrist. None of them knew the other and they all had the same diagnosis so I finally gave in. My meds and counselling have changed my life. Thank you for this piece. I will repost at bipolarscorpio,com.

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