Bipolar Disorder: A Blessing, Not a Curse (Guest Blogger Series)
Bipolar Disorder: A Blessing, Not a Curse
A Unique Look from the Perspective of an Individual
by Teresa Roland
Note: Throughout this article, the author will refer to bipolar disorder, rather than mental illness, as per personal preference.
This article below will discuss the epidemic of mental disorders, focusing on bipolar disorder spectrums and common misconceptions regarding this diagnosis. It is a researched article with personal connection as the author was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder and has been engaging in active recovery as well as advocacy and research. The author seeks to enlighten readers on the complexity of mental illness, why it still exists in our evolution, and what it really means to be “manic-depressive” in today’s society. Mental disorders manifest themselves in many forms, taking the skins of humans and wearing them over monsters. Yet, we as a society are migrating towards the idea that mental disorders are fact. How we “deal with” them is another matter. I argue for a positive intervention that promotes autonomy for the individual, and a delicate balance of support from others.
Defining Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is commonly heard of and referred to today as simply “bipolar”, a descriptor, not a noun. This coincides with the idea that bipolar disorder is not a part of oneself, rather, it is an illness to be cured or “dealt with”. American society today focuses on perfection, problem-free solutions, and more notably– curability through pharmaceuticals. Yet, others argue that with treatment via therapy, relapse prevention programs, and incarceration diversion programs, individuals “suffering” from this mental illness are on their road to recovery, naturally (Aiken, C., & Phelps, J. 2017). Unfortunately these are not the only issues. With the American pharmaceutical companies, companies may promote aripiprazol (Abilify) and others so much that the individual may be over-drugged, over-diagnosed in severity, and in desperate need of self-advocacy. Upon discharge from hospitalization and court summons, an individual may be drugged with gabapentin, lithium, thyroid medication, and for some women, and oral contraceptive (Mondimore, F. M. 2014). As with every treatment plan, psychiatrists must adequately present the pros and cons of adding or removing a medication. But it is ultimately up to the individual to take them.
As mentioned above, treatment largely focuses on immediate prevention others can be used for frequent medication management and long-term monitoring. Various therapeutic clinical treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and acceptance-commitment will be discussed further. In essence, individuals “suffering” from this illness are common and transcend socio-economic status and systems, and the medical world is constantly changing as patients receive new medication, and/or therapy.
Bipolar disorder, or “bipolar-depression” is defined by the DSM-5 as a mental illness that is characterized by a spectrum of manic “highs” and depressive “lows”. On the spectrum are slow monthly cycles of untreated manic-depressive symptoms, faster cyclothymic cycles, and moderate cycles (bipolar II). Bipolar I disorder is the former, not less extreme than bipolar II (Severus, E., & Bauer, M. 2013). We discuss recovery as recovery from a physical illness where ideally, no symptoms of a virus show. As for mental illnesses, we speak of the potential for “recovery”: the ability to minimize the effects of these debilitating symptoms and relapse. It is highly recommended that patients seek treatment other than medication such as various forms of therapy, recovery and support groups, and sleep therapy. However we so wish, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. From the perspective of a patient, there are many resources for family and caregivers. The implications are that with adequate help, individuals can develop resiliency for years to come. Unfortunately, massive obstacles leave many behind. A common instance is that individuals have a relapse within five years of their initial crisis. Crisis intervention is a serious matter, and requires immediate intervention to stabilize the individual. Trust must be rebuilt, and most importantly, confidence and autonomy. As a patient, my concern is still, after four years of recovery and relapse prevention, I am still not believed to be capable of making my own medical decisions and medication decisions.
Legacy: The Stigma of Being Diagnosed
The notion of bipolar disorder is in no way new. In fact, historians hypothesize that Van Gogh had a form of bipolar disorder (Mondimore 2014). Other contemporary dignitaries include recognizable celebrities such as Halsey, Demi Lovato, Russel Brand, Carrie Fisher (deceased), Amy Winehouse, Viven Leigh (of Gone With the Wind) and Winston Churchill (CBS News 2018). Yet, regardless of whether it is bad, bipolar disorder has remained stubbornly in our evolutionary system. This brings to light the idea that bipolar disorder is not in itself bad, rather, it is bad in most manifestations of mania where the patient is highly distressed under the symptoms of the condition. Halsey was quoted saying “I kind of just embraced the things about me that were a little odd. The thing about having bipolar disorder, for me, is that I’m really empathetic. I feel everything around me so much” (Harman 2018). Bipolar disorder is not uncommon, yet highly represented in media and film (such as in the Joker and The Silver Lining’s Playbook).
As people with bipolar, we have a designated disability, a chip on our shoulder, and a scar on our tongues. We may be many, but we are few. This is changing. It is no longer so important to be drugged and to mitigate the effects of symptoms. I believe as a society we need to be embracing this genius productivity and thrive as humans in a contemporary world where “normal” is being redefined. As highly functional, often dysfunctional humans, we can channel that energy into art, creative writing, dance, competition, invention, and music. We are not alone, and we are very much humans entitled to a high quality of life and to face obstacles and the rising ebb and flow of our disorders.
About the Author: Teresa is a sophomore at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. She is an advocate of mental health recovery and has participated in local treatment-to-job transition workforces such as Cafe 54 and Archive Advantage. She also looks to promote mental health and wellbeing through Facebook groups and local organizations that spread awareness. She looks forward to finishing her education in Public Health and Psychology, and hopes to be an educational psychologist in the future. In her free time she enjoys staying out of the hot Arizona sun by hiking in the early morning. She also enjoys trying new restaurants and swing dancing as well as crafting and reading science fiction.n
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