Friday, March 26, 2010

Bipolar Disorder—What Not to Assume

I guarantee that you've heard the words "Bipolar disorder" somewhere before. In a magazine? In a doctor's office waiting room? At the cafe? Somewhere dispersed in a conversation you have with one of your BFFs? Think. Where was it...?

Bipolar Disorder, like every other mental illness, is very complex. More than one type of Bipolar Disorder exists, and people can have it to a greater degree. I, myself have Bipolar Disorder. To say the least, it throws a wrench in your plans/goals in life.

As a result of the media and baseless gossip, a number of misconceptions about the illness have spread. Let's address these, shall we?

Common Misconceptions

1. "Bipolar Disorder" means you jump from high to low--and that's that.

Yes and no. Bipolar disorder is categorized into two types, Type I and Type II, respectively. The former is categorized by the "off-the-walls" behavior and general mania, racing thoughts, excitement, etc. whereas Type II is categorized by heavier bouts of depression. Both do include these mood swings. The extreme cases of bipolar disorder--people attempting to do the impossible, ending up killing themselves, holding up planes, going on killing rampages and so on--who are diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder Type I.

Type II Bipolar is more common, and some consider it a "more subdued form of Bipolar Type I."

2. "Bipolar Disorder" is simple to diagnose--you have it or you don't.

Mental illness is complicated, to begin with. Bipolar Disorder even more so. This is because the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, reoccurring mood swings between two extremes, often resemble other psychological problems. The depressive episodes of Bipolar Disorder may be mistaken for being chronic depression, whereas "manic" high-energy periods may be written off as ADHD. Often diagnosis takes years, if not decades. By the time the official diagnosis has been confirmed, treatment may prove difficult depending on the severity and progression of the illness.

3. There are a few drugs that treat it, which work for everyone

Treating Bipolar Disorder like any other mental illness is a big mistake. Because medications often treat one facet of the problem and not others, strong doses of one medication may further upset the balance the victim is experiencing. For example, writing Bipolar Disorder off as depression and treating it with anti-depressants may push the patient into a constant manic state. Similarly, treating them with sedating drugs may push them into depression. Often medications which are also used to treat seizure disorders also prove effective.

Furthermore, every case is different. One patient may be resistant or have a bad reaction to one medication which may have done wonders for another. Patients may go on and off different medications over time.

4. People with Bipolar Disorder have predictable mood swings

There is no "waiting for the pendulum to swing the other way." People may have episodes of mania or depression for weeks, months, (maybe) years at a time before having another mood swing. The episodes tend to be relatively sporadic, although the events occurring in the patient's life undoubtedly have an affect on this. There is no order, such as Mania-->Depression-->Mania--Depression. Bipolar Disorder is often treatable, but always unpredictable.

Living With It

I've lived with Bipolar disorder for most of my life. I understand these misconceptions better than your average Joe. It's difficult to live with, but it is treatable and manageable. Not to say it's easy to manage. I still struggle, some days, and there are days when I feel on top of the world or completely useless. However, being able to deal with it means having the strength to stagger up off the ground, dust yourself off and keep pushing forward.

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