Would I….?

Sometimes I wonder, if I could, would I take away my bipolar disorder.

Would it be easier, would I be happier without that roller coaster ride, that inevitable and uncontrollable swing from elation to depression and back again.

Would I want that?

I suspect life would be more stable. I wouldn’t need to be on the cocktail of medications I am currently depending on. Some things would be easier, I’m sure.

But would I miss out? 

While I would never glorify the illness, I do feel I have learned a great deal from my experiences. Aside from the crash course in clinical psychiatry and psychopathology, but I have also learned about human emotions and vulnerabilities. Becoming hospitalised allowed me to witness other people at their lowest, or highest points. To be on their side. A normal kind of crazy.

I believe there is still great stigma attached to mental disorders. While I will go into my feelings about this another time, All I can say that I feel very strongly that mental illness should be treated as equal to physical illness.

I feel I understand the mental pain of another, and empathize. If I hadn’t have experienced those highs and lows would I be able to truly understand someone at their most vulnerable state?  I feel my experiences have supplied me with an empathy I may not otherwise have.

Would I be the same person without bipolar?
Would I experience the same drive and creativity without this experience. My best work, musical, artistic and written has generally been during mania or depression. Is this due to the disorder, or due to my inherent personality? Or both?

There is a documented link between bipolar disorder and creativity. Nina Simone, Stephen Fry, Ernest Hemmingway, Virginia Woolf, Mel Gibson, Frank Sinatra, Catherine Zeta Jones, Kurt Cobain and Winston Churchill. All of these people have bipolar disorder.

I’m not sure I can answer the question, as bipolar is such a strong part of me. My highs and lows and yes, even my psychoses have become an everyday part of life. It’s something I deal with, and something I can’t easily separate from.

But after all these years of self hatred I can say one thing. I am happy with the person I am. And bipolar or not, that’s the way I want to be.


What the Dickens is Bipolar Disorder?!

Bipolar disorder is a universal mental illness. It doesn’t discriminate. People of all ages, nationalities and from all walks of life can experience bipolar. Perhaps this is due to the genetic component of the disorder. Scientists have identified several genes, including the Dysbindin, Neuregulin and G72  genes which when damaged contribute to Bipolar disorder. As such, bipolar tends to run in families, although episodes can be triggered by significant stressors, and in women, childbirth. It is estimated that about 1.1% of the population suffer from bipolar disorder

People with bipolar disorder are 50 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. That is huge. The suicide rate for the average population is around 0.01%, in the Bipolar population it is around 13%. What’s more, nearly half of individuals with Bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once. Extreme depression and psychosis resulting from lack of treatment are the usual cause for suicide. IF YOU FEEL SUICIDAL PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP BY CALLING YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY NUMBER OR PRESENTING AT A HOSPITAL EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT!

A bipolar depression is nothing less of horrific. Unlike Major Depression, often there is no apparent cause for bipolar depression. A bipolar depression can persist for months and may become so severe that psychosis results. Traditional anti-depressants used alone generally have little effect, and can even trigger manic episodes. Unfortunately, because many individuals affected by bipolar seek help during depression rather than mania (which may be enjoyable), they are often misdiagnosed with Major Depression and treated accordingly. Individuals who present with mania may be misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia. Consequently bipolar is one of the most difficult mental illnesses to correctly diagnose.

Symptoms of mania can include pressured speech (or talking REALLY fast), racing thoughts, needing less sleep and not feeling tired, grandiose beliefs (for example, I started to believe that I was superior to everyone else because I didn’t need sleep to function but they did), and general euphoria. People may become impulsive (e.g. spending lots of money, quitting their job) and promiscuous.  But there is a dark side to mania; during a manic episode people can quickly turn irritable and even aggressive. They may experience hallucinations and delusions.

Sometimes individuals experience mania and depression at the same time, for example, a deep depression fueled with energy. This is termed a ‘mixed state’ and is one of the most dangerous psychological states to be in.

Bipolar is generally shuffled into three types: Bipolar Type I, Bipolar Type II and Cyclothymia.

Bipolar Type I is often referred to as the more ‘severe’ disorder in that individuals in that people’s  high’s tend to be higher, and they are more more likely to experience psychosis and be hospitalised.

In Bipolar Type II the high’s are less severe and are termed hypomania. While the mood, cognitions and energy is still elevated, there is no psychosis, and usually little need for hospitalisation. However, depression can be crippling in those who experience Bipolar II, and affected individuals are more likely to rapid cycle between episodes.

Cyclothymia (or ‘Bipolar Lite’ as Stephen Fry once described it), is a milder of form bipolar where individuals experience mood swings from mild depression to emotional highs chronically over many years.