5 Persistent Myths About Bipolar Disorder
By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Published in PsychCentral
Edited by the secret keeper
Bipolar disorder is a serious and difficult illness that affects all facets of a person’s life: their education, work, relationships, health and finances. (Read Julie A. Fast: author of several bestselling books on bipolar disorder, including Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder and Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder.
Fast was diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder II at 31 years old in 1995, a time when very little was discussed regarding the diagnosis. Since that time, knowledge and media coverage of bipolar disorder have improved dramatically. “I’m astonished at how much more people know about the illness.”
TV shows are featuring more accurate portrayals of bipolar disorder. “In the past, people with bipolar disorder were practically frothing at the mouth.” Today, writers and producers make it a point to get it right. Recently, Fast served as one of the advisors on the hit Showtime series “Homeland” and talked with Claire Danes about her character’s bipolar disorder.
While information has gotten much better, many misconceptions still exist and endure.
Five Persistent Myths About Bipolar Disorder
1. Myth: Bipolar disorder and depression are completely different diagnoses.
Fact: Bipolar disorder and depression — also known as unipolar depression — are not completely different illnesses. In fact, this is one of the most misunderstood ideas about bipolar disorder. (Psychiatrists are to blame for the misconception.)
Patients who believe this myth may oppose the diagnosis “if they don’t have the full-blown ‘manic-depressive’ picture and also resist taking “bipolar” medications like lithium.” Read Dr. Mondimore, author of Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families.
It’s more accurate to think of bipolar disorder and depression as “probably represent[ing] two ends of a spectrum of illnesses…The designation ‘bipolar II’ has helped crack this a bit, but this is why the term ‘bipolar spectrum disorder’ continues to gain ground.”
2. Myth: People with bipolar disorder experience dramatic mood swings followed by complete remission of symptoms.
Fact: Some people with bipolar disorder experience this pattern. However, “Many patients have periods of residual symptoms and less severe but still significant mood fluctuations between episodes of more severe symptoms.” This is especially common if people don’t engage in healthy habits to manage the illness.
3. Myth: Medication is the only treatment for bipolar disorder.
Fact: Medication is an important part of managing bipolar disorder. But it’s not the only answer. Viewing medication as your only treatment option “can lead to fruitless reaches for the ‘right’ medication.” And it can lead you to avoid making valuable lifestyle changes and seeking therapy.
As Fast writes on her website, “Medications take care of half of the illness, the other half is management.”
Stressed is the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, including avoiding alcohol and drugs, cultivating good sleep habits, exercising and effectively coping with stress.
Medication and alternative therapies can be part of the treatment plan. Still be cautious against thinking “that we can exercise, diet, meditate, walk and rethink our way out of this illness.” (In fact, this is another big myth that persists.)
Think of bipolar disorder like any other long-term illness, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. It requires commitment and comprehensive management.
4. Myth: After having a severe episode, people with bipolar disorder should be able to bounce back.
Fact: If a person with bipolar disorder experiences a severe episode — one that requires hospitalization, for instance — there’s an expectation that afterward they’ll be able to get back to their work and life. However, equate this scenario to people who’ve been in a car crash. You wouldn’t expect someone with broken bones simply to get up and start sprinting.
5. Myth: People with bipolar disorder aren’t trying hard enough.
Fact: People wonder why someone with bipolar disorder just doesn’t try harder. They think that if they exert more effort, they’d have the life they want. They wonder why everyone else who experiences mood swings can cope with them but someone with bipolar disorder can’t.
But this implies that bipolar disorder is a choice. “Would you ever say that to someone with diabetes or pneumonia?”
People just don’t realize how serious bipolar disorder is. Thankfully, though serious, it’s highly treatable. Managing the illness is hard work, and finding the right medication takes time. But “Keep trying. Never give up.”
***I add that I do not personally agree that medication is necessarily the answer for everyone with the bipolar diagnosis. I do not take medication for Bipolar but I do take medication for my health and for my anxiety/panic. I, also, work with the methods found in the books written by Tom Wootten, particularly the book: “Bipolar In Order.”
It takes a long time to learn these methods and have them become effective. The theory is to work toward finding your bliss whether you are in a depressive state and having a difficult time or whether you are in manic state. Finding your state of bliss is working toward blending these levels so there is a more even connection and one learns to exist in all of the levels of your bipolar with an acceptance that all of life is a long continuation of its self and all states are part of the other. You do not “rise above the pain,” instead you are experiencing it fully. But the pain is no longer controlling your reactions. I wish I could get to that state but I feel I am working on it but first I need to learn how to release the pain so that I can feel it.
“The advantage is that we have the ability to experience it more deeply, while having the wisdom to chose how to react…The “cure” for depression is not the removal of all symptoms. The “cure” is to get to the point that the symptoms lose their power over us. …pain is part of the bliss just as much as pleasure, happiness and all other conditions.
From another article I found the following statement, in which I was not aware of before now.
“…People who suffer from an anxiety disorder in addition to bipolar disorder are more likely to have severe symptoms of bipolar, such as suicidal behavior, more manic episodes, and more depressive episodes…”
***Reading this last statement, it helps me to understand certain bipolar reactions that I experience. Lately, I haven’t felt like my bipolar has been that bad but in actuality, I have been losing more and more control over by bipolar. Coming to that realization, I have to thank my partner for pointing that out to me over the past holiday and culminating with her telling me late last night that I am totally out of control. I need to give myself a break. To take things slower. Not feel like I have to do everything all at once or create so many expectations for myself that I forget about sleeping and eating. Also, she feels I am not realizing that I have been depressed and hiding behind the manic episodes. Consuming myself in activities way beyond what anyone should expect themselves to accomplish. So I need to slow down. Talk more to my therapist about how to get things under control. I just need to break down projects into shorter versions at a time and not think I have to do them all at the same time and have them completed all at once.
I must say I rather like the term “bipolar spectrum disorder” because it incorporates all the possible combinations of how Bipolar effects anyone who lives with it. My symptoms are across the whole spectrum and do not fit nicely into any diagnostic package. Compound that with the other parts of my life I am working on healing that are not directly connected to BSD, I would say I live a rather complicated life. Let me tell you I am never bored. Who has time for that. I would also like to thank all the people in my life who have been extremely supportive. They know who they are.
I am sending a May Day signal that I need to slow down but still maintain a pace in my life that allows me to be creative but to do it in a Zen state rather than in a Hypomanic State. Now I know that isn’t going to be easy. And I sure have a lot of work to do to establish this “relatively incomprehensible state” for myself right now. I do find certain of my activities to be quite Zen.
That happens when I am being creative or better said, when I am creating something. Not making lists and lists for what I want to do, but the actual doing the activity of creating a poem or piece of art or drawing or making a collage or what my partner and I named transgraphics, writing anything imaginative or expounding upon a belief or developing a thought while stating facts within an argument in a written debate, working on my screenplays, short stories, or longer fictional writing. Creating is such an essential part of my life that if I were not able to do it I would die inside and want to die on the outside also. That is how important creating and art is to my life and existence.
So, I have Bipolar “Spectrum” Disorder and so many other challenges, that is why I throw myself into so many Challenges on “the secret keeper.” It is a haven I have created where I can live in a world that so many other creative people participate and that I follow and who follow me. It is my Paradise on this planet. A grand place to learn and join with others to expand our minds and have an enlightening experience and a fun place of a multiplicity of expressions and connections.
I felt this needed to be posted. Hopefully, for those who read this, it will give you a better understanding in a small or better way some of what Bipolar is and isn’t. Be kind. We have feelings just like everyone else and we hurt and feel just like everyone else. jk the secret keeper
Just a few sample of videos of who have been diagnosed or conjectured to have lived with Bipolar. There are a great many books and videos available for those who are interested in finding out more.