It’s World Bipolar Day! SO, I thought I’d have a go at busting some bipolar myths. As always, shoutout to the lovely people that chipped in to help write this, y’all know who you are!
- “But your moods don’t change throughout the day/you don’t have mood swings”– this is probably one of the biggest misconceptions people have about the illness- that bipolar = rapid mood swings. Typically, bipolar moods last weeks or months, meaning people spend extended periods of time in depressed or hypo/manic episodes (through there are subtypes of the illness where mood episodes occur more frequently- over the course of weeks or days). Bipolar moods are more accurately described as ‘episodes’ rather than swings. The throwaway “ugh s/he’s so bipolar” comment used to describe anyone and everyone who’s having a bad day or has snapped at you, is not even close to what bipolar disorder actually means. Ditto the idea that bipolar means your mood changes at the drop of a hat (it doesn’t)
- “Everyone has mood swings”– there is a huge difference between ‘normal’ mood swings and bipolar moods; someone with bipolar disorder experiences much more extreme (and prolonged) moods. Everyone has ups and downs, but these remain within the confines of ‘normal’, and usually pass, whereas someone with bipolar will experience moods that start to impact on their behaviour and everyday functioning and can persist for months
- Every mood/emotion is a result of bipolar– there’s a bit of an assumption that every mood, feeling or emotion is a result of someone’s bipolar disorder. I can’t laugh too loudly or feel sad about something or have a bad day without my parents assuming I’m getting high/low again. But just like everyone else, I’m allowed to feel happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, fear, hurt, joy, contentment and every other feeling on the spectrum of human emotion without it meaning anything other than that’s the way I’m feeling. I’m allowed to get a little hyper or spend a Sunday in bed without that meaning I’m about to have an episode. My therapist pointed out that no one is a 5/10 on the mood scale all the time. No one hops out of bed every day feeling great. ‘Normal’ is having good days and bad days and ok days. Having bipolar disorder doesn’t make you immune that or to ‘normal’ feelings. When my illness is under control and my mood is ‘stable’, that means I’m not manic and I’m not depressed- but I can still have better days and bad days and in-the-middle days (just like everyone else) and I can still feel things separately from my illness. Being stable doesn’t make me a robot!
- People with bipolar are creative or highly intelligent- the tortured soul/creative genius perception of bipolar disorder is pretty infuriating. Not only is it plainly inaccurate, it also glamourises the illness. Same way people from all walks of life are affected by physical illnesses, mental illnesses don’t discriminate either. Young/old, single/married, in work/unemployed, happy childhood/sad childhood, good support network/no support network- high IQ/low IQ. Sure I’ve met some highly intelligent people with bipolar disorder- but I’ve also met people with the illness that aren’t, and even someone with mild learning difficulties. Same with creativity. The argued link between bipolar and creativity is exactly that- an argued link. Bipolar disorder can affect anyone- it doesn’t give a damn if you can spend hours debating philosophy or hold a paintbrush. It is an illness, and just like any other illness, having it doesn’t make you by default a tortured soul, highly intelligent or a creative genius
- “Mania is fun”- mania is so, so much more than ‘being really happy’. I am not happy when I am standing on my window ledge ready to jump to stop the squiggling worms in my head. Nor am I happy when I’m swallowing spirits and benzos by the truckload to slow things down. It’s not fun when I jig my legs non-stop for days or weeks at a time (even in bed!!), or when I pace so much my ankles swell like balloons and I damage my foot, or am told if I don’t come down, my heart will give out. It’s not fun (but admittedly, it’s quite funny) when I talk and sing so much that I lose my voice. Things wouldn’t be so happy if I crashed into something or killed someone when I drove over 100+ mph, or fell off the scaffolding I climbed at night, or off the window ledge, three stories up. Losing your driving license, being signed off sick from work, having to leave uni, spending weeks or months cooped up in hospital and pumped full of pills, burning through thousands of pounds of savings in a matter of months, getting lost in delusions and grandiose theories about your place in the world, hurting and worrying your friends and family- none of that is ‘fun’. Mania is reckless, dangerous, destructive, psychotic, agitation, irritability, squiggly worms and jiggy legs and too much colour, too much noise, toomuchtoomuchtoomuch of everything. And sure, it can be fun at times- but it’s so, so much more than being a lil happy, a lil hyper. It very quickly becomes chaos
- People with bipolar are either manic or depressed (like, all the time)- thing with bipolar disorder is that it’s episodic and compared to a lot of other mental illnesses, very manageable. Bipolar moods come in episodes, and in between those episodes it’s possible to have periods of stability or ‘normal mood’- for some people, they might go years between episodes (medication has a big role to play in this). Secondly, it’s misleading to sum up bipolar as being ‘manic or depressed’ because there’s other mood states and factors at play. There’s mixed episodes, where people experience symptoms of mania during depression (agitated depression) or symptoms of depression during mania (dysphoric mania), and psychosis (in the form of auditory or visual hallucinations or delusions of grandeur) can also be present during either manic or depressive episodes. So basically, that means someone with bipolar disorder isn’t always depressed or manic! Who knew!
- “But loads of celebrities have bipolar!” (and therefore, it’s a trendy thing to have *eyeroll emoji*)- of all the bipolar stereotypes, the fact that it’s considered a ‘celebrity illness’ is the one that bothers me the most. Robbie Williams/Demi Lovato/Catherine Zeta Jones/whoever else having bipolar disorder should not make it cool/trendy/fashionable. I think the association of mental illness with celebrities can be damaging for two reasons: it makes some people doubt the validity of the diagnosis, or refuse to take it seriously simply because ‘everyone seems to have it’, and secondly, it glamourises it, and particularly with celebrities with young fanbases, makes it seem like a cool thing to have (because Demi Lovato has it!!!!)
- Your life as you know it is effectively over (no kids, no job…)- having bipolar isn’t a life sentence- it’s manageable and it has high recovery rates. A third of people on lithium for example do really well and level out, and a further 33% will do well on lithium combined with something else during episodes- so that’s 66% of lithium takers that respond well to treatment. I’ve read that 75% of people with the illness are in work, I met a nurse with bipolar in hospital, and was told over and over that there are teachers and lawyers in my town with the illness that are well and stable. I know people with kids that have it and they’re amazing mums and I met a mum in hospital who got well and stable within two weeks and got back home to her kids- and spent the entirety of her stay talking about them. It’s the same old comparison- while someone with cancer, arthritis, a broken bone might need to take time off work or might struggle to do household or parental tasks for a while, that’s not to say they can’t or shouldn’t work or have kids or drive or go on holiday or do normal things at all. Having an illness doesn’t write you off as unemployable or a bad parent before you’ve even started!
- “You don’t seem bipolar” (read: you don’t look crazy)- that’s probably because I don’t fit the stereotype that you have of it. I’m probably not a corridor shuffling, straight jacketed, mass murderer, wrecking havoc (when I’m not locked up in an old asylum of course). Because guess what- that’s not what bipolar is!! Movies, newspapers, celebrities- they sensationalise it, make it seem ‘proper crazy’ and scary and dramatic. Admittedly, when I recall some of the things I’ve said or done in an episode, it does *sound* ‘crazy’, but looking at me, I’m just a normal person. Because that’s the thing, underneath it all, we are just normal people with an illness. You can’t ‘look’ bipolar, it’s wonky brain chemicals, not a stamp on the forehead 🙂
Oh, and no, the weather is not bloody bipolar.