I wrote this piece almost a year ago – and it seems like a good way to introduce my new blog.
I’ve called my blog Double Trouble – because that’s exactly what bipolar disorder feels like! The Bipolar Brain causes extreme lows that are awful; as well as extreme mania which can be dangerous. And when both hit you at once …
But let’s step back. What exactly is bipolar disorder?
Well, most people experience different moods with ups and downs, highs and lows. But when these become so extreme that they interfere with ordinary everyday activities this can cause people to behave in very uncharacteristic ways.
Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is basically a chemical imbalance in the brain. No one knows where it comes from, although it appears to be partially genetic. The symptoms vary from person to person in severity, but there are two basic components: mania, which can be a wonderful high, but can hit like a tornado and a lead to dangerous loss of judgement and depression, which can leave you quite literally unable to function in a dark despair. There are drugs that can help to stabilise the condition, but there is no cure.
There is also a strong correlation between bipolar and addiction issues. There is evidence that suggests a weakening in the area of the brain that deals with impulse control may be the culprit. Many people with bipolar also have issues with drugs or alcohol.
This is partly self medication – finding a way to deal with life’s problems by blotting them out. Alcohol was always my drug of choice. And being bipolar is probably with worst condition to have: when feeling down, you have a drink, and when feeling high you want to party.
The key to living with bipolar for me is self management. Basically this is a technique that is used to learn how to recognise personal triggers and early warning signs, which in turn helps to understand how and when to take action to prevent the mood shift from escalating to severe depression or mania.
Another important source of information and understanding come from peer support groups, such as those run by Bipolar Scotland. Who better to learn from than other who are also living with the condition?
So, are there any positives about having bipolar disorder?
There is a strong correlation between bipolar and intelligence. Studies have shown that those with bipolar generally have IQs that are well above average. And there is a link to creativity too, with many famous, artists, writers, musicians, etc, having the condition.
These include Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Grahame Green, Jimi Hendrix, Ernest Hemingway, Spike Milligan, Sylvia Plath, Edger Allan Poe, Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain, Vincent Van Gogh and Townes Van Zandt, and in more recent times Russell Brand, Kurt Cobain, Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Fry, Ozzy Osbourne, Axl Rose and Kurt Vonnegut
Others known to have bipolar include Buzz Aldrin, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Munroe, Theodore Roosevelt and Ted Turner.
Quite a list, isn’t it?
So that’s a quick guide to bipolar disorder.
One issue I should touch on in closing is the stigma that is still associated with having a mental illness. Many people, through ignorance, wonder if you might be dangerous. Potential employers are likely to be put off if you mention the illness on an application form. And relationships are difficult, to say the least.
But you have to try to keep a sense of identity outwith the illness. I never say that “I am bipolar”. My condition does not define me. I have bipolar disorder but that’s not who I am.
Much more information on bipolar disorder is available on the excellent website of Bipolar Scotland. See the Links section on the right.