Imagine yourself in a classroom. A hard seat beneath you as you stare at the professor, trying to comprehend the words falling from their lips. Your heart beats fast and a cold sweat envelops you because you just can’t understand the professor’s words. They’re in English, but what do they mean? This terrifying situation is a reality for some individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by intense manic and depressive mood during a 2 week period which affects the person’s ability to complete daily activities (NIMH). Even after listening to physicians and reading official sources, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Illness (DSM-5), people with bipolar disorder cannot always relate the scripts of the illness to their own symptoms. This brings the need for an open conversation about bipolar disorder so individuals do not feel like they can “no longer participate in society” (Howard, 2016) because they are now labeled with a diagnosis that does not encompass their symptoms.
In an effort to humanize written text, anonymous individuals speak off script about bipolar disorder, attempting to explain how bipolar disorder affects them in words that medical and educational institutions do not know. These individuals describe bipolar disorder as “A mental illness that brings…changes in sleep, energy, thinking and behavior,” which, “exists on a spectrum” (Howard, 2016). During the intense low mood is “suicidal depression” (Howard, 2016) and at the very opposite is “god-like mania” (Howard, 2016). Unfortunately, there is currently no research evidence of a method able to predict the extreme emotions and the episodes are not balanced such that manic episodes equate depressive episodes.
It is also important to stress that there is diversity and uniqueness between every human being. Many differences from nature versus nurture and treatment influence day-to-day experiences with bipolar disorder. Stating that bipolar disorder is “like a character flaw” (Marie, 2016), one individual stresses that their “personality exists in an entirely different compartment than [their] illness” (Marie, 2016). They describe bipolar disorder to be “a raggedly woven quilt of genetics, history, physical fitness and environmental stressors” (Marie, 2016). This individual, after enduring adolescence with parents not believing in mental illnesses, normalized their symptoms of random impulse and painful shyness, but now views medication as training wheels which help manage the struggles of their illness. Another individual describes their bipolar disorder as an “unwelcome guest” (Howard, 2016) that is gradually losing power to control them each day because of medication.
Ultimately, we must learn to empathize, understand, and allow individuals to define their experiences rather than assigning emotions from definitive literature. The reliability of the fifth edition of the DSM is currently being questioned regarding mood disorders, including bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. This is due to the inability of the DSM to accurately describe bipolar disorder in its entirety (Nemroff, 2013). We should understand that everyone’s experiences are different and manifest in unique ways. I urge us all to start and continue conversations about bipolar disorder which share the experiences of those diagnosed.
Howard, G. (2016). Bipolar Disorder: A Patient’s Definition. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/05/29/bipolar-disorder-a-patients-definition/
Marie, A. (2016) “I Have Bipolar Disorder & This Is What A Mixed Episode …” Bustle. May 27, 2016. Accessed October 22, 2016. https://www.bustle.com/articles/156019-i-have-bipolar-disorder-this-is-what-a-mixed-episode-feels-like-for-me
The National Institute of Mental Health (2016, April). Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml
Nemeroff, C. B., Weinberger, D., Rutter, M., MacMillan, H. L., Bryant, R. A., Wessely, S., … Lysaker, P. (2013). DSM-5: a collection of psychiatrist views on the changes, controversies, and future directions. BMC Medicine, 11(1). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-202