A Small Window into Bipolar Disorder

I recently read An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison which invites the reader in to the ups and downs, fears, and thrills of living with bipolar disorder. I particularly invite anyone who knows someone with bipolar to read this. This is not a self-help book, but more of a memoir of one person’s experience, the complexity of the illness, and her personal path to acceptance and management. The author lives with bipolar and has done research as a psychiatrist learning about and treating others with this illness. Bipolar Affective Disorder is primarily a biological issue that can lead to high states of mania that may include hallucinations and delusions as well as the lowest places of depression. These mood states can cycle over a period of hours, days, weeks, or months. One can even experience mixed states, often described as the worst part of bipolar disorder, which is experiencing all of the negative feelings associated with depression along with the agitation, restlessness, and activation that accompanies mania.

Bipolar is not a character flaw, or a sign of personal weakness. There are ways to live a fulfilling and productive life, though that usually includes both medicine and psychotherapy to learn ways to manage one’s illness and mitigate its effects and thrive in work and in relationships. Nearly 6 million adult Americans are affected by bipolar disorder. An equal number of men and women develop this illness (men tend to begin with a manic episode, women with a depressive episode), and it is found among all ages, races, ethnic groups, and social classes.

Education around the illness and putting up safeguards of caring friends and family is a great first step when one is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. There are many misconceptions surrounding this and those suffering from it often suffer in isolation. This often adds to the distress of the one with bipolar and need not be the case. Part of the reason I enjoyed An Unquiet Mind was because it helps to demystify and educate others on the struggles and personal experience of one who struggles with bipolar. If you or someone you know struggles with Bipolar Disorder, I highly recommend pursuing a therapist and/or a psychiatrist. A great website for learning more about mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder is http://www.dbsalliance.org.