Top Ten Bipolar Myths

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Back in Oct 2005, HealthCentral signed me on as an “expert patient” for a BipolarConnect site that at the time technically did not exist. My first assignment was an article on The Top Ten Myths of Bipolar Disorder. Seasons come, seasons go. HealthCentral quickly became one of the web’s major health sites, and BipolarConnect grew with it. Not long ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see my original blast from the past featured on this site’s front page.

    A lot has happened to me since I wrote that original piece more than four years ago. A lot of my perspectives have changed. Seasons come, seasons go. More stuff to read, more conferences to attend, more experts (including patients and loved ones) to listen to. And, to keep me honest, more reality to hit me in the face.

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    Hmm, I wondered. Would my Top Ten Myths accord with my thinking today? What would be different? Curious, I clicked the link and read my first entry ...

    Everyone has their ups and downs, so mine aren’t that serious.

    Yes, everyone has good days and bad days, but when these ups and downs seriously interfere with your ability to work, relate to others and function effectively, it is advisable to seek out a psychiatrist.

    Can’t argue with that, I decided. To both my consternation and relief, I decided I could have written the piece yesterday. What? I thought. No new insights to bring to the table? Whew! I thought. I got it right the first time.

    To quickly summarize:

    My Top Ten Myths piece challenged the notion that bipolar is simply a mood disorder (a lot of other stuff is going on), that we don’t just swing from depression to mania (a lot of us may stay stuck in depression or have long periods of remission), that mania isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be (not when it wrecks your life), that a “chemical imbalance of the brain” is a half-truth (it’s more like genes, biology and life experience making us extremely sensitive to stress), that there is more to getting well than simply meds down the hatch, and you shouldn’t have to give up on leading a rewarding and productive life.

    No way I would take any of that out, but on reflection I would have tried to squeeze in a few more things, maybe make it a Top 13 Myths. So, to pick up where I left off in October 2005:

    Once I have my bipolar under control, I can lead a normal life, right?

    Not necessarily. Nearly all of us have to contend with various personality issues that impede our recovery. For instance, we may have problems meeting the legitimate expectations of others (such as keeping our promises ) or managing our emotions (which is often a different kettle of fish than managing our moods) or leading disciplined lives (such as getting out of bed). None of us are perfect, we all have quirks, but unless we identify and address those things that hold us back, a lot of us will remain “stuck” short of recovery.

    Bipolar is a character weakness.

    Wrong. Bipolar is a no-fault medical illness affecting the most important organ in the body - the brain. Having said that, like any other medical illness, once we are sufficiently  healthy we have a responsibility to ourselves and others to do everything we can to stay healthy. So, while bipolar is not a character weakness, knowingly courting disaster (such as not adhering to meds or various lifestyle regimens) certainly can be interpreted that way.

  • Dealing with stigma is a major challenge.

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    Yes, very true, but with qualifications. Ignorance and fear loom large in both the general public and many of the people charged with treating us. But we also need to be cognizant of our own “self-stigma.” It is all too easy to assume our illness somehow makes us not good enough or that people don’t understand us. Yes, stigma is real, but when we give up on ourselves, then we become our own worst enemy.




    Let's expand the list. Please add your myths in the comments below ...

Published On: January 22, 2010