Managing YOUR Bipolar - Only You Can Do It

John McManamy Health Guide
  • What are the implications of your bipolar being different from my bipolar? Last week, in my post, Scientific Challenge to the Bipolar Diagnosis: What It Means to Recovery, I noted:

    On the surface, your clinical condition may appear the same as mine, but how similar are they really when we open up the hood and look inside?

    Just a small sampling of what may be going wrong beneath the skull includes gene variations that involve: how we respond to stressful events, the metabolism of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex, dopamine binding on the neuron, the conversion of folic acid, the regulation of calcium flowing into the neuron, GABA function in modulating excitability, and the operation of the brain’s master clock.

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    Obviously, your bipolar is not my bipolar is not someone else’s bipolar. The likelihood of all of us having the exact same inventory of things going wrong - filtered through the uniqueness of our individual life experiences - has to be infinity or greater.

    My piece brought up a whole number of talking points, the most fundamental involving an issue raised by Celeste, who wrote:

    For me having a label gives me something to latch onto.  How else would I know where to begin the journey of self-awareness?

    I hear you, Celeste. We have to call this thing something, and bipolar is as good a descriptor as any. What we all have in common is that our moods cycle up and down to the point where we experience major difficulties in fitting in with the rest of the world. The DSM rattles off a list of symptoms that few of us would take issue with - reckless behavior and grandiosity in mania, suicidal thoughts in depression, and on and on.

    And I can assure you, Celeste, the bipolar diagnosis is a fitting place to begin our journey. It began for me in earnest early in 1999 when, after a lifetime of denial, I finally sought help and was diagnosed at the relatively late age of 49. Suddenly, there was a name to attribute to all the crazy things that happened to me in my life. Suddenly, I had my bearings. For the first time, I wasn’t flying blind. With one word, all of a sudden, my life had a navigation system.

    But my bipolar is not your bipolar. As Tabby put it in a comment, “My bipolar is highly individualized and customized to me.” She goes on to say:

    The body, brain, and organs all react in some fashion or another. The body is made of chemicals, fluid, and electricity. So, when it goes into overdrive for long periods of time or something most horrific happens that the body and brain can't manage at the time,all those chemicals, fluid, and electricity just go every which a way, spitting out this, wiring that, etc. So, yes, my bipolar, though symptoms are similar to yours, is completely different from yours.

    There is a twist to this. In numerous posts here, we have gone into the issue of bipolar vs personality (see, eg, Personality vs Illness - The Conversation Continues). BP? framed the issue this way:

    Saying I was bipolar and manic at the time help me explain by behavior. To me it feels better to make an ass out of myself because I have BP and have no control over my actions at that time instead of "gee she is just a nut case." When I make an apology I'm taking responsibility for my actions. If we take away the label what do I do?


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    Perhaps, for all the talk about brain science and fine points of diagnosis, the issue of personal responsibility is the main indicator of our illness. Narelle puts it this way:

    I have been told by my psychologist that what makes someone with bipolar different from someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is that generally those with BPD don't take any blame for their actions and are caught on a merry-go-round of denial and blaming the world and everyone in it ... I think we bipolars tend to do the opposite and that should be one of the diagnostic criteria: "Do you blame yourself for your behavior?" or "do you blame everyone else?" 

    But personality has a way of intertwining with our illness and we all have issues we need to deal with. So, yes, Celeste, your bipolar is the starting point of your journey of self-awareness - emphasis on “your.” Bipolar is what all of us here share in common. We are all traveling in the same direction, and we are all here to help each other. But we are all on different paths, hacking through unique thickets - different brains, different life experience, different personalities. As Tabby concluded:

    It is my disorder, it's not everyone else's and I have to manage it, not everyone else.

Published On: July 18, 2011