Women & Bipolar Disorder: An afternoon with Joan

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • We're sitting in Café Nero and Joan (I'll call her that) is in reflective mood. Her time has been well spent, she says, and things are on track. Joan tells me she now runs her own business and even employs five other people.


    I'm impressed. When I last saw Joan, a few years earlier, she was recovering from a difficult period in her life. Like so many people with bipolar her marriage had failed. She'd gone through a period of depression and had turned to alcohol for solace. She was angry. Her anger was directed at herself, at me, at everyone and everything around her. Eventually she declared a need to start over so she sold her house and moved nearer to relatives who, she felt, understood her situation.

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    Joan is now in her late 40s. She tells me that it took doctors at least 12 or 13 years to hit on the idea that her symptoms might be those of bipolar disorder. I can tell she is still irritated by the fact her early symptoms had been brushed over as some late adolescent quirk. She concedes that a lot more is known and understood about bipolar these days. For years, Joan was treated for depression only. "Few people", she instructs me, "are actually elated during a manic episode you know." She's right of course. Most people with bipolar have symptoms roughly similar to Joan's. Her experience of mania was anger, loss of sleep, irritation, and hyperactivity but with no particular agenda or effective outcomes.


    As she speaks I'm reminded how bright, articulate and insightful Joan is about her own situation, how this relates to others and the world in which she operates. Joan knows a lot about bipolar. She talks about neural pathways, raises her concerns about processed foods and asks me why more isn't being done.


    Then, I'm told off because I never write and I never call (not strictly true). This is coupled with a comment about psychologists who, in her view, are probably in far greater need of therapy than her. Naturally, I apologize on behalf of all psychologists, everywhere, and we laugh.


    It was great to see Joan again and comforting to know that living with bipolar means just that - you can live with it. Many of Joan's experiences have been far from positive but she points out that they're not so far removed from, "normal people".


    And she's mischievous! I'd forgotten about that side of her character. She studies my expression when she tells me her coffee has an extra shot and that it's likely to make her "twitchy". Once more we talk about additives, fast foods, Omega 3, the effect on mood and so on. Joan tells me she's not been near a drink for a while but she finds it hard to resist during bleaker moments that are always in the background.


    "I'm a missionary". She tells me this in relation to her staff, who have all been, "schooled in my many and varied interesting moments". It appears her staff are a captive audience who'll excuse pretty much anything about her behavior. "I think they get confused between bipolar and Tourettes at times", she says before winking and producing the most delightful smile.

Published On: June 03, 2009