Monday, 23 June 2008

On my soapbox…

I wasn’t going to go here but in the last couple of weeks I have heard the term bipolar disorder (the old manic depression) thrown around in such a way that makes me angry. “Oh he/she has to be bipolar to me as they keep changing their minds and I don’t understand what they’re on about” or “he/she is having a bipolar moment.” Yeah, I know people say it without thinking but there are people out there who genuinely have bipolar and I am sick of the term being used as something flippant and disrespectful.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder, previously known as Manic-Depression, is characterized by exaggerated mood swings. Bipolar means two poles, or extremes, and if you have bipolar disorder you are likely to have extreme ups and downs. You might experience varying extremes of mania, or up periods, and depression, or down periods - no one is the same.

Mood episodes

Everyone has ups and downs (including those related hormonal changes in adolescence and to the menstrual cycle in females). However, Bipolar Disorder is a medical condition where you have extreme mood swings (or 'mood episodes') widely out of proportion, or totally unrelated, to what's happening in your life. These swings affect your thoughts, feelings, physical health, emotional health, behaviour, and day-to-day functioning. These symptoms can be extremely disruptive to your life. It can also be very disruptive and distressing to your relationships with friends and family.

Bipolar is about extremes in behaviour – from extreme depression to heightened, almost irrational joy to psychotic, terrifying lows. It’s frightening for the person who has it and hard for the family who loves them because it’s difficult and frustrating to know how to help them.

No, I don’t have bipolar disorder. But I have lived with it and I know the cost of it. My younger brother Cameron had bipolar disorder. Unless you have dealt with it you have no idea how much the person suffers and how little you can help them – it never seems enough. It’s three steps forward and sixteen back. It is a bloody awful mental condition. The lows are so bad that the sufferers constantly overdose to free themselves from pain. The highs are like trying to hold an out of control helium balloon. You never know if you are doing enough to help them and you constantly agonize over it.

You don’t know if the person they think is in their bathroom is real or not because it is likely they have invited a stranger in and you have to deal with it because they can’t. How do you help someone who stiffens with fright and declares there is someone in the back seat of the car is laughing at them? What do you do once having signed them into hospital for treatment they walk out and wander aimlessly with no shoes or money and you endlessly search for them and eventually have to call the Police on them when their neighbour calls you? Or when you identify their body at the end and you realize what a total bloody waste of a life for someone who was a talented, kind and yet tortured soul. It’s easier to fix a broken leg than a broken mind.

No, this is not a blog on self pity. I don’t want sympathy. I want people to understand. When you throw terms like bipolar, schitzo or any similar term around – take a moment and think. There are people out there that those terms genuinely refer to and by using those words so casually and probably so flippantly it’s thoughtless. Mental illness is no joke. These people are suffering and you and I have no idea what is going on in their minds – what torment they suffer. There are probably people reading this blog who are going through this right now. So I ask that you to think before you speak. Don’t apply labels to anyone unless you understand what you are talking about. In essence –
pull your head in.

Where to find help if you or your family or someone you know are suffering from Bipolar – some addresses below (many on the internet) or go your local doctor or hospital or Mental Illness Unit and talk to someone – get help – find understanding – don’t be alone.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” –Bill Clinton
Go ahead: Live with abandon. Be outrageous at any age. What are you saving your best self for?


barbara huffert said...

So how do you personally help someone the description fits even better than suspected who won't acknowledge there's any sort of problem at all?

Sandra Cox said...

Very insightful blog, Amarinda. I knew the mood swings were extreme but didn't realize how much so.
I'm very sorry about your brother.

Regina Carlysle said...

Barbara, I think an intervention with a small but loving group might help. I hope so but that's my advice. People need to be very careful about throwing these terms around because there are so many who suffer from this. Debilitating and heart breaking. Yeah...please stop and think before speaking of these issues lightly.

In connection with this...why the hell can't we get these people insured??? Why is this any different than a heart condition or some other illness. We treat those with mental illness abominably. We spend more federal and state money building prisons than we do on good mental facilities.

Sorry. I'll get off my soap box but that pisses me off.

Anny Cook said...

Amen. I can't think of any other thing to add. Good blog.

Anika Hamilton said...

Thank you.