Bipolar II Rant from a Bipolar I

Ranting on Bipolar II

For starters – this is a pure opinion piece.  I am going to rant a bit about Bipolar II.

I read a lot of bipolar “stuff” – articles, study results, chat boards, Facebook pages – a lot.  Recently, once again, I have become irritated by the use of “Bipolar II”.

I recognize that Bipolar II is a DSM diagnosis that indicates that a person has cyclical periods of depression alternating with Bipolarity in Hellhypomania.  I know that is true – and that the diagnosis must fit some people. Bipolar I, on the other hand, is defined as cyclical periods of depression, alternating with manic episodes.  If you are a rapid cycler or have mixed state disorder – you are usually classified as Bipolar I.

My current irritation is with a story – not a celebrity this time – but an apparently real person from a news story.  The article reports that this particular woman had been diagnosed with Bipolar II when she was 20 and now 38, she is stable on a myriad of pharmaceuticals.  Fine.

The article goes on to say that she “experiences the manic phase” but mostly struggles with the severe depression, adding that she also has PTSD, anxiety and has been unemployed most of her life.  Let me repeat, she has manic phases, PTSD, and anxiety. She has always been unemployed (due to her psychiatric condition).  Doesn’t sound very stable to me…and doesn’t sound much like Bipolar II.

I have a problem with the fact that so many stories I read are about people who claim to have Bipolar II, and are careful to clarify that they don’t have Bipolar I.  Naturally, this would be a kinder, gentler form of Bipolar disorder.  A Bipolar disorder where we never bother anyone, get lots of stuff done in an organized fashion but sometimes get depressed.  A Bipolar disorder that makes us “better”.  Better than Bipolar I’s craziness – and even better than regular people.

I don’t live in that world, and I am not truly convinced that it exists.  I have known lots of people with Bipolar disorder – in fact, I used to go to a group just for people with Bipolar disorder.  Every single person there was initially told they were Bipolar II – and then once they got used to that… the real news came out.

Many of us were “high functioning”, many of us had “good jobs”, many of us were “organized”… except when we weren’t.  We didn’t come to the bipolar group because things were going great.  We had all had periods of depression, periods of extreme productivity and periods of crazy when we told the truth.

Bipolar RantIn my experience, people with Bipolar disorder don’t seek help.  They are driven to it – or dragged.  People are driven to help when they are depressed, and they are dragged to help when they are manic.  If they arrive when depressed, they don’t report the mania that gets them a Bipolar II diagnosis.  If they arrive when they are manic – they won’t listen to anything about “crazy manic depression” so they are told about how much better Bipolar II is.  They will take the diagnosis and take the meds.  Either way, the first diagnosis is probably going to be Bipolar II.

I could claim to be Bipolar II.  I could even get a couple of doctors to agree with me.  Most of the time, I am “high functioning” – except when I am not.  Bipolar I won’t ever lose the stigma if Bipolar II continues to be presented as “better” and people continue to be dishonest.

Take your meds!

Melissa Lind


6 thoughts on “Bipolar II Rant from a Bipolar I

  1. What Causes Bipolar Disorder? says:

    […] depression, also called bipolar disorder, causes severe mood swings that can last for weeks or even […]

  2. To say Bipolar ii is a lesser or a better mental illness to have or be diagnosed with, you are missing a lot of humility and understanding to what peo0ple go through.
    This is typical of someone with bipolar i wanting to be the centre of the mental health world. You are not there are many afflictions that cause immense upset in a persons life. It is obvious you are way behind on recent research.
    Before writing an opinion piece it still a good idea to get some of your facts straight first. This you will find will save you a lot of huff and puff of hot wind that makes little sense and shows misunderstanding of a far wider issue of prejudices which your opinion is full of.
    Think about this for a bit kind sir. Bipolar i people get a break between fluxes, bipolar ii people get no such break or if they do it is fleeting. Mostly people with bipolar ii are very high functioning and more than not are in positions that require high levels of problem solving.
    I have been this way before my teens. I find most people slow and boring. I hold positions mostly in upper management if I am not off doing my own thing or in sales having fun. I hold no finished formal study though I have attended university in a couple of career paths.
    I don’t sleep for days or don’t wake up for days or can be doing both all at once. I can be telling you the most wondrous humourous story all the time feeling as I either want to kill myself or you. Want to live in my world do you and think it is less chaotic than your life may be?
    I too share your frustration and see many misdiagnoses. What hope do people have if their Doctor doesn’t even have a correct understanding on something like lithium which only operates one way. A drug that can harm and kill so readily I see prescribed so incorrectly it is hideous to think the person has a medical license. The majority of the doctors have no idea, what hope do their patients have?

  3. Melissa, I had initially received the diagnosis of bipolar type II, cyclothymic, but over time have found that diagnosis both inaccurate and really useless. Somehow we internalize stigma when we try to draw these arbitrary lines where they do not in fact exist in the real world. The real world, and our lived experience of bipolar disorder, is messier. We have more in common than we have different. Yes, some of us “pass” more easily (offensive to even point out, but it is real – I’ve been told that I “do not look” like I have bipolar disorder, as if you can see inside my head). Some of us can “hide” our symptoms from others (often not from our families, though, who often suffer with, for or sometimes in spite of us). Yet, our internal world is much the same. Also, I’ve been a rapid cycler and experienced mixed episodes, which puts me squarely into the bipolar type I category. In any case, my current psychiatrist doesn’t discuss such distinctions. I’ve tried to remove references to bipolar type II from my social media presences, though some may remain. Rant on, Melissa. We must fight our own internalized stigma of mental illness – the stigma attached to arbitrarily drawn subcategories of mental illness.

  4. […] I suspect that a friend of mine is bipolar, should I contact a mental health professional just to ask for advice about how to approach my […]

  5. I have relatively recently received a Bipolar II diagnosis – about 12 months ago – after years of being treated only for depression, basically for all the reasons you describe above. I only presented for treatment when depressed, not because I didn’t need support when in a hypomanic phase, but because I didn’t even recognise what I was experiencing as anything out of the ordinary. Of course not. It was normal for me.
    As I am gradually learning to recognise the difference between “in a good mood, with lots of energy”, I progressively fear a hypomanic phase more and more. The energy boost is great and I can be incredibly productive, but it comes at a cost every time. The price is a phase of decompensation and ultimately a deep depressive phase.
    All of this adds up to a daily life that cannot be described as “better” or “worse” than Bipolar I. It’s just different. The management of these 2 differing diagnoses is different. Would anyone consider Type I diabetes to be “better” or “worse” than Type II? They are very similar disorders that require different management strategies, some of which both diagnoses have in common.
    In the end, no two people can be treated in exactly the same way for any disorder, regardless of what that disorder may be, for the simple reason that we are all individuals which varying capacities, physiological and psychological. It is those individualities that make management and treatment both possible and extremely complicated. A diagnosis will only ever be a starting point for no-going life-long management. It can never be a “set and forget” label – it’s only the lowest common denominator mentality of the media (and similar thinkers) that attempt to do this.

  6. I have Bipolar II. I assure you, it is neither kind nor gentle. The depressive episodes are just as powerful as for people with Bipolar I. Hypomania is a little easier to deal with than full mania (I have a sibling with Bipolar 1, so I have seen the difference), and is usually more short-lived, but it still has a strong effect on functioning.

    I share your frustration with some people being misdiagnosed, but please recognize that this is a distinct disorder.

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