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people with bipolar disorder

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

Borderline Personality Disorder in the News

In the news (and movies): Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) doesn’t get a lot of “press” or screen time.

We have all seen movies and news stories about people with bipolar disorder. (Girl Interrupted, Mad Love, Borderline Personality Disorder Newsand the unforgettable Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, drug addiction) (Chris Farley, Philip Seymore Hoffman, and Anna Nicole Smith), and major depression (Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and Princess Diana).  Many of these movies or real-life examples also show how mental disorders are intertwined.

Depression comes with alcoholism, bipolar disorder comes with drug addiction, bipolar disorder comes with a lot of issues – but not much attention gets paid to Borderline Personality Disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder has a few issues:

  1. It is a personality disorder and not a psychiatric disorder that can be treated with medication
  2. It is hard to diagnose and can often be confused with other disorders
  3. Borderline patients may misrepresent their behavior to medical professionals
  4. Borderline patients are often “difficult” to be around
  5. Borderline personality disorder is not well known – make it not well known… and, for this reason, there is no reason to write a news story or make a movie about it.

“Good news”;

I put that in parentheses because the diagnosis is not great – but it is good that BPD is getting a bit of attention.  Two notable examples – one not so great and one which may or may not be great.

Not So Great;

The trial of Jodi Arias.  In 2008, Travis Alexander was brutally murdered.  He was stabbed over 20 times, shot, and photographed after his death.  The alleged perpetrator: his girlfriend, Jodi Arias.

The case has been pending for many years – one of the reasons may be the development of a clear understanding of why Arias acted the way that she did after the murder.  Reportedly, Arias was witnessed immediately after Alexander’s memorial (including explicit text messages sent for “flirting”), and she has been pegged as a possible borderline patient.  This is in addition to Alexander’s former friends that reported her stalking behavior, and her statements that the boyfriend was a pedophile and a domestic abuser.

Arias’ own friends and a court psychologist have reported erratic behavior, similar to that of BPD.  No verdict has been issued as of yet, and we may never know, but it does bring BPD into the news (not in a nice way but into the light, however).

In fact, some mental health professionals have expressed the belief that BPD patients may be more dangerous – both emotionally and physically – than most other mental disorders, some likening it to a form of sociopathy.

Possibly good news;

Borderline Personality Disorder in the NewsOn the movie front, Kristen Wiig (of Bridesmaids –and the new, all-female Ghostbusters) has starred in a”dramedy”. Dramedy is  a combination of a comedy and drama that is centered around a woman with BPD.   In Welcome to Me, the character, portrayed by Wiig, wins the lottery and uses part of the money to start a talk show.

Along the way, she skips out on treatment, quits taking her meds and ends up living in a casino.  No word on reviews for the show, but it has some big names including Joan Cusack and Tim Robbins. It is produced in part by Will Farrell, and even though it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, theater showings have not been announced.

If you know a BPD patient – imagine what he or she might do after winning the lottery.  BPD is hard to diagnose, hard to predict and even tougher to be around.

Whether the movie is any good, whether the trial comes to a just end…

Melissa Lind

Borderline Personality Disorder has gotten some attention!

Bipolar Disorder and Suicide Risk

Physical Proof and a Big Shocker – Bipolar Disorder and Suicide Risk

Bipolar HeadI read a lot of news about bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders (OCD, ADHD, chronic depression, borderline personality disorder, etc.).  In my reading, I came across an article that describes brain scan abnormalities in teens and young adults who have attempted suicide but I found a lot more.

A study conducted at Yale School of Medicine examined brain scans of 26 young adults and teenagers with bipolar disorder who had attempted suicide.  These were compared with scans of 42 bipolar patients who had not attempted suicide and with 45 non-bipolar subjects.  The results were not really surprising – as many research studies are not.

The bipolar patients, who had attempted suicide, showed abnormalities when compared to the other two groups, specifically in the  which showed “less integrity”.

Frontal lobe animationThis means that the frontal lobe (which controls impulses) is not as “connected” to areas that control emotion, motivation and memory.  Researchers indicate that the brain abnormalities may disrupt the ability of the impulse control mechanism to filter emotion and motivational messages appropriately.

In short this means that those patients can’t stop negative emotions and impulses to do something drastic… like attempt suicide and not surprisingly, less integrity or more abnormality – likely means more suicide attempts.

While it is good that they are discovering some physical proof of actual defect, eventually to move bipolar disorder into a category that can be scientifically documented, it doesn’t offer a lot of real-life solutions.  Most of us who are bipolar or know someone who is bipolar, know that there is something wrong or at least different about our brain…and it only makes sense that a person, who is trying to kill himself, is probably a little worse off.

As usual, I found myself thinking “…and… the point is…” which I often do when I read a synopsis of a largely inconsequential research study but then something caught my eye.  It was something that was a lot worse than I thought – statistics.

About 4 percent of Americans are afflicted with bipolar disorder, though sometimes we feel like it is others who are afflicted.  That is not surprising either.  Some groups show a slightly lower percentage at about 2.6 percent of the population.

Bipolar SuicideWhat surprised me was the statistic regarding suicide.  The article – that is from a reputable source – indicates that 25 to 50 percent of people with bipolar disorder are likely to attempt suicide and that 15 to 20 percent are likely to succeed.  Wow.  I didn’t know that.  Funny thing that I didn’t know since of the 20 or so bipolar people I have been close friends with at one time or another – at least four of them are dead.

When searching for confirmation (which I found from the NIH that about 1 in 5 bipolar patients complete suicide), I also found a number of additional shocking statistics:

  • Bipolar disorder results in a 9.2 year reduction in lifespan
  • Bipolar disorder is the 6th leading cause of disability, worldwide
  • Bipolar disorder is found in all races, ethnicities, ages, genders and socioeconomic groups
  • A child with one bipolar parent has a 15-30% chance of having the disorder
  • A child with two bipolar parents has a 50-75% chance of having the disorder
  • There are 3.4 million CHILDREN with depression in the US but up to one-third of those kids may actually have bipolar disorder
  • Bipolar disorder criteria have likely been met for at least 1 percent of all adolescents

Maybe these aren’t shocking for you.  Maybe you already knew all this – but maybe you didn’t.

I have known I had bipolar disorder for a long time – and have known a lot more people with bipolar disorder and I didn’t know all this stuff or maybe like everything else, I chose not to remember.

Food for thought; Take your medicines!

Melissa Lind

Bipolar Disorder and Risky Behavior

One of the most attractive facets of the “symptoms” of Bipolar Disorder is “risky behavior”

Even though this symptom irritates me, it is true. Actually, most of the medically described symptoms of the disorder irritate me.

Probably the reason this symptom bothers me is that like many others, I forget or wish to deny my own risky behavior.  I personally have wanted to think that I am, above all, that – and that my activities were justified which my therapist would say is oppositional behavior and really another symptom of Bipolar Disorder.

Not wishing to go into the specifics of risks that I have taken, I will say that upon honest examination, they have been many.  Because of Bipolar Disorder, I feel compelled justify them.  As a Bipolar, I could go on and write in circles about why I did what I did but really coming back to the same conclusion.  Technically, they have been justified, because I was ill.

Dangerious BehaviorExamples of risky behavior include things such as promiscuity, drug or alcohol abuse, shoplifting, gambling, excessive spending, infidelity, putting yourself in physical danger and others.  The obvious examples of this are celebrities who get into legal trouble because of risks they have taken – such as shoplifting, public exposure, public drunkenness, and drunk driving.  There is no logical reason for a celebrity to steal or shoplift as the things they steal “necessities” and that they can clearly afford to purchase.  There is also no reason for a celebrity to drive repeatedly drunk as they can usually afford a driver, and there is hardly ever a reason for public exposure.

Do I feel guilty for any of the risks I have taken?  Really, I don’t.  Were they against my moral values?  Really, they weren’t.  I certainly have regrets but no guilt.  I regret doing those things because of the trouble I caused and sometimes because they were things that others could judge me for.  Still today, even though I am well stabilized on medication, I am not sure they were against my morals.  Intellectually, I know that some of them were considered “wrong” or possibly illegal but that is the judgment of others, and my judgment system is different.

Guilt is defined as knowing that you did something wrong.  Shame is a judgment that others impose upon you to try and make you feel guilty.

Recently I read that bipolar patients wish to avoid feeling, choosing instead to think.  I agree with that (and I feel compelled to justify my agreement) by also adding that I also think that this is because people with Bipolar Disorder also feel too much.

Fortunately, today I am stabilized on medication and usually don’t exhibit risky behavior.  I haven’t had an episode in a few years – since the last time I quit taking my medication.

Melissa Lind

Ellen Forney – Bipolar Artist and Author

A bipolar book by the cartoonist Ellen Forney

Nearly 3 percent of adults in the U.S. have bipolar disorder – and that is known cases.  The question might be – how many people have it that don’t know about it?  Still, 3 percent is quite high, and the World Health Organization lists Bipolar Disorder as the “sixth leading cause of disability in the world”.

People with Bipolar Disorder face innumerable challenges – some personal, some professional.  Aside from the daily struggle to come to terms with the mental illness and manage symptoms, relationships and medicationbipolars often face stigma in the “regular” world.  Whether it is family members, friends or work associates, unless they have bipolar disorder, they are likely to have a skewed image and often little understanding.

Bipolar-1 Disorder - Ellen ForneyCartoonist Ellen Forney, of Seattle Washington, also a teacher at the Cornish College of the Arts released a graphic memoir – a graphic novel produced in a manner similar to her other published work.  In it, she describes what it is like to be bipolar from her perspective and how she struggled to find the right treatment.  Forney, along with her book; “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir” were recently featured in the Huffington Post.

Being of an odd combination of scientist and artist – and particularly nosy. (some would call it inquisitive – but I prefer just nosy)

I have read a lot of books on bipolar disorder. I have read professional journals, research papers, self-help books, and books written by people with bipolar disorder – most of which were supposed to explain the illness, how to treat it, or tell what it is like to be bipolar.

Some of the books were well written, some were sadly misguided.  The most famous book by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Unquiet Mind” is considered “THE” book by many people, professionals and patients alike.  Though it is well-written, educational, and true – it doesn’t always fit, and many who are bipolar probably can’t read it when they need to.

Ellen Forney’s book is different.  It isn’t a manual; it isn’t a self-help book, it is simply a terrific depiction of bipolar disorder and even if you aren’t bipolar yourself, you should check it out. It is worth a look.

Melissa Lind

“Sex in Comics:” The bipolar Ellen Forney and R. Crumb

•    “My own BRILLIANT UNIQUE personality was neatly outlined right there, in that inanimate stack of paper.”
•    “My PERSONALTY reflected a DISORDER…”
•    “… SHARED by a group of people.”
•    “This sank in like the sun had gone behind the clouds…”
•    “… like I`d been covered by a heavy blanket, like a parrot…”

What Type of Bipolar Disorder Is It?

Each bipolar disorder illness is unique!

Uniqueness of Bipolar DisorderWhen nearly anyone thinks about bipolar disorder, they think of the symptoms of “regular” bipolar disorder.  Not that any person with bipolar disorder is “regular” (and most would not want to be), but there are several different subtypes of bipolar disorder.

One big problem with bipolar disorder is that each illness is unique.  Psychiatrists may classify them into categories – but they don’t always fit.  Here are some case scenarios: (bipolar episodesbipolar groups)

•    Jennifer has episodes where she is extremely agitated and unhappy and never seems to sleep very much.  These periods seem to last for a long period of time – but can alternate with months where she is simply unhappy and doesn’t feel like doing anything.
•    Max has had periods of depression before.  A lot of times, they go away after a couple of months and then he seems normal but recently he “disappeared” for a couple of weeks after some really bizarre behavior.  His friends never knew that he was any kind of bipolar until he told them he had been at the hospital.
•    Ben has periods of depression that can last for several months but when he is not depressed, he is productive and seems quite outgoing.
•    Sandra’s mood state can switch erratically.  One day she is all about shopping and the next time you call her, she is still in bed at noon.   This is a constant issue – and you never know what you are going to get.

These are three examples of bipolar disorder that don’t seem to fit the “normal” pattern.  None of these patients seems to be “regular” bipolar.

Bipolar disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as:

Bipolar Disorder TypeBipolar I Disorder: manic or mixed episodes that last at least 7 days – or if manic symptoms are severe enough to need hospitalization.  This, usually, includes periods of depression that last at least two weeks.
Jennifer and Max both fit into this category.  Even though Max never had a severe manic episode, having a bipolar episode that warrants medical attention, he qualifies for the Bipolar I category.  Jennifer has mixed episodes – rather than euphoria or traditional mania – she has periods of “dysphoria” where she is agitated, irritable and irrational but with an excess of energy.

Bipolar II Disorder: depressive and hypomanic episodes in a pattern – but manic episodes are not severe.
Ben has Bipolar II disorder.  He has periods of depression that are debilitating, but his non-depressed periods are quite productive, and he doesn’t exhibit manic behavior.

Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: (Bipolar Disorder NOS) symptoms of illness don’t meet any other group, but the symptoms are clearly not within the standard range.
Sandra has BP-NOS.  She is what is commonly called a “rapid cycler,” meaning that she switches back and forth from mania to depression much faster than other people with bipolar disorder.

There is also a very mild form of bipolar disorder known as cyclothymia.  It is a cyclical pattern of hypomania alternating with periods of mild depression.  Many people would not even realize this is a problem.

Bipolar disorder is hard to classify.  It may be easy to determine that someone has a problem – but the uniqueness of each bipolar case makes it more difficult for even a patient to identify with the diagnosis.  Each type of bipolar disorder is, usually, treated the same medically. With an anti-manic agent (Lithium), anti-epileptic (Lamictal, Depakote) or atypical antipsychotic (Abilify, Zyprexa) – and sometimes with an antidepressant.

Melissa Lind