Friday, June 18, 2010

Bipolar 101

“Men have called me mad but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence–whether much that is glorious–whether all that is profound–does not spring from disease of thought–from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.”
— Edgar Allan Poe

Yesterday, with my head still foggy from sleep I picked up the laptop and typed with reckless abandon.  I think it is in these vulnerable states we are the most honest.  In this eyes-half closed flow I spilled the beans on a family secret that upset some close to me.  Being from the South, we don't like our business all out in the open.  I did not do it to upset anyone.  The beautiful out pour of comments has inspired me to turn this coming out into a learning experience...suppose you can't turn off the teacher switch.

Many in my family from this generation are bipolar. Although we felt we were alone there are over 5.7 million adult Americans that have been given this diagnoses.  That is 2.6% of the population. (National Institute of Metal Health) The average age that people are diagnosed is 25, guess my sister was an early bloomer.  Unlike other illnesses this is a disease that does not discriminate- spread equally among races and between the sexes it is number six in debilitating illnesses according to the World Health Organization.

For those that do not have the intimate knowledge with the illness- it is a when someone has extreme mood swings from deep depression, to periods of dramatic mania or highs some swings are so high one thinks they are godlike.  This is not like every women's favorite time of month when we feel like we got that edge and are ready to claw out someone's eyes.  Take that and multiply it by a hundred.  The shifting back and forth between these two extremes is known as cycling and can take place within an hour, days, weeks or months when stabilized by medication it is closer to months.  Women are more likely to have the rapid cycling. 

Most bipolar patients suffer for ten years without getting the correct diagnoses. If that wasn't bad enough bipolar people have a 9.2 year reduction in life span because of the harsh medications.  Even worse a third of patients attempt suicide twenty percent are successful.    

The most intriguing facet of being bipolar is the link that patients have to the arts.  This could be why when my sister was withdrawn she sketched, painted and created even if she didn't talk.  The list is surprisingly long of well known artist that are afflicted.

What can you do to help?  Be a friend.  Be forgiving of the random odd statement.  Be there for them.  Love them at every stage in the cycle no matter how challenging they might make it.  Listen when they need it.  Be there for family because even though we get frusterated we still love them. 



  1. My sister is bipolar and my dad has to be an undiagnosed bipolar sufferer. For a long time, my sister was very unhappy until she was diagnosed and given the right meds.

    Thank you for getting it out there, Val.

  2. Thank you! It needs to be done. Information is power and I hope empathy.

  3. Your final words struck a cord. If we all treated everyone with such open unconditional acceptance and love, couldn't we change the world. I think of those precious darlings we taught, my cranky husband, my failing Nanny, the nosy lady next door, and six billion other humans with all of their own personal disabilities, and I make a mental note to change my patience and love meter to full throttle. I'm proud to call you friend, my darling "Miss." I love you.