What don’t people without bipolar disorder understand about people with it?
Another prompt on the educational side! I’m finally almost 2/3rds complete on this prompt list. This is one I will focus mostly on the stigma aspect of the illness. Because I believe in reducing stigma by existing.
Our American society has so many horrible (and mostly false!) misconceptions about bipolar disorder. Let’s dispel the shit out of some of them!
When many/most people think of the term bipolar, what comes to mind? Mass murderers? Serial killers? School shooters? The weather? People who are completely insane? All of the above?
I wrote a little on this in an earlier prompt. (I’ll link it, and all of these together, when I finish the prompt list.)
There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness in general… especially bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. What people generally know about mental health is either from movies, media, TV shows, and news articles that depict someone with bipolar disorder as being completely unstable, and thus capable of killing people. The shooter is bipolar!! No wonder they committed the unthinkable! I hear this every. freaking. time. some ammosexual goes on a spree. It’s just easy to blame mental illness on horrible actions. Because why would someone of sound mind commit these vile acts? Mental illness becomes an easy scapegoat.
But it’s far from accurate.
The highs of mania make for a good storyline, that’s for sure. Someone so high on the world that they seem unstoppable. The extreme energy that renders one capable of anything. Mania is also depicted as being evil… the bright red demon eyes, super-human strength… James Bond on acid. Very few in-betweens that the reality of actual mania exists in.
Depression is rarely depicted when a character has bipolar disorder. It doesn’t make for good TV. Who truly wants to see a character so depressed that suicidal ideation consumes them? What about a character that sleeps for 48 hours, doesn’t shower for weeks, and pretty much becomes a zombie? Not interesting. It is, often, blamed for the murder sprees…. just like mania, it’s an easy scapegoat for when someone kills people. This is also far from accurate.
Lastly, for general depictions of the illness: the character nearly always is ultra-rapid cycling. Sometimes several times in a really short time period, over the course of a TV episode or movie that doesn’t take place over any substantial amount of time. And it’s always in extreme swings. And almost always a female character. When’s the last time you saw a male character with bipolar disorder? This is all false for a vast majority of real people with bipolar disorder. And it’s a sexist notion that women have ridiculous mood swings.
So let’s get at these myths!
I guess this will be in general. Of course, everyone is different. Mental illness presents itself with nuance and no two people who carry the same diagnosis are the same.
For many with type 1, a large majority of the time is spent in depression. Mania is fleeting, and rarely for over a month for most people. Hypomania (not extreme mania), for those with type 2, is typically an even shorter duration. Both mania and hypomania are used to diagnose bipolar instead of unipolar depression or major depressive disorder. Medication cushions these extremes for many.
Of course, there are some people who are rapid cycling, ultra-rapid cycling, and ultra-radian cycling (aka ultra-ultra rapid cycling). Rapid cycling is defined as being four or more distinct mood episodes of either mania or depression with very little/no middle ground. Some, although very rare, will experience ultra-rapid cycling. Ultra-rapid cycling is defined as being four or more distinct mood episodes in a single month. And the most rare, ultra-radian cycling. When this happens, it’s several distinct mood switches in the same day — several days in a single week. It’s usually pretty short before returning to longer, more “traditionally”-defined episodes.
Anyone with bipolar disorder can start rapid cycling at any point throughout their illness, especially without adequate treatment. Usually, the rapid cycling returns to a regular pattern. I’ve been rapid cycling for over two years, but that can easily be attributed to having instability with my physical health and housing and the nightmares from having severe complex-PTSD. I had about 7 distinct mood episodes last year. Prior to being assaulted, I’d average about 3… Mostly depression with mania around March and October. That was my pattern for many years.
Then we have psychosis, which is even more misunderstood and even more highly stigmatized. My suspicion is that it’s psychosis that’s blamed when the journalists blame bipolar disorder. I usually experience psychosis when my mood is about to switch, especially to mania. Psychosis is defined as a disconnect with reality. I experience visual and tactual disturbances (and rarely, aural), extreme paranoia and fear, some delusions (mostly feeling unstoppable/immortal), and my head is just racing throughout. Again, it makes for a good storyline. Someone seeing and hearing things which causes them to harm others. Easy scapegoat, yet again!
Oh and there’s that major misconception! The reality is that most/nearly all people with bipolar disorder are more likely to harm ourselves than anyone else. The likelihood of an attempt at or completion of suicide skyrockets for someone with bipolar disorder, especially when psychosis is involved. But it’s easier to blame the illness on murder because why not? Someone isn’t of good mental health to murder! Something, anything, must be blamed… especially to deflect on the real issues… guns and radical viewpoints against minorities and people who aren’t of the same intersectional characteristics. (yes, I’m a freaking pacifist and Socialist, so any Conservatives can go ahead and be pissed at me! I honestly don’t care.) But before I get into a gun control rant, I’ll quit at that and save it for another time.
So I guess the biggest things that people generally don’t understand is that bipolar disorder is nothing like the movies and the news are completely wrong about it. There’s just so much stigma, and I feel like I’m responsible to help destroy it. The general public doesn’t typically understand the nuances surrounding living with such a serious illness. All people assume is that someone’s mood drastically changes and assume that it’s such a quick up and down. My hope is that someone reads this and learns something that challenges their misconceptions.