As a man with Bipolar Disorder myself, I’ve heard lots of myths from friends and acquaintances about the condition.
I thought it would be helpful to break some of them down and answer them.
Myth #1: Mania is a really cool thing to have
All the energy that mania generates can be handy at times, it’s true. Being able to work day and night on a creative project, knocking out proposals and reports in record time. But with the increased energy comes an increased low once the mania has passed. Some people need to spend days sleeping off the effects of a manic period.
Plus, mania often comes with associated anxiety and sometimes anger. Intolerance is more sharply defined, and spending and sexual habits become larger than life and highly exaggerated.
On balance, mania is not the cool thing the media would like you to think it is.
Myth #2: People with bipolar disorder are just “moody”
The term ‘bipolar’ gets bandied about a lot. Just because you’ve had a bad day doesn’t mean you are bipolar.
The DSM-5 lists the criteria for Bipolar I and II Disorder. Included in those assessment criteria are the requirements of a lifetime experience of at least one episode of major depression and at least one manic or hypomanic episode. There are strict criteria that diagnosticians like psychiatrists and psychologists use to determine whether or not a person has a bipolar disorder.
Our tendency as bipolar sufferers to have hypomanic or manic periods, mixed with bouts of prolonged depression, means we are more emotionally experienced than perhaps our more stable friends and relations.
But just having a bad day, or a really good day, is not being bipolar. Being bipolar is more than being ‘moody’ for an hour or two.
Myth # 3: Because you have bipolar you are potentially violent
A lot of the time bipolar is mentioned in the media it’s because of someone’s violent outburst. But such violence is actually quite rare, and is not a part of the everyday experience of bipolar sufferers.
The violence comes from anger, which is a sign of mania. Control the mania and you control the potential for violence.
I know my own bipolar history doesn’t have any anger or frustration in it. My hypomanic periods involved staying up for days at a time, spending money I couldn’t afford to spend. There was no anger or frustration.
Myth #4: People with bipolar disorder cannot maintain healthy relationships
I have friendships that go back to high school (I’m in my 60s). It’s just not true that relationships cannot be forged. It just takes a little extra care and effort by both parties. It needs an attitude of ‘what can I do to make your life easier today?’
But it’s also true that long-term romantic partnerships take extra work. My marriage didn’t work out. So love relationships take an extra level of commitment and working together to make the best of things.
The challenge society faces is that bipolar is only mentioned when something goes wrong; we never hear from those who are enjoying successful marriages and partnerships, but I’m sure those marriages and relationships are out there.
“My husband had bipolar disorder. He was brilliant and the kindest, most unselfish man I have ever known. I was married to him for 49 happy, happy years. Sure, there were bad times because he had bipolar. But because I understood he had no choice in it, we were able to have a wonderful marriage.” — Glenda Austin ThompsonTheMighty.com
Living with a partner with bipolar is tough, it takes an extra level of communication and understanding. My marriage has had its ups and downs, but with communication and understanding, it’s stood the test of time.
— Sharon Chisholm
Myth #5: People with bipolar disorder can’t be successful
“Heck, I have bipolar 2 and I graduated as valedictorian of my high school and I graduated summa cum laude from a private university. It does not mean I haven’t been successful in life.” — Jenna Renee GillitTheMighty.com
History litters us with successful people who have suffered from some sort of bipolar disorder.
- Lily Allen,
- Russell Brand,
- Mariah Carey,
- Ray Davies,
- Carrie Fisher,
- Stephen Fry,
- Mel Gibson,
- Adam Ant,
- Ernest Hemingway…
The list is long.
There’s a long list of people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Being on this list is arguably proof that the disorder is no impediment to leading a successful life. If these people made a success of it, then perhaps, with the right conditions, you can too. And here’s another list of celebrities with Bipolar.
There are plenty of myths around about bipolar. Some of these are fanciful, others hurtful. None tell the full story. Hopefully what you have read here helps you understand that bipolar disorder is more nuanced and complex than simple name-calling and myth-using allows for.
Call me on 8120 0300 if you want to talk through your own experience of living with Bipolar Disorder, or you want to talk about how to help a friend or loved one.
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