Bipolar affective disorder might be one of the most common afflictions among some of the most productive members of society. In fact, much of what we find most exciting about our civilization owes some measure of debt to the accomplishments of talented people who happened to inherit a disordered genetic trait. Unfortunately, the cost of this elusive illness is higher than its apparent benefits.
Somebody you know or work with (or for) probably has bipolar illness. You know famous people who have the illness. Every once in a while you hear about a suicide that seems to have come right out of nowhere. It most likely was due to manic-depression.
Successful people that you look up to have the disorder. Sooner or later, however, that person’s illness will take a nasty downturn.
Contrary to public mis-information, most people who have some form of bipolar illness are functioning, productive and otherwise healthy contributors to our world
Still, the illness is lethal. It crashes career parties. Bipolar illness has demolished good, hard-working and intelligent people’s lives. The stigma that our society loves to stamp around is just about as dangerous. (More on that in a future post, so subscribe here for updates.)
So, what do you do if you’re a successful lawyer or neurosurgeon or entrepreneur with bipolar disorder?
HOW TO EVEN-OUT THE EFFECTS OF BIPOLAR ILLNESS
Well, if you have bipolar disorder, or know someone who does, I’d like to share some pointers about how to live a good life in spite of the illness. Having worked a bit in psychiatric nursing, I learned a few things from some amazing patients. Here’s some advice to those of you have have bipolar disorder and would like to remain healthy and productive:
- Sleep. Lack of sleep is both a symptom and a cause of hypomania
- Keep taking your medications, especially when you think you no longer need them
- Keep up with psychotherapy if only to get feedback on your mental status
- Don’t glorify hypomania: depression always shadows hypomania
- Don’t over-pathologize your illness: accept it, treat it and keep your life in perspective
- Attend support groups and include your family or most trusted friends in the loop
- Don’t get discouraged by setbacks: it’s an illness, not a punishment
- Keep a mood chart up-to-date and show your doctor and therapist
- If you find yourself suddenly dabbling into religious or alternative philosophies, be suspicious and talk to your therapist
- Understand that you and your illness are two different things
- You don’t always have to be productive: accept the fact that you will need downtime
- Know your pressure points (aka triggers): determine what sets you off and develop simple tactics for cooling off
This list can go on and on. I’ve missed a lot, perhaps you can add your suggestions to the comments below.
GRATITUDE TO YOUR WHO ARE BIPOLAR HEARTED
Some of the brightest, most successful people I have met in my life turned out to suffer from the disease. Some of them went undiagnosed for decades. They spent most of their lives in a mild form of hypomania and never experienced depression. For them, when their illnes caught up to them, their depressions were utter hell.
When people who have bipolar illness enter depression, it’s a much more hellish experience than it is for most people. Imagine: you’re sky high, everything in life feels to be going for, your libido is fully charged and satisfied. Then: slam, the door shuts, the lights go dim and life conspires against you. Could you handle that? Could you go on? Of course, you could: but most likely, without help, without knowledge, without hope, you could find yourself right in the center of Dante’s Inferno.
So, to you who have this illness: don’t give up. Don’t kill yourself. We need you. You, and your ancestors who carried the genes that you inherited, have made this world so much more interesting, in spite of the illness. If you’re up: be careful. If you’re down: be kind to yourself and get help.
To you who don’t have this illness: be aware that the manifestation of bipolar illness is all around you. Traces of it are in the art you view; the movies you watch; the music you love; the books you read. You need to start caring for these peoples’ lives. You have much to learn and much to lose when these beautiful people leave our world out of painful desperation.
These days, fortunately, we no longer have to let good people die from a bad disease. Bipolar disorder is not a character flaw, nor a punishment, nor a justification for ignorant stigma. Neither is it something to glorify. Hendrix said it best: Manic depression is a frustrating mess. But it doesn’t have to kill you or end the beating hearts of those you love and who love you.
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Disclaimer: none of this is medical or other professional advice. It’s just some chicken soup. If you or someone you know is in crisis, just dial 911. Thank you.