bipolar definitionsWe often hear people make the distinction between HAVING Bipolar and BEING Bipolar. Rarely, do we hear a distinction comparing Bipolar to Bipolar Disorder. I coined the term Bipolar In Order ten years ago to help make the distinction, but wonder what it means to you?

Bipolar used to be called Manic-Depression. Mania means that we are elevated. Depression means lowered. Bipolar means that we have two poles (high and low), so it is meant to replace manic-depression as a more acceptable way of describing the same thing. Or, is it just more marketable?

Don’t we all have two poles? Aren’t we all Bipolar to some degree? Is the weather bipolar? Isn’t everything? What makes one person Bipolar and another Bipolar Disordered? If there is a difference between Bipolar and Bipolar Disorder, can someone have Bipolar In Order? If we look a little deeper we can make important distinctions that will help us to create a better life.

Using weather as a metaphor, does Bipolar mean that it is sometimes hot and sometimes cold? On any given day, is a desert more Bipolar than a moderate location because the temperature fluctuates more? Sometimes it can be as hot as 118 degrees during the day and fall to the 40s at night. That seems pretty Bipolar. A more moderate place might be 70 during the day and 50 at night. Is that place less Bipolar? Is one Bipolar and the other not? Is there some range that qualifies a place as having Bipolar weather and another not?

When we say someone is Bipolar, does it mean that he has a wider range of energy, thoughts, emotions, etc. than “normal” people do? How do we determine that one is Bipolar and another is not? Is the basis only range?

Returning to the weather; some people are more sensitive than others to the range of temperatures. I, for example, am comfortable when it is very hot, but not so much when it gets cold. I am so uncomfortable with cold that I can’t even swim on a hot day because it makes me shiver uncomfortably while standing wet in the hot sun. You might say I am cold disordered. Other people are just the opposite. They can swim in ice cold water, but are very uncomfortable when it gets too hot. Is Bipolar weather about range, or is it our sensitivity to it?

Perhaps a better way to look at Bipolar is to recognize that we all have a range of energy, thoughts, emotions, etc. How wide our range is defines whether we are Bipolar or not. Is there some level that puts us in a range that we would call Bipolar compared to people we would call normal? Or, are we all Bipolar, but some of us more than others?

Can one person have a wide range, but not have Bipolar Disorder, while another person with a narrow range does have Bipolar Disorder? Some people we label as Bipolar have narrow ranges, yet still have Bipolar Disorder. Other people have wide ranges, yet have no Bipolar Disorder at all and are not given the label of Bipolar and the stigma attached to it. Calling it Bipolar as synonymous with Bipolar Disorder in that context makes no sense. A better way to look at it is to say that Bipolar is about having a wider range, whereas Bipolar Disorder is an adverse relationship to the range even if the range is narrow.

We might set a standard that defines the difference between “normal” and Bipolar based on the width of our range, but what does than mean in practical terms? To me, it helps to put Bipolar Disorder in context and allows for the possibility of Bipolar In Order. Bipolar in such context is not an illness, it is simply a range that is wider than “normal.”

Although it might have some advantages and disadvantages, Bipolar is just a wider range of experience. Like the weather, some people do well with extremes and others prefer moderation. It does not make one range inherently better, just for some people.

Bipolar Disorder may be more prevalent in people with a wider range, but that does not mean all people with wide ranges have Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder means that we have an adverse reaction to the range that we have, wide or narrow. It is an illness in the sense that it debilitates us and we cannot function as well as “normal” people at a given place on the scale from high to low. When we are so uncomfortable with a particular level of high or low that it affects functionality, it can be said that we are in dis-ease. The important point is that other people can be at the same level and not be in dis-ease or disorder. It is not about how high or low, it is about a disordered reaction to the highs and lows.

The problem is that we conflate Bipolar with Bipolar Disorder as if they are one and the same. In common usage, Bipolar means Bipolar Disorder. It does not allow for the possibility that one can have Bipolar (defined as a wider range than normal, or in unipolar depression a deeper low) without it being a Disorder.

What do we call it when one has Bipolar, yet it is not in Disorder? Since Bipolar has become synonymous with Bipolar Disorder, shouldn’t we make the distinction by calling it Bipolar In Order? What characteristics would qualify someone with Bipolar In Order as different from “normal” people or with Bipolar Disorder?

Making such distinctions does more than just further our understanding; it changes our very relationship with the Bipolar condition.

How would you define the difference between Bipolar, Bipolar Disorder, and Bipolar In Order?