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Understanding Bipolar: You Don’t Know the Half of It

“You don’t know the half of it” is a once-common phrase that is generally applied to negative things. It usually means that you don’t really know how bad it is. It is easy to see how bipolar people can use the phrase to describe how horrible bipolar disorder is to someone who does not experience it.

image by John Forward

I imagine many people would expect this article to be a rant on how people without bipolar disorder have no idea how bad we have it. I am sorry. It is not. It is for those who already know how bad it can be. They may not know the half of it, either.

I often joke that depression is so terrible that we sometimes wish we were dead and we act so badly during mania that everyone else wishes we were. It is good for a laugh, because we all know it has some truth in it. The horrible symptoms of depression and mania that can occur when an individual is in a disordered state are well known. They include physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and career/financial dysfunction.

Funded massively by the pharmaceutical industry, partly because it is one of their biggest profit centers, there have been countless studies about bipolar disorder and how to move people from crisis through managed stage to recovery. There are many who argue over the choice of tools to address depression and bipolar, but nearly everyone agrees on one thing: depression and bipolar are horrible mental illnesses that need to be removed from our lives. They don’t know the half of it.

I know bipolar disorder well. I had my first full-blown manic episode 46 years ago and my first major depressive episode 10 years after that. I am all too familiar with the devastation wreaked on my own life and those around me that both the manic and depressive sides of bipolar disorder contributed to. It nearly cost me my life.

Although it takes a great deal of understanding to get from crisis through managed stage and eventually to recovery, we can never know all there is to know about bipolar disorder. Even if we did, we would not know the half of it.

In the conclusion of the largest study to date, the National Institute of Mental Health said, “According to the researchers, these results indicate that in spite of modern, evidence-based treatment, bipolar disorder remains a highly recurrent, predominantly depressive illness.” This is why in spite of achieving recovery, bipolar disorder is believed to be a life-long condition. They don’t know the half of it.

After 35 years of suffering interspersed with good times, I set out to find a better way. When I made it my career to understand bipolar about 10 years ago, I gathered people with depression and bipolar together with family, friends, doctors, therapists and others who were also looking for better answers. After talking with thousands of people, I came to realize that I didn’t know the half of it, either.

Having achieved the recovery that everyone was saying was the best I could do, I found myself unwilling to accept a diminished life living in fear that the next crisis was only a bad night’s sleep away. If I was going to put so much effort into trying to keep bipolar suppressed, I wondered what would happen if I put the effort into understanding the other half that I hoped was there.

Many of us continue to explore what works to achieve recovery, but also how we might use the same tools to get beyond it. In the process, we have discovered new ways of using existing tools, and we have created new ones that are much more powerful. We found that there is another half to the bipolar experience, where our understanding helps us remove the suffering while we gain the ability to function completely in all states, from the highest high to the deepest low. I call it “Bipolar IN Order” (as opposed to bipolar disorder).

Over the years we have refined the tools and strategies to help others make “Bipolar IN Order” a reality in their lives. With each new success, we gain a deeper understanding of how to assess people to determine where they are on the path from crisis through managed stage to recovery (bipolar disorder), as well as through the three stages beyond that: freedom, stability and self-mastery (“Bipolar IN Order”). We have also learned that tools are stage-specific. Some tools are used differently according to the stage, while other tools only apply to more advanced stages and should not be used while in disorder.

It took almost 10 years, but we did prove that “Bipolar IN Order” is real in our own lives and now have a community of people who have successfully made the transition from bipolar disorder to “Bipolar IN Order.” We can now challenge the paradigm that claims that bipolar is an illness. Bipolar disorder is a horrible mental illness, but “Bipolar IN Order” is a healthy state.

Bipolar itself is not a brain dysfunction but the ability to experience a range of energy and emotion that is wider than “normal” people. The range is not the problem; it is the lack of understanding and inability to choose how to react to it that causes so many of us to find ourselves in disorder. When they are only taught the disordered half, they see it as an illness and struggle with the vicious cycle of crisis and recovery. When they are taught how to get “Bipolar IN Order,” their suffering ends, and they discover that bipolar is an advantage in their lives that they would never give up.

If all you know is bipolar disorder, it is time to find out about “Bipolar IN Order.” You will soon be using a new phrase about bipolar: “not half bad.”

Understanding Bipolar: You Don’t Know the Half of It

Tom Wootton

Tom Wootton - see on YouTube, follow on Twitter, or Facebook - is CEO of Bipolar Advantage. Along with experts in complementary fields, including doctors teaching the next generation of therapists, their mission is to help people with mental conditions shift their thinking and behavior so that they can lead extraordinary lives. Tom is the author of three books: The Bipolar Advantage, The Depression Advantage, and Bipolar In Order: Looking At Depression, Mania, Hallucination, And Delusion From The Other Side.

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APA Reference
Wootton, T. (2011). Understanding Bipolar: You Don’t Know the Half of It. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Jul 2011
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