12 thoughts on “Driving While Bipolar

  • May 20, 2011 at 3:51 am

    It’s so helpful to look at living with a mental illness with a new focus such as this.

    Many people with physical illnesses have found ways to incorporate their symptoms into their lives. No one questions their ability to live fulfilled lives. Why should people with mental illnesses be any different?

    • September 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Exactly Elizabeth-well put!!

  • May 31, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I am a 24 year old who has been just recently diagnosed with bipolar 1. Since the diagnosis, the symptoms are making way more sense. I have always been a high achiever, and people have always said I was ‘driven’. I have often thought about the whole cycle of highs and lows as similar to driving a high-powered race car, having no idea of when you might lose control, brake, or smash into some poor unsuspecting by-stander. I am extremely goal-focussed, and work very hard to try and ‘control’ my car, but always end up losing it in the end through a lack of consistency. I have tried the medication, but felt, as you have said, like they were just putting me in the pit lane and sapping all of my potential to ever make a complete circuit at top speed. I would like to know if it is actually possible to think your way out of the horrible speed/crash/pit cycle, and how it can be done. Do you have any examples of people who have done it?

  • September 21, 2011 at 11:58 am

    I’m bipolar and actually can’t drive a car. I got excited that this post might address the relation I’m sure is there. I so wish to fix this problem.

  • March 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    After years of crashing–I took the streering wheel away from the “professionals” and did the driving myself–I’m doing much better. Zero psych med’s. Many lifestyle changes.

    • March 23, 2012 at 11:02 pm

      Great to hear Anne, We will never learn to drive as long as we allow others to drive for us. It never hurts to take lessons from an accomplished driver though. I can’t imagine taking swimming lessons from someone who needs to be rescued every time he gets in the deep end, but there seems to be a lot of people who cannot handle mania or depression telling people their secrets of how to do it.

      • March 24, 2012 at 9:46 pm

        True, I learned many things from going to what was called MDMDA I can not remember it’s new name. Back then in MN it was the MN Depressive Manic Depressive Association. I have tried to go to the one where I live now but with no interpreters and a different group whos out look is just not the same, I didn’t last long. My old group was focused on doing what was right for you as an individual in a very positive way. A quality life as apposed to being a cog, or mad at the profesionals.

        I liked that positive mindset and I do make it a point to tell other people that this is what is right for me, by changing my eating and lifestyle and no meds I have stayed out of hospitals. Except for one time I agreed to try going back on some medication for a serious depression but instead of helping, I ended up back in the hospital after 11 years of freedom from that kind of trauma. On meds I was in and out constantly. For me staying away from processed food and sugar, I do better at “driving” but as I say that is for me. I can not say what will help others-med’s might be needed, I’ll never tell another person not to take medication. I will say; do what gives you the best quality of life. If that means being called noncompliant or dr seeking maybe thats what it takes. But the “professionals” to me are not the ones with “paper degrees” they are the ones I met at dr. dr. A as I used to call it. Those who lived it, experienced it and found what worked for them in a positive way. Being angry at the past isn’t going to help me live my life now.

    • September 7, 2012 at 9:34 am

      I did exactly the same thing Anne, and so did my fiancee’. Personal responsibility is the key.

  • June 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    For history’s sake, I’m 58 (female), and began cycling in and out of depression in my very early teens. My first terrifying psychotic episode arrived at 18, and the next few decades were pretty horrible, with no treatment, and simply riding the waves, as huge and destructive as they were. At 15, I was on my own and have been ever since. In my early 30’s I was given anti-depressants, the first of many different ones on and on over another decade, till finally I was diagnosed Bipolar 2 with psychosis. After trying three different meds for over two years, I went off one (with doctor’s help) and remain on two, which seem to be just right for me. I’ve even been able to reduce the lithium a little. I’m very fortunate not to have needed to try many meds once I got off myriad anti-depressants and began being treated for actual bipolar disorder.

    I think the most important thing I do to be able to “drive my car” is believe that I have one, and to ACCEPT the driver that I am. It’s taken years for me to be able to accept the fact that I actually do have bipolar disorder — I still wrestle with it at tames — but that it doesn’t make me inferior or less intelligent, less valuable, or less full of contribution for others.

    I often say, “What is, is — now what do I choose to do with that?” I continue learning to choose to exercise, try to eat more healthy, work *really* hard on my sleep hygiene (hardest discipli, watch my self-talk, be genuine with my therapist on the output and the intake. What I choose *not* to do is fall back into drinking, smoking, uncontrolled anger, excess stimulation, and major overwork — another area difficult for me to control when I’m not depressed.

    All this doesn’t make my bipolar life go away, but my life is immeasurably better and I no longer fear the inevitable, certain death by suicide or being pulled off my very brink into a total loss of insanity. The psychosis is much less frequent, is intermittent for only 3-4 days, and is manageable.

    Next psych visit (tomorrow!), I’ll discuss with her the possible of being able to start shaving down my second med, as my goal is to have the most healthy life on the least amount of meds as is possible.

    Thanks Tom for the good article!

  • September 6, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    “There are countless studies that β€œprove” bipolar and depression are illnesses, but none of them have studied people who know how to drive.”

    I beg to both disagree and agree. I agree that the study of illness in science is focused on characterizing illness and not wellness. This is a fundamental problem in all areas of medicine.

    Where I disagree is that countless studies, indeed, have not ‘proven’ that bipolar and depression are an illnesses. Rather they have DEFINED them as such. They have said that bipolar is recognizable by a group of symptoms and that anyone having these (subjective) symptoms has the bipolar illness. The studies then go on to examine the characteristics of people fitting this definition, and their conclusions about these people involve mortality rates, symptom re-occurence rates, symptom-free periods, etc.

    Mental illness definitions are very dodgy, because they are inherently subjective. This raises all kinds of questions about people on the borders of the definition: what exactly does it mean to be reckless with money? How much money are we talking, and should it be relative to ones net worth?

    Any scientific results based on these definitions are questionable as to which population they actually apply. When I say this, I am not disparaging the existing science, only recognizing that the study of mental illness is extremely difficult.

    Getting back to the question that was asked of us, I have learned many coping skills. I consider them life skills. My most elaborate tool-kit revolves around dealing with extreme anger, and my general approach is physical activity. Depression I deal with often by simply recording what I am doing through out the day. This lets me asses the times when I loose focus or loose time. It also provides some self-accountability that can motivate me. I also have tools for dealing with paranoia, most of which focus on recognizing when I am feeling paranoid. This last I find to be the most difficult, at least for me.

    • September 6, 2012 at 6:28 pm

      Hi Samantha,
      Great comment! I agree with your critique about “proof” and meant that when I put quotes around it, but your explanation adds immensely to the point. Thank you for adding your personal experience too.

    • September 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

      I totally agree Samantha-I have spent nearly ten years researching all the “evidence” for Bipolar as a biological “illness” and there actually is none. ALL diagnosis is ascertained by observation, and we all know that leaves conclusions drawn to be in the eye of the beholder. Not very reliable, to say the least.
      Something I have learnt to do is what I call a “mental stocktake”, usually weekly unless it has been a big week, whereby I re-run all of the events of that week. I examine how I felt about them, did they provoke a reaction? Where they stressful? Hurtful? Anger-inducing? What can I learn from them? etc. etc. and then I “flush” it all.
      I have found that this exercize avoids building up negativity, frustration and minor “upsets” that can become major problems snowballing later on, though by then you may well not remember the initial “trigger.”
      I concentrate always on maintaining “grounding” to remain aware of paranoid thinking/behaviour, and I have built up over the years an ability to recognize any warning signs, triggers and an armoury of strategies to manage them.
      What I HATE about the “illness model” is that it excuses the most outrageous behaviour as being “beyond our control” which is simply untrue, but there are those who lap that up as justification for virtually everything that they feel/think or do.
      I love the analogy of driving, but it seems that so many people just operate on “autopilot” and then, as Tom says, blame the car.


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