40 thoughts on “What Is Bipolar? What is Bipolar Disorder? Bipolar In Order?

  • November 14, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I think that my disorder with bipolar is not so much my range of emotions but that the illness messes with my internal thermostat so that I can be hot, sweaty and feel the need to strip off my clothes when the reality is that is snowing and 27 degrees. My reality is not so much a problem of how it collides with the one the other 95% of the world experience it.

  • November 14, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I was told I had Bipolar Disorder. Indeed I had mood swings, however, I was at the height of menopause at the same time. Oh geeze, that’s right! The American Psychiatric Association has listed that in the DSM as a disorder too. I find that amusing. Hormone changes are a part of life and have been occurring since the beginning of man, but now it’s a disorder. Heck in that case being human is to be disordered. Anything to sell another drug.

    I also have MS which can raise havoc with emotions, but since that doesn’t fall under the DSM, it was quickly swept under the rug. They don’t like to be confused with the facts.

    One labeled, and I MEAN labeled; (I’m surprised they didn’t brand it onto my rear end like they do with cattle) I was told it would be impossible for me to experience ANY “normal” emotions ever again, no matter how minor it was a direct result of an illness. I was sad when our dog died – that’s because I was suffering BP Depression. I was happy the day I graduated from college, but that was mania expressing itself. So tell me, what is “normal” and who is “normal” enough to make this designation? Like Dr. House says – “Normal is Over Rated”.

    Yes – there is a wide range of emotions that ALL experience, so why do they try to claim that once a doctor (in this case a quack) labels you are you suddenly different than the rest of the population?

    I will not question that if, within this umbrella of emotions, you find the fluctuations interfering with daily functioning or if they moderately to severely detract from your quality of life – there may be a “Disorder” that needs attention. So really if you think about it, this is not so much a question of disease, but rather a “disorder” in the way we cope with or perceive “normal” polarized or bipolar events. (life/death, wealth/poverty, health/illness, love/hate)And since when is polarity a problem – we take vows to love one and other throughout it.

    However, some people cope very well with ups and downs, even the most severe without any problem.
    Yes, everything has polarity to it and rather than causing trouble, it should bring balance to our experience of being. Hence, being bipolar “In Order” is natural, like all things in the universe are meant to be.

  • November 14, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    I can relate to the cold temperature. I love it hot. But, have no tolerance for the cold. The analogy of temperatures to Bipolar is a great one.

    My answer to what’s Bipolar In Order and Bipolar or Bipolar Disorder maybe too simple. But, a person with Bipolar In Order is like a person who hates the cold terribly, but acts and behaves like they aren’t fazed by it. Just like when I was in my twenties and so anxious all the time. But, chose to behave in ways that made people totally unaware of my anxiety. I had my anxiety disorder in order. But, to keep that up I needed more coping skills and support. So, I’m not in order now and have Bipolar II.

    I prefer the statement I have Bipolar than I have Bipolar Disorder. Disorder has negative meanings attached to it. And, that doesn’t help anything.

    I agree everyone is Bipolar. It’s a question of degree. We all feel happy and sad. Those are the basic poles. There is a wide range of how deeply we feel happiness and sadness. Some like me, have a nice ability to feel a certain depth of happiness. It’s energizing and makes me feel in awe of life. Then, the other side, I can feel a depth of sadness so deep it’s not understandable to most people.

    Personally, I’m determined to become ordered. I believe that experiencing deep depressions where I wanted to die. And living through it. Picking up my child from school etc.. Are definite successes.

    And, people like you Tom, are so important to me. You give me the hope and the knowledge that there is a way to live. And, to live well. I don’t even hallucinate…it should be easy for me right? Lol

    Thank you for all your hard work. I know I’m not the only one, but what you do saves lives. I know you helped me to live.

  • November 14, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Hi Susan,
    It sounds like you have been thinking along the same lines as me. I love the quote about “normal” being overrated. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Always great to hear from you.That makes two out of three of us that have temperature issues. Maybe Bipolar means hot, naked, and unafraid to admit that we like it that way.

    You got me thinking more deeply about Am Bipolar vs Have Bipolar. I know what people are trying to say, but in this context they are actually saying the opposite. If I Have Bipolar, am I saying Bipolar is an illness like I have cancer or a cold? If I AM Bipolar, am I just acknowledging that I have highs and lows? I AM Bipolar, but I do not Have Bipolar, because bipolar is not an illness that I catch. It is a condition that I either have In Order or in Disorder.

    If I Have Bipolar Disorder, than I need treatment to make it go away. If I AM Bipolar, than I need training and practice to use it to my advantage.

  • November 14, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Hi Tom,

    You reminded me of an appointment I had with my Psychiatrist. I was complaining that my fairly new meds had robbed me of the ability to feel joy. My Pdoc said (not exactly word for word) , “Joy? No, there is no joy, it’s hypomania. We can’t allow it. Every time your mood goes up you have a severe crash.” I went on to explain that I understand about not allowing me to get too hypomanic, but there IS such a thing as real joy: holding your new baby for the 1st time, holding and playing with your grandchild, getting excited about a loved one’s major accomplishment or marriage, etc. I could not feel anything about these things on the new regimen. THEN he understood–he has children too. I insisted and we changed meds even though he worried I would crash severely (It got severe 2 x in the past-hospitalization)–but I refused to flatline while still being alive. I told him he had to give me some bit of a range to feel things because I need to learn to face the challenges and learn to cope. I have to learn to help myself — I need him to help take the edge off while I learn and gradually take me down on meds to a point where I can do most of the work myself. Thank God I have a doc with whom I can argue nicely. He’s working with me, not always happily, be he is. AND, on my last visit, he said he is proud of the skills I have built and the realizations I’ve come to. We can get things “In Order” when we are given the respect by our loved ones and professionals that we should be allowed to explore what causes our extremes and then sort them out–what is truly beneficial and what is not, then we use the strengths to tame and eventually (for the most part) conquer the non-beneficial extremes. Once the professionals learn that it is we who have to do the work–not them with medicating us into “flatlines” (which to me is worse than death,) then the world will see that for the majority of us, yes, we feel more, but we just need support and understanding and we’ll be fine–just like anyone else going through the throes of a difficult situation or illness or whatever. Sorry to ramble, but BOY! I got ticked off to be told “there is no joy”! Don’t anyone let them do that to you.
    Thanks Tom, for continuing to share with us.

  • November 14, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Hi Jeanette,
    Beautifully said! I love the part about “there IS such a thing as real joy: holding your new baby for the 1st time, holding and playing with your grandchild, getting excited about a loved one’s major accomplishment or marriage, etc.”

    It sounds like you have a doctor to stick with (and argue too). I bet the argument that you made would win every time – “I told him he had to give me some bit of a range to feel things because I need to learn to face the challenges and learn to cope. I have to learn to help myself — I need him to help take the edge off while I learn and gradually take me down on meds to a point where I can do most of the work myself.”

  • November 14, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I am loving the term “Bipolar in Order”!!! I was diagnosed with early onset bipolar disorder when I was a young teenager. After years and years of medication (at one time I was on 9), intense therapy multiple times a week, and multiple hospitalizations, I am very happy to announce that I am now off all medications (with the assistance of my psychiatrist)! While I am very happy and excited to begin this new chapter in my life, I am struggling with a bit of an identity crisis. Do I still have bipolar disorder? Am I still bipolar? I like the term “Bipolar in Order” because I feel that while I still have bipolar disorder, I now have the coping mechanisms to maintain order. I know that bipolar disorder is considered a lifelong illness and I am inclined to agree. The only way I will be able stay off my medications is through constant vigilance in recognizing my triggers and preparing myself for tough times. This is something I anticipate having to do for the rest of my life, so it would be wishful thinking to think that I am not bipolar anymore. I do however feel that because of my coping mechanisms, bipolar disorder has a much less negative effect on my life. But according to the DSM, it can only be considered a disorder if it significantly negatively impacts my life. I am confused.

    An interesting thing was brought up in my psychology class the other day that had to do with diagnosing and the DSM. The author of a study (Lilienfield, 1995) proposed that while the DSM preaches that diagnosis be based on a prototype of what the disorder is and how closely the symptoms of the patient mirror the prototype (i.e., the patient must exhibit 7 out of 9 of the symptoms represented in the prototype), doctors do not practice this way. Instead, he proposed that doctors diagnose and prescribe medications based of exemplars and “fuzzy boundaries.” He further proposed that those who believe in the strict scientific definition of mental disorders do more harm than good because they end up neglecting people who have problems and need help, but do not fit specifically into categories of mental illness. I am inclined to agree with the author. I feel that labels are only as helpful as a starting point, and if it came down to it, it would be ok. I have faith that a mental health practitioner would still be able to help them without a label. Unfortunately, the facts of life as it is now do not agree with the author. For the purposes of insurance, government assistance, school assistance, and numerous other things, the labels are a necessary evil. Intrinsically, labels can be harmful but practically, labels are necessary. So if a doctor doesn’t practice based off of prototypes, why is it used in the rest of the world?

    Now back to bipolar disorder. It is my personal opinion that the purpose of the specific label of bipolar disorder is harmful because it clumps all of the variations of the disorder into one label. It makes it easier for pharmaceutical companies to market to doctors and individuals with the disorder. If the medications helped this would be ok, but the sad truth is that medications don’t work for everybody. In fact, it has been argued recently in the mainstream media as well as academia that they don’t work for most people. To me, it is shameful of Big Pharma to market products to individuals that are struggling with their identity and looking for answers.

  • November 14, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I was told the same thing! And, my current problem wasn’t even hypomania it was severe depression. And. I’ve not been hospitalized. There were some other issues I had with that pdoc, so I am seeing a new one. And, he’s told me the goal is never to medicate you to the point you don’t feel or feel happy. The other doctor was so afraid I’d get hypomanic and irritable. I was like so what? She never asked to talk to my husband and hear what he experienced and saw when I was hypomanic. It’s ridiculous. I’m glad you stood up to your doctor. And he listened.

  • November 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I feel like I need to properly cite the article I mentioned in my comment.

    Lilienfeld, S.O. (1995). Mental disorder as a Roschian concept: a critique of Wakefield’s “harmful dysfunction” analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 104(3), 411-420.

  • November 14, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Hi Christie,
    Interesting stuff about the DSM, and thanks for the reference to the article. Dr. Peter Forster is our medical director. He teaches at UCSF Medial School. He says an often overlooked part of the DSM (one that you pointed out) is that it takes impairment to have Bipolar Disorder. No Impairment – no disorder.

  • November 14, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    My emotions aren’t the issue- it’s energy levels. I can only work in spurts, for a few days, then I’m a zombie for a few days. I can’t think when I’m like that. I’m off and on like clockwork. Luckily I’m self-employed and can cram a week’s worth of work into a couple of nights. The only thing that makes me take meds is the inability to sleep. I can’t stand not sleeping, I’m not young enough for that anymore. I can do it for a night or two then I have to come down. But it took me a long time to learn how to function this way- I’m just not cut out for a regular schedule. I’m quite capable of working though.

  • November 14, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    That is a brilliant question, as is your exploration of possibilities and distinctions.

    For me, being bipolar is much as you described. I have extreme highs and lows and the variance is drastic between the two.

    The dis-ease I experience comes from the reactions of the people around me. I am not “normal”. It is not “normal” to swing from pole to pole as rapidly as I do at times. I feel frustrated that people need to compare their natural swing in mood to mine.

    I don’t have a difficult time discussing my bipolar tendencies with “normal” people, or people who think they are normal. I do find it interesting that their responses are often similar to the reaction one would demonstrate if I was to tell them I am deformed in some way. I can see it on their faces…”but you seem so normal”. I have lived my whole life trying to fit myself into that “normal” box…reality is…I don’t fit. I never will. I’m okay with it. I am normal for me.

    Once I could accept myself, just the way I was, I quit trying to make myself normal and began finding ways to make my particular differences useful. I really felt so much more at peace. I have come to a resting point somewhere in the middle, where I am just me…a bipolar individual leaning to cope in this world, just like everybody else.

    I like the exploration of the term, “normal”. Is normal the guy that gets up in the morning, has the same breakfast he has had for the past ten years, gets in his car and takes the safest route to his office where he performs the same tasks he has performed for the last 20? I am sorry, that sounds like death to me. I am happy not being normal, I am happy giving color to my world. I derive much joy for being the one person that will say what everybody else is thinking but too afraid to give voice to. I have learned to edit much of my thinking so as to say things that are not quite as offensive as they, historically have been.

    What is bipolar? For me, bibolar is the difference between yellow and cadmium, a flower and a tiger lily, a water fall and Niagara. I like the roller coaster. The carousel is for wimps. I am okay with the way I am, I wish the world was okay with it too.

  • November 15, 2010 at 2:34 am

    Hi Dannah,
    It sounds like you have figured out a way to make bipolar work for you. Many of us have figured out that regular schedules don’t work, but only some have made the changes to make it work. Your example is an inspiration for others to look for the possible.

  • November 15, 2010 at 2:38 am

    Hi Kellie,
    I have found that the world is OK with us if we don’t act in ways that makes bipolar a bad thing for them. If we are acting within reasonable societal standards, it is their problem if they can’t accept our condition. If we are peeing on people as they walk by, then we deserve to be locked up whether we are bipolar or not.

    I love how you put it – “a bipolar individual leaning to cope in this world, just like everybody else.”

  • November 15, 2010 at 5:25 am

    Tom, First I believe the “labels” that are applied rarely are consistent- I have seen 20 doctors in the last 4 years- and have had as many diagnosis. We finally settled on PTSD; MDD; and BIPOLAR (it was needed to get my insurance to pay for a medication!); In answer to your question about definitions- Bipolar (as a disease, such as diabetes)is something you have- NOT AM. Bipolar Disorder is when the highs and lows are not managed well- by proper coping skills and/or medication (without being overly medicated that you feel nothing- good or bad). Bipolar In Order is a stage or a place of stability- I have medication ( for 1 1/2 years now ) that allows me to learn , apply and test out my coping skills.

    As to being “normal” I used to say that it was just a setting on a washing machine- but now even washers have different “labels” 🙂

    As to temperature regulation- I adjust to the cold better- movement, extra layers, body heat can get you warm; Heat- only so much you can take off and if a pool/ocean /lake is not an option there isn’t much to do!

    I also question if Bipolar isn’t diagnosed more frequently than need be- what about the person with a sunny disposition ( natural high) that grieves and feels depression? or the person who is depressed who manages to use coping skills to feel joy and happiness- even if they can’t hold on to it?

  • November 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Interesting article. And I love that you encourage actually living with the condition and dealig with what you got, instead of constant vigilance and trying to get rid of emotions of any kind.

    About DSM… what is an impairment… I know that my condition is holding me back, but I still manage to live (LIVE in ALL CAPS sometimes). I wish I could deal better sometimes… but I guess I love those up states too much to go near a psychdoc. They would not help me with those feeling and dealing with them anyways.

    I try to act normal, I think I do… well, at least I am not harming anybody… my weirdness can be excused by freedom of expression, and being a b*tch is not a diagnosis… yet.

  • November 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Hi Bobbi,
    I agree, the labeling of mental conditions is so inconsistent that they are becoming meaningless. I think a Bipolar Disorder label could qualify for insurance, leaving plain Bipolar to be differentiated from it and Bipolar In Order being the transition from mostly medical Treatment to mostly Training and Practice of other tools.

    Hi Venus,
    I looked up impairment in the dictionary and it says “the state or fact of being impaired, esp. in a specific faculty: a degree of physical or mental impairment.” How can a dictionary define something by using the word it defines?

  • November 16, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Hi Tom,

    As always, I simply love the way you approach Bipolar, Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar In Order! Kudo’s to you for being out there and spreading your words!!

    As far as labeling goes my appraoch in some ways is: who cares?! I don’t. It’s been useful in order to get help (meds + counseling) to start getting my Bipolar In Order. Other than that: bullocks!

    That said, the original response of my Dutch environment when diagnosed a few years back: “What?! How can you be diagnosed only now?”. I could hear their doubts. How can you have a Disorder which has not been noticed before you were 42?

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t asked out right. There is not much openess (sp?) here in the Netherlands re Mental Health or the lack thereof. We keep these things very private. It carries a great stigma, especially once you have been hospitalized. It can even cause problems with your insurance.

    I totally agree the world in itself, creation in itself, including us human beings, are Bipolar. Thats just the way it is. Pity us if it weren’t so. Without grief, no joy. Without poor, no rich. Without low, no up. And so on.

    Disordered, I think, is when you yourself experience Being Bipolar as disturbing your life as you like to live it. This can be to the point that we reach ‘out of order’ (and maybe need hospitalization). When it goes too far ‘out’ for us to handle it ourselves, we need to call in help in whichever way suits us.

    Those around us, however, might have different standards of experiencing our lives as ‘disordered’, depending on what they think is ‘normal’ in relation to our being ‘dis-ordered’. In my opinion, that is where the relational problems start. Because of their expectations of how we should behave, we get labeled as ‘having Bipolar Dis-order’.

    But who says we should live up to their standards?

    Personally, I am much more concerned with how I experience my Being Bipolar. For example:

    When really getting into hypomania, I start talking to total strangers about personal stuff. This is disturbing to me, because in essence I am a quite shy person, hence I experience my Bipolar ‘Dis-ordered’.
    But that stranger? I don’t think he cares much either way. Conversation finished, he probably goes about his business not thinking much about it. And even if he does, it’s not likely that I meet him again. So what’s the deal?

    Bipolar In order is when we live life to the fullest of our abilities with the range of emotions given us. We, who are labeled as ”disordered’ have the advantage that we look much harder at how we live and respond. Therefore we are able to get more out of life if we take the effort. I totally intend on doing so!

    In that sense, people who think that they have their lives ‘in order’ will not reach for more. They are not challenged to do so as we are.

    Well, I’ll stop rambling….

  • November 16, 2010 at 11:03 am

    We are a grassroots org. for us to try and make the distinctions or a diagnosis is a mistake. We talk about our health issues in terms of what’s going on in our life. What we want to change and what works. Sometimes what works for someone who has diabetes can be valuable to someone with bipolar issues. The hardest thing to have to deal with is the myths associated with mental health issues being separate from health. We think in terms of mind body spirit as all inclusive.

  • November 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I have not been officially diagnosed with bipolar, but my mother has always said that I “swing from one extreme to the other.” She was right in that awful mother sort of way, but I have learned to bring both those extremes more into the middle now.

  • November 16, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Hi Fenny, Brenda, and Sonia,
    I tried to respond to everyone, but it tough to keep up all the time. I greatly appreciate your input. I am leaving now to see the Van Gough exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, so I won’t be around for the afternoon. I know Fenny, nothing like the Van Gough Museum in Amsterdam, which is my favorite place, but at least they have pictures from the Musee d’Orsay, another of my favorites.



  • November 16, 2010 at 6:39 pm


    Hope you had a good and enjoyable time with one of the greatest Dutch artists!! I do enjoy him too. I even think that there is a suspicion (oh boy, spelling trouble!) that he was bipolar as well….?

  • November 16, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Hi Fenny,
    It was a great show. One of the people who helped me edit The Depression
    Advantage is a great fan of Van Gogh, but not of his painting as much as his writings to his brother. They are deeply spiritual and insightful. Many say he was bipolar, but then this whole thread is about “what does that mean?”

    There is a great app for iPhone and iPad at: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/yours-vincent-the-letters/id334681106?mt=8

    Actually there are many Van Gogh apps, but the link is to one with his letters.

  • November 17, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Whatever you want to call it, I believe we all have it to some degree or another. When I came to the realization that my childhood trauma was linked to my symptoms of being bipolar, it started an entire process of healing that has gutted out everything from my childhood abuse. I actually found it was my memories and fears trying to surface. The pain was so intense and terrifying that I would flucate between the manias and depresssions in order for them to come to my conscious. I believe it was my brain preparing me for those memories and the fight of having them come to light.

    Now that the rubbish has cleared, I am finding a balance with less extremes in either directions.

    I love your weather analogy. I relate to nature intensly constantly shifting between highs, lows and mediums.

  • November 17, 2010 at 7:11 am

    I believe that is totally true. At least in my experience.
    In actual fact, I believe that the results of trauma create the same symptoms as Bipolar Disorder. When the trauma is resolved (through hard work) therefore the symptoms lessen or might even disappear. Depending on how severe we are Disordered, that is.
    Glad to find someone with teh same experience!


Join the Conversation!

We invite you to share your thoughts and tell us what you think in this public forum. Before posting, please read our blog moderation guidelines. A first name or pseudonym is required and will be displayed with your comment. Your email address is also required, but will be kept private. (Please note that we use gravatars here, which are tied to your email address.) A website/blog/twitter address is optional.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *