The Black Swan of Bipolar and Depression

I gave a talk the other day for NAMI Santa Rosa about my next book and a woman remarked how different it is from my previous ones. I said that my first three were about me being the black swan.

The black swan is Karl Popper's concept from the 1930s that suggested that if you observe only white swans, you are using inductive reasoning to extrapolate that all swans are white. This was falsified when black swans were discovered by the English naturalist John Latham in 1790. Science was forced to change the hypothesis that all swans are white by the new evidence.


Bipolar Makes People Perfect

I noticed it when I was first diagnosed, but have been watching the phenomenon ever since. I have seen it happen in so many people that it might be true in three quarters of the cases. What is even more amazing is how fast it happens. Bipolar may be the fastest path to perfection known to man!

I have been working on more thorough assessment programs for my new book and think that I have found a breakthrough. Through the assessments I have it traced to the exact moment that it happens. I wonder if you can help me verify my research with your own experiences and share your ideas on how to improve upon it?


How Do We Treat A Mental Health Crisis?

I am no expert on mental health crisis intervention. I have only seven personal experiences to base my opinions on. Nonetheless, it is not a stretch to say that there are some major flaws in the system that should be addressed. I know I am not alone in such an assessment and hope that we can share our ideas for how to make it better.
In trying to better understand all of the points of view, I have spent a lot of time discussing it with all sides of the debate. I gained some great insight from those who identify themselves as part of the anti-psychiatry movement. I could be wrong, but it seems that much of the hostility that they have comes from bad experiences when in crisis. I have a unique perspective on such experiences because I was once hired to stay with someone during his lockdown in a psych facility. I saw first hand how bad it can be while I had the clarity to know what was going on.


What Is Bipolar? What is Bipolar Disorder? Bipolar In Order?

We 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?


Getting Comfortable With Bipolar

One of my earliest memories is of learning to ride a bike. I remember the fear, exhilaration, and hyper-awareness, along with the tension in my body and how my breath became both more rapid and shorter. I was outside of my comfort zone and challenging myself to grow. It was also a blast!

My father had a wisdom common with most dads. He didn’t push me down a steep hill and hope I survived; he ran along next to me making sure I was not too far outside of my comfort zone as to be incapable of handling it. He taught me one of the most important lessons that day about what it is to be human. We need to challenge ourselves to grow, while at the same time making sure we don’t go too far outside of our comfort zone.

The thrill of learning something new and challenging myself to grow has been a constant companion ever since my first bike ride. On too many occasions, I took on challenges far outside of my comfort zone and was either debilitated by the fear and lack of skills, or took risks that caused more harm than the potential reward from succeeding.

Mood vs Behavior Disorder

Another notion that needs to be challenged is that depression and bipolar are "mood disorders," while hallucinations and delusions are "thought disorders." There is nothing wrong with having moods, thoughts, feelings, visions, delusions, or any other experiences. The problem is our behavior.

Mood is "a conscious state of mind or predominant emotion."1 Psychology likes to add disclaimers to it like long lasting or long term, but the essential element is not how long it lasts, it is the emotional feeling that we have.

Behavior is "the manner of conducting oneself, anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation, and the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment."2 I would include our thought process as part of the response.

It is interesting that bipolar is called a "mood disorder" but is treated at a behavioral health clinic. If you think about what the "disorder" is for people around a person with depression, mania, hallucination, and delusion, it is the behavior that is the problem. Does it matter if I hallucinate all day long if my behavior does not bother anyone or myself? Does it matter if I am manic or depressed if my actions are completely under self-mastery?


What Percent Of People With Bipolar Disorder Can Achieve Bipolar In Order?

John Grohol wrote an essay the other day called Psychology Secrets: Most Psychology Studies Are College Student Biased. It is one of the many must-see articles that John has written, but my personal favorite.

John mentions that 67 percent of the people in the studies of mental illness are undergraduates studying psychology. This presents a picture of mental health that may be way off base from what actually exists.

When I started speaking and doing workshops, I went to support groups, organizations like NAMI, county mental health departments, clinics, colleges, and other groups focused on bipolar and depression. I thought that I was getting a picture of the "real" bipolar population. As it turns out, those groups are even more skewed than the studies John mentions.

Is My Depression Cured?

My post about mindfulness not resulting in happiness got some interesting responses. One in particular on LinkedIn got me to finally come out about what depression can look like when seen from a different perspective. Since LinkedIn discussions are restricted to group members, below is my reply:

I have been thinking a lot lately about depression since I have spent the last few years in the deepest states of my life. Your comment gets right to the heart of my thoughts when you say, "I don't know if I can say that mindfulness intensifies depression." I very much appreciate your bringing it up.

In conversation with others who have pursued a similar path as mine, we have been exploring what depression means and whether we may be cured. We experience the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pains, but not the normal reactions to them that get combined in the normal definitions of depression. We actually feel the "pain" more than we ever have, but act normally because the pain no longer controls our choice of how to act.

We Need More Words To Describe Depression

I was recently coaching a couple that had taken our Bipolar In Order workshop when the man said he was depressed. The woman asked for a better description, but he had no words to describe his emotions. I was reminded of how my wife Ellen used to ask me for more details when I said it was just dark. It seems that many of us can feel strong emotions, but have no words to describe them.

Mindfulness Does Not Lead To Happiness

The central principle of mindfulness is to look at things without judgment. As applied to depression, this means to just look at the various physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects as if you were just an outside observer. Adherents of mindfulness often speak of this as "The Watcher." It is a wonderful practice that increases awareness of what is really happening.

Unfortunately, many claim that mindfulness leads to happiness.