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Bipolar Disorder: Blame the Illness, Not the Person

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a Stages of Emotional Responses chart that traces the emotional path people generally travel in coming to terms with their loved one’s mental illness. I’m pretty much at the final stage, Stage III: Moving into Advocacy, but I’m still sort of stuck at Stage II: Learning to Cope, which is characterized by Anger/Guilt/Resentment, Recognition and Grief.

Yes, we’ve been living with bipolar disorder for about 12 years now, and I’m still angry and resentful. Now, though, I’m not angry at my wife who has bipolar disorder. I blame bipolar disorder. It accosted my wife, tried to ruin our marriage, emotionally traumatized our children, ruined my wife’s career, and stole tens of thousands of dollars.

45 Comments to
Bipolar Disorder: Blame the Illness, Not the Person

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  1. Dixie –
    PTSD (and trauma, in general) sufferers have been shown to have changes to their brain structure, hormone levels and telomeres. There is just as much evidence for PTSD being biologically based as there is for Bipolar Disorder. Never in my posts have I denied that there is a biological basis. I have a subscription to Biological Psychiatry. My career goal is an MD, with combined Neurology-Psychiatry board certification. I devour research studies, and the passion is there. It wouldn’t make sense without biological basis – everything related to life is biology, and everything we feel or do is based in it. Abnormal biology, by most’s standards, would, of course, be a major contributer to what we know as mental illness.

    As you seem to be confused at to my points, or believe that I am “running in circles”, I will summarize:

    . As the cause and labeling of mental illness, there are three main factors: genetics, environmental and social factors.
    . Genetics code our DNA. From the moment we are conceived, they are shaping who we will be – from the color of our eyes to the complex details of personality. Thus, if there is a family history, or if something codes differently despite no family history, we are naturally predisposed to a certain brain wiring.
    . Environment – both pre and post natal – plays a role as stress, trauma, etc. can all change the biology and structure of your brain, and trigger certain responses in those already predisposed. Heck, even the month you were born has been shown to have an impact on the development of Schizophrenia. This is why mental illnesses usually appear in the early 20s, as that is a major transitional age.
    . Social factors define what is considered mentally disordered. In hunter-gatherer times, ADHD was likely not a bad thing – if anything, it provided an advantage. In a time when the common man did not read, dyslexia would not have been an issue. Homosexuality was once a disorder, a mental disorder, in the DSM. Most no longer consider homosexuality to be a mental illness. This is not because of advancing science – the brains of male homosexuals are structurally different, there is more evidence each day that it is based in biology, and your risk for certain things does raise if you identify as bisexual and/or straight (just to note, this is not homophobia – at all. Do not confuse the issue. This is just one of the better examples I could think of) – it is because of a changing society and its viewpoints. To deny society’s influence on what is considered mentally ill is blind.
    . A person can have every symptom of a mental illness; if, however, it does not interfere with their functioning, it is not considered mental illness. Someone could be hearing voices telling them to jump off of a bridge or push someone in front of a subway, or they could be severely depressed; but, if they have good GAF (Global Assessment of Functioning) scores – good social, occupational functioning – they, according to both the DSM-IV and upcoming DSM-5, are not mentally ill.
    . Therefore, if, for example, the majority of the population’s brains were wired or damaged as to present Bipolar Disorder, it would not be a disorder. Society would be built up around such a wiring and, thus, it would not interfere with their functioning. Those who moods did not dramatically shift would be considered disordered. There are, in fact, cultures that do embrace such wired brains. This is, of course, true for many things. It could also be true for physical disability. “The Eye of the Beholder”, an episode of the Twilight Zone, comes to mind. (
    . Unfortunately/fortunately, the majority of brains are wired and structured so that they do not present as Bipolar. Thus, that leaves those of us with differently wired brains – and those who care for us – to try to find a way to cope and survive in this world.
    . Though there is some evidence that CBT, meditation, etc can create lasting changes in our brain chemistry, I think we all agree that these brain chemistries are not things we can “snap out of”. When someone is severely depressed, they cannot suddenly become chipper, energy-filled beings. When someone is manic, they cannot snap their fingers and have their thoughts slowed down. Nobody wakes up in the morning and actually wants to be psychotic. Treating a person as such is hurtful, invalidating, discriminatory and offensive. As things are now, it can be – and usually is – an incredibly painful experience. People need support, not criticism.
    . Thus, though mental illnesses are largely labeled as such based on societal norms, they are biologically and genetically based, and can be painful. In this society, unmanaged and untreated, they keep us from being all we have the potential to be. They interfere with school, work, relationships, etc. The brain is “disordered”. They can even lead to suicide. One cannot, and does not deserve, to live in such a state of constant pain and struggle. It needs to be treated, and managed, just like any other field of science-based medicine. And that does not contradict what I just said, either. Even psychotherapy is evidence and science-based.
    . What one does from here is their choice. If they choose to use medication to manage their brain chemistry, then that is their choice. If they chose not to, then that is also their choice, and it needs to be respected as such.
    . Too often, it is not respected. When one goes off medication, it is almost always seen by mainstream psychiatry as a symptom of the disorder – not a choice to be supported and explored. Not taking medication, and managing well, does not mean that one’s case was/is less severe, or that they are “in denial” about their illness.
    . The pure form of the “medical model” – and I know there is variation, and this is the most strict form of it – says that the only way to manage symptoms, and/or control behavior, is with medications and other chemical means. This says “I can’t” because it tells people their behavior – not emotions, behavior – is out of their control, not their responsibility (if done in the midst of an episode), and the only proper response is to treat it with a dosage adjustment. This is simply false. Even if medication is used, it is not a magic bullet, and therapy, in almost all cases, NEEDS to be a component to learn to control behavior and respond to strong emotions and impulses. CBT, DBT, REBT, Psychoanalysis – a combination, perhaps.
    . Behaviors associated with Bipolar Disorder can be managed without medication. Even in cases labeled as severe, as mine was, it is possible. It is extremely difficult at times and, thus, is a personal choice. It won’t change what got you on drugs in the first place. It will all still be there; but it is possible, and I do not regret it for a moment. Even in the midst of some of the most severe, suicidal depressive episodes, or extremely, irritable manic ones, I’m glad I did it.

    . And, to re-quote what my original point was, and the actual gist of this post – which was not medical model vs other – is responsibility. This is my comment on that:

    “People need to know that, except in a very few cases, they can take control of their mental health, learn to manage their emotions and experiences, respond in healthy ways, raise their functioning and take greater responsibility for their life. Even if they have a relapse, and feel out of control of their emotions, they need to reach out and seek help, or make arrangements so that they can receive help if they cannot themselves seek it out. That is their responsibility, to themselves and to others. And, if they do hurt someone, it is their responsibility to make amends.”

    No matter what model you follow, I believe this to be fact. As, more than any other model, I believe in the recovery model. Are mental illnesses biologically based? Yes, they are. The illness, or whichever word you choose, is the emotions and experiences. Your behavior is a display of how well you are managing it. Having Bipolar Disorder, or such, does not excuse you of responsibility. It is your responsibility, as a consumer and patient, to manage it in whatever way you feel is best, and to prevent harm from coming to yourself or others. This was my first, and primary, point.


  2. To clarify one of my sentences: “The illness, or whichever word you choose, is the emotions and experiences.” This is not a statement of opinion as to if I believe it to be illness or not. Refer to my fourth “bulleted point”.

    anon – Yes, he is. Truly, I have no negative words to speak. He has helped me in more ways than one, and I consider him pushing me to try to wean off medication to be one of the best. I had to search for awhile, though. Everyone deserves the best care possible. Anything less should not be accepted.

  3. I’m sorry for those who have gotten messages from a psychiatrist or other medical professional that their illness would ultimately limit them. That is really too bad. But please keep in mind that that is not universally the case.

    My psychiatrists have made it clear that they believe I need to remain on medication. They definitely worked with me when I wanted to taper off, but I ultimately relapsed, so now I stick with what works for me. But never once, EVER, was I given any indication that I could not succeed. When I was ready to give up on myself and my capacity to thrive, my psychiatrist held that hope and confidence and repeatedly told me “you can do it.”

    Dixie makes a lot of valid points. There’s a lot we don’t know about the brain, but there’s also a lot we do know. Anxiety and depression are bad for the brain. Medical treatment for mental illness is not tantamount to telling someone to give up! It’s about getting them back to where they can go about the business of living. If yoga and other aspects of your life get the job done for you, that is good. But those of us who also need psychiatrists aren’t all being fed hopelessness or sold short. I promise. There are some very fine professionals out there. And if you get one who doesn’t believe in you, move along till you find a better one.

  4. Martina –
    I am glad that you have found a treatment plan that works.

    I do want to make something clear, however. In no way do I claim, nor think, that yoga or such will cure my symptoms. They are still there, and essentially, just as severe. The depressions, the mixed states, the psychosis has come back a few times. In fact, I am just not coming out of one of the worst suicidal depressive episodes I have ever experienced. Which is why I do suggest caution to anyone who wants to work on tapering off. It is hard, expect your symptoms to return and have a support group in place. I still see my psychiatrist, every week – just not for medication, for therapy.

    I also do not reject or deny the research into the brain and how the one diagnosed with mental illness. Once again, I have a subscription to Biological Psychiatry (medical journal) and keep up with the latest research. Once again, refer to points four through six on my previous comment.

    My pain point in posting here was originally to discuss responsibility. I stand by my statements, especially in relation to that. I also don’t think that the medical model, just to note, is incompatible with saying that people are responsible for their actions and behavior – episode or note. Once again, I would feel the same way for a person with blood glucose disorders.


  5. I would agree that the diagnosis does not absolve people of responsibility for their actions. The only caveat to that, I would make, would be if someone was legally incompetent to make decisions. With freedom comes responsibility. People can’t have one without the other.

    In fact, I would argue that psychiatrists expect patients to take responsibililty for their actions. No matter how ill, they still expect patients to pay their bills, show up on time, and call 24 hrs in advance to cancel an appointment. Even in the psych ward they expect patients to take responsbility for their actions – try and lie in bed when it’s time for group. They tend to get really angry about that. It’s not a mean thing to hold people responsible for their behavior. Enabling people can cripple them.

  6. Typo Corrections

    *just now coming out of one of the worst
    *and how the one diagnosed with mental illness works
    *My main point in posting here
    *or their actions and behavior – episode or not.

    Joe –
    Though we may disagree on a few key points, I do think this conversation was and is important – all of it, from responsibility to things like the medical model (vs other models, such as the recovery model) – to have. The mental health community is extraordinarily varied in its views and approaches, all have some evidence or the other supporting it and all are valid to a certain extent. I think that, in consideration to how this conversation has gone in other situations, this was a success. There was none, or very little, venom, zealotism, and attacking. I think, if we can agree on something, is that we all handled ourselves fairly diplomatically in the face of a subject that is highly emotionally charged.

    Once again, if anyone wants clarification to my view points and opinions, I direct you to the comment I posted at “3:44 pm on May 6th, 2011”. I feel as if I have repeated myself a few times, and/or been misinterpreted. I think things were clearly stated in that comment and, looking back on them just now, there is nothing I wish to recant.

    If anyone would like to ever debate this in further detail, on a more personal level, I am posting my e-mail: [email protected]

    Before responding, however, please read at least that one comment. It highlights my view points, and leaves little room for misinterpretation.


  7. anon –
    “I would agree that the diagnosis does not absolve people of responsibility for their actions. The only caveat to that, I would make, would be if someone was legally incompetent to make decisions. With freedom comes responsibility. People can’t have one without the other.”

    Agreed. This is the situation where I make the exception.

    I agree with your second paragraph, as well.

  8. Martina, thank you for your comments & I’m so glad you have good medical personnel who listen to you. That’s a huge plus in facing this brain disorder.
    Erika, First of all, congratulations on working toward medical school! What a difficult but rewarding route! I applaud your high goals.
    Much of what you quote in your last post links to things I’ve read.
    “The Eye of the Beholder” is a great comparison. I love the Twilight Zone & yes, what we see as beautiful/acceptable is a product of our societal norms.
    My father was of Irish & Scottish descent on his mother’s side & African-American/Cherokee/Scots on his Dad’s side. He was “into” alternate visions. So when I went psychotic at 18, he insisted that it was a spiritual experience. He’d always called me a “contrary” as I’d frequently gone the opposite direction compared with societal norms.
    But I was suffering terribly and as you say, we deserve to have our suffering alleviated in whatever way works for us.

    You have obviously experienced people putting you down for not going along with “the medical model” (a term I had never heard until reading this thread). But I’ve experienced the opposite: people putting me (& friends with brain disorders) down for using medications.

    Either way is unfair. There should be agreement that we are all trying to get to a place where we are able to function in whatever role we choose, to reach our goals, to be independent (as possible) & to find happiness.

    So I am highly sensitized when people preach that medications are not the way to go. I’ve heard that over & over from Scientologists, from people who are convinced that Yoga or a low gluten diet can heal this condition (whether we call it a brain disorder, disease or condition is irrelevant–it’s a difference.)
    I apologize for being so strong-spoken towards medications. I tried for decades (age 18-46) to not take medications, to find other treatments, but to no avail. I have friends who had that same experience.

    You are right, there is no “magic bullet” for anything. I’ve known people who committed suicide who never used medications. And others who had been on meds who attempted suicide.

    Like I said b4, this is a complicated condition & we are all individuals who must be treated individually. If a medical professional is not listening to you, move on!

    It takes time & effort (& is frustrating) to find an MD or psych’ who is willing to work With you, not dictate methods to you. I am very fortunate to have found this type of medical personnel. None of them wanted to have me coming to them forever, they all had the goal that I find freedom & relief through whatever methods worked for me.

    Your statement (if I’m reading it right) that we are responsible for our behavior even during a manic or depressive episode seems far-fetched. I’ve been in such bad “fits” that I didn’t know the difference between a car & a dog. I know many people who have had the same experience in psychotic episodes, thinking a TV show was telling them to jump off a bridge.

    That’s dangerous & it worries me that anyone thinks we can rely on our judgement in times like that. There has to be a plan, with family/spouse involved, for such events.

    However, if you meant that we are responsible in that we must apologize after the fact, that makes more sense. However, I think that if our family members, spouses & friends know about this very real & serious brain disorder, they will come to understand those “fits” (for lack of a better word) & we don’t need to apologize over & over & over again. That’s sort of like expecting a person in a wheelchair to apologize over & over for needing an elevator rather than trying to go up stairs.

    When I said manic-depression is a physical disease of the brain, I was responding to this in one of your posts: “She (Venus)may not believe it to be a disease (and, just to note, I have a recent medical dictionary that uses a mental illness – PTSD – as an example of something that makes someone ill/is an illness; but is not a disease)”

    And you seem to be taking personally something I meant about everyone on this message board (that we are talking in circles). That wasn’t directed at you. But I know how sensitive we all are, we who have “different” brains. So it’s understandable that you might have taken that to heart.

    re: societal views as to what is mental illness–I have, all along here, been speaking up against that stigma.
    Everything you say (biological, societal, environmental effects on the brain) is true & right out of medical journals. Glad you can elucidate it so clearly. Many people with this disorder fail to read/study. It is difficult when in the midst of a depression or mania b/c the words literally turn indecipherable at those bad times. So it’s very important to get as much information as we can when we are in lucid periods.

    Yikes, why do you assume that I or anyone else here would confuse the issue—think you were being homophobic? Not a chance. I am part of a community of poets, musicians, theater people. There are more gay people per square inch in those communities than most others. So nobody is taking you wrong, I hope.

    But if you are just trying to make a comparison of how society sees one group of people as “wrong” then that does make sense.

    Maybe I am mis-reading here but are you saying that a person who hears voices telling them to jump off a bridge is not mentally ill as long as they have a good GAF score (according to the DSMV?) I would totally disagree in that case. If anyone is hearing voices or is tempted to jump off a bridge or commit suicide in any way, that is a serious bout of mental illness & needs prompt attention & intervention.

    In that case, the DSMV is completely wrong. I apologize if I’m reading you incorrectly, I was up late at my husband’s play/after party.

    You are right, ADHD was probably useful in neolithic cultures, for hunting, for being super alert in case predators were coming. People with manic edges are often far more sensitive & artistic. So that part of it can be good.

    But we can all agree that the really horrible times, when we are so depressive that we cannot function or when we are in such manic states that we don’t sleep for weeks (see Charlie Sheen) & babble utter nonsense, to harm ourselves—there has to be some form of intervention & treatment.

    Whatever form that takes, whatever works for the individual, I am for it.

  9. i have this diagnosis.
    my sister has this diagnosis.
    i take medication.
    my sister does not.
    guess who’s experienced more manic-to-depressive cycles?
    my poor sister.
    so it irks me to hear people with this illness or without this illness knock medication.
    it’s letting me get back to being myself.
    unfortunately, this includes a frontrow seat to seeing my family suffer as we watch my sister suffer the reprecussions of “I’m choosing not to be manic anymore.”
    it’s round 6, in just as many years
    Yup, soooo fun.

  10. Eliza, am very glad you have found a good route for treatment. And I hope & pray that your sister will allow herself the benefits of medication, since nothing else has worked for her. There is nothing at all wrong with seeking professional care. I wish more people could realize that. Best wishes to you!

  11. Dixie –
    Thank you. It truly will be a great victory for me. It allow me to turn all of these experiences – good, bad, neutral and horrible – into something that will hopefully help people. I remember that, while I was in the hospital, one of the biggest complaints I heard from other patients is that they didn’t feel listened to, or that their doctors invalidated them in some way (either that be the symptoms themselves, complaints about side effects, etc). Hopefully, I can change that for at least a few people.

    The Twilight Zone is one of my favorite shows of all time. My psychiatrist was actually the one to introduce it to me. The political, social and philosophical ideas it brings up are timeless.

    My father had similar ideas. He told me I was psychic, and more “in tune” with the spiritual world. It was a terrifying thought to me. It seemed so real – and, for awhile, I thought it was – and was scary enough already. The idea that it may actually was reality (by the time I told anyone, I intellectually realized it was irrational – not emotionally, though) was the worst thought in the world.

    I think we have had similar experiences, in respect to other people – just from different ends of the spectrum. I agree, we’re all just trying to survive. Everyone is, not just those with Bipolar Disorder; but we do have more struggles to face. Our defensiveness comes from a genuine place of trauma, pain and at times awful past experiences. I have had people verbally attack me for going off medication. On one site, I posted these opinions and that I was tapering off. A few weeks later, one member sent me a message, in a very bitter and unsympathetic tone, and said “Are you still lucid? I doubt it.”

    Going off of medication was one of the most difficult things I have done. As I stated previously, I am just now coming out of one of the most severely suicidal depressive episodes I have ever experienced (it was a huge step for me to be able to go through that, and not have it significantly impact functioning – barely at all). I am glad that I went off medication; but I am also glad that I was on them initially, as it gave me time to heal from a complete breakdown, and learn the tools I have now. I am lucky to have the support of my psychiatrist and family. If they all shared the same views as that one poster, I would have given up.

    I also believe that, and I think this is something everyone can agree on, is that, when someone does opt to use medication, it should be the lowest possible dosage to maintain stability. I have met psychiatrist who go by the “highest possible dosage without killing the patient.”

    Finding my current psychiatrist took years, and a lot of trial and error with other professionals that just did not work out. Truly, I have no ill words to say of him. He has carried me through some of my darkest periods. I know he wishes there was more he could do to help some of his patients; but, his impact has been huge on my life. Having the right ‘fit’ for a treatment provider can make all the difference.

    In terms of responsibility, I did mention in a few previous posts that I do exclude untreated and undiagnosed severe psychosis where the person lacks insight (and/or when they have been ruled mentally incompetent). Once a person has been diagnosed and treated, however, I quote this point:

    “People need to know that, except in a very few cases, they can take control of their mental health, learn to manage their emotions and experiences, respond in healthy ways, raise their functioning and take greater responsibility for their life. Even if they have a relapse, and feel out of control of their emotions, they need to reach out and seek help, or make arrangements so that they can receive help if they cannot themselves seek it out. That is their responsibility, to themselves and to others. And, if they do hurt someone, it is their responsibility to make amends.”

    In other words, once someone is aware and has a period of wellness, it is their responsibility to ensure they seek treatment if it occurs again, or make arrangements so treatment can be given if they can no longer seek it out (Psychiatric Advanced Directives are recommended in that situation, for example). It is that person’s responsibility, as a patient and consumer, to ensure that their symptoms cause as little harm to those around them as possible. If they know, ahead of time, that they will lose insight in the midst of psychosis, it is their responsibility to plan for that. (From what I am reading, I think we are in agreement with that?)

    In cases where insight and/or competence is not lost, I do believe it is the person’s responsibility to learn coping tools to manage the strong emotional states and impulses that accompany the disorder. For example, I am mildly hypo-manic at the moment, which often leads to increased irritability. It is my responsibility to, if I feel I am about to snap at someone, to use a coping tool to calm myself, walk away or reach out for help. If I do snap, it is then my responsibility to apologize, make amends and try to think of ways to prevent it from happening again. Though hypo-mania is mild, I use this same standard for mania, mixed states and depression.

    I mentioned the definition from the medical dictionary (Taber’s, just in case anyone was wondering) just to show that she is certainly not alone in that thinking and that, medicine as a whole, still does not completely accept mental illnesses as physical. This could be debated as a good or bad thing, right or wrong; but it is what it is.

    I knew that you were not speaking directly to me, and I apologize if it came off as snappy. That was in no way my intention. I did see a point in what you were saying, however, and saw it as a good time to clarify my points and opinions. It was actually a good exercise, both so I could clarify it for others and to myself.

    Informed consent is so important. To make it, you need to do the research. I agree.

    I didn’t personally think that anyone would confuse the issue. I just didn’t want anyone to take what I was saying as homophobic, as that is *so* far from the truth (I myself am actually bisexual, and come from a large family of gays, lesbians, etc). I hope nobody is taking me wrong, too; but I have seen it happen. I wanted to make sure nobody took that wrong way, and ended up offended or hurt as a result.

    What I said about the DSM-IV, and DSM-5, is true. To be diagnosed as mentally ill, your functioning has to be impaired. The actual wording is, “B. Social/occupational dysfunction: For a significant portion of the time since the onset of the disturbance, one or more major areas of functioning such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care are markedly below the level achieved prior to the onset (or when the onset is in childhood or adolescence, failure to achieve expected level of interpersonal, academic, or occupational achievement).” You may disagree with it, and it can be debated that someone experiencing such symptoms needs to be evaluated; but that does not change the fact of the matter. Of course, most people who hear such voices do have disturbance of functioning; however, if there is none, they technically cannot be diagnosed. is the site for the current DSM-5 draft, and it has both the draft and DSM-IV criteria for the disorder.

    Yes, that is something that I hope we can all agree on. If someone is in pain, and struggling, they need to be validated, supported and need to receive treatment. If treatment is yoga and meditation, so be it. If it is medication, so be it. Everyone deserves to be safe and whole.

    eliza –
    None of the people here spoke as those who do not suffer. All of the posters here, from any side, have had personal or close (as, with a family member) experience with it. None of us are speaking blindly. And, yes, those off medical will cycle more. I certainly do, now that I am off it. It wasn’t decreasing symptoms that most mattered to me. It was coping and functioning.

    And I am sorry for your family’s suffering. Truly. I *do* understand.

  12. For those who can ‘cope’ with being bipolar, or who can basically ‘control it through medication’, I am genuinely happy for you. A lot of the comments I’ve read here I cannot even identify with. I use both medical and cognitive therapy, which is helpful during those relatively stable times. But when an episode starts neither medication or any other therapy works for me….for when I am in the throes of an episode I am not thinking clearly and the therapy is useless as it eludes me. The meds keep me from doing harm during these episodes and I take them religiously.
    But in the end, I just let myself go, as it is sometimes best to go with the flow than try to swim against the tide. What I learned that has helped me the most, is the knowledge that I know it will pass. There is a light at the end of the tunnel even if I cannot yet see it. People do not understand this disease – even when they see the disease they are still in dis-ease. Just as I cannot possibly know what it’s like to have cancer, no one can possibly know what it’s like to be bipolar. No blame should be put on anyone, it is more a matter of acceptance of what is.

  13. Erika, best to you in your medical studies! Thank you for all the information from the DSMV.
    from Erika: “To be diagnosed as mentally ill, your functioning has to be impaired.”
    My function has been so significantly impaired that I am no longer able to work. However, I worked for a paycheck from age 15-53. So that’s pretty good for someone who has a serious brain dysfunction. My case is complex in that I suffered brain damage at birth. A tumor on my fontanel was treated with radium-tipped needles. Those caused convulsions & 106 deg. fevers. My fontanel never completely healed, so there’s a dent in my head! I’ve met New Age believers who think that means I have a direct line to the Divine.
    Obviously, my brain was damaged from birth. I have had life-long seizures. 3 TBIs (2 car wrecks–in one I was a passenger, one my wheel came off as I was driving down an icy mountain road; one, at my nephew’s graduation party a kid “moshed” into my head, hitting it so hard my ear slammed into my shoulder. I was blind in my left eye for 6 weeks & couldn’t use my left arm for 6 weeks. I walked like a drunken sailor, so off balance. That’s when the neurologist demanded I quit working. I tried hard to keep working, I was so self-identified w/my job. But am doing much much better retired. Financially, it’s difficult. But mentally, I am much better than I’d been my whole life.
    Like Diane, I take my meds religiously. Every job I ever had, after age 18, I’d start hearing voices saying things like “Dixie is no good. She can’t do her job.” I’d quit that job & get another one the next day (I had excellent skills. Typed 100 wpm etc.) But the voices would follow me. Often, I’d run into former coworkers/supervisors who would say “We miss you so much! You were our favorite (coworker/worker)” And I’d be confused b/c the voices, which I thought were my supervisor/coworkers had been saying what a loser I was. So that stymied my work progress. I did work hard & was often offered promotions (which I turned down, not wanting the extra stress).
    We are all affected by this disorder in different ways. Some people thrive in work environments. Others do not. Some love groups, others prefer to be alone much of the time. So treatments have to be tailored to the individual. I hope that all can find a place of peace

  14. I have had Bi-polar (diagnosed for 10 years) i feel robbed of some of my best years (43 now) however my new medication Seroquel XL makes me feel almost “normal” . I put much of this normality down to reasonable sporting abiltity.However i believe what is most important is the individuals determination and character. Necessity is the mother of invention and to get through the last year has meant some unusual ways of coping with my parlous financial situation. I now have almost completed my recovery as i now know that given my “disability” or wheelchair bound disabilty. Mine pales into insignificance compared to the latter.Finally i know that our innate intelligence/creativity coupled with a proper analysis of some of our “manic” thoughts will one day prove successful. For those who have started the “Bi-polar” journey i pray you live to tell your story.

  15. I have two siblings with bipolar disorder. One assumes responsibility for her actions, tracks her manias and depressions, asks for help and accommodation when needed, and generally manages her disease as an adult, not letting it be an excuse for her actions. Does it take over sometimes and cause situations that affect the rest of the family? Yes. Do I resent those manifestations or blame her then? No.

    My brother, on the other hand, justifies all of his actions, refuses to admit to his bipolar, lashes out, attempts half hearted suicide when he doesn’t get his way, abuses people, manipulates people, and takes zero responsibility for his actions. Are some of these things caused by the disease? Probably. Do I resent him? Absolutely. By refusing to make any attempts at recognizing and managing his condition he takes upon himself much more responsibility than he would otherwise have to, because it’s harder to tell where the disease ends and the spoiled, entitled man-child begins (my mother did–and does–coddle him much more than she did my sister or I). To blame EVERYTHING on the disease is an insult to those who DO attempt to manage it and take responsibility for what they can. Having a mental health issue does not give someone a free pass to blame everything on the disease. There is a line in there, and ignoring it, as has been done with my brother, only enables it and adds fuel to the flame.

  16. This article and the one entitled “insensitive jerk or irresponsible oaf” are wonderful. I wish I would have read them several years ago.

    I’d like to point out the dangers of staying with a bipolar person with the hope that nobody has to go through anything similar to my experiences. We are going through horrible divorce proceedings now. My bipolar wife called the police on me 32 times — yes, that is thirty two times during our 7-year marriage. Each story she tells contradicts her previous stories. It is apparently no longer a crime for women to make false accusations. As long as she does not appear suicidal or intending to hurt another, the police leave and there is nothing you can do to protect yourself from her when they do. One officer explained it this way, “we don’t want any woman to be afraid to make the next emergency call.” That is a quote … I learned to record police visits for my safety.

    I’ve tried to get our 6yo deaf son out of house many times when she escalated, which led to her punching and kicking me, and spitting on me, and then her call to the police claiming abuse by me. The police will not arrest a woman or let you leave with your child if she is able to present herself as “calm” (whatever that means) or casts blame onto the husband. You should be very concerned about what awaits you after the police leave.

    I learned the word “anosognasia” because of her bipolar, which essentially means everything and everyone is considered less than her need to hide her illness. If your bipolar spouse calls the police … just one time … don’t be a hero. Get out! You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help and you can’t help your children if you’re in jail.

    If your wife has bipolar, there is a proclivity to believe the man is the aggressor that you cannot fight. Your entire relationship will shift in bad ways with one call to the police, especially after she learns there is no risk to her for making a false accusation. If she swings at you, you cannot block the aggression. Any bruise from blocking her attack will be attributed to you as the aggressor. The legal system then presents a gauntlet that you must run that only makes lawyers wealthy. The single, number one funding line item in most police departments is domestic violence … which is presumed to be an act by men against women. The police are financially motivated to consider men as collateral damage to maintain that funding. Their documentation will exclude and distort the “he said” from the “he said, she said.” There are no men’s shelters to protect you and you will harshly judged and criticized by even your best of friends no matter what you do. You will either be insensitive or irresponsible. I was “lucky” to have escaped and get custody of our son, but at what price?

    In fairness, I do not wish to claim this is a one-way street. My goal was to tell the side of the story that is being pushed under the rug. So, if your husband is bipolar and becomes aggressive, you are in imminent danger. Get out. Men who beat their wives are scum or in need of serious help.

    Either way, get out and stay away, especially when the diagnosis or the illness is rejected by the bipolar person. They will make you pay for telling others. Your life, your freedom, and your well being are all secondary to hiding their condition. So, unless you have super-hero powers, don’t try to be a hero.

    • Hi, David–

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights. I’m sorry that you and your family are having to live through this nightmare. Bipolar disorder leaves many victims in its wake. I do feel responsible, however, to cushion your words by pointing out that everyone’s situation is different and divorce isn’t always the only or even the best option.

      I’ve experienced some of what you describe, perhaps to a lesser degree. My family has been very fortunate. Medications have worked and continue to work, and my wife is very good about taking them and managing the illness. I can honestly describe our marriage as happy.

      I know it’s difficult or maybe impossible to do right now, but please try to understand that your wife is suffering. “Anosognosia” means the person is unaware of or in denial that she has a problem. One of the worst things about bipolar disorder is that one of its possible symptoms is that the person is unable to realize that she’s ill. She rejects the diagnosis and refuses treatment. Moreover, as you point out, the system can be very opposed to helping people who refuse help.

      I know how maddening it is to have your hands tied and feel totally powerless to do anything to improve the situation. I hope you’re getting the help and support you need to deal with it. One of the huge gaps in treatment is in educating family members. NAMI’s Family-to-Family course is a great effort at plugging that gap. I’m wishing you and your family all the best.

  17. I agree with venus. Its nice to hear someone nowadays take responsibility for their condition and actions whatever they may be. My sister has been diagnosed with BP and treats my mom worse than a dog. Of course when she realizes she needs something from her she has enough self control to stop this behavior until she gets it. Everything negative that happens in her life is someone elses fault. She won’t stay on her meds for very long which do seem to help. You have to play the hand you are dealt in life. And whether you like it or no you are responsible for finding a way around whatever obsticles present themselves. Its just like alcoholism which has been another one of her problems for the last ten years. When its obvious to you that you have a drinking problem its up to you to figure out a way to avoid putting it into your body. Its ok to call it a disease or a disorder but it IS a condition that you can do something about. You don’t get to throw your hands up and call it a disease that you have no control over and you don’t get a free pass beacuse of your disease to treat people however you see fit.

  18. I have been with my girlfriend for 8 years. Everything I do is wrong and get blamed for I walk on egg shells .she has stolen from me and my room ate .punched me broke my toes. Achaea me off all kinda stuff and . Been on meds for bipolar for at least 20 years. And can’t see any wrong in herself . All in me I am the only one who works she uses drugs illegal. I can’t help her I have tried . And always blame the aisles attempt on me .yet I always am there to save her life . I have seeker out consoling for myself because I am at my wits in .I love her dearly but really don’t think she cares if I live are die when I was put in hospital I drove myself because she was to tired mine u she does not work. And when in hospital she helped everyone else but me what’s wrong with me

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