Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is It Bipolar?

"Jane" writes: "My husband thinks he is bipolar. ... We can be fine for days at a time but then he gets upset over the smallest things. He always accuses me of flirting with other people that I'm friends with. ..."

Says "Jill": "My husband was diagnosed (kinda) with bipolar about two months ago. ... I'm not sure if he is just a control freak or if he truly has bipolar. Most of the time when he has an episode it is over something stupid. For example, one time I stayed at Walgreens too long. He put all my things in the yard, kicked me and his three children out of our home. ... Right now, he will not let me sleep in the bed (says it is his cuz he bought it before we got married) or use the computer ... "

"Sally" asks: "Do all bipolar people lie or is it just my husband? He will lie about anything, even trivial stuff. He told his work mates his father had died, not for sympathy. He didn't know why he had said it."

"Sue" wonders: "I have been dating my boyfriend for well over a year now and he has been struggling with bipolar and a heroin addiction. ... He is in denial and thinks that everyone is is crazy and he is the only sane one."

I come across many questions like this as an "expert patient" on HealthCentral's BipolarConnect. I'm not God. I'm not all-knowing. I cannot make problems go away. But I can address in a general way the numerous issues these questions raise:

First, abuse is abuse, whether bipolar-related or not. Bottom line: Whether a person chooses to break off the relationship or try to save it, no one should have to put up with abuse.

But is it bipolar? That seems to be the real question. It's as if these women are wanting me to reply in the affirmative. Please, I'm hearing, let it be bipolar. Let that be the cause. Finding a cause, of course, implies a solution.

If only life were so simple. Needless to say, the behaviors these women describe are not exclusive to people with bipolar. True, bipolar may be a contributing factor, but the real culprit may lie deeply embedded in the individual's personality.

It seems as more and more people are being educated about bipolar, the more willing they are to finger bipolar as the primary suspect for all manner of human failings. Cheating, stalking, anger, violence, verbal abuse, drinking, gambling, sexual promiscuity, fraud, unwillingness to communicate. Again, yes, bipolar may be a contributing factor, but these behaviors and others are endemic in society, independent of bipolar.

Loved ones, of course, need to ask these questions. So do those with a diagnosis, as well as those wondering if they are candidates for a diagnosis. Human behavior is very confusing. We want to know why things are happening, why our lives are going so badly. Then maybe we can change our behavior, or help change the behavior of those we love. Then maybe we can get our lives back in order.

Is it bipolar? Keep asking. But also keep asking: Is it something else? Believe me, even if bipolar is an answer, there is always going to be something else.


Anonymous said...

This growing use of Bipolar disorder as a vast catch-all excuse for every kind of bad, vicious and deceptive behaviour is very worrying. Misappropriation of the name does all genuine sufferers severe disservice. Understanding of the condition is diminished and stigma is paradoxically increased. Having known several others, both a friend and relatives as well as my own experience, and researched the condition, I can safely insist that bad behaviour is not the essential identifier of manic depression. After 20 years with undiagnosed bipolar, and when first commencing treatment with a stabiliser I finally discovered how much self control and will power I had exerted to control my irritability and despair, even some of my more hypomanic urges over these years. Yes, I have said and done things that I regret deeply. But I have, by and large, behaved with principles and consideration for others, sometimes even when a storm of anguish, tension and irritability was raging inside me. One of Lithium's great gifts to me is the realisation that much of my terrible feelings and some of my bad actions lacked any significant subjective moral guilt. But, like everyone, even if we are in the depths or flying high, there is often some kind of choice left to us in regard to our actions unless we are severely delusional or psychotic.
It seems to me that ultimately one must always remember that manic depression is a condition of severe mood experiences, not momentary ups and downs or bad behaviour. Yes paranoid or vicious behaviour can be a symptom of the mood problem, or it could just be bad character. One site out on the web pontificates that manic depressives are always liars. Whether by temperament or upbringing, I am a very truthful person. We could all list countless others, those famous ones like Van Gough, or ones personally known to us who were not given to lying even when unwell.
The Manic Depressive condition can make life grindingly hard and in the midst of our solitary battles, we may let fly with harsh words or hurtful actions. But let is not be painted simply as bad people who have no interest in self control and respect for others.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. Bravo!