Valkyrie Kerry’s Bipolar Blog assists survivors and their carers on how to understand and manage bipolar disorder. As a result survivors and carers can cope better with the management of this illness. This is done by defining the symptoms and offering a personal insight into how to manage the illness whilst touching on related mental health issues.
How to understand and manage bipolar disorder 1
The purpose of this blog is to offer an incite into how to understand and manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I started writing this blog and found that it was reading like a medical journal, so I started again. You see I don’t want to do that! This is because I don’t want to walk the well-trodden road of describing a mood disorder medically. Yet, emotional instability defines bipolar illness. It is a person’s emotions roving from depression to elation and back again. At least that is what the books would have us believe. Unfortunately, bipolar is an illness that is not so clearly cut. Although it is a mood disorder and survivors do experience highs and lows, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Medically speaking, there are three main diagnoses; bipolar one, bipolar two and mixed episodes. Bipolar one affects 0.8 to 1.6% of the population and comprises the depressive episodes with episodes of full blown mania. 0.5% of the population experience bipolar two. The majority of their episodes are depressive, but they can experience periods of hypo-mania. Survivors with mixed episodes tend to swing or cycle between depression and hypo-mania. Moods change with greater rapidity than the latter two forms. This results in blurred lines between symptoms typical of one or the other extremes.
Here I go again, sounding like a medic. If you are reading this blog, then the chances are you have read and heard many medical opinions. I am not a doctor, so my experience of this illness is personal, direct and raw.
Life, for me, has been a long struggle with this illness. However, diagnosis did not occur until I was in my thirties. This is typical of many invisible disabilities. There is little point in reciting the medical textbooks on this subject. I want to give a more subjective interpretation of the illness, symptoms and day to day effects. So, I am going to give you my understanding of of what bipolar is.
The Nature of Bipolar
Bipolar, I believe, is the resulting condition of having advanced empathy. Empathy is the ability to perceive the world through the eyes of another person. I have found this to be a common trait among peers and throughout support groups. Empathy is a great tool for historians, writers and counselors. This skill enables an understanding of the mind and thought processes of another party. It is a skill instilled in school through the subjects of history and literature.
For some, however, empathy comes naturally. At school I excelled in those two subjects. I never struggled to interpret the ideas of fictional and historical characters. I could understand their motivation, their rationale and the cause of action or inaction. As such, walking in their shoes came easily to me.
Unfortunately, such an ability has a very cruel downside! Imagine that you are in a room with numerous people. You look around, and without too much effort you can pick up everyone’s social situations. As a result you sense their problems and you feel their pain. Therein lies the problem that, in my opinion, underlies bipolar illness.
Trigger Warnings and Sensitivity: how to understand and manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder
In chat groups bipolar survivors often issue a trigger warning when discussing painful situations. The trigger warning effectively tells other participants that the matters being discussed may result in an emotional response that will trigger symptoms. In real life situations there are no trigger warnings. To a bipolar survivor friends and family go through life with their heart firmly on their sleeve, and their moods are instantly picked up by the overzealous antenna of the bipolar mind.
Sensitivity can be so intense that those with bipolar empathy can predict the thoughts and behavior of others. This too can be extremely hurtful and devastating.
Bipolar survivors are their own harshest critics. They can attune to events in the past, sometimes through a trigger, and can identify how their own behaviors or words caused hurt to others. In turn they may not only feel the suffering, but dwell on this hurt and overthink the matter. Human beings are not perfect, disagreements do occur. Survivors can and will relive these experiences often alternating between either side of the problem and feeling the hurt of both.
Generally-speaking, these triggers result in the depressive or ‘South’ pole. The ‘North’ pole is quite a unique place to be, it is the realm of possibilities.
Bipolar survivors can be extremely charming and charismatic, buoyant and full of life. This is the ‘North’ or manic state emerging, the North pole knows no bounds. Everything is possible, nothing is beyond their reach.
This is the paradox of the illness; the North pole can party happily without the disturbance of empathy. Sometimes this occurs with little awareness of the impact of their own actions. The impact comes later, when the South pole re-emerges, and the experience is re-lived. This illness, therefore, creates a cycle of its own with the North pole often triggering the South pole. When the North pole appears due to an excess of energy and string of ideas and plans.
One of the medically notable symptoms indicative of bipolar is the appearance of unfinished projects. The North pole suddenly decides he or she is an artist, a carpenter or an engineer. Instantly a number of items are bought for the impending project and the North pole starts to put the project together. It cannot wait! This goes on in a haphazard way, remember the North pole will be engaged in numerous other grand schemes. This is until the South pole comes out. Projects are abandoned due to a complete drain of energy and the onset of depressive fatigue.
This can be extremely frustrating for the partner of the survivor as. On appearance, it seems that nothing ever gets done. However, this also provides carers, friends and family with a visible, tangible symptom to be recognized.
Bipolar: A Summary
So, what is bipolar? Bipolar is a Mobius-Continuum of energy, a twisting roller-coaster flipping between elation and sorrow, fueled by excessive empathy and raw energy. Bipolar manifests as two people occupying one body, only it is more like two very different sides of the same person. There is a struggle between those two characters, at times the struggle blurs, at times there are periods of stability and peace. This is emotionally painful and draining and at times fruitful and driven.
In future blogs I will talk about individual symptoms and will use anecdotes to demonstrate the reality of those symptoms. This will assist in guiding you on how to understand and manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I ask that you, the reader, remember two facts; the symptoms often blur, and the survivor is very vulnerable struggling between short-sighted recklessness and aggressive empathy. Remember, a new approach to understanding mental illness can transform your life.
The next few blog spots will focus on the symptoms of depression, and thereafter the symptoms of mania will be examined.