Mind Matters ó Living with Bipolar Disorder

I remember my motherís stories of her sisterís tirades and how my mother seemed to fear I would morph into my deceased aunt every time I got into a Sarah Bernhardt moment as a nine-year-old. When I reflected on my motherís fearful memories of her sisterís moods and erratic behaviors after I became a psychologist, I decided perhaps, as did several of my cousins who heard similar stories from their parents, that my aunt, though brilliant, was also bipolar. Bipolar disorder was formerly called manic depression. No matter its name, a person with this mental condition suffers mood swings between depression and states of high anxiety.

However, bipolar individuals do not necessarily display the stereotypical awake-for-nights-on-end activity of the manic artist. In fact, persons with bipolar disorder in the manic, or less extreme hypo-manic state, may be fun, interesting, and full of energy. Yet, the flip side of the coin is depression, irritability, moodiness, and lethargy.

The International Bipolar Foundation lists some signs that might indicate the possibility of bipolar disorder: Does the individual experience racing thoughts? I describe this also as a feeling of a mind in chaos. Is the person easily distracted, lacking concentration? Is there a sense of exaggerated optimism and self-confidence, so that one may appear to have a grandiose or inflated belief about his or her abilities? Is there impulsive or reckless behavior? Poor decision making? Excessive spending? Irresponsible driving? Sexual promiscuity?

Both young people and adults with bipolar disorder may not know how to understand other peopleís moods and behavior and so feel disconnected. Their disconnection precipitates further withdrawal from social interaction.

The corollary to not being able to understand anotherís behavior is to create safety by learning how to control others. The International Bipolar Foundation notes how such control can become manipulative of others. My hunch is that my mother experienced control and manipulation by her sister. How might it have been different for both of them if my aunt had had the twenty-first century medications and psychotherapy to help her manage her illness and allow her to live a more fulfilling life?

For further information about bipolar disorder, for yourself or another, see: