“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet Act II Scene II, written by William Shakespeare. Or Sir Francis Bacon depending on which theory you subscribe to. In the play the point is made that it doesn’t matter what he is called, or which house he is from, Romeo is a man, and a man that Juliet loves.
So what’s in a name?
I’ve had a lot of thoughts lately concerning my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. There’s no question that I’ve had a lifetime of mental issues. A person isn’t hospitalized as many times as I have been unless there is some kind of problem. Many people have dealt with depression at some time or another, but it’s something I’ve struggled with at least 50% of my life. In a way, there are two states; Depressed, or not depressed. That’s not normal. That’s definitely a mental illness. But Bipolar?
I have to wonder.
Struggling with mental issues is one thing, being Bipolar is something else completely. In general terms there is a sympathy for people who are depressed. Those directly involved might be frustrated, feel helpless or just fed up, but by and large someone with depression is looked on as sad. But someone who is Bipolar? They are just crazy, and scare the hell out of people. The media is always reporting on some shooting spree or hostage situation attributed to a Bipolar person. I’m no threat to random victims. I’m not going to just ‘lose it’ someday and start shooting. There’s no question that I’m not like everybody else.
But I’m not crazy. Not like that.
Has what has been called mania really that far over the top? I get excited about things. Taking on a new job brings interesting challenges and opportunities. Who wouldn’t get excited about that? Sure, I have times of fury and rage. Call that anger management issues. I’ll accept the fact that I have obsessive / compulsive tendencies. But that isn’t Bipolar; none of it is.
Failed relationships? Sure I’ve had a few. Okay, maybe more than a few, but do those justify my diagnoses? I make poor choices, but I can explain each one. I was too young, I’m a rescuer, I’ve earned a trophy wife and I believed in something that wasn’t real. There are reasons behind each failure; why does that have to be blamed on a catastrophic illness?
I think therapy has made a huge difference in how I’m feeling. I’ve worked through a lot of issues and identified some root causes to explain my feelings and behaviors. I’ll freely admit that I’ve got personality traits and learned behaviors that are harmful. And with the help of my therapist I have learned to cope and changed behaviors.
I’ve taken all kinds of psychiatric medications over the last 40 years or so. And sometimes I would get better, and sometimes I would give up on them and try something else. How about this? Whatever I was being treated for just resolved itself over time and had nothing to do with any medication? I went 10 years without being on anything, felt fine, didn’t need therapy and certainly wasn’t hospitalized. I can’t attribute that to medications. And even when I am on medications, are they being helpful or just chemicals I’m taking? If you take 1,000 mg of Vitamin C every day, and your body doesn’t need that much, it just passes it right through and excretes it. You might be taking the Vitamin, but that doesn’t mean it’s changing anything. Maybe the medications I’m taking don’t have anything to do with my improvements. Just because I take medications indicated for the treatment of Bipolar Disorder doesn’t mean I really need them.
I think that doctors are too quick to throw out a diagnosis. Conditions and illnesses become almost a fad. How many kids are said to have ADHD these days? Why has there been such a proliferation in the last 10 years or so? Back in my day there might have been one or two kids in the entire school who were being treated for Hyperactivity (which is what we called it). And there weren’t a bunch of kids who were easily distracted to the point of being disruptive, so I don’t believe that there were just a lot of misdiagnosis. No, I just think that it’s hip to have ADHD and a good excuse for both the kids and their parents to explain a lack of discipline. Now, I am NOT suggesting that ADHD isn’t real, or that there aren’t legitimate treatments that are needed. It’s real. Bipolar Disorder seems to fall into the same popular category. I think that Doctors are diagnosing and treating this illness more and more. I’ve met people over the years in hospitals and support groups who have that diagnosis, and it appears that their issues are minor compared to mine. And if I’m not Bipolar, how could they be? The general public has latched on to the bandwagon too. Any eccentric behavior has now become an illness. Certain personality disorders such as Narcissism are dumped into the Bipolar bucket. Somebody is acting out of the ordinary? They are Bipolar.
What about the pharmaceutical industry? Could it be that they are encouraging doctors into making this diagnosis so they can sell more drugs? There are nationally distributed advertisements for Bipolar medications now! When did it become such a large problem that it has to be marketed to the masses? It’s a new market to sell to, and it creates reasons for Doctors to get in on the money.
But honestly; does it really matter?
Bipolar is a label, just like any other mental illness. There are reasons, good and bad, for using those labels, but if the treatment is successful why does it matter what you call it? Call me Bipolar. Or call me Disthymic, OCD or Anxiety disorder. Whatever the name my behavior has been abnormal; painful, miserable, hurtful of myself and others, and downright dangerous. Call it what you will, but having a different diagnosis would not have prevented me from being hospitalized. In fact, until about three years ago I was hospitalized…frequently… without being diagnosed as Bipolar. And face it; I’m feeling much better now, and whether or not the medications have anything to do with it, there’s no reason to stop. So why take the chance?
I think that it’s normal for someone who is Bipolar to question the need for treatment while they are feeling good. There are a lot of reasons why this could be so. I miss the highs that go along with Mania. I’m not nearly as creative or productive when my mood is level. It’s easy to forget just how bad depression feels. But ultimately, I think it’s the subconscious trying to restore the natural condition. The Brain is Bipolar, and it’s abnormal when it’s chemically changed. A person with curly hair might be able to straighten it with a flat iron, but the hair is still curly. And when it’s ‘untreated’, it goes back to the original state. As long as there’s the effort to produce a desired look the hair can be made straight. But as soon as you stop, it’s curly again.
And so it is with the Bipolar Brain.
Okay, I’ll admit. I go through the exercise periodically of trying to convince myself that I don’t have a mental illness. I want to find a reason to quit spending so much money on prescriptions and having to keep up with taking then and keeping them refilled. I think I came to terms with the ‘stigma’ a while ago, but I just want to be normal. So, I ignore the obvious and tell myself it was all a mistake. But let’s be real. I’m not really fooling myself or anyone else. I’m Bipolar, and always will be, treated or not.
No matter what you call it.