By Tom DiFrancesca III
Mental illness — those two words immediately render disturbing images in most people’s minds; images of hospital wards populated with “crazy” people, images of people doing strange things like talking to themselves (or to a nearby lamppost, etc.), or acting in an obsessive or compulsive manner.
Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic-depression) is a form of mental illness. It’s a disorder that needs to be taken seriously; by both the person that suffers from its sometimes debilitating effect, and by the friends and family members in that person’s life.
Some folks who have bipolar, have had it for years — and most people they know in their social circle never even have a clue.
Either the disorder is very weak, or the medication that the sufferer takes works great at treating the illness.
Another factor in the lack of awareness — that a person you know may have the disease and that you don’t know it — is they are very good actors. Lots of folks are quite able to pretend they are “OK” when they definitely are not. Some sufferers of the disease will explain their “illness” as being physical (i.e. headaches, the flu, etc.), just to throw folks off-track.
By the way, if you didn’t already know it, bipolar disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain — people don’t ask for, nor do they deserve that disease.
Left untreated, a person with bipolar will go from being very, very depressed (even suicidal) to becoming full of energy (practically bouncing off the walls). The cycle between each stage can take as long as a few months, to as short as a few hours. The cycle can also be very random and completely unpredictable.
Some folks have been known to be symptom free for months — or years — and then to have a major relapse.
Bipolar wreaks havoc on the sufferer’s life; the illness is devastating, insidious and unrelenting. The imbalance, in most cases — is not caused by drug or alcohol use (or abuse), and it does not play favorites. People from all walks of life suffer from this siege on the brain.
It’s not contagious either, so if you find out that a friend or loved one has bipolar, you don’t have to avoid them in an effort to avoid being “infected.”
Actually, if you are close to someone who suffers from “BPD,” you need to become better educated about the illness and about how to cope with that person’s moods and actions — and, to help those folks cope. Sometimes, it’s hard going at it alone.
Dealing with bipolar, on a day to day, and in many cases, a year-to-year basis, can be very fatiguing. Most sufferers of the illness try to lead normal lives, normal as in being productively employed, having a loving functional family, and just doing the things that all of the “normal” people do.
I’ve oftentimes heard people who suffer from “BPD” explain the disorder this way: It’s as if one is wrapped tightly in cellophane (both the body and the mind, that is). Being “wrapped” like that makes the sufferer feel like they have to work much, much harder at doing even the simple mundane things, much less, remaining employed, married, and financially stable — and let’s not forget the handling of an occasional crisis.
Someone who suffers from a mild to severe case of “BPD,” no matter how much medication they take, still suffers from some of the symptoms. An ironic twist is that the more medication needed to treat the disease, the more side effects the person suffers; side-effects such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, sexual dysfunction and sleeping disorders, to mention just a few.
My suggestion, go to www.google.com and type in “bipolar disorder.” First of all, you’ll be amazed to find more than 500,000 references to the illness. Secondly, go to some of the links and read up on the disease, because knowledge is power. Use that power to become more patient and tolerant of those you know who suffer from “BPD” — day in and day out.
I have suffered from bipolar for more than 20 years now — today, I’m stepping out of the closet.
Tom DiFrancesca III is a freelance columnist and a resident of Clovis. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or www.trackertom.com