I mentioned what remission means for a mental illness in a clinical setting: reduction in specific, empirical symptoms by a given amount. In other words, you are given a depression “score” and remission means reducing that score by a given number.
But does that number mean anything at all to the patient in question? If you achieved it, are you “better”? If you suffer from mental illness, what does remission really mean?
A Cure for Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a life-long illness and no one in the medical community is suggesting bipolar can be “cured”. The best that can be hoped for is a suppression of symptoms through treatment. In the best case scenario, the person with bipolar disorder would take medication, attend therapy, build relationships, get a job, be happy and live one of those normal lives everyone seems to talk about.
How Often Does That Happen?
Well, I can’t say. In my experience, almost never, but that’s probably because I only hear from people who are experiencing difficulties. Those who don’t struggle as much probably aren’t reaching out to bipolar writers.
What Does Remission Mean?
Every person with bipolar disorder, or any mental disorder, is different. Some have more mania, some have more depression, some self-harm, some have anxiety, some can’t hold down a job, some are homeless. All of these people have “bipolar disorder,” but in every case it manifests differently.
And not only does it manifest differently, but an individual’s tolerance to each symptom is different. Some people have hypomanias that are euphoric and not problematic; some have anxiety but control it through meditation; some have a history of self-harm but have found a support group that helps suppress that behavior. And in other cases, mania, anxiety, or self-harm is completely unacceptable.
In each case, bipolar remission means something different. For a homeless person without a job, remission may be the ability to hold down a job and pay rent. For someone else, it might be having stable relationships and a happy home life with a wife and children. And for some it might be enjoying their previous hobbies and interests. We all have different goals and different levels of illness that we are willing to accept.
What is Remission for My Bipolar Disorder?
Personally, I never think of bipolar remission; all I think of are levels of symptoms. I never get to the place where I can just say, yes, my bipolar disorder is under control. I never get to the place where I don’t have fairly bothersome symptoms, side-effects and cycles. All I think about are temporary periods of stability. Times when I’m feeling OK. I’ve come to accept that these times will never be great and likely won’t last long. But that is my experience and certainly not everyone’s.
So Should Bipolars Try to Achieve Remission?
Yes, I think most of us will have to accept that bipolar disorder will never really go away, but I think striving for an acceptable level of treatment is important. I see people give up when their symptoms have only improved 20% and they are still much debilitated. This shouldn’t be enough for your doctor and this shouldn’t be enough for you. You deserve better and you should aim higher. Remaining sad for the rest of your life is not good enough.
Yes, accept that your life will likely never be what it was before bipolar disorder, but also know that with bipolar treatment you can do better. Call it remission, assign it a number or don’t. It’s better than being sick.
Check out Natasha Tracy’s book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar and connect with her on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.