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What Does Remission Mean in Bipolar Disorder?

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.

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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?

Absolutely.

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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

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38 thoughts on “What Does Remission Mean in Bipolar Disorder?”

  1. i was diagnosed with this bp.disorder several years ago, i no longer see a psychatrist, due to sexual assault from my former one.i rely on god to help me when i get extreemly depressed and cant get out of bed.my general doctor prescribes intidepressants but they dont seem to help much. my family is so proud that i dont take 13 different medications now, i think i would rather suffer than to let them know how irealy feel.plus i dont want to let god down. or my family.i pray for strength and motivation every day to just get the most simple of tasks done.

  2. Heather,

    Medication decisions are always personal, and if you’re satisfied with the outcome now, then that’s all that matters.

    I do feel compelled to say a couple of things to you:

    1. Many people find strength through a faith and if that works for you that’s great. I have to say though, in my humble opinion, a deity wouldn’t have any interest in you suffering. Some believe that god helps those who help themselves so there’s nothing wrong in getting help to feel better. You can still have as much faith as you have now. Medicine and doctors doesn’t take away your faith.

    2. Some people are judgmental about the treatment of mental illness. This is very common. Please don’t let these people make treatment decisions for you. You are the one that has to live with the illness, no one else.

    Obviously I can understand that if you’ve been abused by a psychiatrist you would be tremendously leery of seeing another, but psychiatrists are the ones most able to help you. If you’re scared (and I completely understand if you are) have a person come with you. Have multiple people. There is no reason why you should have to do that alone.

    And I hope you’re getting therapy for the abuse. That can of thing can affect you for a long time if you don’t deal with it.

    As I said, all these decisions are yours and yours alone to make, what I’ve said is just my opinion. Your satisfaction with your life is what matters most.

    – Natasha

  3. I’m 17 and I have bipolar disorder too, and I didn’t knew of the existence of the term “remission” till’ know, but i think that is what i’m experiencing right now, an estability, i’ve been on remission for a week now, it sounds a very short period of time, but it feels like years, it makes me feel as if i weren’t ill anymore, like i don’t really need all the therapy and the meds, as if everything that i went through before was only a dream, all the self-harm, all the euphoria, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts. But i know that one day, all this will be back, maybe tomorrow, maybe within a month, but right now i’m really calm, I am more me. And I’m happy to know that everyone’s bipolar is diferent, because I thought because of TV programs and stuff my personality should be like, Very Extroverted, all the time. But I’m actually a really chill person most of the time, regardless of how I behave when I have my episodes, when I have them of course I’m more much extroverted than I usually am, but that’s not the everyday me.

  4. I’m 17 and I have bipolar disorder too, and I didn’t knew of the existence of the term “remission” till’ know, but i think that is what i’m experiencing right now, an estability, i’ve been on remission for a week now, it sounds a very short period of time, but it feels like years, it makes me feel as if i weren’t ill anymore, like i don’t really need all the therapy and the meds, as if everything that i went through before was only a dream, all the self-harm, all the euphoria, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts. But i know that one day, all this will be back, maybe tomorrow, maybe within a month, but right now i’m really calm, I am more me. And I’m happy to know that everyone’s bipolar is diferent, because I thought because of TV programs and stuff my personality should be like, Very Extroverted, all the time. But I’m actually a really chill person most of the time, regardless of how I behave when I have my episodes, when I have them of course I’m more much extroverted than I usually am, but that’s not the everyday me.

  5. Hi Lucia,

    Are you getting help? Therapy? A doctor? You are very young and what you’re experiencing may not be bipolar, per se, and you may be able to be helped by some targeted therapy.

    The good news is the sooner you are diagnosed and treated, the better the chance is that you will get better. Just make sure you’re seeing really qualified professionals and getting therapy.

    And yes, remission is wonderful. Although a week normally isn’t considered remission, it’s good, and I say, call it whatever you like.

    – Natasha

  6. Yes, i have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, rapid cycling, I’m getting therapy and meds, the meds specially have been helping me a lot, cause, well, i’m not very consistent, so at first i didn’t follow the therapy the way the told me to, but now i’m getting on track… so, how time shall pass to say i’m on remision?.

  7. Yes, i have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, rapid cycling, I’m getting therapy and meds, the meds specially have been helping me a lot, cause, well, i’m not very consistent, so at first i didn’t follow the therapy the way the told me to, but now i’m getting on track… so, how time shall pass to say i’m on remision?.

  8. Hi Lucia,

    It’s great to hear you’re getting on track.

    Remission? I don’t know of a specific time. It sort of depends on the person. Some people cycle a lot (like me) so if I have a good day, I don’t call that a remission. For me, I would say a month, maybe, but like I said, I think that’s individual.

    What you call it is up to you. What matters is that it’s good. 🙂

    – Natasha

  9. Natasha- I am 32 and have been diagnosed with bipolar NOS, ADHD, PTSD and an anxiety disorder. I have a great psychiatrist and therapist who work very closely with me. I have gone from non-functioning living on disability to working full-time for the last 4 years. I even started my own business in March. Sounds great but its not. I still constantly struggle. Yes I have made leaps and bounds but often times I find myself wondering if its even worth it. Sick of the roller coaster ride. How can I find “remission”?

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