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Seven Biggest Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Ah myths, we love them, don’t we? Friday the 13th is unlucky, Canadians live in igloos and drinking Coke and eating Pop Rocks will make your stomach explode. (Your stomach might not, but your pancreas is another matter.) People buy into myths all the time. When enough people say them, especially if the people are holding microphones or best-selling books, people assume they must be true.

But as a good friend of mine always says, trust, but verify.

Myths About People with Bipolar Disorder

These myths are brought to you by the commenters, here, at HealthyPlace.

  1. Bipolars are liars
  2. Bipolars cheat on their partners
  3. Bipolars are manipulative
  4. Bipolars are “spoiled teenagers”
  5. Bipolars feel it’s “all about them”
  6. Bipolars are angry and violent
  7. Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are almost the same thing

Well now, that’s quite a list. It’s amazing I’m allowed to live outside with all the “sane” people.

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For my own part, I am nothing like those seven things. I have never known a bipolar that was those seven things. Nevertheless, let’s soldier on.

Bipolars Lie

Lying is not remotely a symptom of bipolar disorder. It does tend to be found with some personality disorders, however. That being said, I will admit it’s almost impossible to be honest about how I feel with people as they don’t want to know about it. My obfuscation is to prevent the other person from knowing how horrible I feel. If you’d like to know about the blood-dripping suicidal ideation, I’ll tell you, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to know.

Bipolars Cheat

Depending on the survey, between 30%-60% of married people cheat. These are just your average run-of-the-mill-survey-answering-folk. Perhaps even more surprisingly, 27% of people who reported being happy in their marriage have had an affair.

Statistically then, at a minimum, 30%-60% of people with bipolar disorder also cheat. As hypersexuality is a symptom of bipolar disorder, it reasonable to think that bipolar disorder would lead to higher numbers, probably both in the person with bipolar disorder and their spouse. (Sorry, I can’t find any specific, reliable data.) But with a number already higher than 50% in some cases, it’s unrealistic to blame cheating on bipolar disorder in general. Most of the time it’s just the people in the relationship.

Bipolars Manipulate

Again, this is not remotely a symptom of bipolar disorder. Manipulation is often associated with personality disorders, but not bipolar disorder.

Bipolars Act Like Spoiled Teenagers

I’m not quite sure how to respond to this one. In fact, I’m not going to bother.

Bipolars Think It’s All About Them

Mania or hypomania does have a symptom of “inflated self-esteem or grandiosity”. Basically, thinking that we’re the bee’s knees. This is different from the selfish “it’s all about me” concept, however. Again, that is more typical of a personality disorder. (Not that inflated self-esteem is the best trait either, but most of the time we have pretty low self-esteem, so give us a bit of a break.)

Bipolars are Angry and Violent

There was a specific systematic review on this subject – I’ll shortcut it for you – bipolars are not more likely than the general population to commit violent crime (once alcohol use was taken into account). People with alcohol problems, bipolar or no, are a different matter.

Borderline is the Same as Bipolar

Borderline is a personality disorder, considered part of someone’s “core personality” whereas bipolar is not. Bipolars have a distinct symptom-free baseline when the person is feeling well. A borderline’s symptoms are their baseline. Bipolar disorder is not borderline personality disorder. Period. They’re not even in the same family. Some symptoms do cross-over, but that is common in medical diagnoses. (Please read Borderline Personality and Bipolar Disorder Differences, which does justice to this topic.)

Just Because I Do It Doesn’t Mean it’s a Symptom of Bipolar Disorder

mickey_head_downIn short, I’m sure there are bipolars who do lie, do cheat, do manipulate, are selfish and are violent. I have no doubt that they exist. But that’s not disorder-specific; that is part of who they are.

Just because a person with bipolar disorder does something, that doesn’t make it a symptom of bipolar disorder.

Personally, it scares me and I jump when someone knocks on my door, I despise opening mail and I loved jumping out of planes. That’s not bipolar disorder. That’s just me.

* Thanks to Mick McLean my favorite guy head-down, for the image.

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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48 thoughts on “Seven Biggest Myths About Bipolar Disorder”

  1. I, once again, have to thank you for writing this. The myth that irritates me the most is number 7. Yes I have cut myself, had severe mood swings, and have had some paranoia. However, I am not afraid of being alone. I am also not displaying these behaviours during stable periods. If anything, I am closer to the definition of Avoidant Personality Disorder than I am to the definition of Borderline.

    Number 6. I am the least violent/agressive person I know. Even when I do get angry, I never get violent. I tend to get more upset (crying, etc.).

    Number 4. I AM a teenager still, though I believe myself to be more mature than the average teenager. I had to grow up pretty fast. I’m not spoiled, I don’t seek attention… I am who I am, and it’s affected by a mental condition at times.

    Anyways, before I go off on a total rant on the rest of the numbers, another thanks to you. I am always delighted (well, when I can be) to see a new blog post from you.

  2. Hi Ash,

    Well, thank-you for the compliments.

    I think people throw around diagnoses because it makes them feel smarter, or that it can “explain you”. Every diagnosis has its own challenges, but it doesn’t help anyone to have them jumbled about.

    And yes, I could really rant about all the numbers, but I tried to keep it brief.

    Thanks for your comment.

    – Natasha

  3. Hi Natasha,

    As you may be aware, #7 is my personal favorite. I have been doing research on the matter and have really come to see that they are very different. I am Bipolar with a borderline personality disorder. What fun!

    Knowing the difference has been surprisingly helpful. I have just entered a program called B.A.S.E-Borderline Awareness Skill Empowerment- that focuses on Schema (positive or negative life patterns) therapy. It has been, understandably, difficult to separate the two. Medication aides in the management of the bipolar symptoms, but does nothing for the personality disorder. I have to manage that on my own with the help of my therapist.

    Our little conversation on FB really got me to look closer and see this reality so that I may better be better armed with information to overcome.
    Thanks for all your hard work.

    For more information on the BASE program for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder: http://bpd-home-base.org/what_is_bpd

    ~sm

  4. Hi Shannon,

    Congratulations on finding something that’s working for you, that’s a tough thing to do. To the best of my knowledge, borderline is best treated with life-skill-type therapy, which is exactly what you’re doing. I have no doubt it’s hard work, but it’s a step in the right direction.

    I’m glad I could help. You’re welcome.

    – Natasha

  5. Hi Natasha,

    Hi Natasha – Interesting post. It resonates with me as usual. Something my therapist told me about the ‘grandiosity’ feeling that happens during mania/hypomania is this: people with Bipolar Disorder often have very low self esteem (symptom of depression) and during mania – the individual can feel an inflated feeling of confidence and importance. Part of the reason for this is that one can feel unimportant to oneself and to others – its a coping mechanism against the feelings of worthlessness. I definitely experienced this during my mania – for the first time in my life I felt important. Considering I have felt very unimportant for most of my life – I guess I needed it. It helped to understand it in this way.

  6. Hi Lesa,

    Yeah, I still think grandiosity isn’t necessarily the same thing as selfish, although it can be.

    I do know how unimportant I usually feel, and I agree, it’s nice for the change.

    – Natasha

  7. as a member of the “sane” (lol – u know it’s those “sane” ppl u have to worry about — don’t know when they’re gonna blow) — an observer of a wonderful husband who has bipolar disorder — you are spot on with your article. People are people, good or bad, and having bipolar disorder doesn’t make them bad. In our relationship, I am the “bad” one compared to my husband — at his core is a decent, sweet, naive and innocent individual — my core -well — thanks to traumas from an alcoholic father and an incestual sibling — i am wired and warped in a not so innocent/naive direction that only Christ can help me fight. There are so many misconceptions about bipolar disorder and I agree ppl just don’t want to know the “truth” most of the time and would rather have comfy generalities to cling to so they don’t have to face and truths about themselves. Keep yelling the truth about bipolar disorder — there are Horton’s out there that hear you in Whoville and eventually the ppl in the “sane” world will also hear you. God bless you Natasha — u r a blessing to us.

  8. Hi Cat,

    Great to hear a “sane” person’s perspective. I think it’s important that the non-bipolar folks weigh-in because really, you’re the ones that are going to be dispelling those myths most convincingly.

    I don’t know about blessing, but I try to be helpful. Thanks.

    – Natasha

  9. I have had a through trip through this affliction. Days that started like nothing could ever be a problem, afternoons that found me deep in a pitt from which I could see no escape. Day after day. My up times became clouded by what I knew was sure to follow. When I was finally diagnosed I was in the midst of an identity crisis, the doctor said that it was caused by the bipolar. I was then more confused, and afraid of the meds that were offered, what was real and what was not? I’m sorry if this all seems disjointed and pointless. It seems to mirror my life at this point. I just need to talk.

  10. Hi Tammy,

    You can always come here to talk. That’s OK with me. I hope you are getting some help with a professional to talk to as well. Therapists can not only listen to you but they can help you find sense in all the disjointedness.

    You’re going through a tough time, but you’re completely normal. You just need to get some help.

    Good luck.

    – Natasha

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