We’re all different. There is something fundamentally true about this statement. Red hair, black hair, blue eyes, brown eyes, cat lover, dog lover – see, all different and most of us are mature enough to think that’s OK.
But with bipolar, our symptoms vary wildly and for reason, people don’t think that’s OK.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder Differ
Symptoms of bipolar disorder vary, as is recognized in the DSM-IV, the manual doctors use to diagnose mental illness. For the depressive phase, nine criterion are listed, of which a person only has to have five to qualify. For mania or hypomania, seven are listed of which a person only needs three.
In short, experiences and manifestations of bipolar disorder vary widely.
How Different Can Bipolar Be?
As an example, symptoms for depression, one person may experience weight loss, oversleeping, fatigue, a feeling of worthlessness and have constant thoughts of suicide. Another person may experience weight gain, insomnia, feel agitated, guilty and indecisive. Both of these people have diagnostic symptoms of depression.
It’s the same with mania/hypomania. Manifestations are different.
Some people also get mixed episodes, where both the symptoms of depression and mania/hypomania are present, so there’s that to consider too.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are also types of bipolar to consider. Type I, marked by depression and mania. Type II, marked by depression and hypomania. There is even a type called Bipolar Not Otherwise Specified (NOS).
Then there’s the differentiation based on how often you cycle: rapid-cycling, ultra-rapid-cycling and even ultradian.
(Yes, I’ve simplified diagnostic criteria. See all bipolar diagnostic details here.)
But I’m More Bipolar Than You!
You might be more bipolar than me. I don’t know. It’s not something I’d be happy about if I were you.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Some of us get really wrapped up in our diagnosis and our symptoms and it’s tough to see past the end of our prescription bottle. And so if you’re going to be bipolar, you want to be the bipolarest. If you’re going to be crazy, you want to be the craziest. If you’re going to be medicated, you’re going to be the most medicated. I get it. I’m an overachiever too.
And it’s true that bipolar severity does vary between people, but I would measure this on its impact on the person. And if the person’s functioning is highly impacted, then I would call that highly severe. This is not something that anyone would want and I’d say it’s irrelevant unless you’re in a doctor’s or a therapist’s office.
What Does it Matter?
In the end, whether bipolar finds you in the hospital or on your kitchen floor, it doesn’t really matter; we’re all fighting the beasty of mental illness. We are also all fighting the stigma of mental illness. We are also fighting medications and side effects from treatment. We are also fighting doctors and health care systems.
So with all that pulling against us the least we can do is work together as a single community. We just need to accept that my bipolar is not your bipolar and that’s OK.