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Your Bipolar is Not My Bipolar and That’s OK

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.
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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.

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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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

This entry was posted in Being Crazy, How Others See Bipolar, Myths, Talking About Bipolar, Understanding Mental Illness and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Your Bipolar is Not My Bipolar and That’s OK

  1. Wow, this is a good way to put things in perspective as people don’t always understand what goes on in a bipolar person’s mind.

  2. Holly Gray says:

    “I get it. I‚Äôm an overachiever too.”

    I laughed out loud. LOL’d for real.

    Sometimes a little levity cuts to the core of why some mindsets and behaviors are counterproductive more effectively and efficiently than discussion can. I tend to approach things like that with long, serious presentations of what I think and why. I’m going to try to remember those 7 words of yours as a reminder that sometimes less (with a dose of dry humor) is more. Learning to laugh at ourselves a bit is a good thing.

    Great post! I didn’t know Bipolar is so different for different people. Silly of me, really, considering that one message I try hard to convey is that everyone’s experience of DID is unique. Of course that’s true for all mental illness! Thanks for the info.

  3. Natasha Tracy says:

    Hi Holly,

    Yeah, I found it quite amusing, but I’m never really sure if I’m the only one.

    Oh, I do long and serious too, but levity is a breath of air in all that quagmire. Feel free to steal the words as desired.

    I’m glad you learned something. Us crazy people are closer and more similar than we sometimes think.

    - Natasha

  4. Gretchen says:

    I also enjoyed the ‘over-achiever’ comment. Ha! I recently began attending a DBSA support group. I was scared to go because I knew a bunch of ‘crazy’ people were going to be there! Guess what? I was wrong! Mostly everyone was ‘normal’ like me. hahahahaha.. and dealing with their own level of crazy and trying to get/keep it under control. I left feeling like I wasnt so bad off. Our group moderator encouraged new comers to”come back at least 4 times, as our moods change, so does our group!” Oh he wasnt kidding! Lately it has been my turn to be a lil wacko. Anyway.. thanks for your insight and for reminding us this isnt a competition. ;)

    Gretchen

  5. Natasha Tracy says:

    Hi Gretchen,

    Great to hear that a support group was a positive experience for you. They definitely can help people. Congrats for reaching out.

    Glad you liked the piece.

    - Natasha

  6. Storkette says:

    Love it! agreed! Great blog :)

  7. Natasha Tracy says:

    Thanks!

    - Natasha

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