Even amongst people with bipolar disorder, the disorder is highly contested. People argue about what it’s “really” like to have bipolar disorder. What mania is like. What depression is like. And perhaps most hotly debated of all is what the appropriate treatment of the symptoms is – antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, psychotherapies, alternative treatments and so on. People argue about virtually everything.
And one of the reasons why this is the case is because the experience of bipolar disorder is so vastly different. Some people experience manic psychosis, others do not. Some people experience delusional depression, others do not. Some people experience suicidality, others do not. And so on. Severity varies as do symptoms.
And I would argue that much of this disagreement stems from the two basic types of bipolar disorder: well-controlled and not well-controlled bipolar disorder.
Well-Controlled Bipolar Disorder
Well-controlled bipolar disorder is what we all aim for. It’s bipolar disorder that is effectively treated and has minimal remaining symptoms. People with well-controlled bipolar disorder live one of those “normal” lives people are always talking about. They hold down jobs, they have families, they have friends and they have their health. It’s a great place to be.
Not Well-Controlled Bipolar Disorder
Unfortunately, many people do not have well-controlled bipolar disorder. This group of people is often being treated, the treatment just isn’t entirely successful. Often in this group the bipolar is semi-controlled. So, in spite of everyone’s best efforts, there are still many symptoms. People without well-controlled bipolar disorder may have a hard time maintaining relationships and employment.
And what I see is one group of people judging the other group. Often, it’s the people with well-controlled bipolar disorder judging people who aren’t that lucky. Often people for whom treatment has been successful assume that there is something “wrong” with those for whom treatment has not been successful. Often if a treatment has worked, people assume that if it hasn’t worked for some, it’s their fault.
Similarly, those who are not experiencing successful bipolar treatment may judge those who have as “not really having bipolar.” Some assume that constant pain and suffering is the only “real” version of bipolar disorder there is.
Bipolar Experiences are Different
And this is because one person’s reality is so strong, so overwhelming, requires so much work, is so well-lived, that they assume it is the only real reality there is.
This, of course, is false. There are almost as many versions of bipolar as there are people. When I write about bipolar I can honestly say I’m an expert, but I can’t honestly say I’ve lived all the versions that exist – far from it. I only intimately know my kind of bipolar disorder, and that isn’t necessarily someone else’s kind. And that’s okay. We both still have bipolar disorder, we just have very different experiences of what that’s like.
So what we need to do is be inclusive rather than exclusive. We need to embrace those who have been successfully treated and those who haven’t been. We all need to admit that we are part of the same community. One is not “better” and one is not “worse.” They are just different. And white you’re well-controlled or not, you really should realize that it is luck that separates you from others. And that’s nothing to judge people over.