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More Bipolar and Psychiatric Myths

In response to some of the comments I see here and elsewhere, here is my response to another ten myths about bipolar disorder.

1. I’m being forced to take medication.

No, actually you aren’t. If you’re an adult and you’re not a danger to yourself or others, it’s your choice what to put into your body. No one is going to send an armed guard to your house and force medications down your throat. You have to take responsibility for that choice.

2. I have to stay on medication.

No, you don’t.* Again, what you put into your body is your choice, see #1.

3. Psychiatric medication is used to control people.

While I have no doubt people have controlled others with the help of mind-altering chemicals, this is certainly not the case in general. People on psychiatric medications (and yes, those who have ECT too) continue to lead full, uncontrolled lives. Carrie Fisher, Patty Duke and many other successful people.

4. My doctor lied and told me I’m bipolar.

I highly doubt that. Your doctor made a diagnosis that you disagree with. You’re free to do that (although one wonders why you were seeking a diagnosis in the first place).


5. Drugs are worse than bipolar.

If you feel that way, feel free to stop taking them.* See #1.

6. Bipolar doesn’t exist because there are no tests for it.

Throughout medical history diseases have been treated before they were understood. We don’t understand a lot of what happens to the human body, especially the brain. However, scientists find more and more neurobiological evidence of mental illness every day. Yes, mental illness does exist. Yes, there is proof.

7. You take medication because someone labeled you.

No, I don’t. I take medication because I’m in pain. The diagnosis is a way of labeling the pain. You could call it “Joe” and I wouldn’t care. Treatment is about treating the pain, not the label.

8. Mental illness is caused by childhood trauma and can be fixed through therapy.

While, no doubt, many people have experienced childhood trauma. However, not everyone with childhood trauma (even those who have not dealt with it) have a mental illness. And you can take years of therapy and not be able to successfully treat a mental illness. And some people with mental illness have no childhood trauma to speak of.

9. Anyone who is different gets labeled bipolar and put on medication.

Actually, no, this is not the case. People don’t get help for mental illness because they’re “different,” they get help because they are in pain. I am a very “different” kind of person, but that has nothing to do with a mental illness, that’s just me.

10. Bipolar is just the normal highs and lows of life.

This is so patently untrue I can barely express it. Yes, life has highs and lows. When someone dies we are very sad. When we’re in love we’re very happy. That is not bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is about unreasonable amounts of emotion for unreasonable amounts of time resulting in pain and negatively impacting life. When the amount of sadness associated with death overtakes you because you saw a toilet paper commercial, this is not a normal low. Closing your eyes while driving and thinking the wind will tell you when to turn, is not normal.

The Truth About Mental Illness

Bipolar disorder isn’t about labels, highs and lows, life events or being different; bipolar disorder is about a brain that can’t regulate itself properly. This dysregulation is experienced through emotions, behaviors and other problems. Bipolar disorder only matters because of the pain you’re in and the impact it’s having on your life.

* With medical supervision, of course.

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

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

19 thoughts on “More Bipolar and Psychiatric Myths”

  1. Hi Anniem,

    With all due respect, people who take medication have just as many pressures. They have pressures all around them telling them _not_ to take the drugs, _not_ to see doctors, how to handle the side effects, what they’re doing wrong and so on.

    Making the choice to come off meds is not trivial, but nor is staying on them. But trivial or not, it is ultimately a choice.

    – Natasha

  2. When I was originally diagnosed, I was told that medication was now a life time necessity. I even had one doctor cut me loose after I said I was going off the meds. From doctor to doctor, state to state, I was told in no uncertain terms that medication was an unavoidable lifetime fact for me. But then I had to go off one med b/c it turned my feet black, another b/c I developed a life threatening rash, another that left me with debilitating arthritis and ultimately, after gaining over 40 lbs., losing quite a bit of my hair and teeth, not remembering the simplest of tasks, like how to turn on the lights on the dashboard of my car (yes, all attributed to specific meds) and a tumor on my liver I had had enough. I confess, I still take the occasional tranquilizer and sleeping pill, but all in all I’m done. Have I gotten reactions of panic from those in my life? Yup. Does it feel like I have to justify myself? Yup. Is there social, familial, medical and even legal pressure to continue doping myself up? Absolutely. Have I had to swim upstream against the current? Every day. So please, don’t minimize all these realities when one is “deciding” to “choose” to take meds.

  3. “As someone living in NY, where it originated, I know for a fact that you do not need to be an immediate danger to yourself to become eligible for AOT and other outpatient court orders. ” Should, obviously be “danger to yourself or others”.

    “No two people diagnosed with mental illness area like.” That should also, quite obviously be, “are a like”.

  4. Natasha,

    I agree with most of this post. Just one point on AOT, or Assisted Outpatient Treatment. As someone living in NY, where it originated, I know for a fact that you do not need to be an immediate danger to yourself to become eligible for AOT and other outpatient court orders. Though the law (at least, in this state) does lists some requirements a person must meet – such as failing to take medication, and then becoming hospitalized and/or incarcerated numerous times (though not necessarily for violence) – most of the times, these are put to be open to interpretation and the only thing that is really needed for the courts to force someone to be medicated or receive ECT, is a family filing a report and a doctor making the recommendation. In some cases, the people put under this law are not even having major impairments in functioning (so “grave disability” does not fit here, either). It happens all the time. Of course, one could debate if the law is positive or negative; but, the bottom line is, yes, you can be medicated and receive ECT without being a danger to yourself or others in many states. I respect you as an author and person, and quite like your blog; however, I am going to call you out wrong on this one.

    As I said, though, I agree with most of this. Psychiatric illness is a terribly painful thing to experience and, in many cases, it can be like living in a horror flick every day of your life. By the time I tried my first mood stabilizer and (atypical) antipsychotic, I was to the point that I couldn’t even function, was engrossed in a delusional world and had a pretty detailed plan to kill myself. The horror and psychological torture that often go along with that are…indescribable, really. I truly do believe you have to live it to fully grasp just how painful it can be. The medication – and an amazing psychiatrist – saved my life, and I have no doubts that I would be dead without them. I know that may seem blunt to some; but it’s true.

    Unfortunately/fortunately, the medication did become worse than the Bipolar – or Schizoaffective Disorder, depending on which doctor you ask – and I had to taper off them. They had led me to develop a heart blockage (luckily, it’s not severe, and will likely heal), arrhythmia, and severe neurological side effects. Physically, I was in such bad shape. It really was not an option anymore. I’ve been off them since January and, surprisingly, I don’t regret doing it. Yes, I have had major mood episodes and psychotic symptoms since then; but learning to cope and keep my functioning normal has been a challenging, yet worthwhile, experience. I never would have realized how physically and emotionally sedated I was if I had stayed on them. I do, however, take True Hope’s Empowerplus as-needed (it works quite well, and quite fast, for me).

    I don’t speak that as dogma, however. As I said, the pain associated with mental illness is severe. We all need to find our own ways, personal to us, to survive this storm. If that means medication, then please do use it. Be careful, of course – as I learned, those more severe side effects can sneak up fast; but, if it helps and you need it for stability, please, please do what you need to do. No two people diagnosed with mental illness area like. That needs to be respected, above all else.

    Much Love;

  5. I truly believe that someone who has not experienced mental illness or been very close to someone who does cannot understand it. There is nothing in their experience that they can relate it to. Until they stop and watch quietly and listen closely, they have no paradigm in which to fit the experience and will only relate from their own paradigm. I don’t fault people for reflexively doing this–it’s only natural. But I do fault people for not purposefully slowing down to humbly listen to an experience that is outside of their own necessarily limited mental construct.

  6. MMC,

    Regarding your second comment, this isn’t about negating any one person’s experience. There is no way that I can speak about every person’s experience. Everyone is unique. Talking about the majority doesn’t invalidate the minority.

    And, particularly in the case of a person who is determined to be a danger to themselves or others, their situation is unique. I know of two individuals and both of those people have very different situations. And in both of those situations, they now appear in the group that chooses to take their meds.

    – Natasha

  7. Hi MMC,

    My point is that we are not victims of doctors or meds. Every one of us chooses to take the medication every day. We choose this because we choose to get better. We choose to get treatment.

    That’s empowerment. I’d say that’s helpful.

    And, specifically, it combats the meme that we are somehow being “forced” to do these things in some sinister way.

    – Natasha

  8. I guess my point is if someone tells you that their *personal* experience is that they’re being forced to be on meds, then you seem to be negating their experience without knowing their circumstances, just dismissing them as a dangerous minority. Not very empowering. If you want to address the naysayers a better myth to knock down is something more general like “Most people with mental illnesses are forced to be on meds” which is decidedly not true.

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