Question: It seems that there are so many more diagnoses of bipolar disorder now than there were when I was growing up. I realize that could be because of personal and general lack of awareness and possibly expanded news coverage we experience with media today. Do you think it really has increased and, if so, what factors do you attribute to this swing? Also, and this might reveal my childlike hope and faith, do you think there are preventive measures we as a society could take to decrease the numbers...to head it off at the pass, so to speak?
Answer: Undeniably, there is more layman and medical focus on bipolar disorder, more active acknowledgment of its baleful effects on the lives of its sufferers than I remember at the time of my diagnosis in autumn 1986. Just as it is said of the United States still being a young country, bipolar disorder is a young mental illness as are all mental illnesses, I believe. What we the onlookers tend to find after a terrorist strike or following a breach of security is a battened-down world, one in which we concede that something abhorrent has come to pass, but refuse to allow it to happen again, at all cost. That civilized problem-solving approach essentially describes the medical world's embrace of bipolar disorder, its will to pound bipolar symptoms into submission with psychotropic drugs. Freedom of the senses - every human being's birthright - is the bipolar sufferer's cost when such a will to control another's anomalous mental process is exacted, prescribed medically over years and decades. I believe that we are hearing more and more about bipolar disorder in the media because the medical world continues to develop new security strategies to keep the terrorist-like bipolar symptoms from attacking all of us, directly and indirectly.
You cannot kill ideology with a gun nor can you cure bipolar disorder with drugs. The brain is not the culprit; the brain is twice the victim when bipolar symptoms and psychotropic drugs collide in a psychiatrist's laboratory. New as bipolar disorder is taxonomically alongside its arranged matrimonial partner, psychiatry, there are some clues in the wide world culture that the disease remains a deadly one and could benefit from a healing perspective that isn't entirely western and medical. Who or what is the culprit in the fight against bipolar disorder symptoms? There are many. Not one of them, however, is the bipolar's natural brain chemistry, in my opinion. From an early age, upon diagnosis, we bipolars are exhorted to wage war on our own minds as we are also counseled to use them second-to-second to navigate the forbidding world around us. How are we meant to win this war? Our best possible outcome is second-class citizenship.
What will help to balance popular perspective on bipolar disorder as it gets further media attention, but not necessarily accurate or hopeful depiction, I think, is dialogue over unfavorable report. No one will better understand the mind of a suicidal bipolar if he or she is only given the headline: Another Bipolar Jumps Off The Bridge or Bipolar Disorder Strikes Again. Healthy, symptom-free bipolars are the ones who need to be heard in the world right now, if bipolar disorder is to be understood as a deadly disease that can be explained in terms other than brain chemistry and sickness of the mind. My sense of my own mental freedom these past seven years is that I was perceiving my condition in an inside-out, upside-down fashion for more than two decades. If I experienced severe symptoms, I blamed myself for failing to keep up my discipline and I normalized a life of bed-ridden depressions and pitiful hypo-manic judgment. What if bipolar disorder is more akin to a food allergy than a disease like diabetes? That is the question that turned my critical gaze away from my own mind toward the host of direct, poisonous atmospheric influences around me. Decisions to change my circumstances followed in great succession and soon after I landed in unimaginable realms of non-symptomatic bipolar existence. There I remain, still changing circumstances freely, landing in farther-flung symptom-free realms.
When we highlight certain professional identities in the world do we customarily imagine the best or the worst examples? When we consider mental illness cases do we search for exemplars or do we crave the desperate, wretched, sensational lost causes? The exception must become the rule for bipolars, if we are to improve our personal and public plights. Acceptance of second-class citizenship is not part of an exceptional life. Reclaiming one's freedom in the senses and acknowledging that bipolar disorder is entirely a manmade disease are good starting points for a bipolar life change. There is a cost to this new fight, but it won't be taken out of your self-esteem or charged to your life liberty.
-The Blue Bear
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