Monday, July 1, 2013

Being Bipolar

This blog will focus on bipolar disorder and bipolar people. Famous bipolar people include Robert Downey Jr., Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry, Jesse Jackson Jr., Steve Martin, Sinéad O'Connor, Jane Pauley, Sting, Robin Williams, and Catherine Zeta Jones.

But most bipolar people are not famous, and most of us do not have the financial resources or personal and professional contacts that can help greatly with bipolar disorder treatment. This blog will explore the bipolar world from various perspectives.

My own story is that I lived undiagnosed and unmedicated for decades. Not even my Freudian psychoanalyst picked up on my condition. In fact, the first person who recognized that I am bipolar was a doctor I dated after my second divorce. Of course, he said he was just guessing, not providing a professional opinion over dinner and wine in Santa Monica. He advised me to see an expert, and I did.

The expert took only half an hour to diagnose me correctly. He prescribed meds that, only if I am bipolar, would lessen or eliminate suicidal urges that had haunted me since my early teens. The meds worked.

Am I bipolar 1, bipolar 2, or bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified)? I'm not bipolar 1, but because I had to move to another state (and that is another story for another time) before the psychiatrist and I completed our consultations, he would say only that I am bipolar NOS. NOS is a catch-all term for people who seem to be bipolar but whose symptoms don't tidily fit bipolar 1 or bipolar 2. After reading up on the subject, I believe I am bipolar 2, which is less severe than bipolar 1 but includes the suicidal yearnings I have when I am not taking bipolar meds.

Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression. The two poles are mania and depression. Signs of bipolar disorder include the high energy that characterizes both mania and hypomania. Hypomania is less severe and may be a period of accomplishment. In contrast with hypomania, a bipolar manic phase — at its most extreme — can involve hallucinations, insomnia, and high energy that cannot be focused constructively. Extreme mania may even lead to hospitalization.

Bipolar disorder is probably genetic. It is definitely not contagious, and it may be influenced by environment. I believe my mother was bipolar, although she was never diagnosed. So, too, was my father, or at least I suspect he was. Even today, there are probably many bipolar people who don't know why they have dramatic mood swings.

There are professionals trying to reach out to bipolar people. The Web site of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders has an annual convention, and the mission statement asserts that:
The Society is open to the entire spectrum of mental healthcare professionals including basic and clinical researchers, psychiatrists, pharmacologists, psychologists, social workers, students, trainees, and interested lay groups and individuals.

In other words, not only are a lot of people trying to improve the lives of bipolar people, but also, a lot of people owe their livelihoods to those of us who are bipolar. Drug companies appreciate us, too. We bipolar people are contributing to the economy even if we aren't doing much of anything except being bipolar. But perhaps that thought comes from my bipolar point of view.

We will look at more aspects of being bipolar next week. Your comments and questions are welcome.


  1. fascinating subject Ellen. I grew up with a manic depressive father. I'll be watching for more.

  2. Thank you, Marlene. You've given me the idea to blog about living with a bipolar parent, which isn't easy for a child.

  3. Thanks for sharing your blog. Keep up the good work. Your next to last paragraph brought a smile -- nice mixture of fact with a light touch. Congratulations on this undertaking.

  4. Thank you Matilda. As a founder of, you are an expert in life stories, and I'm glad you like this blog.