I can’t believe I somehow missed this because I of all people should have been all over this. March 30th, yesterday, is apparently World Bipolar Day, which was also Van Gogh’s birthday. BP Hope is a great online magazine and community that helped me when I received my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, mainly because of insightful posts I so relate to like the one below.
These are really my top three things I wish people knew about bipolar disorder, too.
#1 Bipolar disorder symptoms aren’t equally split between mania & depression. This, 100 percent. In fact, from my experience and understanding it’s common for most people to spend the majority of their time depressed. Mania burns bright but especially full-blown mania tends to be short-lived—my episode of a few months was actually on the longer side. That energy just can’t be sustained too long before it burns out. And as the author says, while mania can feel amazing and fun and brilliant, it’s also dangerous and risky and sometimes scary. Some people try to go off their meds to feel manic again, and sometimes I feel tempted, but I think what a lot of people realize is it’s not worth the destruction and the crash of devastating and sometimes suicidal depression.
#2 Treatments for bipolar disorder take time to work. Again, preach it. This author says his treatment took about four years, and come to think of it, mine did, too. My big episode and diagnosis were in 2015 and I don’t think I felt like I actually had a handle on it until around 2019. And even then, that “handle” sometimes feels tenuous. I was frustrated and disappointed in myself but for some people it takes even longer, years and years. It’s often a multi-pronged approach of diet and exercise and meds and lifestyle and sleep and stress management that can be exhausting to figure out and maintain, and it also has to continue to be re-evaluated. It takes hard work and I’ve recently come to realize through great advocates and publications like this that taking that long is totally normal (well, as normal as anything with BP is). “Bipolar disorder is a serious illness with a 15% death rate. Its symptoms aren’t colorful personality traits. It only makes sense that something this serious would take a significant amount of time to recover from.”
#3 Not everyone with bipolar disorder is the same. I feel like everyone with a mental illness knows or should know this. Just because you have depression or anxiety doesn’t mean you understand what someone else’s is like. Our experiences are all so different. I was intrigued watching the film Inside The Rain portraying someone rapid cycling through moods in a mixed state–something completely foreign to me. Yet blaring music in a bathtub at 3 a.m. totally rang true.
I will just add one of my own. Mental Filmness actually screened an animated short called Goodnight Mr. Vincent Van Gogh last year. However, the film didn’t focus on what was likely Van Gogh’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder, but on its link to his suicide. According to stats from the National Library of Medicine, 20 to 60 percent of people living with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at some point in their lives. While it’s become more commonly accepted in society today that mental illness is as “real” as physical illness in its presentation of symptoms and suffering, one sticky and still controversial point is that death by suicide can be the result of a mental illness just as surely as a more natural death can be the result of a physical illness. That is what Goodnight Mr. Vincent Van Gogh, which is worth seeking out, is about.