Bipolar Disorder is miserable for the one who has it; difficult for those who live with and love the person who has it, and a challenge for the doctors who treat it as well as the therapists who try to give useful counsel.
This face speaks to me so eloquently of the battle a lot of people have who struggle with Bipolar Disorder. Robin Williams entertained us for years with his lightning-quick repartee, his energy, his incredible wit and brilliance. Here’s what I want you to do with this picture. He has a half-smile on his face. Put your hand over the bottom half of his face and study his eyes. All I see there is sadness. Now cover his eyes, and even the smile is sad.
Since I’ve been working in the counseling field, I’ve suspected that Robin Williams, along with a couple of other popular actors, had struggled with Bipolar Disorder. He could go from high to low to high in a very short period of time. His speech was often rapid-fire, hard for us to keep up with. Remember him as the genie in Aladdin?
He was a gifted actor, able to do serious roles, comedy, and sometimes both in the same movie. Yet, underlying his gifts, he was a very sad and troubled soul, eventually taking his own life. He was weary of the struggle.
I don’t know if he was being compliant with taking his medication. I don’t know what took place toward the end of his life that caused him to just give up. What I do know, from talking with clients who have Bipolar Disorder, is that no matter how successful they may be, there is a lifelong feeling of not having a place in society; of not feeling they’re just like everyone else.
We used to call it Manic Depression, because of the highs and lows that characterize the condition. The word manic, however, has been widely misunderstood, and I’m glad the label has been changed to Bipolar.
Manic can cover everything from extreme irritability and violent anger all the way to unrestrained euphoria. Typically, men tend to be more irritable and angry, and women tend to lean to euphoria. That is not true in every single case, of course, but is a general observation.
What is euphoria? Extreme delight. Unusual energy. Sleep can be done without. The person who is euphoric can often stay up 3-4 days in a row, never seeming to run out of energy. It is during these bouts of euphoria that a Bipolar person will max out her credit cards, gamble, shop, indulge in promiscuous sex, talk nonstop, save the whales and the spotted owl, and consider running for President. When the euphoria passes, she comes down with a nasty thud and often sinks into a deep depression that can last for days or weeks.
The angry side of mania is easier to identify. Anger, belligerence, argumentative, confrontational, sometimes physical acting out. I had a client who would hurl her grandmother’s crystal glassware when she was manic, destroying much of a lovely collection. I suggested she go to garage sales and pick up boxes of cheap dishes, put them in a corner in her basement where no one would be hurt, and throw dishes to her heart’s content. She like the idea. I don’t know if she ever followed through.
One of the biggest problems in counseling Bipolar Disorder is that the client will just stop coming. They feel better, they no longer need counseling, and they’re fine on their own. For a while.
I have a hard and fast rule: I will not work with a person who has Bipolar Disorder unless they make a solemn promise that they will stay faithful to their medication. And I always know when they’ve decided to quit taking it.
Next time, we’ll go into the specifics of this difficult condition, and talk about some of the medications that are used to stabilize it.