Friday Counseling Issues: Bipolar Disorder

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.

Image result for Bipolar Disorder

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.

11 thoughts on “Friday Counseling Issues: Bipolar Disorder

  1. As part of this series, I hope you will address the issues faced by the family of one diagnosed with bipolar. Dealing with mental illness in one we love can simply be hell. Your writing will help some understand more about what is like for the ill person and for those around them. Some will never understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, absolutely I’ll be writing about living with a person who has Bipolar. Sometimes, a great deal of damage has already been done before the diagnosis is made, and things can’t always be mended. Your’e right. It’s very hard.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anne

    How do they even diagnose this? How is it differentiated or distinguished from situations that seem to have similar results…general depression from a challenging ongoing life situation or basic personality-self-control/maturity/rejection of spiritual thinking issues…or even affects of cycles of mind games after years in a marriage where everything you thought you knew of yourself was turned inside out and upside down with…where you never wrestled with figuring out who you were until someone actually took what you thought was normal and called you “mental” or unsaved…till you don’t know if they are “bipolar” or in sin or that they are right about YOU…

    And how hard for one in such a state to admit or figure out or attempt to work through the variables…and being to find a solution. And, medication seems so final…to admit or feel that one…is borderline “crazy”…from what I’ve read the medication can also backfire into even more severe depression, or maybe I’m misinformed on that, too.

    It is probably why those with that or similar do commit suicide. It is hell, and they, if nothing else, are fully aware it is for those they love as well. When they sense (or imagine) those they love are pulling away, seek for reassurance, try to find stability again…and sense the frustration from it all within and without….when all they are doing is trying to earnestly find right side up again no matter how pathetic or baffling it seems…they wrestle more with whatever their own problem is and are tired of simply being a problem for any one.

    Or maybe I’m way off track, and bipolar is a cut and dry diagnosis and solution. Bipolar sort of comment, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re funny 🙂 And you’re also correct. It is a very difficult things to diagnose. Some symptoms are shared with other conditions, and sometimes all we see in the office is the depressive end. Lots of things to consider, and it will take a few posts to cover it all.


  3. Anne

    Okay, I just read it through one more time…a little more calmly in my “other” personality…and saw this at the end, “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.” I will attempt some patience 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You really covered the illness very well in this post. I especially like your reference to Robin Williams. I agree that he had many of the features of bipolar. Funny, whenever I looked at him in pictures or film or interviews, all I really saw was his sadness. May I reblog this on my mental health blog, Susan’s Blog: The Inner Soul? Thanks for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Having worked with and also befriended several people with bipolar disorder, I have to say that this can be one of the most destructive things to live with. Many people who are bipolar are wholly unaware of the effect they have on their family and friends and at least three people have said that it doesn’t affect their family at all. Mind-boggling. The manic phases are so compelling as you get swept up in their wake. All that energy and passion just bubbles. And then the crash and the huge effort to just listen, calm them as much as you can and try to put a more realistic picture on things. One person I knew talked about looking at handfuls of pills at home and considering suicide and she was weeping. At the end of the day, she was jumping up and down, talking about conquering all, and how ‘we’ were not going to drive her to take her life. A really remarkable woman in so many ways, and intelligent, but I couldn’t take the huge mood swings & she took it as betrayal if I wasn’t right there in the mood swing with her.

    Liked by 1 person

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