Bipolar, Part I

Like other mental illnesses, there is no cure for bipolar. The treatment for bipolar varies but usually includes medication and therapy. Bipolar is a mental illness that can best be described as a swing of moods from mania to depression. In mania, a person with bipolar can go through but is not limited to periods of hyperactivity, racing thoughts, and reckless behavior. In depression a person with bipolar can go through sadness, sleep disturbance and difficulty in making decisions. The swinging back and forth is usually termed as “cycling,” and individuals vary in their cycling. Some people with bipolar cycle at a slow rate and others are “rapid cycling.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness web page on bipolar states, “Over 10 million people in America have bipolar disorder, and the illness affects men and women equally.” Also according to the NAMI website, “While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, most scientists believe that bipolar disorder is likely caused by multiple factors that interact with each other to produce a chemical imbalance affecting certain parts of the brain. Bipolar disorder often runs in families, and studies suggest a genetic component to the illness.”

George, a good friend of mine who has bipolar, recently allowed me to interview him about his illness and how it has affected his life. This is the first in a two part conversation with George about his illness. In this column I have focused on my recovery through schizophrenia. In the coming months I plan on interviewing others who have mental illnesses, who make up the community we live in. Although I have schizophrenia and know the struggles that illness can bring, there are so many out there who have suffered through illness strongly and silently.

When asked if he could change having bipolar, George emphatically said if he could, he would not have bipolar. In the first part of the conversation George and I focused on the stereotypes and misconceptions people have about bipolar. In the second part we will focus on symptoms and medicine.

Q. What is the hardest part about having a mental illness?

A. Not being able to work due to having bipolar, and the constant feeling that you are not being a productive member of society. Realizing that you are accepting public funds and that you are not contributing to those funds.

Q. What do you wish people knew about your illness?

A. I wish that people would not have the concept that people with mental illnesses are what the media portrays. There is a common phrase and belief that someone was not taking their meds and they end up committing a crime.

Q. What stereotypes do people have about you because of your illness?

A. There is a stereotype that no matter the diagnosis you should be able to hold down a job.

Q. What are some misconceptions people have about you because of your illness?

A. There is the misconception that my mental illness is caused because I am not spiritual enough instead of the reality that it is a chemical imbalance. There is also the other belief that there is nothing wrong with me and that I am just trying to rip off the government.

Q. Describe your darkest time through your mental illness.

A. My darkest times are so far behind me that it doesn’t affect me anymore. The darkest times included homelessness and being sent to a county hospital and suggested to go to a state hospital. After the crisis, there was no remembrance of possessions like my vehicle. Still today, I don’t know what happened to it. Through my crisis it felt like my memory was erased.

Mindfulness is brought to you by NAMI Montelores, your local NAMI affiliate. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI recognizes that the key concepts of recovery, resiliency and support are essential to improving the wellness and quality of life of all persons affected by mental illness. NAMI provides support, education, and advocacy for individuals and families through community classes, in-service trainings, support groups, and more. For more information please contact Geri Sanders at 970-759-2416.

Randy Davis is a member of NAMI Montelores . He can be reached at

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