Spokes of the Wheel: A fresh bipolar philosophy

Living with bipolar disorder comes down to management. Or so a big proportion of scholars, researchers, psychiatrists, therapists, doctors and pundits suggest. To many, management means one thing – medication. But I think this is only one twelfth of the story of being bipolar. And today we represent a significant population. Astonishingly, 1 in every 100 people in the UK will be diagnosed with bipolar at some point in their lives. And that statistic alone says something ominous about those that are never diagnosed. What is clear is that bipolar is no longer an illness of the few and it demands a new treatment philosophy.

No matter whether you are having a ‘good’ day, flying around taking over the world or in bed nesting incommunicado, Manic Depressive Illness by its very nature is a force to be reckoned with. It is flux – an overwhelming, exciting, terrifying, enticing, emotional tumble dryer of energy. Bipolar Disorder, like energy is three-dimensional. There is never just one thing going on.

Whilst I appreciate the benefits of mood diaries and mood planning, they are linear. A scale of 1 – 10 may be helpful for third parties to assess, support and provide treatment or plot trends and triggers. But in reality, a bipolars’ emotional state incorporates a complex set of feelings. It is often a sensory overload and on many occasions not just a ‘2’ or ‘8’. There are sights, smells, tastes, sounds and touch to consider in that number.

If you are hypomanic or cyclothymic, then what you plotted a minute ago can be very different to plotting in an hour or even in the next few minutes. And cognitively, the brain may be taking a day off so thinking clearly, accessing short-term memories and stringing a coherent sentence together is frankly impossible and hugely disheartening.

A linear scale therefore just doesn’t explain that multidimensional level of occurrences. It is too limiting. Brain biology is complex and beautiful. So why simplify a triangular emotional, sensory and cognitive state into a solitary number, especially as bipolar disorder resists fervently to being micro managed?

Perhaps solutionising in this manner and plotting against that infamous axis in an assessment room makes it easier for psychiatrists to medicate against. A panacea? I suppose that is one argument and one way of doing things. My belief is that in order to live with bipolar, we must respect it, not be obsessed by managing it. Management depicts being sat in front of a desk – you versus bipolar. No! To respect something, one must understand it fully and work with it. Not work opposite it managerially.

Rather, get to know your bipolar natural rhythm. For me, an orchestra of twelve different contributors play bipolar’s beat. These include Nutrition, Exercise, Meditation, Yoga, Psychotherapy, Honest Relationships, Creativity, Sobriety, Support Groups, Orthomolecular Medicine, Self Compassion and Medication.

All are important. All are interconnected and must be kept moving in the same direction, like spokes of a wheel. This applies to all mental illnesses not just bipolar. Each spoke plays its part in the integrity of the wheel. If a spoke breaks, it causes the wheel to buckle. The natural force of gravity keeps the wheel from getting airborne. The twelve spokes of respecting the force of bipolar ensure the wheel is centred. Together these powerful forces are grounded. Not on a solitary linear scale. We are centred. Where we prefer to be.

To do each of the twelve spokes justice, I would need to write a book on each and we don’t have time for that today. This series provides a glimpse into my spokes of the wheel philosophy and forms the backbone of Psyche Pow! – To inspire and kindly educate people that suffer with mental health illnesses that there is never just one solution. New treatments are being explored every day with scientific and holistic bodies of research readily available to validate Eastern and Western doctrines.

I’m 39 and having experienced bipolar disorder most of my life, I feel I have a pretty good handle on what works, what doesn’t, what causes triggers and what fills my soul with joy. Often I get this stuff wrong though. I forget to do things. Or I neglect to do what is good for me. Sometimes I have to remind myself of the twelve spokes. But that’s my bipolar and me. And I’m learning that’s okay. Hopefully you are too.

Tune into the next instalment of my Twelve Spokes of the Wheel philosophy by following or signing up for Psyche Pow! email updates.

Coming very soon.

Be well and stay hopeful. Ben

5 thoughts on “Spokes of the Wheel: A fresh bipolar philosophy

  1. Such inspiring words, which will give others hope during difficult times. Given my own challenges with anxiety, I feel that many of these spokes also apply and it’s important to remember to stay focused on doing what keeps you well as challenging as that can be st times.

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  2. I give this article a major thumbs up and 5 stars. Nicely written and accurate from a patient’s point of view; I have never heard of this theory and have suffered un-diagnosed for 41 years of my life. I agree that Linear thinking does not work for people who do not or will never fit into a linear world, no matter how hard they try. Bi-polar is not only a condition it is an experience of living and going to other worlds while preforming mundane functions and failing to fit in. However, it can also be dark, dreary and hopeless. I am currently taking medication that slows me down and in outpatient therapy. I am currently working on the following spokes: Nutrition, Exercise, Meditation, Psychotherapy. I would like to get into Yoga. However, I’m not very good at Honest Relationships, as I push people away to save them from the craziness in my head. (I think sometimes families and friends of people with Bi-polar suffer greatly). I’ve lost my Creativity years ago, constant rejection, and working in back stabbing situations, are not so good for my deep depression. But I’m sober for 14 years now. I stay away from out of town bars, as that is my trigger. I’m not sure what Tribal Groups and Orthomolecular Medicine are, but I take my Medication at the correct time everyday. If I fail to do this then my brain reminds me by sending me crazy auditory and visual hallucinations, and keeping me awake most of the night. I look forward information concerning the “Spokes of The Wheel” Treatment Philosophy.

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  3. Hi. This looks like a really interesting site. As a keen cyclist, I like the 12 spokes imagery. One little thing rankles, however. It is the use of the word bipolar in the following phrase: ‘ … a bipolar’s state …. ‘ For me, the use of the word ‘bipolar’ to describe someone directly – for example – ‘I am bipolar.’ – is wrong. It makes it seem that it is intrinsic, it is all we are. Cancer sufferers don’t say ‘I am cancer.’ Maybe ‘I am suffering from cancer, I have cancer, I am battling cancer’. but not ‘I am …. ‘ This is because it is not all they are. It is an important part, for sure. But the disease, however severe, is not everything they are. I have manic depression (I prefer this name since it is more readily descriptive) but I am NOT manic depression. I am so much more than that. I AM right handed; that is fundamental, and more importantly, it is not a disorder, a disease in the way manic depression or O.C.D. are.
    It’s just a bug bear of mine, that’s all. It’s important to discuss these issues, though and your blog – and mine – are important places to do just that.
    I look forward to reading about the spokes in your wheel. Keep pedalling!

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    1. Thanks for your candid feedback Nicolas. I can’t agree with you enough. And I also feel that manic depression better describes our illness, so I think you’re right, I should use this term more frequently. Thanks for your interest and getting involved with the debate. Cheers, Ben

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