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