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DC COMMUNITY POST

The Difficulty of Finding Bipolar Balance

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Counseling people who have bipolar disorder is interesting, rewarding, and frustrating. It‘s interesting to experience two poles of one personality, and rewarding to be invited into their up and down world. The frustration, usually shared by my bipolar clients, is the difficulty resisting the pull of an escalating manic episode. Who doesn’t want to feel energetic and on top of the world?

There is a tipping point in the bipolar cycle of symptoms beyond which the effects of mania tend to rocket out of control. The biggest challenge for me is helping people put on the mania-brakes before going past the tipping point. The brakes are usually going back on, or an increase of, medication.

When the mood of people with chronic depression lifts, it typically stops at a point where sunshiny energetic days are possible but not the norm. When a bipolar depression lifts an observer can see it drift steadily upward. The person feels so-so, then OK, then good, and very good. However, the helium balloon doesn’t rest there but continues to rise.

Once beyond very good, people begin to feel life is their person bowl of cherries and it’s hard to believe anything could be going wrong. At this elevation, some people stop taking their bipolar medication. I can imagine doing that myself. We all want to feel good so why take medicine that is supposed to dampen your mood? This is not the tipping point; however.

The tipping point arrives when a manic individual begins losing the ability to relate well with others, and they start to make decisions that have nasty consequences. Examples of this are telling your boss where to go, investing in a scheme without checking it out first, staying out all night, spending frivolously, and neglecting family.

When a person reaches this stage of mania they feel so expansive and powerful that symptoms are usually denied, even if you hold up a mirror so they can observe their behavior.

I can remember telling one client, Dave, “Remember all the talks we had about why your life fell apart. You were constantly socializing, and cracking jokes at work, arguing with your supervisor, spending your savings, staying out all night without letting your wife know where you were, and your sons became afraid of you. Dave, you are doing those same things now.”

Dave experienced a moment of clarity, I could see it in his eyes, but the intensity of his mania was too strong. He proceeded to lose another job, alienate his friends, ex-wife, and children again, spend more money than he had, and couldn’t pay child support. Eventually, he crashed into another depression and could not believe he allowed himself to create chaos again.

Everyone who has bipolar disorder is different, and their experience of symptoms is unique. Not everyone goes through intense cycles of depression and mania, losing everything multiple times, but Dave’s history serves to illustrate the miseries and temptations of this disorder.

While I counseled Dave, he worked through three rounds of deep depression, slowly managing to get his life going again, and then destroyed what he’d started after spiraling into a manic state. I haven’t seen or heard from Dave for six years now, but I frequently wonder how he is doing.
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Resource: There is a wealth of information about bipolar disorder at Healthline.com.

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