Bipolar Disorder Is NOT an Emotional Illness

Last Updated: 21 Aug 2019
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Bipolar disorder is not an emotional illness. Our mood swings are the result of chemicals in our brains––not because of the way we are.


When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 31, a friend of mine said, “Wow, now maybe you can deal with your problems!” I remember being very shocked by what she said. I didn’t see myself as someone with problems. Instead, I was often confused and couldn’t figure out why I was fine and felt like myself on some days and then became someone I truly didn’t know on other days. The diagnosis gave me answers to why I had been up and down since age 16, often with nothing happening in my life to justify such terrible depression, irritation, and elation. 

Knowing that what I experienced was bipolar disorder helped me see that the “emotional” reactions I had in response to every day events were not from a personal shortcoming. The emotions were not a sign that I had trouble in life. They were a sign I was ill. This is why I can easily say . . .

I don’t believe that bipolar is emotional. 

Our symptoms look emotional, but they are actually chemical. There is no reality to my mania. I am not a goddess. Just as there is no reality to my thoughts that I think I should be dead. In my opinion, this is an illness. It has nothing to do with the real me. It has nothing to do with how I was raised or what I have experienced in life. I was born with it just as a person is born with diabetes. Being miserable and having energy at the same time when you have bipolar is simply dysphoric mania. Yet another mood swing. 

No mood swing is about who we are. 

Mood swings are chemical. 

We can trigger these mood swings––that is for sure––but for the majority of us, they simply show up one day and we can’t figure out why. Our job, in my opinion, is to manage our lives so that bipolar has minimum impact.

I am not this illness. It is not me. 

Julie

About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder," "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," "Get it Done When You’re Depressed" and "The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder." She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
8 Comments
  1. True?

  2. Julie, my recent diagnosis at age 65 was first a shock, then a revelation and now an affliction because of what came before –my 37 year old son’s diagnosis a year before mine. I look back at my mother and her father, and see the origins. I see the hypomania that both excited me and added sparkle and creativity to my life, from planing fun trips, to nurturing my kids and students, stretching their imagination, and giving them experiences that incite wonder. But while my approval from kids was always, affirming, it was a mixed response from adults and administrators who preferred a more conservative volunteer, teacher, wife AND sadly, even mother as years went by. My hypomanias could be happy, energetic, fluid, and resonant with ways to involve all the senses– no preparation was too long or too much trouble if it made kids or their parents proud. I have many positive triggers. However, my negative triggers — thankfully much less manic and angry than my mother and far less frequent — are also quick to appear and take over my mind and become my newest cause, fueled by my outrage or
    indignation toward the provacateur(s). I have an advocate’s archetype, and my inner child rebels against injustice with a Professor ‘s or ‘Prosecutor’s zeal–and fluency. MY zeal is often seen as arrogance, overeaction, overreach, superiority (usually because my facts aRe superior to the defenant”s) or inappropriate for the norms. I am not a peacemaker when I have negative excitatory neurons marching through my brain. I need help in methods to step back or step down. And if the opponent is someone I thought was an ally or kindred spirit, my mania will swing instantly to depressed spirit and powerless mind. I probably need a mood stabilizer, but Lamictal was not good enough to endure the side effects. I am reluctant to take anti-psychotics because I do not go down that rabbit hole even at my worst ( my sister does so I Recognize it.)And Lithium seems so drastic for someone whose was never treated for depression or mania. In fact, it was never suggested to me. I don’t know if your cards will help, because I do feel I have a disorderly brain. Thanks for listening…
    Denise

  3. Historically, they were called SHAMAN. It’s the same symptoms. They were spiritual healers. It is a disorder when psychiatrists made it up. They persecute them because for the most part psychiatrists are psychopaths and sociopaths. Being bipolar is not a disorder. It is the way the emotions of a Shaman fluctuate in a society full of abuse and abusers. If you are like this, you can learn to control it and only receive the good parts of it. Remember for decades Psychiatrists would ‘cure’ people by giving them a lobotomy- most obvious indicator for them being psychopaths and sociopaths. Psychopaths and Sociopaths use the opposite parts of their brains as people that are bipolar, so since they already developed into their perspective, they can’t be happy and need to feed off the self-esteem of others because they lack the ability to feel good by themselves. So, they enjoy telling people that being bipolar is a disability. The symptoms are: being happy, creative and energetic. Does that seem like a disorder? Its the biggest lie. Maybe some Psychiatrists don’t know, so don’t judge them all- but be assured, its not any type of disability. We’re healers.

  4. Where can I get some of your books? I’ve looked at Barnes and Noble but they don’t have them.

  5. Julie this is so validating and encouraging! I plan to adopt this view from now on and stop beating myself up for being ‘so emotional and sensitive’. Also, I recently bought a few of your books and the set of healthcards and I am learning so much! I never knew much about bipolar, which i have likely had since about 14, and diagnosed about 5 years ago. When my 18 year old daughter was recently diagnosed though, I decided to look into it and find better ways to manage it and live better. Those cards, and every one of the books, have been opening my eyes and just making pieces fall into place, explaining so much that I had no idea was a symptom of bipolar. It’s so reassuring to realize these behaviors are explainable and not from my character or integrity, but symptoms, that some days I handle well, and some days I don’t do so well. I feel I am growing stronger, and more aware, and I thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight with all of us who need it.

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