A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II, a name for his collections of symptoms that was met with a great deal of ambivalence. On one hand, it’s “another thing that’s wrong with me,” he lamented, “but on the other, it’s a relief to know it’s a ‘real thing,’ that I’m not just making it up.”

“Bipolar” as a word in the general culture’s vocabulary seems to have come into common use over the past few years. (Thank you, pharmaceutical companies.) Therapists note that many clients call themselves bipolar (or have friends label them bipolar) simply because their moods go up and down. The proper diagnostic term for that condition is “normal life.” Ups and downs come with being human and dealing with existence on this earthly plane.

With Bipolar Disorder there is a regularity to the cycles of ups and downs, and the peaks and valleys are more extreme and extensive than in normal life. In Bipolar I (as opposed to it’s weaker cousin, Bipolar II), the peaks can be so dramatic as to require hospitalization. Both variations of Bipolar are treated with medication(s) and talk therapy, the former to lessen the intensity of the wild mood swings (which can normally last 10 days or so down and 3-5 days or so up), and the latter to learn new behaviors to cope with the condition.

Some clients have refused medication for this condition (and, of course, that is their right), and I work with them to accept and understand the wild ride they must learn to manage. Even with medication, it can still be very useful to develop management behaviors, such as creating a daily mood log in order to eventually plot your ups and downs and plan accordingly. Coping behaviors also help with self-acceptance: If you can say to yourself, “This is a condition I have, and I can learn how to work with it,” rather than fighting the fact that you have it, you’re ahead of the game.

In learning to deal with what is designated a “mood disorder,” it is important to remember that while moods color our perceptions and sensations, they do not alter who we are at our core. If anything, moods can be symptoms or signs that something is unresolved in our inner core, that something deep needs tending to. In the case of Bipolar Disorder, that fact might even be as simple as drawing attention to a problem with brain chemistry and the cyclical nature of cellular life. But our essence lives on throughout this and survives the surrounding mood. Hanging on to that thought is often the light that gets us through the roller-coaster tunnel.

If you are ready to explore these or any other issues with a caring, experienced therapist, please call or email David Bowman to arrange for a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Your mental health is worth it. Call (323) 561-2361.

Photo credit: Andrew Worley UNSPLASH