Am I Bipolar or Do I Have Bipolar?

Do I have bipolar disorder or am I bipolar? I know many in the mental health community feel strongly about the meaning of this linguistic distinction. Can I honestly claim that I am not defined by my illness? My brain disorder influences my personality and the way I think. Bipolar disorder defines and limits me in ways I wish it didn’t. My mind does not work as well as it once did. I am less intelligent, less productive, and less functional than I once was. The mundane easily overwhelms me. I have an illness that limits me and in doing so redefines me. I once planned to become a physician, but had to let go of that goal and of other goals for I wasn’t up to it. I was once an ambitious child, teen, and young woman. Ambition is now beyond me. I mourn the loss of my former self. I mourn the loss of brilliance that was once a part of me.

I also mourn the loss of Robin Williams. His mood disorder and addictions (dual diagnosis) have robbed us of a much-loved man.


53 responses to “Am I Bipolar or Do I Have Bipolar?”

  1. […] overworking until I again became depressed. Finally, at the age of 39, it became clear that I had bipolar disorder. Still, I tried balancing the demands of coping with bipolar disorder with parenting and working in […]

  2. […] Am I Bipolar or Do I Have Bipolar? […]

  3. I once similarly wondered, “Does everyone think this, feel this, or struggle with this impulse?” I now know that they do not. Interesting, isn’t it. Honestly, though, I would not wish my struggles on anyone even if it did normalize them and increase understanding, compassion, and accomodations. I think that I understand the point you made and hope that my response is on point, as well.

  4. Very important to rule out other medical causes for symptoms and to get excellent medical care, including regular labs to check on organ functioning. Different medications affect different organs. I now take valproic acid (Depakote) which strains the liver.

  5. I believe that this illness has allowed me to see and feel many things differently than those without it. I believe from my experience that I have felt more deeply and intensely both the low feelings and the high feelings. Despite the restrictions, loss and difficulty it has caused me, it has also blessed me with an experience of life that has immense depth and through that more understanding and wisdom. There is a line from the movie Silver Linings Playbook (whether you loved it or hated it) that is wonderful all the same. It says basical “Do you ever think that maybe people like us see things that others don’t?” I love that line.

    Because of intensity of experiences, feelings, sentiments that are not the norm, they have caused us problems at times. If everybody experienced lifes highs and lows and the periods of changes in behavior due to depressive or manic phases to the same degree they would not cause problems because our reactions and resultant behavior would not be out of the ordinary. They would be expected and understood so would not cause an issue with others. There would be more support for the common problems caused by the disorder because they would be necessary for everybody and everyday societal functioning. Just as simply as workplaces provide lunch breaks because people would have a negative reaction to not eating all day, and everybody has the same reaction to hunger both physically and emotionally, even just productivity wise, it is normal to provide lunch breaks to avoid these negative reactions and resultant problems. That may be an oversimplification, but I hope it illustrates my point.

    (Sometimes I think I don’t get across clearly what I am meaning to say, so sorry if that is happening now!)

  6. I have heard about hypothyroidism causing the same symptoms as Bipolar disorder. If patients are on lithium, I would hope that their GP would have their thyroid function tested before and during treatment as lithium can cause thyroid problems. Otherwise, I think that doctors should do full blood work before concluding any diagnosis, but that is just my opinion. I wish it was more commonly known that the two disorders display similar symptoms so that people could be proactive and request that thyroid issues are ruled out before a conclusive diagnosis. I personally had my thyroid checked before my diagnosis and had normal thyroid function, but unfortunately after a year on lithium I had to go on thyroid medication because the lithium actually caused my hypothyroidism! I decided to discontinue lithium but the damage was permanent, I am just glad I stopped it before it completely destroyed my thyroid (I have heard many unfortunate stories of people’s thyroids being permanently damaged because of long term lithium treatment). I am lucky to have had a thorough GP. That is not to say that there is any doubt about anybody’s diagnosis here, I am just saying that I am also aware of the connection and find it unfortunate that there could be people misdiagnosed because they didn’t have a simple thyroid function test to rule out other causes.

  7. I’m pretty sure that I’ve had my thyroid levels checked to rule out thyroid problems, but there is no harm in having it done again. Psychotropic medication has made a huge positive difference in my life. That and the fact that I have a family history of alcoholism and mental illness including suicide, leads me to believe that I have been correctly diagnosed. Thank you for your concern, though. I appreciate it.

  8. I’m not saying you don’t have Bipolar Kitt but have you been checked for Hashimoto’s Disease, there is a lot now about it on the Web.

    I was wrongly diagnosed with Bipolar for years and was in and out of Hospital, they could never find the right medication to keep me stable because I had Hashimoto’s Disease and the Bipolar medication was stopping the Thyroid medication from being affective.

    Amazingly years later because of a Drug Ban, I was unable to get my Bipolar Medication, but because I had to get it out of my system before they could give me another one, they found that I didn’t suffer from Bipolar, I had no Symptoms and that was because the Thyroid medication was able to work. I thank God for the Drug Ban or they may not have found out and I would have continued to suffer.

    It’s been many years now and I continue to be well but I remember what I experienced and have much compassion for those who still suffer with Bipolar or undiagnosed Hashimoto’s Disease and sadly there has been others who were the same as me and no doubt there are more.

    Christian Love – Anne

  9. Thanks, I’m heading to your site and to see what you had to write on the subject.

  10. I wrote about this very topic myself at: I think it’s a good question without an easy answer. We both are our diagnosis and we have it. I think it depends a lot on how we’re doing with it. When we struggle with it, it consumes our personalities. But when we get a break now and then it’s more like having a chronic illness. It’s a hard place to be and it shifts all the time for me I know.
    All the best to you, Kitt…

  11. Thank you so much, Sheri. Your respect means the world to me. I’m flattered.

  12. Kitt – Another spot on blog. I’d like to say your intelligence shines through in every blog of your that I’ve read.

  13. Good for you,both of you! Interesting… genetics plays a MAJOR role in my former addiction, too. Now I hate the way it makes me feel if I even take a sip!!

  14. Thank you for your kind words, I’m certainly working on both recovery and building new health, happy experiences.

  15. Yes, we do not always understand why, and it certainly doesn’t seem fair, but we are who we are in part because of what we have been through, what we have survived. Thank you for pulling through the depths of darkness. It takes strength.

  16. I often have said that though I went through so much anguish during the many times of depression I had… that I would not be who I am today were it not for those times… just as you have said…. Diane

  17. You are right, of course. I am basically opening it up for discussion. Unlike diabetes and cancer, mental illness affects our brains, our feelings, how we perceive the world. One way people destigmatize mental health issues is to use politically correct language. Another way is to reclaim negative language and turn it on its head. To own it, and say, “So? Yes, this illness affects me deeply, affects how I think, how I feel, how I act. I am not ashamed of having this illness. I own it. I would not be who I am if it were not for this illness.”

  18. I must admit to an occasional glass of wine or hard cider, but I limit myself severely. If I buy a bottle of red wine, it turns to vinegar before I can finish it. Both my husband and I are very wary of alcoholism. Genetics play too huge a role in that addiction. We do not want that in our lives.

  19. It is easier to own the diagnosis if you’ve lived with it for a while and feel confident about oneself, as I do. Not every day, mind you. I do mourn “Super Kitt.” When hypomanic, I can be incredibly productive, but at a high cost. I’ve had to adapt, but don’t we all. Life presents obstacles. We make of it what we can.

  20. You are certainly not defined by your illness anymore than a diabetic is or a cancer patient, although perhaps they feel that way too sometimes.. Diane

  21. I’m actually just opening up a conversation and voicing my own experience of bipolarity. I’m not much of a hardass on anything except I’m intolerant of intolerance. 🙂

  22. I like the phrase “I experience bipolar.” Perfect! Indeed we do experience it, and HOW! I wish you the best with your bipolar experience. I hope that you also experience recovery and find new things that really matter to you that you can do while experiencing bipolar.

  23. Oh, I agree with you. The times I have missed my medications have been harrowing and it is hard enough with the medications. This was my delusion for awhile. I am glad he confirmed that you are not going into cognitive decline. You are wise not to drink, etc. For a long time I drank… a lot… with the medications. Not anymore.

    On Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 5:32 PM, Kitt O’Malley wrote:

    > Kitt O’Malley commented: “Ellen, yesterday afternoon I saw my pdoc, > who I greatly respect, and he reassured me that I am not going through a > cognitive decline as I feared. He said that bipolar disorder/disease (take > your pick) results in cognitive decline for those who drink, take” >

  24. Touche on the diabetic part. And I am beginning to see what you mean about the rest of it. That makes some sense to me now.

  25. We are the same age, me 51, I’ve been Bipolar most of my life. I think your question is a good one and is open for interpretation. If not positive about life people might think they are only Bipolar. Like you, I have Bipolar and it has made huge changes in my life, sometimes more than others, but I am so much more. Yes, I miss the taste of hypo or mania, I have spent so many years dragging on the bottom. I would take being in the middle any day. I bet you had a large response to the post. Have a great day. 🙂

  26. It does both, certainly. Our lives are changed, but we do exist as a self beneath our diagnosis. I can see both sides of the argument. I was simply owning the diagnosis as deeply affecting the way I think, feel, and experience life. My life, too, has changed. But it is far from over. I do not know what the future has in store for me, but this, what I am doing right now, is part of that future. We mental health bloggers and advocates are changing the nature of mental health advocacy and treatment. We are organizing on a grass roots level. We are supporting one another. Thank you for being a part of that movement. Thank you for helping others.

  27. Yes, but I don’t want to get everybody feeling down about themselves. We truly are more than our diagnoses. I was making the point that bipolar disorder deeply affects how I think, feel, and experience life. I own my diagnosis as part of who I am and how I experience life. Still hold on to hope for recovery. What that recovery looks like for you, I do not know. I hold you in my prayers (if you believe in such) or in my thoughts (if that will do the trick). I already quoted the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr in one of my responses. Whether or not one believes in God, the prayer is wise, so in the spirit of redundancy, I repeat it here to you:

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And the wisdom to know the difference.

  28. Yes. And you are a child of God. You are loved.

  29. Without a doubt, we are more than our mental illness/brain disorder/diagnosis. Just as we are more than any role we play in life: “I’m woman, mother, wife, smarty-pants, advocate.” Underneath it ALL we exist. We have a self, a soul perhaps. We are not ruined by bipolar disorder, but we are changed, we are different, we are challenged. Priorities change. Goals change. Recovery is possible. What that recovery looks like differs for each of us. I guess the Serenity Prayer by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is in order here:

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And the wisdom to know the difference.

  30. I am pretty sure that she would say that one has an illness or disorder, not that one is defined by an illness or disorder. I am making a point. My brain works differently than a “normal” brain. Bipolar disorder deeply affects how I think and feel.

  31. Without a doubt you deserve to be loved, most especially by yourself. Our minds are beautiful even in their brokenness.

  32. Ellen, yesterday afternoon I saw my pdoc, who I greatly respect, and he reassured me that I am not going through a cognitive decline as I feared. He said that bipolar disorder/disease (take your pick) results in cognitive decline for those who drink, take drugs, and engage in risk-taking activities, not in those like me who take care of their brains. Obviously, we experience the side effects of our medications, and those can be frustrating, but I’ll take health over uncontrolled illness and destructive, life-threatening symptoms any day.

  33. Yes, obviously I am more than bipolar, just as I am more than a mother or a wife or an intelligent, well-educated middle-aged woman. I get the distinction, but I am owning the disorder as defining for it influences the way I experience life, the way I think and feel. So, yes, I am bipolar and I have bipolar disorder. Both statements are true. I’ve always been the kind of spunky gal who would take the risk, and say, “Yes, I am ______. What of it?” I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for many years. I take good care of myself. I mourn the changes I’ve had to make in my goals and expectations of myself. I haven’t achieved what I once thought I could. But I’m only 50, and I intend to live a long time. I’m bipolar. I’m crazy, mad, and weird (in a good way). I own it. I have experienced the mystical euphoria of mania. Now I’d go to my pdoc with such symptoms. But, I also identify with the mystics. I am a mystic. I am a healer. Somehow my brain has both limited and expanded who I am and how I experience life.

  34. As a follow-up, yesterday my psychiatrist reassured me that I do not suffer and will not likely suffer cognitive deficits due to bipolar disorder, for I take care of myself and my brain.

  35. Point taken. But, at a certain point, the gay community embraced terminology that had been used to limit them. Yes, I am mentally ill. Yes, I am crazy, mad, nuts. I do not behave so. I take my meds and go to therapy as I need. am responsible and do see bipolar disorder as an illness, but it is an illness that shapes how I experience life. As such, it is a part of who I am. I own it. I am not ashamed. I have the strength to stand up and say, “This is what a bipolar woman looks like — just like you.”

  36. But people do say, “I am diabetic,” even though their illness does not define them. I understand the distinction, but I am owning that my illness (which it certainly is) does in part both define and limit me. My illness perhaps also expands my mind in that I have experienced intense emotions and states of consciousness that those with a “normal” brain probably have not. I have compassion and understanding for those who struggle as I have. I understand why people may do horrible things that most people cannot fathom. I get it.

  37. I have type II diabetes. Some people say I am diabetic. So I think there is a similarity there. A powerful chronic disease can influence your life, you can’t change that. You can only determine how you might react to that.

  38. I would NOT say “I am cancer”…etc. (forgot the “NOT”) 🙂

  39. I have bipolar. I figure if I had cancer or Parkinson’s I would say “I am cancer” or “I am Parkinson’s”. Even with depression, people don’t say “I’m depression.” They say, “I have it.”

  40. I can identify with what you say, I too have had to give up many things because of this horrible illness. I am or I have Bipolar, I’m not sure that it really matters to me, it’s my experience that really matters to me, so perhaps I experience Bipolar!

  41. I agree with your logic. I was a ‘have’ person. But time has shown me otherwise. Bipolar is restrictive, and behaviour and expectations of myself have been redefined. My life has changed. Therefore, it defines me

  42. I can very much relate to feeling less functional than before I became unwell. I envy the people who have clarity of thought or don’t feel exhausted at the drop of a hat.

  43. i am bipolor and ocd

  44. I so relate to all you present here. I think the only reason I prefer to say I have bipolar disorder is that underneath the illness there’s a True Me that can’t be ruined. I, too, am not the person I used to be, and some days are about nothing but survival, but I can still find that True Me if I look hard enough. The illness burned off all the things I used to identify with–my intelligence, my occupation, my relationships, my body, my hobbies–but an essence remained. I mourned (and still do sometimes) all I’ve lost, but in some ways it makes my life clearer. My priorities are different. My focus is different. And that’s okay.

  45. Completely can relate to this post. I often mourn the loss of my past self. I am trying to love the new me. I deserve to be loved especially by myself.

  46. I guess we are all more than Bipolar. Someone just corrected my post on Robin Williams and Bipolar Disorder. I called it a disease because to me it is. And while I may be more than Bipolar it is so much of who I am, I can’t imagine being any other way, except the way I was before my breakdown. I have rehashed all you have said about losing intelligence, giving up goals, setting my sights lower, being totally humbled, etc. etc.– except I have one more to add– giving up having children– which to your credit you did!!

    My husband, a clinical social worker, tells me you play the hand you’re dealt. And I believe he is right. My therapist says I am lucky medication works for me because he says it does not work for everyone. This is in response to my saying I think the medication has lowered my intelligence. I know it has lowered my creativity and spiritual experiences. And then he says that after a breakdown your defenses are busted, so to speak, so that is why there is diminished functionality.

    But we have husbands we adore and you have a son you adore as well and we can do many things. I don’t know the answer to your question and I bristle at calling Bipolar illness a disorder and not a disease. After all, Robin Williams just made it very plain to all last night that it can be fatal!

    I hope you are feeling better. Have missed your posts but was also glad you were hopefully taking a respite from the blogosphere and social media world.

  47. Hi friend,
    That’s a very good question. When I was younger I might have answered differently. I am not Bipolar, I have Bipolar and like you at times it limits what I can do. I am so much more than Bipolar and I work hard to fill the other areas of my life. Have a great day. 🙂

  48. I understand that I am Kitt and that I have bipolar disorder, but bipolar disorder has negatively impacted my life and continues to attack my brain. The cognitive deficits limit who I am by limiting how I think and what I can do.

  49. This is a great question, Kitt…
    I agree with it being a tool of influence, but I don’t think it’s who you are…
    (P.S. I unfollowed and refollowed you so I could get your blog in my email. It’s how I keep better track of people I really want to read)

  50. Hi Kitt!
    “Do I have bipolar disorder or am I bipolar?” Logically, you can only be a person who has a disorder. If you “were,” bipolar, how would you describe yourself?

  51. That is a great question – I am forwarding your article to my mother who is a doctor. I am looking forward to get her answer!

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