Rethinking Mental Illness in Honor of World Bipolar Day
March 30, 2016 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Today is World Bipolar Day. The international event, held annually on March 30, coincides with the birthday of late artist Vincent van Gogh, who many believe had bipolar disorder. Actress Patty Duke was one of the first famous faces to speak out about her experience as a bipolar individual, which makes her passing yesterday a particularly poignant loss for others living with and advocating for a better understanding of mood disorders and mental illness.

The goal of World Bipolar Day is to improve awareness of and sensitivity to the millions of people around the world who live or have lived with some form of bipolar disorder over the course of their lives. Many well-known celebrities live with the illness, including Carrie Fisher and Stephen Fry, both of whom speak openly about being bipolar. As understanding grows about the spectrum of symptoms that can come with being bipolar, doctors and historians have begun to speculate that other historical figures may have had the disorder as well, including author Virginia Woolf, actress Marilyn Monroe, and artist Edvard Munch.
posted by Hermione Granger (8 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
This conversation with Stephen Fry was instrumental in introducing me to myself, a few months after my intial diagnosis, when I was still trying to sort out meds and life.
posted by DGStieber at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

After more than ten years of untreatable depression, and being turned down time after time for a bipolar diagnosis, I had the excellent fortune of seeing a new psychiatrist on a day when I was having a manic episode. Picture me in the chair, laughing and smiling and telling my incredibly sad depression story at an incredibly high rate of speed. Quote her,

"Man, you are so bipolar."

There's no way to put into words what a difference getting that diagnosis, and the right medication, has made in my life. I spent my entire 20s careening from one catastrophe to the next (my sock-puppet's AskMe questions can tell the tale). My 30s have had promotions, raises, an upcoming engagement (I'm proposing in two weeks!) to my first functioning relationship, a renaissance in my family dynamics, and more.

Probably the toughest part about bipolar, especially bipolar 2 and cyclothymia, is that mania doesn't feel bad- actually, in between long drags of depression, mania feels maybe like what life if supposed to feel like, so you never seek out psychiatric help during those episodes. But in retrospect, the manic phases were downright scary. Grandiosity, risk-taking, attention seeking, carelessness in excess. In my second year of treatment now, I have a new appreciation for what happiness actually feels like, and how it feels to love and be loved.

It's pretty scary embracing the word, especially because now that I'm under treatment I no longer have any symptoms, but I try and talk about it whenever applicable because if people are able to identify with my experience they may have a way out as well. I spent a decade 100% positive that I was never going to get better, but now I do- emphatically so.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:35 PM on March 30, 2016 [24 favorites]

I wish I'd known this earlier today... I teach Geometry and Engineering at an urban high school and to give the kids something to talk to me about that's not math (which gets boring after a while...) I put a "Happy _______ Day" on the whiteboard each day.

It sounds silly but Happy National Elephant Appreciation Day (with drawing of elephant), Happy National Sandwich Day (with drawing of sandwich), actually does work as something we can talk about before I start beating them over the head with the math. And once you start talking with the kids, you can learn a lot about them, you know?

Anyway I don't want to say too much more, but this would have worked as an icebreaker, for sure.
posted by subdee at 3:41 PM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Patty Duke's book "Call Me Anna" was really good. She packed a lot of living into her life. I remember watching "The Patty Duke Show" as a kid, and the gossip magazines with cover photos of Patty and Desi ArnazJr. Such a scandal that she was a few years older. Then the pregnancy and she was unmarried! That was my introduction to Hollywood gossip sheets. I had no idea she had bipolar disorder until I got to that part of the book. So many interesting chapters in her life story. So sad that she's gone.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:12 PM on March 30, 2016

It's a bipolar world!
posted by fairmettle at 10:08 PM on March 30, 2016

BuddhaInABucket, thank you so much for sharing that. "Careening from one catastrophe to the next" is a perfect description of my 20s as well... actually your entire story matches my experience very closely. I'm increasingly beginning to suspect I have bipolar of some sort, rather than "mere" treatment-resistant depression. I can check quite a few of the boxes, including grandiosity and attention-seeking. I have some more questions - do you mind if I memail you? (No pressure)

DGStieber, thanks for that video. I love Stephen Fry!
posted by iffthen at 4:20 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

iffthen: absolutely! same for anyone else if they want to talk about it.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:51 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

FWIW, my partner, while not on Metafilter, has on occasion also offered to be a question-answerer for MeFites with bipolar diagnoses. I will quite happily put anyone who has issues/questions related to bipolar disorder in touch with him, if you ping my MeMail to exchange email addresses. He's many years into the diagnosis at this point, after many more years of mis-diagnosis, and is pretty much always willing to talk to people about this stuff.

Thanks for the post.
posted by Stacey at 12:14 PM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

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