Mitzi’s suggestions are excellent not only for their efficacy, but also in that they accurately synopsize years of advice I’d received from all manner of sources during my adolescence and the period surrounding my diagnosis. Although bipolar patients are often idiosyncratic to the point of being bizarre, I think the above list will, in all likelihood, assist anyone contemplating the post-diagnosis direction of his or her life.

My additions are concerned primarily with the manner in which those with bipolar disorder think of themselves, the mechanisms of their reflexivity. Being absurdly sensitive, occasionally intense, and a person whom the medical community has diagnosed with a serious personality disorder, the bipolar patient is often hyper-introspective, and frequently constructs self-images which become problematic and perhaps destabilizing. I certainly did, and many of these come from my experience.

Note: As with Mitzi’s w/u, this is subjective and not to be a substitute for proper treatment. I also apologize for any GTKY-aspect of this node, but I imagine it might, perhaps, possibly, maybe be helpful to someone, but probably not…Oh well.

(1) You may or may not be a “genius,” whatever that entails. Probably as a result of the habit of all forms of narrative media (literature, movies, television, many paintings, etc.) to associate mental illness with epoch-defining creativity, many with bipolar disorder think of themselves as geniuses of a sort. I often used to assert that, ”having experienced rapturous Heaven and agonizing Hell so many times, and with such force,” I was probably “too smart, too experientially profound for anyone to understand. Being a genius, I had to speak pretentiously and with nauseating sentimentality (thank God that’s over with…).

Sadly, this is untrue, and a quick examination of my write-ups reflects this clearly. Whatever benefits bipolar disorder confers on those who have it, and I think there may be a few, automatic and heroic brilliance is not one of them. You might be a genius, but it isn’t your brain chemistry. You are a human, in all probability endowed with a number of positive of negative attributes, and that is all.

(2) Medication will not alter your inimitable, vital identity. If a normal human refuses to sleep for several days, he or she experiences hallucinations, delirium, erratic emotional fluctuations, and a general inability to function appropriately (a good state in which to take finals). This is the result of the depletion of a number of chemicals in the brain, and is usually remedied by sleep or death. In the case of the former, the individual has achieved, in sleeping, the remedying of a chemical imbalance; he has not chemically distorted his ‘real self’ (again, whatever the Hell that means).

As Mitzi noted, people with bipolar disorder committ suicide quite a lot. It is important that a recently diagnosed patient understand the critical distinction between regulating chemicals in the brain and subverting one’s identity/self/mind/soul/etc. For the non-linguistic: You + Drugs = You – Some of Your Problems.

(3) You will probably have to substantially change your lifestyle. Many of us (myself included) erect complicated structures of substance abuse, psychological denial, sadism, masochism, eating disorders, and other complimentary mental mechanisms to deal with life before treatment. Most of these will have to be forcibly eradicated, through therapy, self-examination, and will. This does not mean you should abandon your old life (which would be a terrible idea in most cases); it probably means that your bi-annual sex-drugs-crash-burn-rebuild bender should be retired, as should most addictions, excessive behavioral propensities, and strange outfits which seemed appropriate when you were driving to Mexico at five in the morning to escape crazed lovers and financial obligations (or so I’m told).

(4) You are not alone, but you are not likely to get any help from Steve Martin. This relates to (1). Undestandably enough, many of your friends will try to ease the shock of the diagnosis by noting that _____ _______, ________ _______, ______ _______ (insert all-inclusive, never-ending list of living and dead artists, statesmen, and celebrities here) were all bipolar. I have always been somewhat suspicious of these speculative experiments in post-mortem armchair psychiatry, but even if they are accurate, you must remember: it is your disorder. Peer groups can be tremendously helpful, but you are living your life; you make the most critical decisions; you construct your reality. Do so as you will.

If any other additions occur to me (and I am sure they will, as one is always adjusting to this peculiar situation) I will add them. And again, these are utterly subjective and may very well be useless to any and all readers. See a doctor, reflect on your feelings and thoughts, and take care.

See also:
-bipolar
-bipolar disorder
-manic depression
-Depakote

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