We're All Bipolar...More or Less


Ha, that title got you to look at THIS post, didn't it???  You see, there is so much fear and revulsion around the diagnosis of Bipolar that I thought it would be important to raise your fear around it even more...no I mean: less!

You see...I hate to break it to you - if you haven't been diagnosed already - you have bipolar disorder!  Ha Ha and I am not kidding.

That's because the ONLY difference between those of us who need help moderating our bipolarity via medication and therapy (or one or the other) and those of us who don't is just a matter of degree.

Let me explain, starting with a bit of history...

As I am sure you know, at earlier times in human history, we labelled those whose mental illness put them 'outside the norm' crazy or sinful.  Those who had psychosis or those who couldn't hold a job or do most of the occupational and/or social things the majority do, due to their depression or severe anxiety, for example. 

And even more difficult: many believed (and still do) that if you are mentally ill you are dangerous or violent.  Not so. Also - many point to the eccentricities of some as evidence of the 'weirdness' that is mental ILLNESS.  Think: Howard Hughes.  Hughes was very successful in one area of his life - business - but he had lots of oddities probably caused by brain illness, such as obsessive compulsive disorder and/or obsessive compulsive personality disorder (yes they are two different diagnoses).

If you didn't know, the manual created to help categorize and treat symptoms of mental illness is called the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  Yes, psychiatrists and therapists rely on it and many academic and clinical experts created it.  Yes, we like it as therapists and we hate it too. Many of us don't like the issue of the labeling and how these labels can be used against someone. 

However, it is necessary to diagnose using DSM and the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) which is now in revision 10, per the powers that be - to pay the bills - the insurance companies.  In the last few years, it has become necessary for me to become more knowledgeable and skillful in using the newest edition of the book: DSM V.

To give you a hint as to my age, when I started graduate school we were using DSM III. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), DSM III was published in 1980.  Yes there were two earlier editions that go back to World War II.  The authors have been working on DSM V since 2000.  This slow pace is actually probably a good thing, given the double-edge power of diagnosis.  DSM IV has been the version I've worked with the most in my career. 

HERE'S THE GOOD NEWS:  The really cool thing about the evolution in our thinking about mental disorders from editions IV to V is huge.  Most of the changes I see as welcome.  And a great book I found that explains these changes wonderfully is 

DSM5 Insanely Simplified: Unlocking the Spectrums in DSMV and ICD-10

This book goes to great lengths to explain to us that mental illness is not some unusual or odd thing (think 'stigma') but something on a continuum.  Meaning, like physical health, at any time each of us is somewhere on the continuum between very well and very unwell to everything in between.  

I encourage you to check out this simple to read, but powerfully wise book.