header shotAnyone whose had a cold will tell you it’s uncomfortable. There’s a headachy feeling that renders us pale and listless. It comes on the heels of sleepless-can’t-breathe nights that leave our eyes ringed in shadows.

The thing about having a cold, is that everyone understands what ails us. We usually garner some degree of sympathy from those around us. Folks understand that the coughing, sneezing, and snuffling are symptoms. We don’t worry that people will find out we’ve gone to the doctor for help when the cold gets the better of us.

What if we changed the wording in the previous paragraph? Suppose that cold turned to bipolar disorder. Imagine that coughing, sneezing, and snuffling became mood swings, altered judgment, and puzzling behavior. What if we could change the words and the paragraphs still rang true?

shells 2
Those whose loved ones are involved and supportive tend to recover more quickly, experience fewer manic and depressive episodes and have milder symptoms. ~ helpguide.org

Bipolar disorder can be difficult to recognize. Not everyone experiences bipolar disorder symptoms with the same intensity or frequency. There may not a singular obvious and defining “sneeze” that indicates our partner, our friend, our neighbor, or our colleague is affected by bipolar disorder.

Our minds categorize and label all that we see based on “schemata“. It’s the brain’s way of dealing with a constant flow of incoming information.  When we witness repeated poor judgment, exaggerated emotional reactions, mood swings, or puzzling behaviours, we file our observances under schema categories like — fool, drama queen, or character defect.

It’s time for intellect to override this antiquated labeling system. Let’s sift that information through a new filter and consider that the judgment, emotional reaction, moods or behaviours could be the result of a medical condition beyond the individual’s control. If we can make that shift in thinking, perhaps we can grow a wider culture of compassion in which individuals and families affected by bipolar disorder can feel supported and understood.

shells 1
While growing acceptance of bipolar disorder as a medical condition, like diabetes and heart disease, has taken hold in some parts of the world, unfortunately the stigma associated with the illness is a barrier to care and continues to impede early diagnosis and effective treatment. ~ Jill Olds for World Bipolar Day

I don’t write about this from a place of experience or expertise, but rather from a place of empathy and reflection.

One thing I can say with certainty, is that bipolar disorder is a family affair — parents, siblings, spouses, partners, and children exercise patience and adaptability throughout their loved one’s journey. It is a pebble tossed on a millpond. The ripples move outward, and opportunities to support and encourage travel past the inner circle of immediate family to the outer rings of  friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and even strangers in public places.

To my dear friends who continue to bravely and generously share their story — you’ve led me to sit quietly and think deeply. My love to you!

“ I have a dream that my son, who has lived most of his life with bipolar disorder, will one day live in a nation where he will not be judged by his illness, but rather by the content of his character. I believe that World Bipolar Day will help bring my dream to fruition.”  ~ Muffy Walker (Founder and President of International Bipolar Foundation) ~

Click to learn more about The International Society for Bipolar Disorders and World Bipolar Day.

 Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.