Nic Sheff is a columnist, author and former addict. In his recent post he isn’t happy the ways Hollywood portray the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but not expose its real-life treatment. He shared his own bipolar history and treatment experience.
“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in 2003. I’d never even really heard of bipolar as a mental illness before. I knew the Jimi Hendrix “Manic Depression” song. Nirvana had that “Lithium” song. But other than that, I wasn’t super aware of bi-polar disorder in popular culture. Bipolar disorder is very real for me. But it’s also completely manageable. Of course, being diagnosed didn’t mean I was going to comply with treatment. Even though I could recognize the symptoms in myself I decided I didn’t want to be a part of that process. Crystal meth and heroin were fine in my mind but somehow I told myself that Lithium and Prozac were contributing to the evil corporate culture taking over America. So I refused to take my meds and refused to accept the diagnosis. I’m not saying that my being bipolar was the only reason I kept relapsing. But it definitely made staying sober a whole lot harder. And I’m honestly not sure what made me finally give in and start taking my medication. When I got sober this last time, I made a commitment to do whatever it was my doctor suggested and that included mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic medication. It was therapy, meds, 12-step stuff and my outpatient program, too. With all of those things, my emotions stopped controlling my life and I was able to have a real, healthy, honest relationship. I’m now married. I work a steady job. I have a great relationship with my family. I have friends. It’s all shit I never could’ve done before; my life is now completely different. Bipolar disorder is very real for me. But it’s also completely manageable.”
Bipolar disorder is an episodic mood disorder characterized by extreme shifts in mood, from depressive lows to manic highs. Unofficially, it would be describe as a cycling illness. It’s as if brains are in continuous motion or Cycles. On top of mood, our thoughts are also shifting, along with energy levels. We can simply called it a mood cycle.
It is estimated that 5.7 million American adults have bipolar disorder, which is sometimes called manic depression. When left untreated, bipolar disorder can make it difficult to function in everyday life. It can cause problems with relationships, jobs, or school, and even lead to suicide.
All mood disorders start in the brain. Mood disorders are physical, biologically-based disorders. However, in mood disorders, the chemical processes responsible for normal brain function are disrupted. One of the major symptoms is mood disturbance, which is why many people think of mood disorders as emotional illnesses. Mood disorders affect the whole body and many daily activities, which is why eating and sleeping disturbances, problems with concentration and fatigue may occur.
A significant number of teenagers who abuse mood altering substances are really suffering from an underlying mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder. Without realizing it, they may be trying to “self medicate” their symptoms of clinical depression or manic depressive illness. Teens with mood disorders seek alcohol or drugs because they temporarily offer relaxation, or help them feel more confident or energetic. Unfortunately, this is temporary and can cause the depression to worsen, resulting in two serious conditions rather than one.
Bipolar disorder is often treated with what are called mood stabilizers. These medications can be very effective in treating hypomania or mania and preventing the recurrence of bipolar episodes. Therapy can teach people with bipolar disorder how to recognize the changes in their personality that indicates an oncoming mood swing. Therapy can help people with bipolar disorder move forward in their lives; it teaches them how to relate to and get closer to other people, and ultimately how to build the life they want to lead.
Clinical depression and bipolar illnesses are treatable, but right now cannot be cured. The goal of treatment should be to manage the disease, decrease the severity of depressive and manic episodes and keep recurrences to a minimum.