Wave Riders: Bipolar Disorder

Most people can relate to the bipolar disorder profile to some degree. We realize that our energy states move up and down in wave-like patterns, with crests and troughs. That’s why we say we are feeling “up” or “down” or “somewhere in between” on any given day. We experience our moods as oscillating between two poles.

For people who qualify for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, this natural property of emotion is more pronounced. Calling the bipolar profile “disordered” may sound like it passes judgment on the state – that is not the intention here. Rather, looking closer at the particular suffering a woman with this pattern tends to live generates empathy and understanding for her particular heroism.

If the higher and lower end frequencies of a sound recording are too intense, they will “clip” and distort, and can hurt our ears – we are simply not equipped to hear such intensity in those ranges. To counteract this, a sound engineer will apply a filter to compress the sound wave – so that the highs aren’t quite so painfully high, and the lows aren’t so painfully low. At the same time, if she applies too much compression to a recording, it becomes very flat, and loses its appealing, lively quality. A good sound engineer, therefore, finds a balance between reducing the upper and lower frequencies, making sure she doesn’t drain the life out of the song.

People with bipolar disorder face the same dilemma – how to reduce the painful frequencies coming through them, to make life’s intensity more tolerable, without flattening their richness.

People who are eligible for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder experience the amplitude of their waves as well as the rhythm of their cycling between highs and lows in more exaggerated ways than the rest of the population. They are outliers on the bell curve, with special sensitivities. They have experiences, both positive and negative, which are more extreme and intense than people who can’t access frequencies in those ranges.

Some people with the bipolar diagnosis have a variant of it which is described by “rapid cycling”, which means that they pass between the highs and lows at a fast rate. Some people experience mania, or a painfully intense “up” side of the cycle, and some mostly stay around the depressed node, with occasional visits to slightly elevated mood (called “hypomania”).

Mania typically involves an increase in energy, outlook and mood, often involving extended periods of little or no sleep and intense creative outpourings of activity, thought and speech. Mania is often accompanied by irritability, speediness, scattered thought, and inflation of ego. People in a manic state may access a superficially positive, grandiose or unsustainably optimistic perspective, that loses touch with the ground of their more balanced, felt-sensed truth. People in a manic state typically take risks, often dangerous ones, because they are currently feeling invincible.

On the other end of the pole, women with bipolar patterning experience staggering depths of depression, drop in mood, and deflation of the ego, that are so intense and painful, these women are often at risk for suicide. In such troughs of their emotional waves, these women suffer with a depth of feeling some people would not be able to handle.

Some women with the diagnosis have such an amplitude to their waves that their experiences are classed as “psychotic” on either end. During mania, they can experience delusions of grandeur, seeing and hearing things that most people are not seeing. A woman may believe she is a famous historical figure, a messiah, or in possession of supernatural powers which are not actually manifesting now in this world. On the low node, she may hear terrible voices or sense entities that convince her of her profound unworthiness, and tell her to do destructive things.

Many creative, charming, intelligent people, indeed many of our cultural icons past and present, have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. There is a documented connection between giftedness and bipolar disorder: women with bipolar have extraordinary, uncommon and vibrant experiences of life which shine through them and make them interesting and attractive to others. The creative output during manic states and the spiritual wisdom gained during time in the dark often help bipolar women fulfill their roles on earth. These women are the ones among us who are born to surf the waves of emotional waters. For a society that is too obsessed with being normal, and out of touch with symbolic, emotional realms, people with bipolar may be here to help us integrate those parts of human experience we have excluded.

At the same time, having bipolar is typically a source of great pain for the individual, and these special humans need our support for their experiences, which are often wild beyond their ability to fully hold and integrate alone. Being close to people with the diagnosis, likewise, is typically very challenging for loved ones due to the “emotional rollercoaster” feeling that is part of their reality.

Bipolar disorder is frequently misdiagnosed, confused with other disorders for the simple reason that it has a little bit of a lot of things in it – it can look like substance abuse, major depression, anxiety, psychosis, narcissism. So a careful diagnosis will look at an overall life pattern. Like all diagnoses, it is important to name it, and it will likely bring relief to treat it if it is a problem – if it is painful, disruptive, counterproductive, or toxic to your being, relationships, and life.

People with bipolar disorder are highly susceptible to substance abuse problems, for the obvious reason that a person attempting to stabilize and soften the edges of her experience may self-medicate. Typically a poly-substance pattern appears – something to help sedate when the ups are uncomfortable, and something to try to pull herself out of depression when the downs are uncomfortable, as well as an overall attempt to stabilize the cycling to experience more internal coherence.

It is important for a woman who suspects she may have bipolar disorder along with substance abuse problems, to seek treatment in a capable dual diagnosis facility. She needs support from a team who can appropriately support her experience in a nourishing way, while educating her about the ways that her two conditions interact with each other.

Women with bipolar usually benefit from extra help becoming aware of the sometimes destructive role played by their fluid moods and shifting sense of self. It is empowering to see and get a better handle on how their powerful feeling states sometimes mislead them and impair better judgment. Such women can use support getting in touch with their inner neutrality, their ability to observe from a state of compassionate dis-identification, learning to see the difference between the patterns of illness and their true Self. Women recovering from bipolar disorder are called to activate the inner part inside them that is like a wise old woman, who can see through the ebb and flow of emotions, urges, moods, and states, and sagely choose what is best in that moment.

Villa Kali Ma is a dual diagnosis capable facility, where practitioners are specialized in the treatment of substance abuse and also versatile in a wide range of holistic, integrative treatments for healing mental illness patterns. We hold a positive, humanistic view of people – we will celebrate, not stigmatize, the special gift-challenge of this disorder, should it apply to you. We invite you to come discover how you can learn to surf rather than drown in the emotional waves, which are your special soul gift!

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