Riding the bipolar roller coaster



Depressed Young Man Talking To Counsellor

Having just a few good friends or family members who understand is a major asset when dealing with an illness like bipolar. ©Adobe Stock

In her book “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison examines the relationship between bipolar 1 disorder and creativity. She and many others believe people with this condition have contributed greatly to the richness of our lives and our culture, people like Beethoven, Van Gogh and Mark Twain, for example.

Surely some Bible characters likely had more than a touch of these symptoms as well, people like Jeremiah, Samson and some of the psalmists, for example. In Psalm 13 the writer goes from the God-forsaken despair of “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” to affirmations like “my heart rejoices… I am full of song… God is so good to me,” all in just six short verses.

Unlike simple clinical depression, a bipolar individual is less likely to have their moods determined by losses or other external circumstances as by internal “brain storms” that are less easily treated with psychotherapy alone. The symptoms tend to have a genetically-driven life of their own, striking without warning and often persisting in spite of every effort to manage or modify their effects.

Formerly called manic-depressive disorder, this brain disease typically causes its victims to become very hyperactive, as in engaging in marathon binges of house cleaning, excessive shopping and/or other kinds of over-the-top and irrational behaviors, followed by a kind of emotional letdown that can be gut-wrenchingly painful.

Mood fluctuations are common to all of us, but in the case of bipolar 1 they are extreme and can be debilitating (bipolar 2 is similar but with somewhat less severe symptoms).

There may be a silver lining to the dark cloud of this disorder, however. The musical artist Leo Kottke once commented, “When you’re manic, you create. When you’re depressed, you edit.”

But the dark and despondent side of this condition calls for our special support and help. As with anyone experiencing a mental illness, being surrounded by a loving community is a major asset.

Of course that is true for any of us. Writer Gerald Shenk, formerly of Harrisonburg, states the following, “Above all, I want them (our adult children) to know the reality of a faith family network that vibrates with beauty and abundant goodness; a community whose thick fabric of care will be there for them through the best of times and the worst of times. Real families will always need real communities, both to survive and especially to thrive.”

Good words for wherever we are on the mood disorder spectrum.

Harvey Yoder is a family counselor and teaches parenting and marriage classes at the Family Life Resource Center. Questions relating to family concerns can be addressed to FLRC, 273 Newman Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22801 or to . His blog can be followed at harvyoder.blogspot.com.


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