Am I Bipolar or Do I Have Bipolar?

Do I have bipolar disorder or am I bipolar? I know many in the mental health community feel strongly about the meaning of this linguistic distinction. Can I honestly claim that I am not defined by my illness? My brain disorder influences my personality and the way I think. Bipolar disorder defines and limits me in ways I wish it didn’t. My mind does not work as well as it once did. I am less intelligent, less productive, and less functional than I once was. The mundane easily overwhelms me. I have an illness that limits me and in doing so redefines me. I once planned to become a physician, but had to let go of that goal and of other goals for I wasn’t up to it. I was once an ambitious child, teen, and young woman. Ambition is now beyond me. I mourn the loss of my former self. I mourn the loss of brilliance that was once a part of me.

I also mourn the loss of Robin Williams. His mood disorder and addictions (dual diagnosis) have robbed us of a much-loved man.

53 thoughts on “Am I Bipolar or Do I Have Bipolar?

  1. Pieces of Bipolar August 13, 2014 / 7:36 am

    I agree with your logic. I was a ‘have’ person. But time has shown me otherwise. Bipolar is restrictive, and behaviour and expectations of myself have been redefined. My life has changed. Therefore, it defines me

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 3:07 pm

      It does both, certainly. Our lives are changed, but we do exist as a self beneath our diagnosis. I can see both sides of the argument. I was simply owning the diagnosis as deeply affecting the way I think, feel, and experience life. My life, too, has changed. But it is far from over. I do not know what the future has in store for me, but this, what I am doing right now, is part of that future. We mental health bloggers and advocates are changing the nature of mental health advocacy and treatment. We are organizing on a grass roots level. We are supporting one another. Thank you for being a part of that movement. Thank you for helping others.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dog & Hydrant August 13, 2014 / 2:52 am

    I can very much relate to feeling less functional than before I became unwell. I envy the people who have clarity of thought or don’t feel exhausted at the drop of a hat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 3:00 pm

      Yes, but I don’t want to get everybody feeling down about themselves. We truly are more than our diagnoses. I was making the point that bipolar disorder deeply affects how I think, feel, and experience life. I own my diagnosis as part of who I am and how I experience life. Still hold on to hope for recovery. What that recovery looks like for you, I do not know. I hold you in my prayers (if you believe in such) or in my thoughts (if that will do the trick). I already quoted the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr in one of my responses. Whether or not one believes in God, the prayer is wise, so in the spirit of redundancy, I repeat it here to you:

      God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
      The courage to change the things I can,
      And the wisdom to know the difference.

      Like

  3. Sandy Sue August 12, 2014 / 9:03 pm

    I so relate to all you present here. I think the only reason I prefer to say I have bipolar disorder is that underneath the illness there’s a True Me that can’t be ruined. I, too, am not the person I used to be, and some days are about nothing but survival, but I can still find that True Me if I look hard enough. The illness burned off all the things I used to identify with–my intelligence, my occupation, my relationships, my body, my hobbies–but an essence remained. I mourned (and still do sometimes) all I’ve lost, but in some ways it makes my life clearer. My priorities are different. My focus is different. And that’s okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 2:51 pm

      Without a doubt, we are more than our mental illness/brain disorder/diagnosis. Just as we are more than any role we play in life: “I’m woman, mother, wife, smarty-pants, advocate.” Underneath it ALL we exist. We have a self, a soul perhaps. We are not ruined by bipolar disorder, but we are changed, we are different, we are challenged. Priorities change. Goals change. Recovery is possible. What that recovery looks like differs for each of us. I guess the Serenity Prayer by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is in order here:

      God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
      The courage to change the things I can,
      And the wisdom to know the difference.

      Like

  4. bipolar2what August 12, 2014 / 7:38 pm

    Completely can relate to this post. I often mourn the loss of my past self. I am trying to love the new me. I deserve to be loved especially by myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 2:40 pm

      Without a doubt you deserve to be loved, most especially by yourself. Our minds are beautiful even in their brokenness.

      Like

  5. stockdalewolfe August 12, 2014 / 5:28 pm

    I guess we are all more than Bipolar. Someone just corrected my post on Robin Williams and Bipolar Disorder. I called it a disease because to me it is. And while I may be more than Bipolar it is so much of who I am, I can’t imagine being any other way, except the way I was before my breakdown. I have rehashed all you have said about losing intelligence, giving up goals, setting my sights lower, being totally humbled, etc. etc.– except I have one more to add– giving up having children– which to your credit you did!!

    My husband, a clinical social worker, tells me you play the hand you’re dealt. And I believe he is right. My therapist says I am lucky medication works for me because he says it does not work for everyone. This is in response to my saying I think the medication has lowered my intelligence. I know it has lowered my creativity and spiritual experiences. And then he says that after a breakdown your defenses are busted, so to speak, so that is why there is diminished functionality.

    But we have husbands we adore and you have a son you adore as well and we can do many things. I don’t know the answer to your question and I bristle at calling Bipolar illness a disorder and not a disease. After all, Robin Williams just made it very plain to all last night that it can be fatal!

    I hope you are feeling better. Have missed your posts but was also glad you were hopefully taking a respite from the blogosphere and social media world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 2:32 pm

      Ellen, yesterday afternoon I saw my pdoc, who I greatly respect, and he reassured me that I am not going through a cognitive decline as I feared. He said that bipolar disorder/disease (take your pick) results in cognitive decline for those who drink, take drugs, and engage in risk-taking activities, not in those like me who take care of their brains. Obviously, we experience the side effects of our medications, and those can be frustrating, but I’ll take health over uncontrolled illness and destructive, life-threatening symptoms any day.

      Like

      • stockdalewolfe August 13, 2014 / 5:33 pm

        Oh, I agree with you. The times I have missed my medications have been harrowing and it is hard enough with the medications. This was my delusion for awhile. I am glad he confirmed that you are not going into cognitive decline. You are wise not to drink, etc. For a long time I drank… a lot… with the medications. Not anymore.

        On Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 5:32 PM, Kitt O’Malley wrote:

        > Kitt O’Malley commented: “Ellen, yesterday afternoon I saw my pdoc, > who I greatly respect, and he reassured me that I am not going through a > cognitive decline as I feared. He said that bipolar disorder/disease (take > your pick) results in cognitive decline for those who drink, take” >

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 6:03 pm

          I must admit to an occasional glass of wine or hard cider, but I limit myself severely. If I buy a bottle of red wine, it turns to vinegar before I can finish it. Both my husband and I are very wary of alcoholism. Genetics play too huge a role in that addiction. We do not want that in our lives.

          Like

          • stockdalewolfe August 14, 2014 / 1:17 pm

            Good for you,both of you! Interesting… genetics plays a MAJOR role in my former addiction, too. Now I hate the way it makes me feel if I even take a sip!!

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Looking for the Light August 12, 2014 / 5:07 pm

    Hi friend,
    That’s a very good question. When I was younger I might have answered differently. I am not Bipolar, I have Bipolar and like you at times it limits what I can do. I am so much more than Bipolar and I work hard to fill the other areas of my life. Have a great day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 2:26 pm

      Yes, obviously I am more than bipolar, just as I am more than a mother or a wife or an intelligent, well-educated middle-aged woman. I get the distinction, but I am owning the disorder as defining for it influences the way I experience life, the way I think and feel. So, yes, I am bipolar and I have bipolar disorder. Both statements are true. I’ve always been the kind of spunky gal who would take the risk, and say, “Yes, I am ______. What of it?” I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for many years. I take good care of myself. I mourn the changes I’ve had to make in my goals and expectations of myself. I haven’t achieved what I once thought I could. But I’m only 50, and I intend to live a long time. I’m bipolar. I’m crazy, mad, and weird (in a good way). I own it. I have experienced the mystical euphoria of mania. Now I’d go to my pdoc with such symptoms. But, I also identify with the mystics. I am a mystic. I am a healer. Somehow my brain has both limited and expanded who I am and how I experience life.

      Like

      • Looking for the Light August 13, 2014 / 3:12 pm

        We are the same age, me 51, I’ve been Bipolar most of my life. I think your question is a good one and is open for interpretation. If not positive about life people might think they are only Bipolar. Like you, I have Bipolar and it has made huge changes in my life, sometimes more than others, but I am so much more. Yes, I miss the taste of hypo or mania, I have spent so many years dragging on the bottom. I would take being in the middle any day. I bet you had a large response to the post. Have a great day. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 6:00 pm

          It is easier to own the diagnosis if you’ve lived with it for a while and feel confident about oneself, as I do. Not every day, mind you. I do mourn “Super Kitt.” When hypomanic, I can be incredibly productive, but at a high cost. I’ve had to adapt, but don’t we all. Life presents obstacles. We make of it what we can.

          Like

  7. Lisa August 12, 2014 / 3:15 pm

    This is a great question, Kitt…
    I agree with it being a tool of influence, but I don’t think it’s who you are…
    (P.S. I unfollowed and refollowed you so I could get your blog in my email. It’s how I keep better track of people I really want to read)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. shoe1000 August 12, 2014 / 2:48 pm

    Hi Kitt!
    “Do I have bipolar disorder or am I bipolar?” Logically, you can only be a person who has a disorder. If you “were,” bipolar, how would you describe yourself?
    Warmly
    Jim

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 12, 2014 / 3:27 pm

      I understand that I am Kitt and that I have bipolar disorder, but bipolar disorder has negatively impacted my life and continues to attack my brain. The cognitive deficits limit who I am by limiting how I think and what I can do.

      Like

      • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 2:13 pm

        As a follow-up, yesterday my psychiatrist reassured me that I do not suffer and will not likely suffer cognitive deficits due to bipolar disorder, for I take care of myself and my brain.

        Like

  9. mihrank August 12, 2014 / 2:47 pm

    That is a great question – I am forwarding your article to my mother who is a doctor. I am looking forward to get her answer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley August 13, 2014 / 2:43 pm

      I am pretty sure that she would say that one has an illness or disorder, not that one is defined by an illness or disorder. I am making a point. My brain works differently than a “normal” brain. Bipolar disorder deeply affects how I think and feel.

      Liked by 2 people

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