Big thanks for the compassionate article on Bipolar Disorder (Author Zack McDermott discusses his experience with bipolar disorder and the Bird who helped him in his memoir). Great central message; stay close and be empathic for friends and a loved one with the affliction. Thanks, Zack.
Now my gripe. As a mental health clinician who survives very nicely with Bipolar Affective Disorder 1 (I have been asymptomatic for 21 years; it can be done with the proper medication and self-care), I winced when I read the words, “Gorilla and Bird is a complex look at the experience of being bipolar.” That phrase, “being bipolar,” always pokes me. The phrase is part and parcel of a basic societal stigma that individuals who experience mental health disorders can toil under: That stigma goes something like, “You are different. You are defective. You’re weird. You’re psycho. You look fine; why can’t you keep it together?” The medical and neurological truth: One has Bipolar Disorder. One is not Bipolar. Just as one has a genetic heart disorder, one is not “heart disorder.” Zack and I live with Bipolar Disorder. Speaking for myself, very well, thank you.
A second related point. In response to the question, “Have you always been Bipolar?” Zack says, “I don’t know.” Well there is medical truth here. Unlike transient Uni-Polar Depression (which can be long lived), Bipolar Affective Disorder is chronic. It is genetic. One is born with the gene mutation that causes Bipolar Disorder. One dies with the mutation. Some with the genetic vulnerability to the disorder manifest the symptoms. Some don’t. That goes to the power of one’s environment and the scale of their genetic affliction. The worse your support symptoms, the better the chance of the vulnerability to come alive. Yet, even those with great support systems present with Bipolar Affective Disorder. Still, genetic factors plus systemic complexity make for a challenging mental health issue that many, many people live very normal, very creative lives with.
So, best to stay medication compliant and to take good care of yourself, which goes to the core point of Zack’s story. Have a “Bird” or several who truly care for you. And, care for yourself. It’s easier when your support systems are good. Good note for those of us advocating for better health care. Empathy and good care can save lives.
Zack, thanks for your courage of telling your story.
Joseph A. Losi, MA, LMFT