Question: Like many artistic types, I am subject to seraphic highs and infernal lows. How do I know whether this is bipolar disorder or just plain old moodiness?
Answer: The question of proper bipolar disorder diagnosis is not strictly left to a medical practitioner. You as one capable of experiencing highs and lows are likely capable of answering your own wonder about the severity of your mood swings. I am inclined to caution anyone about accepting unhealthy signs and symptoms as a customary expression of any pursuit in life, professional or personal. Artists who experience highs and lows in their mood are not showing favorable effects within their pursuit of the arts. Mood swings are unhealthy and false expressions of emotion, symptoms (mild or severe) of a battle that someone is having with the world around him or her. Moods should have traceable experiences attached to them - a word, an encounter, a happenstance - that trouble us, dazzle us, charm us, dismantle us; they should not be customarily roaming freely within our consciousness, taking liberties to alter our natural emotion constitution and balance. Mood swings are mental illness, not necessarily bipolar disorder, but mental illness, in the respect that they are not to be counted as part of a healthy, functioning mind. They need to be examined and, in so doing, determined clearly to be either of the dangerous class of bipolar mood swings or among the less life-threatening rank of cyclothymia, where many people may dwell uncomfortably, unhealthily, but not necessarily in a life-threatening way.
No one who has a life-and-death illness will sanely acknowledge his or her symptoms as good signs. They are morbid signs and, if they are not arrested, death ensues at varying paces. Such is the case with bipolar disorder, although many bipolars become so enamored of their manias or hypo-manias that they can easily forget that all symptoms of a deadly disease are grave, even the ones that resemble rainbows.
In rare cases it is possible to manage a bipolar existence without the onset of any grave symptoms, such as clinical depression, suicide attempt, psychotic mania, and, for these spared few, to feel veritably like a mood-swinging 'artist type', even a mildly mood-swinging sort. This can be achieved for a while, sometimes long stretches, by unwittingly protecting one's self from an excess of poisonous influences in the world that incite severe bipolar symptoms. Some bipolars garner inherent protection from loving, supportive, unconventional families, early success in their chosen fields, and fruitful, fulfilling relationships, these blessings staving off much of the unwieldy symptomatic bipolar life that plagues most of us bipolars who come from conventional, competitive upbringings, who have no reports of conspicuous career success, and who suffer the emotional stress that comes from imprudent relationship choices. Eventually, the unwittingly protected bipolars will come to some stage of reckoning in their adult lives and will be forced to play a more active role in their management of the effects that the world has on all of us thin-skinned bipolars. There is only so much incidental good luck a person can have within a bipolar mental disposition, before he or she needs to develop advanced awareness and a specialized skillset, in order to do more than survive.
Mood swings alone should be enough in any culture to inform the moody person or those surrounding him or her that there is a mental condition worth examining. History has made too many romantic remarks about starving, suffering, mood-swinging artists, to the effect that we idealize mood swings as a form of superior, countercultural artistry. It's simply a fallacy, an attempt to absolve the callous, onlooker world populace that continually drives bipolar artists to the farthest-flung bipolar symptomatic life that can be manifested.
I believe bipolar disorder to be entirely a manmade disease, not unlike many examples of cancer, diabetes, and heart failure. Mood swings are the obvious symptoms of this deadly mental illness, so they should be taken seriously, even if they are detectably mild mood swings. Until this world of men and women shifts its rock and stone perspectives on mental illness, on artists, on moodiness, bipolars and non-bipolars alike will suffer symptoms of global wrong-headedness. Are we not all mentally ill, those of us who suffer the effects of harmful ideology and those of us who forge it?
If you are moody, seek out more and more emotional protection in the world, to rid yourself of this false emotional reaction to your surroundings. If you are a symptomatic bipolar, you are likely more than moody; you are afflicted with moodiness, not affected by it now and then. That is the basic difference between cyclothymia and bipolar disorder, cyclothymia not necessarily bearing mood symptoms that threaten one's life and bipolar disorder, being a life-and-death struggle on earth with crookedness, carelessness, violence, and the perpetual void of mysticism.
-The Blue Bear
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