Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bipolar Biochemistry or Behavior?

I found our recent discussion on irritability to be very interesting, and I appreciate everyone's input. Marja brought up a topic that I'd like to pursue further. I think that one of the greatest problems in being diagnosed as a BIP (bipolar person) is if we start believing that every symptom we have and every behavior pattern we engage in is biochemical in nature.

There is truly no proof--as far as I know--that this is true. And I, for one, didn't experience most of the symptoms until I began taking medication.

Also, having read dozens of bipolar blogs in the last 18 months, I see patterns in people's behavior, and their responses to situations that might cause bipolar symptoms, but clearly are a result of negative thought patterns, low self-esteem, and an inability to share their feelings in an honest and open way.

What I don't see is a lot of introspection, and problem-solving. I don't read about people who are saying, "I keep detailed mood charts and I have learned that periods of irritability always follow hypomanias. Or "I get angry because I'm unable to tell people they've hurt my feelings, but I've been working on it." Or "I have difficulties with people because I don't feel good about myself...and I've working with my therapist or counselor on self-esteem issues."

And yet, if people would reread their posts, they would even see patterns in the behavior they've recounted. Personally, I think the best thing in the world for BIPS would be to assume more responsibility for their behavior, and stop blaming everything on their biochemistry.

What do you think?


GirlBlue said...

I think you are absolutely right. I only recently started keeping a mood chart but before that I can't say that I could articulate what it was exactly that I was feeling. I knew that there were periods of time when I would feel absolutely wonderful and that this would be immediately followed by a period of such dispair that I just wanted the world to go away. I never thought of it as mania. I felt at odds with the world...noone was like me, everyone thought differently and my morals were questionable. I did not attribute any of that to biochemistry though, I don't know what I attributed it too.

But yes, when I was diagnosed with depression for the first time I did use it as a crutch and then when that went from depression to bi-polar 1 oh yeah now I had an excuse. Its not me, it wasn't me all the time, it was my brain all the time. I recognise that I've been doing that now too and am trying to work on it. The big problem however is trying to figure out if my impulses are me or a misfunctioning circuit in my brain.

Gianna said...

I applaud you...

Everyone's moods are's just people with bipolar disorder that get to use it as an excuse.

There is absolutely no proof that bipolar disorder has anything to do with a chemical imbalance.

From John Grohol Psy. D at Psych Central:

Although researchers have known for years this not to be the case, some drug companies continue to repeat this simplistic and misleading claim in their marketing and advertising materials. Why the FTC or some other federal agency doesn’t crack down on this intentional misleading information is beyond me. Most researchers now believe depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

kara said...

Wow. This is something that hasn't really been at the forefront of my mind, but looking back I have always been overcome with irritability and pure rage for no identifiable reason. I've looked and looked and looked b/c I am an introspective person, a thinker. I am one to take responsibility for my actions; I agree with you on that. I just have a hard time when no matter what I do or what I try I cannot control my rage/irritability when it hits. I've just learned to let it run it's course and share with those in my sphere of influence what's happening with me so they'll no it's not them and they can call me on any inappriorate behavior. I'm BP2 so it seems the extent of my symptoms on the hypomanic side are rage and irritability. I rarely get hypomanic.

Thanks for this post. And I welcome any words of wisdom you have. I think this is a great topic and even though I think BP is mostly biochemical, I believe I have a responsibility towards my behavior. Does that make sense?

Enjoy your day...Kara

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Girlblue,
I kept six years of detailed mood charts on my behavior, the medication I took and how it made me feel, incidents that triggered depressions, how I behaved during hypomanic episodes, sleep patterns, seasonal elements affecting my illness, etc.

It was this information that enabled me to truly "get it," and this data that ultimately helped me achieve wellness.

I've come to believe that it's not that important whether the "impulses are you or a malfunctioning in your brain." What's important is to identify them, and figure out ways to change them.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
Thanks a lot for the quote that backs up my thesis! In the decade I researched this topic, and the hundreds of pages of information I downloaded, I could never find any proof that all this was biochemical.

But I was too tired last night to look for the perfect short quote that explained this!


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Kara,
As I wrote in my response to Girlblue, I don't think it matters whether the behavior is caused by biochemistry or not.What matters is how we handle it.

I've been working hard on using deep breathing exercises, and my own kind of meditation to change my behavior. Also, I'm starting yoga within a few weeks. All three techniques have data showing their impact on depression and I would imagine anger and irritability as well.

Also, look at yesterday's post on irritability and read Duane's recommendation. I'm going to try this!

Hope you have a nice day as well!


marja said...

If it isn't biochemistry, our moods ARE brought on by our bipolar disorder - whatever it is. We can't control it coming upon us. But you're right, Susan, we can't just go with it and use our disorder as an excuse. We need to try to control it with coping strategies and - in cases like mine - with meds.

But we do need to realize that bipolar is an illness that brings on erratic moods, and it's comforting to know that those moods are not all our own fault or that there's something wrong with our personality.

But again - Yes, it's our responsibility to learn to bring our moods under control. We need to persevere to find wellness.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I didn't mean to suggest it's a problem with our personalities, and yes, some people can control it to a degree with medication.

But, like you, I believe we are responsible for our own behavior. Once we know the symptoms and that there are proven methods for reducing them--like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga--it is our responsibility to try them!


marja said...

Hi Susan,

This is an interesting post and I know I've already commented, but as I've gone through the day I keep thinking back to the points you made. I feel I need to comment on a couple of other things you said.

You said that people are often not applying enough introspection. But the reverse can be true too. Some people focus too much on themselves and what they're dealing with.

I think many would be helped more if they would only focus outside themselves and their problems.

I've been supporting a lot of people and can see that the people who do worst are those who are not thinking about anything except their own struggles. They're not thinking about other people or about what they can contribute.

So...I think that one big way of helping ourselves with symptoms is to reach outside ourselves. (as you do in your blog)

At the same time, we should not judge people if they're not able to do that because of severe symptoms. When we're in pain, it's pretty hard not to think of how we're going to get past the suffering. We need to treat such people with compassion.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
Both important points! Thanks for your follow-up comment.


kara said...

Hey Susan...

Just wanted to stop by and let you know my pdoc has just added an all natural something to my regimen. It's called: Metanx. B6/B12 are involved. He said that a top researcher found it to help neurotransmitters. I'm going to try it for a month and see how my irritability and all are affected. Sorry this is more incoherent than I'd like. I'm still recovering my memory from 12 treatments of ECT, but thought it related to the post. (and Duane's comment).

Enjoy yourself...

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Kara,
You don't have to apologize. It's quite coherent, and definitely related to the post. Thanks for sharing. I'm going to check it out. Please let me know how it affects you, and whether it makes a difference.


isabella mori said...

fabulous article! reminds me of 12-step meetings where people are encouraged to de-emphasize "dumping" and instead to focus on recovery. and little steps help. there's a big difference between writing 3 paragraphs about how awful things are and writing the same 3 paragraphs and THEN appending even one little sentence like, "and today, for just one minute, i'm going to try and focus on gratitude."

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Isabella,
Nice to hear from you again! Yes, there is a big difference in focusing on the "good stuff," isn't there?