Are you addicted to Bipolar Disorder?

Recently I watched a video clip about ABC’s new show Black Box. If you haven’t seen Black Box it is about a neuroscientist who also lives with Bipolar Disorder. The strange thing to me is that they say she is “addicted to bipolar,” because she loves the manic highs. I don’t think I have ever heard it put that way before, but I suppose it is because I have a rather opposing viewpoint. (You can view the video here Black Box Video)

When I retrospectively look back at the times I have had manic episodes, I really don’t find a lot of positive aspects. During those episodes I have bought things I didn’t need, got involved with some people I would never let my dog talk too, almost lost my life, and really the list goes on and on. High intense manic episodes have made me want to adhere to a treatment regimen that works not seek out more mania.

I don’t dislike Black Box but I wonder what the basic viewer thinks about bipolar disorder as a result of watching it? To my knowledge the main character has yet to experience deep levels of depression—which we all know is where the disorder spends most of its’ time. We also know that in treating bipolar disorder it can take an average of 10 years before finding the right combination of medications. Not so simple as saying the character could have a wonderful, symptom free life if she only took her medication as prescribed.

If I have stopped taking my medication it is because of a few key reasons:

1) I didn’t think I had bipolar disorder—I was in denial

2) The side effects of the medications were so bad I couldn’t tolerate them

3) I started to relapse and didn’t recognize I was getting sick—so I stopped the meds

There has not been anytime in my history with this illness that I said, “I love the mania and I am addicted to it.” Most of the time I didn’t even know what the mania was let alone want more of it. It was more like living with something that was so natural to me. My normal was experiencing “highs” and “lows” and I thought everyone experienced the same kind of thing. I’ve never known what normal is because I’ve never had normal for an extended period of time.

Do I miss the mania now that I have a treatment regimen that works? If I miss anything it is the energy to do things, some of which is controlled by medication and some of it is a side effect from medication. What I miss more than mania is a life that was fuller before I got so sick with bipolar disorder that I could not function.

I know it’s hard to portray characters in the media with mental illness, but I wish they wouldn’t glamorize bipolar disorder. I wish they would take real live people and tell their stories. I doubt that many of us who have really suffered with this illness would say we are addicted to it.

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8 thoughts on “Are you addicted to Bipolar Disorder?

  1. I agree. I have known a person or two like this character … as in they stop taking meds to get mania. But it takes longer for them to get their mania than the 5 hours on the show of course. but I know far more that are not like her. I think the show brings some awareness as it shows some disorders that look psychological and are not and I think also just showing that someone who is bipolar can be successful is positive. But I can definitely see stigma coming out of it too

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    1. I know what you mean. There could be some stigma coming out of the show…like just take the meds and you will be fine…we all know it is not quite that simple. Wish it were that easy! Plus not everyone seeks mania…it can be life threatening for some of us. But hey at least it’s a show and they are trying.

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  2. At first, I was offput by Black Box. Offended, actually, that they would portray a neuroscientist who did not take her meds. I thought it irresponsible. At the same time, I have missed my hypomanic energy and seemingly mystical experiences when manic. Then I read “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness” by renowened psychologist and professor of psychiatry Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD. For many years, she went on and off lithium with quite severe reactions. The statistics for our illness are horrendous. Quoting just one study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10982196), “Rates of poor compliance may reach 64% for bipolar disorders, and noncompliance is the most frequent cause of recurrence.”

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  3. I’ve heard negative reactions to the show portraying her sexual promiscuity and that it’s not portrayed accurately. To me, it’s very accurate based on people I know.

    My biggest problem with the show is her meds, which Marie touched on. A person doesn’t have a manic episode by skipping their meds one day and neither do their symptoms go away after being on them one day. I’m not happy with how she’s portrayed.

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  4. Hi Amy, I have not gotten around to watching the show yet. I watched a documentary a few years ago with Stephen Fry, the British comedian, actor, writer and many other things. He said that if he had the choice he would not give up his BiPolar as the manic episodes are a source for creativity, even though depression caused him to disappear and the headlines wondered if he was still alive.
    I have never experienced the “creative highs”, only the dysfunctional mania/psychoses that sends my life spiralling out of control.
    I am not sure that the glamorized version of BiPolar is representative of the majority of real life experiences.Perhaps they are the exceptions rather than the rule?
    Like many things in the film and tv industry, reality is not a primary focus. Making a story that people will be intrigued by being a bigger priority. It does not do a lot to facilitate understanding of the condition.
    I did get about 20 minutes into the first episode and then turned it off, but I will persevere and see what I think.
    I would give up BiPolar in a New York minute! Oh to be functional again.
    Thanks for the thoughtful post Amy.

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  5. Thank you for posting this 🙂 I hadn’t heard of Black Box. Unlike some of the other comments on this, I strongly relate and see some realistic ideas, because I feel like I’m similar to the main character. I’m off work at the moment (mental health nurse) because I was just hospitalized after repeatedly putting myself into mania by taking SSRI antidepressants casually. My “happy pills”. Well now I’m stable and trying to live balanced, but it was hard getting here because it’s so easy for me to get happy manic and I am tempted to tip the jar. But as I learned with my own experience and advice from psychologist, there can’t be these ups without big consequences. I too, feel a strong empathy for my patients and their families. I don’t know how the show is but the preview you posted captivated me… I’m going to watch the show and see if I still feel the same.

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    1. Hi Jenn,
      Glad you are a little interested in Black Box. I think it is okay, although some people in the mental health community have not liked it, I don’t think it is so bad. I guess I like it that the main character is a successful doctor and not some out of control maniac. There is hope for the media after all. I am glad you are stable and are trying to live a balanced life. Keep working on that balance, because it will serve you the best as you return to your career. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and for commenting. I wish a quick recovery and hope you’ll be able to return to work soon.

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      1. It is great that they are able to show a successful doctor with mental illness because in real life there are many successful people living with bipolar or other mental illnesses, and we all have our demons, mental illness or not 😉 so I definitely agree with you there! Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

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