If you have had even a minimal contact with books on psychology and psychiatry, it is impossible that you have not heard of bipolar disorder. It was previously known by a more sinister name, manic-depressive illness. The words, bipolar disorder, evoke a vivid imagery; manic-depressive illness is even more evocative! The idea of a person who is very disturbed, unsettled, unpredictable, going from one extreme to the next seems inherently tied to the wording. It is not an incorrect assumption. If one looks at the introduction on a few major websites, this is precisely what one finds. 1
A person who has never stepped inside the unique way of dehumanized, objective examination of human thinking and emotion as psychiatry enshrines, other more everyday terms would seem more appropriate. Someone may consider a person to be moody, or extreme, or unpredictable, but it takes an especially strong commitment to the pseudo-science of psychiatry2 to make a determination on the flaw in another person’s brain.3 Yes, psychiatry, in particular, disempowers a person by stating categorically that the flaw is in the brain. Once a person has been submitted into acceptance through several means – prescription drugs, psychological coercion, and using the help of close family and friends – the entire prospect of a person’s future, then, can be supposed to rest in the hands of the psychiatrists. Psychologists who work with the psychiatrist only act to further consolidate the dependency of the new recruit.
The late psychiatrist Ron Leifer said it best: “There’s no biological imbalance. When people come to me and they say, ‘I have a biological imbalance,’ I say, ‘Show me your lab tests.’ There are no lab tests. So what’s the biochemical imbalance?” (Citizens Commission on Human Rights, n.d.).
There is a fundamental flaw in how psychiatry views humans. Many among psychiatrists, especially those who were fully immersed in their field, were some of the most unhappy and distressed persons I had met. Their minds had become such that they were constantly examining others, analyzing what they said, the way they looked, why and how behavior should be a certain way and not some other way, etc. However, many of them usually put themselves in a position of authority and therefore assume themselves to be above the rest of the ordinary public. Life, however, has its own way of humbling even the most arrogant humans. If not in their own lifetimes, certainly the memory of them for later generations can elicit sufficient dislike, even disgust. In their defense, one can honestly say that psychiatrists and psychologists present themselves to interact with some of the most unwanted, despised, and even dangerous individuals that society would like to simply forget about.
The entrapment of the free individual into the diagnosis of bipolar disorder
Now coming back to the unfortunate individual who has found himself diagnosed and drugged, and labeled with bipolar disorder, he can find himself trapped in a way of living where he is constantly seeking to satisfy the demands made of him. He has to prove himself stable, consistent, and productive. What is easily overlooked in this scenario are the people – yes, people – who have found themselves authorized and empowered to judge the behavior of an individual, merely by the power of their opinion! Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness, is a formulation based upon opinion. The sustaining of the diagnosis and the treating of the hypothetical chemical imbalance is based purely upon opinion. Make no mistake, the effect of the drugs is very real. The way these drugs affect the mind and the body of an individual is very real, and very intimate. The side-effects and the damage are very real, and sometimes irreversible!
Should we not first take a look at the ideas, the beliefs4, the experiences, the family environment5, and other very influential factors that confine a person to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder? It may be found that there is so much wrong with the way a society has become, or what is expected from a person, or significant individuals close to a patient that offering drugs as a remedy seems entirely crass and inappropriate.
The bipolar-belief trap
As with all other systems of belief, psychiatry also presents its own unique beliefs about humans. In the specific regard of bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), after establishing (without evidence) in the mind of the patient and his family that there is an existing chemical imbalance in the brain, the next part of the programming is to get all those involved firmly focused on noting emotional fluctuations. Indeed, conscientious patients, families, and even their friends can get so focused on monitoring the emotional fluctuations, aka, mood-swings that little else can seem of equal importance.
In all of this, there is to be found a recurring myth. What is that myth? It is the idea of what is normal. This concept of the normal and the pursuit of it is a terribly insidious, corrupting idea. This idea itself stands on the belief that humans are somehow supposed to be similar and equal. However, it is in plain sight for all to see, this has never been and will never be the case. Human beings differ vastly in abilities, interests, likes, dislikes, and yes, in their beliefs. To standardize all to one view and method of measuring is to do a grave injustice to all humans. The ones with lesser abilities can never match the ones who are gifted, and the ones who are gifted will be left terribly dissatisfied – unfulfilled – for having to be less than who they are!
To be sure, this is a belief-system designed to empower the “doctors” and others to psychologically trap a person through drugs and programming to adhere to a strict line of emotional stability. In extreme cases, it can get so terribly constraining that every time a person says something, smiles, or cries, everything is measured in the context of the bipolar-belief system. This system becomes the trap. However, the underlying concerns a person has about which he may be deeply concerned are not addressed. Those questions and concerns are suppressed; the person’s will is attempted to be brought into submission. The never-ending quest for walking that line of perfect equilibrium of not too happy and not too sad, not laughing heartily and not weeping bitterly, not being entirely uninterested and not being absolutely passionate puts a person, even of exceptional abilities, into a state of supervised mediocrity! Why would someone accept such an existence is difficult to understand, even if we know the reasons. A person should not wish to do evil to others, but to hand over one’s will to people who are simply incapable of the same strength and passion as the one who has been suppressed by drugs and manipulation is a most terrible injustice. The harm that is done over years and years – all the lost time – can simply not be compensated for by any means known to mankind.
What is the solution if it is not programming and medication?
The diagnosis of bipolar disorder is sustained on the grounds of programming and medication. The programming part is presented as psycho-education, which essentially is a revision of the way one sees and understands human behavior. When a person has had a chance to reflect upon the kind of mechanical, modern-day living that puts productivity and conformity over creativity, for the most part, it is possible to see that a bipolar diagnosis is simply another way of control. The nature of work and how an individual relates to his society and others are very significant factors. Unless there is the presence of those who can provide mentoring and guidance to an individual from an early age, understanding the propensities and characteristics of the individual, there repeatedly will be the misfortune that comes with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The way a human being is viewed,6, how that one is given freedom to pursue his goals, how he is provided genuine rewards and incentives for advancement, and also the sharing of relevant information regarding risks and possibilities of alternatives to his goals make up a complete set of ideas that equip a person. Ideally, these matters are addressed through a person’s own family.
Does the person, who we are assuming might come to be susceptible to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in his life, also have a role to play? Absolutely. It finally comes down how a person holds knowledge. This by itself is such an important aspect of a person’s way of thinking that it merits its own consideration. The way a person holds knowledge objectively and for the sake of examination before committing to it in belief is an important skill and one that is developed through maturity over time.
Holding knowledge without being beholden to it
During particular stages of insecurity in one’s life – teenage, going to a totally foreign place, meeting new people from a different culture, prospects of marriage, starting out on a new career – there is the real possibility that a person will be emotionally vulnerable. It is entirely natural and is to be expected. These are times when a person cannot simply be an observer but ends up being an experiencer. Therefore, he is into a belief rather than merely observing it from a distance.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
It is very different these days. It is possible to examine from a distance nearly everything that a person would have learned only through experience in the past. Yes, this is the power of the information coming over the Internet. It allows us to have a second-hand experience of nearly any event, place, or situation. And thinking of the possibility of bipolar disorder, this is very much a factor because how the emotions are involved is a key factor.
We might say, we have come into a time period when it is possible for humans to not be emotionally involved in much of the knowledge we come across. From birth to death, volcanic eruptions to the moon landing, from forest fires to what is underneath the oceans is here to observe from our electronic devices connected to the Internet. This has, or it can, I believe, bring about a desensitization.7 There is an emotional dullness, a blunting of the acute senses. With all this, there is still one useful thing that a person stands to gain from all this exposure to knowledge. Without getting passionately involved or becoming a complete believer, it is possible to simply look at almost any piece of knowledge. Once this happens – and for as long as this is possible – it is a protection against emotional imbalances. Yes, translating this into a real-life connection with other human beings and creatures is the new challenge of today. We can only hope, that knowledge does not become the reason for so dispiriting the human kind that it leaves no scope for the extremes of emotions that make us who we are!
For further reading, may I submit to you a brief synopsis of my own experience!
- Bipolar Disorder, NIMH, Everything You Need to Know About Bipolar Disorder, Healthline, Bipolar disorder, Mayo Clinic
- The Real Problems With Psychiatry
- On the Myth of the Chemical Imbalance, Mark Ruffalo
- Spiritual beliefs in bipolar affective disorder: their relevance for illness management.
- The Home Environment for the Bipolar Child
- Toward psychiatry as a ‘human’ science of mind. The case of depressive disorders in DSM-5
- Has the internet desensitized us to the extraordinary?