People with bipolar disorder who have experienced mania or hypomania (the state leading up to mania) describe periods of emotional intensity, creativity, energy, and productivity as appealing aspects to being bipolar. These “advantages” to bipolar symptoms
can be so strong that bipolar patients may actually stop taking their medications because they miss this side to the disease.
While a small number of bipolar patients stay in the state of hypomania (a pre-manic phase) without progressing to the more dangerous heights of mania, the majority of people with bipolar disorder are not so lucky.
“The drawbacks to bipolar disorder far outweigh any benefits,” says psychiatrist Charles Lake, MD, PhD, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral services at the Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City.
Symptoms of depression are far more common and frequent among people with bipolar disorder than the highs of mania.
Dr. Lake offers the example of artist Vincent van Gogh to demonstrate the course that mania can take. Although van Gogh was never officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder
, certain patterns of depression followed by high-energy productivity and creativity suggest bipolar disorder. While his moods improved and moved toward mania, he was incredibly productive, says Lake, producing works of art that are admired and beloved to this day. But as the days passed, his brushstrokes would become less controlled and ultimately he was unable to paint at all. Meanwhile, his personal life bore many of the hallmarks of bipolar disorder, including suicide at 37.
Understanding the Bright Side
Here are some of the elements of bipolar disorder that are considered advantages, for a brief period:
- Productivity. People with bipolar disorder sleep less as they become manic and have more energy. As a result, they are often more productive than their peers, at least for a while. The lack of sleep and high-energy work can eventually lead to burnout and may contribute to symptoms of psychosis, such as paranoia and hallucinations.
- Confidence. Feeling more self-confident is one of the benefits described by people with bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, as mania increases, this self-confidence can become unrealistic fantasies about power and success, leading to poor life choices and impulsiveness.
- Charm. Along with greater energy and self-confidence, people with bipolar disorder may be more outgoing and charming as their mood improves. This can draw people to them, making them the life of the party (for a while). However, as mania progresses, increasing irritability, impulsiveness, irrational behavior or speech, and risk-taking also can drive people away.
- Euphoria. Intense joy and pleasure in life, including a heightened awareness of details, may also be experienced by bipolar patients as they approach mania. This perception of the world in bright and beloved detail is often what patients cite as the most missed element of bipolar disorder.
- Insight. Many people with bipolar disorder experience a feeling of greater intellectual ability and insight as they approach mania.
There are some known negative aspects to hypomania in addition to the positives listed above. They include irritability, carelessness, poor impulse control, and increased substance abuse.
The so-called advantages of mania can fool many people, including the patient with bipolar disorder. Patients often cite these positive experiences as reasons for not taking the medications that keep their mood stable.
Unfortunately, these perceived advantages are only temporary and, for most people, progress to increasing mania, disruptive lifestyle choices, and even psychosis. As a result, these advantages are not good reasons to stop a treatment plan. In fact, they are signs that additional treatment may be needed to prevent worsening symptoms.
*What do you think? Is there a bright side to being bipolar?