5 Persistent Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious and difficult illness that affects all facets of a person’s life: their education, work, relationships, health and finances, said Julie A. Fast, author of several bestselling books on bipolar disorder, including Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder and Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, and a coach who works with partners and families.

Fast was diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder II at 31 years old in 1995, a time when very little was discussed regarding the diagnosis. Fortunately, knowledge and media coverage of bipolar disorder have improved dramatically over the years. “I’m astonished at how much more people know about the illness,” she said.

Even TV shows are featuring more accurate portrayals of bipolar disorder. “In the past, people with bipolar disorder were practically frothing at the mouth,” Fast said. Today, writers and producers make it a point to get it right. Recently, Fast served as one of the advisors on the hit Showtime series “Homeland” and talked with Claire Danes about her character’s bipolar disorder.

While information has gotten much better, many misconceptions still exist and endure.

Below, you’ll find five persistent myths about bipolar disorder

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Q&A with David Fitzpatrick, author of “Sharp: A Memoir”

Sharp: A Memoir is the beautifully written, harrowing story of David Fitzpatrick and his 20-year struggle with bipolar disorder and self-mutilation. One of five children, Fitzpatrick endured regular bullying from his older brother and later was tormented daily by his college roommates. He began cutting in his early 20s, steeped in self-loathing and spending years in psychiatric hospitals.

While Sharp is an intense and raw read -- and may be triggering for some -- it's ultimately a hopeful and inspiring story. It’s a story of a man who gets caught up in the mental health system but finally finds himself, as well as a fulfilling life.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Fitzpatrick about his powerful book. Below, Fitzpatrick reveals what inspired him to pen Sharp, what it was like reopening old wounds, what helped him lift the veil of mental illness, how he maintains recovery today and much more.

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Helping Your Partner Manage Bipolar Disorder

In their must-read book, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, authors Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, PsyD, provide a wealth of information on how readers can support their partners with managing their illness. Each chapter features practical and wise ideas on better understanding bipolar disorder and working together to identify problems, triggers and effective solutions.

One of these tips is creating comprehensive lists of behaviors and activities that minimize symptoms and those that don’t. It can be tough to know how to help your partner, and sometimes, naturally, your own frustration, confusion and anger may get in the way.

Plus, some of the behaviors and activities that work may not be intuitive or automatic for you, especially if you’re stuck in old patterns. In fact, according to Fast and Preston, you may be surprised to learn that “bipolar disorder often doesn’t respond to traditional problem-solving behaviors.”

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Is Anyone Normal Today?

Take a minute and answer this question: Is anyone really normal today?

I mean, even those who claim they are normal may, in fact, be the most neurotic among us, swimming with a nice pair of scuba fins down the river of Denial. Having my psychiatric file published online and in print for public viewing, I get to hear my share of dirty secrets—weird obsessions, family dysfunction, or disguised addiction—that are kept concealed from everyone but a self-professed neurotic and maybe a shrink.

“Why are there so many disorders today?” Those seven words, or a variation of them, surface a few times a week. And my take on this query is so complex that, to avoid sounding like my grad school professors making an erudite case that fails to communicate anything to average folks like me, I often shrug my shoulders and move on to a conversation about dessert. Now that I can talk about all day.

Here’s the abridged edition of my guess as to why we mark up more pages of the DSM-IV today than, say, a century ago (even though the DSM-IV had yet to be born).

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Anxiety and Panic

Does the Internet Promote or Damage Marriage?

PBS/This Emotional Life is hosting a webinar in two weeks about the internet’s impact on relationships and marriage, in particular. As a panelist on the webinar, I wanted to explore this issue a bit with my readers so that I can offer your viewpoints in addition to my two cents.

Here’s my honest opinion, after reading hundreds of comments and emails from people who have been involved in online relationships or emotional affairs as well as the responses on the discussion boards of the Emotional Affairs support group on Beliefnet’s community site:

Although the internet and social media can foster intimacy in a marriage, it seems to do more harm than good. Of all the comments I've read, 90 percent of the opposite-sex relationships that were damaging to the marriage happened online.

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7 Reasons Charlie Sheen May Hate Alcoholics Anonymous

In one of the myriad interviews he gave over the last week, Charlie Sheen said clearly that he hates AA.

A lot of people have trouble with Alcoholics Anonymous. AA is full of people and people can be messy and flawed.

The human train wreck formally known as Charlie Sheen is a common sight in the AA meeting halls. The only difference between Mr. Sheen and other self-absorbed, delusional, frantic addicts is the size of the audience to which they rant. These people do not last long in AA. They mock the Fellowship and the 12 Steps (PDF) as too religious or simplistic. AA is beneath them.

Here are a few possible reasons why Charlie Sheen might hate AA so much.

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Video: The Eating Season

I call the 61 days between Halloween and New Year's "the eating season," because the temptation to snack on all kinds of crap is intrusive this time of year, with boxes of Belgian chocolate coming in with every client who has paid his bill, cocktail parties with egg-nog and Yule logs, enough pumpkin pie to make you feel like a pumpkin, and trays of Christmas cookies everywhere you turn.

If your brain is as sensitive as mine -- sweets turbo charge the brain and then zap it of all its cognitive powers -- you, too, have to pull out ever trick of discipline known to man, more even than is used to train those dogs at the airport who can smell pot on a passenger.

Remember this during the eating season: Jesus' period of temptation ended after 40 days. We got 21 more to go. So don't be too hard on yourself. Remember this, too: technically, you can start over each day.

Good luck! We're in this together!

Click through to watch the video.

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Bipolar Domestic Violence

One of the most enduring posts I've ever written here is Bipolar Disorder and Dating. Comments have come in continuously, as people are very concerned about relationships with partners who have bipolar disorder. Some think it's worth it and some do not. What I've noticed is that people who love and support partners who take care of themselves too, who aren't in denial about the diagnosis and who stick with a treatment plan and want to be well, are those who want...
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Top Ten Psychology Videos

Cognitive to clinical to social, the many applications of psychology reveal profound thoughts, human frailties and strengths. These are some of the best results, framed in video players.

1. An Unquiet Mind: Personal Reflections on Manic-Depressive Illness. Kay Redfield Jamison doesn't just suffer from bipolar disorder, she literally wrote the book. She co-authored the comprehensive textbook Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression while doing research as a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins....
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Kay Redfield Jamison Vintage Video

Fans of Kay Redfield Jamison rejoice: here's the vintage half-hour video An Unquiet Mind: Personal Reflections on Manic-Depressive Illness. A captivating speaker, she's authored many papers and books on the subjects of bipolar, manic depression and recurrent depression. She is Professor of Psychiatry at...
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