It struck me recently that just about everyone I know has been diagnosed with bipolar. No, I’m not kidding. It seems that with increasing frequency, rivaled only by the period of time around 10 years ago when everyone was being diagnosed as ADD (including everyone in my immediate family including myself) nearly every person I know and love is bipolar or somewhere on the “spectrum” of what we in the business call affective disorders. These are the mental diseases and diagnostic categories that refer to problems managing ones moods and emotions and often accompanied by a certain tendency to become manic or hypomanic, which is characterized by recklessness, racing thoughts, substance use and abuse, insomnia, and/or hyper-irritability. Wait, now that I say that……that really sounds like me too. Seriously. Plus, I’ve got the family history. Trust me. I come from a long line of people who start out pretty normal and end up either killing themselves or swinging from trees completely naked after not sleeping for two weeks in Belize or Costa Rica. They really discourage behavior like that in foreign countries and it can be quite grueling attempting to retrieve someone from the rain forest canopy who believes they are God or the pack leader of a family of Bonobo chimps.
To be fair there is another side to my family. They are the ones who worked on the Manhattan Project, became successful (and primarily sane) engineers, businessmen, scientists and college professors. For some reason they werent diagnosed with autism, ADD, or bipolar and managed to lead productive lives without taking mouthfuls of stimulants, SSRIs, atypical anti-psychotics, Lithium, or hidden flasks of whisky conveniently stashed in bottom desk drawers. As with the ADD epidemic, one becomes suspicious when they see too many soccer moms filling prescriptions for Adderall because their 10 year old, “focuses more and scores more goals when medicated”. Still, as a helping professional and someone from a family with both a lot of brains and a lot of raving lunatics (myself included) I know these diseases are real and often devastating. Somehow, somewhere we have to find a better balance between over-diagnosing, over-prescribing, over pathologizing on the one hand and excessive denial on the other. How bout this? If you think you’re crazy, you’re probably not as crazy as you think, but if you believe you’re completely sane and even the family dog cocks his head to the side when you say that at 3AM while watching Law and Order reruns and binging on Doritos, Tequila, and someone elses Vicodin….you might want to call a shrink for a second opinion. Dont be surprised if he/she (the good doctor) admits to being bipolar or ADD themselves.