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Literally Lorna column: What bipolar is and isn't

Do you know a "crazy" person? Ha, I bet most of you are smiling and thinking to yourselves, well yes, yes I do. Some of you may be thinking, what do you mean by "crazy?"

A few weeks ago at work, a few of us had some downtime and the question arose "What is bipolar?" It may seem like an odd question, an out-of-the-blue type question, but not for us sitting there. Moments before that question a small explosion came from a co-worker, the type of eruption that we are familiar with from this individual but not worthy of "getting mad" about. Most of us have learned to ignore it and just keep working, but it must have finally hit a wall with this question.

I answered with "It's a mood disorder." Another said, "When someone just snaps." Another guy chimed in and said, "It's depression." With a few other undiagnosed comments, one guy sadly said, "Like my wife."

By definition, bipolar disorder is a mental illness that stems from depression. It affects an individual's moods which can range from high to low. Bipolar disorder can be treated with medication and/or psychotherapy. If not treated, it could be fatal.

This is where I will include a disclaimer; this column is based on my experience and my opinion while learning about anxiety and bipolar.

I was diagnosed in May 2014 with severe anxiety and at touch of bipolar. When it came time to share this with my dad, I felt like I needed to translate this information into his world so he could understand better. I began by saying, "I have an engine problem, the wiring in my brain is a little off and according to the mechanic (doctor), it needs an additive."

My dad suggested Sea Foam, which works wonders in cleaning out multiple parts of an engine. I listened to his suggestion but was thinking, that's about right, and Paroxetine seems to do that for me. Once the additive runs through the system, there is less noise due to less gunk. Additives don't exactly fix the problem, but at least the vehicle runs and can get you through the day.

I was able to equate my condition to my dad by using the analogy of engines. Brains are like engines, oil versus blood, wires versus veins, and sensors versus nerves; the intricacies of the engine must all work together. When some part is off, then there may be sputtering, strange noises, wasted fuel and lost faith in your ride. Experiencing car trouble can be heard, from clunking, grinding, squeaking, squealing, ticking to flapping. It can be seen, for instance, in smoking, jerking, rocking or bouncing. If there is fluid coming out of the engine at least you can determine what fluid it is by the color. Car trouble can certainly be sniffed out. Nose numbing smells like burnt oil, burnt rubber and excess fuel will make you pay attention. Sometimes you can even feel car trouble like hesitation and dragging. These are all symptoms of car trouble. If these symptoms are ignored or continue too long, then one problem will lead to another. Just like our brains, mental illness has symptoms too.

Depression symptoms are about the same not matter what source of information you read; insomnia or sleeping too much, loss of appetite, dramatic weight loss or gain, migraines and thoughts of suicide. Anxiety has additional symptoms such as temper, trouble focusing, a racing mind, upset stomach, indecisiveness and excessive worrying.

What I'd also like to share about bipolar is what it isn't; for example, it isn't a virus because it never goes away. It can be controlled and tamed by medication, but one needs to learn how to live with it. It doesn't make those affected dumb, less successful or even unpopular. Matter of fact, there are quite a few rich and/or famous people who are or were bipolar, including Robin Williams, Demi Lovato, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Winston Churchill.

It is also something that one cannot see by a photo, most of the time it's the opposite; a smile, having fun, etc. can lead others to believe everything is fine. I was able to get through 40 years of anxiety before stress took its toll, bringing the truth of the past to light.

If you're thinking you or someone close to you is bipolar, I'd start with the family tree. Depression is in the genes; it's hereditary. Second, I'd review the gray area as I like to call it. With bipolar, things are black and white, right or wrong, all or nothing. Gray area is not dealt with in a smooth way. Gray area is the evil; it's what makes the stress level high and the bully come out. Change can be extremely difficult. Last, I'd go online and learn more about depression in general. Depression is a complicated subject and is divided into areas of mental illness. All those mental illnesses stem from depression.

To learn more, visit National Alliance on Mental Illness (; National Institute of Mental Health (;

Other tidbits: A therapist cannot prescribe medication, but can diagnose an individual.

A psychologist cannot prescribe medication, but a psychiatrist can.