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Book review from Colorado
on June 13, 2002
When media began publicizing the increase in diagnoses for bipolar disorder a few years ago, it was all but certain that the naysayers eventually would follow.
Bipolar? Yeah, right. That's just the latest fancy excuse for people who don't want to take responsibility for their own actions.
That backlash has already begun.
Those who doubt bipolar is real, or serious, might talk to a friend who's been diagnosed with this potentially devastating brain disorder (once better known as manic depression). It is characterized by cycles of crushing depression alternating with periods of excessive physical, mental and even spiritual energy.
Anyone who has bipolar disorder will tell you: It's real. Unlike other mental health conditions, it does seem to have an "upside" -- sometimes people in hypo-manic stages can be highly creative, gregarious and energetic -- but over time, it can be debilitating, exhausting and even fatal.
In a time of increasing public skepticism, it's nice that one of the nation's top bipolar disorder researchers has published a user-friendly guide to the disease for patients and their families.
"The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide;What You and Your Family Need to Know" by David Miklowitz, (Guilford Press; $18.95) professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is an essential resource.
Time and again in his practical guide, Miklowitz reminds those with bipolar disorder that they are not imagining their disease, and even that the disease itself can make patients prone to doubting themselves.
"The absence of a definitive test (for the disease) makes it easy to forget that you have a bio-chemical imbalance and even easier to believe that you never had one in the first place," he writes. "... Many people start to believe that 'I had this illness once, but now it's under my control,' especially when they've been well for a while. But bipolar symptoms have a way of recurring when you least expect them."
The book offers a wealth of material that can help demystify the disorder. Miklowitz methodically explains the disease, its symptoms and diagnosis, moves on to cogent explanations of its possible causes ("genetics, biology and stress"), then spends most of the book offering advice on how to manage it. He even offers worksheets and logs to help people come to a better understanding of and approach to bipolar illness.
Books by academic researchers always have the potential to be bone-dry. But Miklowitz understands that accessibility is the goal here and is writing for the layperson, even peppering the text with real-life experiences of people with the illness . Reading some of these can be both illuminating and horrifying. Especially when they are in mania, people with this chemical imbalance can do some dangerous, illegal and destructive (to family, friends, self and even strangers) things.
Informative, interesting, and compassionate, "The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide" is a valuable new resource for people with the illness, and their family and friends.