Bipolar disorder causes misconceptions to arise

By Diana Trasatti
March 27, 2008

Megan Pellegrino

“I always knew that there was something wrong with me,” Wendy Odyniec said, as she brushed her dark hair back behind her ears and sipped her warm coffee. “A lot of years were spent just thinking I was crazy.”

Odyniec is just one of the 5.7 millions of Americans who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Bipolar disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, which leads one to have extreme up and down moods. During the manic state of the illness sufferers tend to engage in behavior that can be considered risky or dangerous. It is in the depressive state that they feel upset with what they’ve done and in a sense, crash.

Odyniec is no stranger to either side of the illness.

“I always felt there was a hole inside of me and nothing could fill that hole up,” Odyniec said.

In an effort to fill up that hole, Odyniec turned to drugs and alcohol at the age of 11.

Being misdiagnosed as hyper, she was given Valium, which the doctors hoped would calm her down. By the age of 16, Odyniec and her friends were all taking the Valium, a way to combat their “hyper-activity.”

“It really wasn’t the right answer, but I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I wanted to feel better.”

At 36, Odyniec hit the bottom. Subsiding into a major depression caused doctors to finally diagnose her properly. Upon being medicated for depression and having it produce the opposite effects, doctors were able to tell Odyniec the cause of that hole she felt and the ups and downs she experienced since she was 11.

Bipolar disorder can begin anywhere from the early childhood years up until the age of 50. It does not discriminate against race, gender or social class. It is found in all different types of people from all parts of the world and of all varying statuses, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Since the illness is caused from a chemical imbalance, it also carries a genetic link. Those with parents or relatives who have the disorder are also likely to inherit the illness.

Despite increasing knowledge and medical advances, society still looks down upon mental health illness and does not fully understand it.

“People say to you ‘Just snap out of it.’ Well, you can’t just snap out of it. It doesn’t work that way. I think that’s the thing that bothers me the most. I don’t choose to be this way.”

Everyone may experience a depression or mood swings within the course of their life, but consistency and extremity in this trend may constitute for concern. You will see the typical ups and downs that everyone will encounter, in bipolar patients. It is a cause for concern when the shifts in moods become more extreme and occur on a regular basis, according to Dr. Anthony Tomasco, professor of psychology.

Some of these shifts in moods have caused Odyniec to do things such as paint her entire ceiling in black, overturn her fully set dinner table and simply walk out and leave the hospital in which she was being held after a confrontation with the police.

A steady use of the prescription medication lithium and regular visits with her psychologist have helped Odyniec live with and stabilize her illness. In addition, Odyniec uses laughter as a means of coping.

“What else can I do? You have to be able to laugh at yourself. Crying is not going to get me anywhere.”

With the proper medication and treatment, those with bipolar disorder are able to live a regular life.

“People will say to me all the time ‘I would never know you’re bipolar.’ I’m not embarrassed about being bipolar. If you had diabetes, would you be embarrassed? If you had cancer, would you be embarrassed? You would want to get help. So, I’m not embarrassed.”

That hole inside of Odyniec, which she desperately tried to fill since the age of 11 still resides, but in a different way.

“I was always trying to fill that hole up. I think I’ll always have it, but now I know what it is.”

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Diana Trasatti

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