How Understanding Bipolar Disorder Can Help You Be Happier

by Dr. Christopher on July 25, 2011

A diagnosis is a label for a “disease,” or a set of symptoms that are a physiologic (and very normal) process of the body.

Medicine comes up with a label for an issue so that medicine can be prescribed.

Without a label, there is no medication and no income to be had.

Only when you diagnose an individual’s shopping habits as compulsive shopping disorder can you treat it medically.

Only when you have pre-diabetes, hypertension, hypothyroid, ADHD or any other condition can your doctor treat it with drugs.

Then, you can start calling it “my diabetes,” and you can own it so it becomes a part of you.

Ownership allows you accept living with the symptoms or the disease.  So then you can cover them up.

Is the answer to your symptoms to cover them up?  Or is it be aware of them and learn what caused them so that you can fix the problem?

Thoughts on Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a psychological disease characterized by extreme highs (described as mania) and lows (periods of depression).

Apparently, bipolar disorder and depression run in my family.

My grandmother’s sister once came down to greet family on Christmas morning in her underwear.  Going off your bipolar disorder medication makes you do crazy things I guess.

Medicine diagnoses bipolar disorder so that it can be treated to medically flatten out the hormone responses.

Medication can make the highs and lows seem not so high or not so low.

But they come with side-effects.

If you’ve ever been depressed or sad, you wonder what can help you come out of it.  Alcohol?  Sex?  Television?  Gambling?  Food?  Drugs?  Prescribed or not? (Things that increase the amount of dopamine or serotonin in the brain and allow you to feel good).

Having tried multiple strategies, my favorite strategy at this point is to embrace the low (I learned this term from new friend Garrett Kramer, author of Stillpower) and realize I’m going to come out of it.

When you’re in the darkness of the valley, you recall the path that got you there.  Too many bad meals strung together, not enough sleep, spreading yourself too thin with life activities, or failure to achieve your goals.  You learn not to take that path again. 

The great thing about the path down into the valley is that it soon leads up out of the valley.  Embracing the low allows you stop resisting where you are.  Instead of staying put on the path or getting lost trying to backtrack, you can move forward, one foot in front of the other, and come out the other side.     

Life Has Bipolar Disorder.  You Don’t.

Do the mountains and valleys of life need to be blunted so that all of life is experienced on a plane?

Without down, how would you know which way is up?

Without sadness, how would you know if you were ever happy?

Without death, how would you remember that your life on Earth is finite?

Have you ever noticed how people who live where it snows in the winter appreciate the warmth of summer much more than they do in places such as Florida, Hawaii, or Texas?

My theory is that all human beings have bipolar disorder just as all human beings experience depression. 

Some may be more hormonally sensitive than others and therefore, need to be more conscious of their life’s actions.  Their wiggle room for mistreating themselves is smaller and their path into the valley is much steeper, wondering how they fell so quickly.

The big picture is that it’s natural and healthy to be happy sometimes and to feel sad other times.  Everything teaches us a lesson and acts as a reminder of how good life is.

Happy people will be the first to tell you that happiness isn’t about being up and happy 100% of the time.  Happiness is about feeling alive and inspired as much as possible.  It’s about feeling the rawness of reality, whether you’re up or down. It’s about embracing the lows just as much as the highs.  Resistance only perpetuates the low.  Happy people pay attention to the world, feel all that life has to offer and learn the lessons that life throws their way, and come out of the shadows into the sunlight again.

What do you do when you’re depressed, sad, or down in the valley?  Do you have a strategy for coming out?  Do you have any experience embracing the low?

Dr. Christopher Stepien is a chiropractor, chronic pain specialist, and A.R.T. provider, and clinic director of the Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic in Morristown, NJ.  He practices out of Crossfit Morristown.
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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin Scott, LMSW July 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm

It needs to be said. Your out of your element doctor. Stick to crooked bones. Inspire if you would like; sure what ur saying is true and at te foundation of cognitive based therapy… But you truly have little understanding of the true psychopathology of an actual psychiatric diagnosis.

I’ll start telling people that have back ache and misaligned discs to “stretch” and when they are tight, numb, tingley- “embrace the low”. You don’t need a diagnosis of herniated or slipped disc… It will be fine of you just appreciate the pain.”

I will credit you; however, with a positive insight into maintaining a positive outlook. We call that Mindfullness in this field.

Dr. Christopher July 26, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Appreciate the comment Justin.

I realize there are extremes and that much knowledge about psychopathology is well beyond my knowledge.

In this post, I’ve attempted to summarize my own attempts to understand in a broader context what is going on with a specific hormonal and psychological disorder. It was not meant to simplify, just to touch on a possible aspect of being bipolar that more than likely, we all experience.

Again, I appreciate your comment and opinion.

stella August 4, 2011 at 11:05 am

long time.
i come to this post as an acceptance of the idea that we are all connected and that those of us paying attention have a tendency to ask questions of ourselves and worlds around us-
you let me know that these thoughts and concerns are shared and that gives me much hope- thanks, man
‘the noonday demon- an atlas of depression’ by writer andrew solomon is a book that touches on the things we have been wondering about.

Dr. Christopher August 8, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Hi Stella!

Yes, it has been a long time. Have been thinking about you and hope you are well and still enjoying the sun?

Thank you for sharing my thoughts and concerns. It’s nice to not be alone, not that we ever are.

Added that book to my list. Add “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl to yours. The guy survived concentration camps, and has a lot to say about suffering.

Love, Chris

dw December 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm

As a sufferer of bipolar I can say that this is just plain crap. All the positive thinking in the world will not stop a manic or depressive episode, it is a complete change in your perception of reality.

There is a place for positive thinking , an important one but treatment which will include drugs of some kind should never be discouraged. I suffered untreated for 10+ years and am amazed at how much better my life is after finally accepting that I was suffering and all of my willpower/cognitive abilities were not enough to beat the illness alone.

My advice “doctor” is to stick to back pain.

Dr. Christopher December 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Thanks for the reply dw.

As I always say, “results speak for themselves.” So whatever you’re doing, even if medications are making the huge a difference, I support that intervention.

However, looking at this problem through a different lens, I don’t see how your human body is “name of drug”-deficient.

While I wouldn’t want you to stop the medication, I’m wondering what other lifestyle choices you are making are contributing to messing up the hormonal balance in your head.

My family continues to ask me to get medication when they witness me in depressive bouts. Little do they know, I was getting no exercise, eating inflammatory foods (bread, pasta, cheese), not getting to bed for 10 PM, and not meditating at all. My hormonal levels seem to change within 48 hours of giving my body the nutrients it needs to express health and happiness.

Correct, I’m not training to treat bipolar disorder. And the words written above are extreme. But … they help me AND others, not 100% of the time, but often enough to share.

Appreciate the conversation dw.

Ivonne May 23, 2013 at 4:17 am

Obiously you don’t have bipolar disorder, I have been suffering with bipolar disorder for16 years,and yes is true that every body gets deppresed sometimes but for me is more intense and goes and comes back , I cant plan my days because I don’t know how I am going to feel the next day.I take medications I have therapy, a PSR worker and I still suffer from depresion often, you dont know what you are talking about, get more schooling.Sorry for the spelling I speak spanish.

Dr. Christopher May 23, 2013 at 9:25 am

No reason to be sorry Ivonne.

You’re right, I don’t have bipolar disorder. The post was meant to be a bit facetious, especially when I saw “You don’t have bipolar disorder”. Yes, people can show certain signs and symptoms that represent the label that is “bipolar disorder”.

But any disease is the body doing the best it can with the environment we give it. Bruce Lipton’s “Biology of Belief” speaks more to this.

I understand you’re medicated and undergo therapy.

But have you tried a paleo lifestyle? Do you work out with intensity? Do you cultivate a positive mindset and thoughts? Do you drink pure water? Do you eat organic foods? Do you get all the nutrients you need through other supplements? Are you avoiding environmental toxins such as BPA in plastics and smog? Do you have communicate with others in order to have healthy relationships.

I believe that there are people who are more susceptible to psychological conditions. But that means being more savvy with what the human body, mind, and spirit requires to express health.

Does that make any sense?

Margaret June 26, 2013 at 12:21 am

Dr. Christopher,

I hear what you’re saying, and yes, I think we can all understand the points that you are trying to make. They are very important aspects of maintenance therapy. But they are just aspects. They will not solve the DISorder and bring complete balance and equilibrium to our lives as to be able to live at peace with bipolar disorder without conventional therapies. Nor can most individuals with mental illness afford the lifestyle you propose, especially those with serious mental illness, including those with bipolar disorder. With all due respect, I don’t think you truly understand what it is to have bipolar disorder. No, I am not defined by it, but it does have a significant impact on my life. When I’m unwell, everything you have said is just CRAP. NOBODY likes their meds. They have horrible side effects. But for many people they are necessary to stay alive and function. When I have been in the depths of a depressive episode unmedicated (or incorrectly medicated), embracing it would mean to embrace or act on the ever present NEED to die. There’s no way to reflect on how I got there, because my brain is no longer working well enough to function as a sentient human being. Death appears as the only option. There are no competent thought processes going on–just a really fucked up alternate reality. And reflecting on the episode and what led up to it after the fact is equally difficult due to the confusion and memory loss involved. Ditto on the mania, but add in psychosis and total mental confusion including loss of time. How did I get there and what did I do when I was manic? You’re asking the wrong person! And the mixed episode, well that’s a whole other animal to which death would bring a welcome and swift end. These are not negative perceptions on life. These are expressions of my real experiences of being extremely unwell. No amount of pure water or organic foods is going to help at this point in the episode (though the hospitals do provide purified water).

When I’m well, your advice comes across as pompous and arrogant, as well as extremely undereducated. Study up on the disorder. Talk to at least 100 people with bipolar disorder from ALL walks of life about THEIR lives. Really listen to them–without waiting for an opportunity to give them your advice. Truly listen with compassion. Then come back to this discussion and share your opinions. I’d be interested to see how they would change…and yes, they would!


Dr. Christopher June 27, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Hi Margaret,

I think that I understand, and I believe you’re right. I know that speaking for my own neurology and hormones, it’s not even close to as bad as it can get for others. I can 100% appreciate that there are people who NEED drugs to live. I know that if I tried to stop a loved one from getting medication and they hurt themselves, I could never forgive myself.

I only, why is suicide so prominent today even though we do have meds? Did cavemen need medication? What would happen if we did EVERYTHING in our power to allow someone to fully heal (water, food, thoughts, psychology, coaching, no fragrances, no chemicals, lots of sunlight, plants, animals, love)?

Thank you for your comments. I see how my perspective is short-sighted and limited. I only wonder.


Ms. Ms January 2, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Thanks for an inspiring piece of writing.

Dr. Christopher January 3, 2014 at 2:53 am

You’re welcome Ms. Ms.

Kyley April 17, 2015 at 7:49 am

I like your point about having less wiggle room for mistreating yourself. That really resonated with me.

Dr. Christopher April 28, 2015 at 6:49 am

We all need a little wiggle room Kyley. : )

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