What My Counseling Professor Got Wrong About My Bipolar Disorder Mania

I am currently in a master’s program studying to be a mental health counselor. I also have several mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. I took Diagnosis a year ago and didn’t agree with my professor’s perspective on some issues.  I wish I could have spoken up, but if she knew I had mental illnesses she wouldn’t view me the same way. I want to do well in the program so I can become a counselor. Since I can’t respond to my professor in person, I want to share my responses here.

1. Manic doesn’t always mean dangerous.

My professor said that clients with bipolar disorder are volatile, and manic episodes are very dangerous, so we need to pay close attention to clients who are manic. She said clients with manic episodes are a risk of hurting others or themselves.

I understand where she is coming from, but I don’t feel that all people who experience mania are dangerous. I wanted to tell her: Being bipolar doesn’t mean I am dangerous. Having a manic episode doesn’t mean I am out of control. I have worked very hard to manage my illness. I believe there are ways to manage mania.

I wanted to tell her that two weeks ago, I came to class manic. No one noticed. I have become good at hiding it, though it causes me a lot of inner pain.

Furthermore, I am not a threat to others when I am manic. When I am manic, I feel out of control. I feel this terrible anxiety and feel like it’s difficult to control myself.

I have not hurt others when I was manic, but I have made some bad choices and gotten hurt. I’m very vulnerable since I’m impulsive and it’s easy for people to trick me into things since I’m not thinking clearly.

Lately, I am able to cope with manic episodes since I “parent” myself. I spend the whole time telling myself, “No, you can’t drive 100 mph on the highway. No, you can’t go shopping online, you will spend too much money. No, you can go downtown late at night, it’s not safe. Why don’t you use your energy to clean the house and do laundry or create art? Why don’t you run up and down the stairs until you calm down a bit?” It’s exhausting, but that way I get through it without negative consequences.

2.  Everything is relative.

My professor said that for clients who rapid cycle; four mood episodes within a year is “very bad.” She explained how severe a mood episode can be, and how multiple mood episodes in a year is a serious problem.

I wanted to tell her: mental illness is different for each person.

For me, my moods cycle each month. Each month, I flip between hypomania/mania and depression at some point. That fall, I had a 10-day period in which I flipped between hypomania and depression each day. I was depressed in the mornings and flipped to manic in the evenings. But I was not in crisis. I have learned ways to cope. If four mood episodes in a year is “very bad,” what would she think of 20 episodes in 10 days? I don’t want to know.

3. Psychosis doesn’t have to be extreme.

One day, a classmate said, “It’s hard for me to picture a hallucination. Can you give me an example?” My professor thought for a minute and then said, “Imagine you look out the window and there is a butterfly outside, with a dean, miniature-sized, sitting on it. That would be a hallucination.”

I was shocked. I didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry. From my experience, hallucinations are not always so bizarre.

I have had hallucinations while manic. In my experience, a “typical” hallucination would be that the walls look like they are melting and the floor is sinking. I also will hear voices that sound like demons or angels, or I will think a friend is next to me and then realize they are not there.

My hallucinations are still disturbing. But they are not so bizarre as a miniature dean riding a butterfly! I wish my professor would have normalized hallucinations somewhat.

I spoke to my practicum supervisor last semester about my experiences with professors when they made some extreme statements about mental illness. She is a doctorate student at my university, so she knows them, and she knows I have mental illnesses.

She explained to me, “They are academics. They have not worked in the field for a long time, and sometimes they speak rigidly about mental illness.” I can understand that to some degree.

Still, in Diagnosis, I wished I could raise my hand and say, “Mania does not always mean dangerous! Bipolar disorder is different for everyone. And hallucinations can be much more ‘normal’ than a miniature dean flying on a butterfly!”

I want to tell everyone: mania is different for everyone. And we people with bipolar disorder have vastly different experiences than the stereotypes.

This article was originally published on Psych Central

Photo by Jacob Townsend on Unsplash

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