For several months, the question of what was wrong with Jesse Jackson, Jr., was a mystery. The Congressman’s office was very guarded about why Jackson was absent, first stating that he was exhausted, then adding that he was struggling with physical and emotional ailments. Finally, just last week, the Mayo Clinic announced that Jackson had been diagnosed with bipolar depression.
Why all the secrecy? Unfortunately, it is still true that politicians and other leaders are never allowed to have anything wrong with them that could be construed as emotional. It seems that this fear is still alive in America. Understandably, that may be why both his wife and his staff suggested that his problems were most likely consequences related to gastric surgery, which he had in 2004.
So what is bipolar depression, or the more general term “bipolar disorder?” (Dr. Jill Hubbard and myself just completed a recorded Perspective on this diagnosis, and the CD can be ordered at www.newlife.com.) Let’s start with some history. Originally, it was called manic-depressive disorder, and it wasn’t that long ago that it was considered untreatable. The back wards of mental hospitals were full of people with this disorder.
Then they discovered that lithium, a mineral, could reduce or even eliminate the symptoms, and the person treated with lithium could function in the everyday world. Those back wards of mental hospitals were emptied. Theproblem was caused by a person’s cells not absorbing sodium properly, but with treatment, everything can be stabilized within the cells of the person. Today, other medications are used as alternatives to lithium, along with anti-depressants.
Bipolar is often compared to diabetes, in that it is a biochemical disorder in the body. There is often a family history of people having either diabetes or bipolar, but it can skip generations, so there is no clear pattern. Both illnesses require ongoing medication that allows for normal functioning of the body and the emotions, and both are basically a physiological disorder.
The difference is that with bipolar, the emotions are more overtly involved. The untreated bipolar person will have cyclical mood swings, and these mood swings can be very extreme. In what is called bipolar I, these swings will go between deep depression to the opposite manic phase when the person may go days without sleeping, and create all kinds of chaos as they live out the grandiosity of their mania.
Unlike diabetes, there is no blood test that will clarify diagnosis. Instead, diagnosis is based on a collection of symptoms that include cyclical swings in moods, rapid thoughts, and interestingly, limited effectiveness of antidepressants. The person with a true bipolar disorder will take an antidepressant. It will work for a time, and then stop working. The antidepressant medications need to be taken in conjunction with mood stabilizers. Basically, effective treatment is the best tool for diagnosis.
We’ve been describing bipolar I, but there are also variants, including what Jackson was diagnosed, which is called bipolar 2. Here the level of the manic phase is much less and the cycles typically swing between deep depression and only a mild mania. There are also some who will cycle rapidly, while others may cycle over the course of a year. I remember a man I worked with who was bipolar 2, and in looking back over his life, he found that the depression would always begin just before summer, and the depression would last until late fall. His cycle was finally broken by proper medication.
Maybe someday the negative reaction to this disorder will be removed.
Anyone in your family struggled with this disorder? How did the family handle it?