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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bipolar Depression Nags and Ninnies

I am going to present here commentary about my thinking on the subject of depression. It is based on my understanding of our culture's view of bipolar disorder and psychiatric disorders in general. I also make the distinction between bipolar depression and other forms of depression.

Bipolar Depression

It is good to remember that bipolar depression is different from other types of depression. From my understanding bipolar depression is more severe, longer lasting (chronic), and treatment resistant than major depression. Mild, moderate, or most situational depressions pales in contrast to the intensity and duration of a bipolar depression episode.

Bipolar depression is a severe form of depression that has a biological component to it. This means that there are actual, physiological changes that occur in the brain when experiencing severe depression. Changes include things like loss of neuron connectivity, low activity in regions of the brain associated with emotion, problems with specific neurotransmitters (e.g., Serotonin) and loss of brain mass in certain areas.

Severe depression goes way beyond how one feels. It also includes adverse impacts to a person's energy levels, motivation, thinking ability (especially concentration and memory), sleep, and sense of self worth.

Because I have Bipolar Disorder I experience severe depression essentially by definition.  And let me tell you it can be unbearably severe.  At one point last year I went into an extreme depression that required partial hospitalization in a two-week outpatient treatment program.  That was a first.


We all have nags in our lives.  People whom existence thrives on pointing out our problems and reminding you of how you could do this or that to improve.  

Whether it's your mother or a brother from another mother, nags kill mood, start rumination, and piss you off.  Sometimes you will have to tell them to talk to the hand.

Exercise nags.  Everyone is harping about how beneficial exercise is for fighting depression.  Are they excited for good reason?  Well, yes and no.  The problem is exercise is truly effective, but only for certain depressions.

Exercise is known to help people with mild or moderate depression.  It can make a significant impact towards a successful depression recovery in these cases.  Exercise keeps them happier than a flea in a doghouse.  However, this is not the case for recalcitrant bipolar depression.

I find myself doing more exercise as I my depression lifts.  This is the opposite of what is believed.  I exercise when I feel better, versus exercising to feel better as with milder forms of depression.

Exercise as a means to reduce the severity of bipolar depression is mostly poppycock.  This website says otherwise.  However, based on my experiences with this monster, I have consistently found that exercise just doesn't provide much therapeutic value to the severe forms of my bipolar depression.

Diet nags.  After exercise, diet is the most well intended recommendation I hear. In addition to restricting bad foods from your meals, diet in this context includes natural and synthetic supplements that are part of a person's daily intake.

As with exercise it is my conviction that diet has only a limited effect toward bipolar depression symptom relief.  While losing weight and avoiding bad foods is certainly a huge health benefit, the ability for diet to significantly alter mood does not seem to occur with me.

As I write this I am on a pretty crappy diet.  I eat only once or twice a day and usually late at night.  It's been like this for the last couple of years.  Interestingly, as my depression began to lift over the last couple of months I have had the same poor diet.  I try healthier eating from time-to-time, but really don't notice improvements when in the pit of a bipolar depression.  I have similar experiences with dietary supplements such as St. John's Wort, 5-HTP, peppermint, green tea, and others.  I even wonder how much help I'm getting from my current supplements: NAC, multivitamin, fish oil, aspirin, Benadryl, and Provigil.

I've had this diet for many moons now, including the time I've spent in this bipolar depression (21 months).  It may be different for others, but altering my diet on my diet does not noticeably improve my depression symptoms.

Snap Out Nags.  A common myth persists that people should be able to "snap out" of depression.  They think that depression is merely a result of someone wallowing in their grief or sadness.  They believe it can be cured simply with just positive thinking and adjusting one's attitude.

This is nonsense.  Depression is a serious medical condition arising from biological and environmental factors.  It is not a sign of weakness, laziness, or self-pity. 

Depression is a psychiatric disorder of the mind arising from changes in brain chemistry, neural networks, and function.  It is marked by prolonged periods of unexplained hopelessness, profound sadness, lethargy, guilt, and suicidal tendencies.


Ninnies are those people who are completely clueless when it comes to an understanding of mental wellness and psychiatric disorders.  This unawareness often leads them to stigmatize, discriminate, and reject the notion that mental disorders even exist - despite all of today's evidence showing otherwise.  

Further, misunderstanding is perpetuated by exaggeration, inaccuracies, and misrepresentations of mental disorders.  The two main sources for a lot of people's information is the main stream media and the entertainment industry.  News media, social media, and popular websites often present severe disorders in a simplistic, violent-ridden, and deranged manner. 

Since they have no experience with severe depression, Ninnies love to impart their wisdom for relief from what they consider is simply the case of the blues.  Although they have the best of intentions, their simplistic understanding of psychiatric disorders leads to giving suggestions and advice that sound more like accusations, condescension, and hogwash. 

"But you have so much to be happy about.  Look on the bright side"  They have no idea that depression symptoms include a strong and persistent flow of negative, distorted thoughts, where everything occurs dull, meaningless, grey, and blah.  Severe depression generates apathy where expressions of concern, excitement, and motivation are conspicuously absent.  It can also lead to anhedonia, where there is a lack of ability to experience pleasure. Although I am grateful and thankful for the good things in my life, in the state of severe depression they are seen in a distorted light where all things seem meaningless, of little value, and guilt-ridden.

My bipolar depressions lasts years. Those around me know this. So, when someone asks a simple "How are you?", I sometimes can not believe what I am hearing.  Of course I'm feeling bad, I'm not well.  Of course I end up telling a lie that I'm doing fine just to avoid any more discussion about my depressed state.  

When it comes to understanding, the folks that ask this question are  not paying attention or something.  MLK said it best: "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

And then there's "I know how you feel." For most people this is b.s. plain and simple. Unless you are one of the 2.6% of Americans with bipolar disorder, you will have no way to relate to the depths and duration of bipolar depression.

I'm going to stop this post/rant. Something spurred me to write this and I'm not sure what it is. Until next time, live long and prosper.


  1. Replies
    1. Hello Health!

      Glad you get something from the site and thanks for the comment! If people weren't getting any value out of my blogging I'd surely have quit by now. Keep up the good fight.