The Six Stages Of Bipolar
Everyone has up and down times. It is a natural part of life. If we observe our lives over time we might say there are two poles that we have; some days we feel on top of the world and other days perhaps on the bottom. That is the basis for the word bipolar and the reason I say that everyone is bipolar. Some may argue that there are people who are unipolar and only experience the up or down side, but even they have a range of experience with a "pole" on each end.
Unfortunately, the word bipolar is generally used to describe a subset of people who have adverse reactions when they go to far toward the high and low poles. Although related to how far from center one is, there is no distance from center that guarantees one would necessarily react to it in an adverse way. It really depends on how far we are from our comfort zone. One person might be perfectly comfortable and highly functional at a certain point from center while another could be so uncomfortable that he/she is literally in danger of suicide. I see the comfortable person as keeping life in-order, while the person in danger of suicide has lost control and is in dis-order. Using bipolar as a term to describe the dis-ordered person is an over-simplification that goes too far. We should at least distinguish the difference between having Bipolar Dis-Order or Bipolar In-Order.
But life is not even that simple. If I just won a marathon, for example, I might be very high emotionally yet completely drained and low physically. To really see where we are on the spectrum from high to low we need to consider all of the aspects of our lives: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and career/financial. It is probably more accurate at any given time to say that we are really in a "mixed state" instead of somewhere on a straight line between the two poles, so we must see even the expansion of bipolar to Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar IN Order as just a convenient simplification of a much more complex topic.
There are six distinct stages of bipolar: Crisis, Managed, Recovery, Freedom, Stability, and Self-Mastery. The first three are considered Disorder, while the last three are clearly IN Order once you understand the difference.
Bipolar Disorder - From Crisis to Recovery
We are in Crisis when the intensity of our high or low state overwhelms us. On the down side, commonly called depression, we either cannot function or we can function only enough to attempt suicide. On the up side, commonly called mania, we lose our ability to control our behavior and may put ourselves and others at great risk.
But, even the most disordered of us are not in crisis all the time. The majority of people considered to have Bipolar Disorder spend most of their time in Managed Stage. They use various tools to keep the intensity from reaching a Crisis level, yet still experience times when it is clearly uncomfortable. They struggle to minimize the intensity with the goal of getting to Recovery.
Recovery, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), means the manias and depressions have been removed. The recovery movement might challenge such a definition, but I have yet to hear anyone define recovery as moving further toward the two poles. At the least, recovery means to decrease the intensity of mania and depression to the point where we are in control of our behaviors.
The NIMH has determined Recovery to be an unstable state in their landmark STEP-BD study: "According to the researchers, these results indicate that in spite of modern, evidence-based treatment, bipolar disorder remains a highly recurrent, predominantly depressive illness." Therefor, one is still considered to have Bipolar Disorder even when in temporary remission.
The medical model that only sees bipolar as a disorder or an illness is not working. The assessments, tools, and goals are all based on the idea that bipolar is a disease that must be managed toward reduction if not completely eliminated. It is a system that has been proven not to work by their own studies and is unacceptable given that we have already produced much better outcomes.
Bipolar IN Order - From Freedom To Self-Mastery
Freedom Stage begins when we reject the notion that we cannot handle bipolar and are making the effort to expand our comfort zone instead of trying to hold on to remission. We assess where we are in terms of ability to function at different intensities, use tools designed for increasing functionality at slightly elevated intensities instead of reducing them, and take well planned steps slightly outside of our comfort zone and immediately back in again. With practice, we find that we become highly functional and comfortable with intensities that were once outside of our full control. We learn to thrive WHILE manic and depressed instead of aiming for temporary remission.
Stability Stage is achieved when we are able to expand our comfort zone to the same intensities that once caused a Crisis for us. It takes tremendous insight and effort to achieve such Stability, but the idea that it is impossible has already been proven wrong; many of us have already accomplished it. We are definitely Bipolar, but there is no way to consider our condition in disorder. When we are in Stability we are comfortable instead of suffering and so are the people around us.
Some of us have achieved a stage beyond Stability. We call if Self-Mastery because we have mastered ourselves to the point that we can function highly during levels of intensity beyond what once caused a Crisis for us. This stage is reserved for those willing to dedicate a tremendous amount of effort to it. I like to compare it to the difference between a casual hiker and one who would climb the Himalayas. Mastery is functioning at the top level in any endeavor; Self-Mastery comes with understanding (instead of rejecting) every state of mind, while being able to function so highly that you see the value in every one of them.
Even for those who do not aspire to Self-Mastery, breaking out of the disorder model gives us all an opportunity to achieve measurably better results through better assessments, better tools, and stage specific plans that were developed by those of us who have already succeeded with them. In business and sports, we learn from those at the top of their game because they have achieved the ultimate success. We would never seek instruction from someone who settles for half way. Those who struggle with their bipolar condition should learn from those who have achieved Bipolar IN Order and reject the advice of those who defend Bipolar Disorder as the best they can hope for.
Integrated Approach to Success
In order to escape from the disordered cycle of repeating Crisis, Managed, and Recovery Stages, we need to break free from the limited view of treating our condition as a medical illness only. We must begin to see the whole picture from an integrated point of view. That means addressing the Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, and Career/Financial aspects of our lives. It is important to recognize how the bipolar condition effects our entire life. Our team includes experts in every field that is critical to success. Learn More
Assessments Geared Toward Success Instead Of Disorder
Many assessments leave out critical information and perspectives that are needed to move from Bipolar Disorder to Bipolar IN Order. By focusing on the negatives, they often keep our perspective stuck in illness. If all states are only seen as negative, difficult, or meaningless, they can be an indication of disorder. If states can be valued for their different contributions to the whole of our experience, we are more likely to be on the path toward success. Changing the focus of the assessments will change the expectations as well as the outcomes of treatment. Learn More
Advanced Tools For Success
The most effective way to treat any condition is to approach it from a multifaceted perspective. You can't just adjust one element and expect the entire problem will change. What is needed is an integrated approach that treats the whole person.
We need to see all of the approaches as various tools that we can use to solve the problem. Just as a mechanic has pliers, wrenches, jacks, and diagnostic tools, we need to have all of the tools at our disposal so that we can choose the correct one at the appropriate time. Leaving any of the tools out of the toolkit only limits the options and leaves us searching for a tool when we need it the most. Learn More
Stage Specific Plans For Success
A business plan approach to moving from bipolar disorder to Bipolar IN Order is called a Life Plan. It may also be the difference between success or failure, but the stakes can be your very life if you do not move away from the risk of another crisis. Planning for Success addresses all aspects of your life. A good plan must have integration between the various aspects of your life, have clear and measurable goals, and have time based milestones to make sure that you are on track. Following a plan actually increases confidence that goals can be met and that change is possible. Learn More
Find out how our online course can change your life and get you on the path from Bipolar Dis-Order to Bipolar IN Order. Learn More
"Bipolar In Order provides the essential message that symptom reduction or elimination is far from the main goal of adaptation and intervention. Sure to challenge traditional thinking, this important work is integrative and wise."
- Stephen P. Hinshaw, PhD, Professor and Chair, Dept of Psychology, UC Berkeley
"Bipolar IN Order explores the positive value of mania and depression, linking it to Eastern traditions of mental discipline, while at the same time appreciating the need for warranted medical diagnosis and treatment."
- S. Nassir Ghaemi MD MPH Professor of Psychiatry, Director of Mood Disorders Program, Tufts Medical Center
"Tom is doing something no one else is really doing. He is turning a serious mental illness on its head and suggesting that by accepting rather than fighting the disorder, people with bipolar can identify and access their strengths and lead lives that are not only satisfying but productive beyond their wildest imaginings... Tom is ahead of the pack. He is staking out new territory and leading the way in showing people with brain-based disorders like bipolar that it is possible to live richly."
- Maureen Duffy Ph.D., Professor and Chairperson, The Counseling Program, Barry University
"Tom's message-and approach-is a welcome antidote to many, popular ideas about mental illness. He integrates sound, evidence-based tools (such as self-awareness, self-care, and medication) with an especially humane perspective. Too often, in having to accept their condition, people end up feeling pathologized-reduced from a full person to a label. But Tom looks beyond the diagnosis to help people embrace-and accept-the best parts of who they are, instead of reflexively dismissing their feelings and experiences as a simple manifestation of illness. I can't think of a more important ingredient to living with bipolar disorder-or any mental health difficulty."
- Craig Malkin, PhD, Clinical Instructor in Psychology, Harvard Medical School
"Near the end of my five years of major depression, I started the Bipolar Advantage on-line education program suite of courses - Concepts, Assessments, Assembling Tools, and Plan for Success. My knowledge of bipolar and depression conditions was expanded a thousand-fold, and this led me to come out on the other side of depression. I now have the wisdom and tools to put my depression in order and keep it in order. I have been a student of depression and bipolar for many years, and this course is the most comprehensive and useful treatment I have found on the internet or in bookstores. Tom Wootton has been blessed to put his bipolar condition in order, and now he is sharing that blessing with the rest of us."
- Patrick Day, Buffalo, MN, USA
"The general functionality assessments are wonderful! Why has nobody asked these kinds of questions before?"
- Larry Reilley, Oakview, CA, USA
"I was desperate for help and Bipolar IN Order delivered. I learned how to identify my feelings, the changes in my thinking during mood swings and my initial reactions to them. Realizing I had a choice in how to respond instead of just reacting was pivotal. This tool, combined with others, has morphed into a great practice for self examination in the IN Order stages. It is one of the components that taught me discipline and self-control throughout my journey to Bipolar IN Order. What I've learned will serve me well for the rest of my life. Life is finally good."
- Jeanette Chiapperino, Weeki Wachee, FL, USA
"[Bipolar IN Order] takes existing medical care and augments it to a promising new level for all patients and their loved ones. The combination of accessible information and executive level presentation is a very exciting development. His work in the field offers the most logical and exciting path to success in mental health today."
- Paul Cumming, San Diego, CA, USA
"For years I've been working with people that have struggled to live with the affects of bipolar disorder. Often they live in the hope that medication will cure all, or they've learned to inhibit themselves from trying new things in case they experience an extreme mood change. But I have always believed that there is another, more satisfying, way to live with bipolar, and that's why I'm really excited by what Tom and his team are doing at Bipolar Advantage. The online course is really comprehensive, with clear, interesting information which really does offer a different point of view of living with bipolar. The course can help you enhance your abilities by setting realistic goals and getting the right support when you need it, and ultimately, it will teach you to live an unbound life and not be shackled by an emotional, cognitive and behavioural life sentence that many health professionals would lead you to believe is the best you can hope for. I have no trouble recommending this course to anyone that has bipolar."
- Drew Coster, Psychotherapist, Surrey, UK.