Are You Bipolar, Or Do You Have Bipolar Disorder?

July 9, 2010 Natasha Tracy

People are frightened to say they are bipolar and prefer to say they have bipolar disorder due to prejudice and stigma. I disagree and say that I am bipolar.

Words have power. I know this because I’m a writer and I’m perfectly capable of angering, saddening or frightening people with my words. If words were not powerful, bookshelves would be empty. And bipolar is a powerful word when used in the context of a mental disorder. Depending on who hears this word, it can conjure up images of violence, danger, suicide, crime, fear, and many other unsavory things. It’s really no wonder that people don’t want to “be bipolar”.

“Bipolar” is, in fact, an adjective, meaning it modifies a noun, like in the case of “bipolar disorder”. It is technically correct to say I have bipolar disorder and incorrect to say I am bipolar. But I, for one, am not a slave to grammar.

The Psychology of Identifying as “Bipolar”

Grammar does not speak to the word's psychology, however. Numerous comments have mentioned that they feel much more empowered saying “I have bipolar disorder” rather than “they are bipolar”. I understand that. It’s a point of personal identification and how we feel about something matters. I am a writer is different than saying I am a person who writes.

But I say I am bipolar all the time. I also use the term bipolar to indicate the group of people who have bipolar disorder. Bipolars have mood swings; yes, improper grammar, but less wordy than those who are afflicted with bipolar disorder exhibit mood swings. I use it for simplicity’s sake. I use too many words as it is.

But it seems to me that people shouldn’t be so frightened of calling themselves bipolar. People don’t mind calling themselves epileptic or diabetic, so bipolar really shouldn’t be so different or scary.

I know that with mental illness we’re fighting an uphill battle to get others to see us as people first and disordered second. (People seem to have no problem understanding this with a diabetic.) I know that we’re fighting prejudice and irrational fears. I’m just not sure that running from other people’s perception is the way to go. Their prejudice is really their problem, not mine.

What Does Bipolar Look Like?

When I picture bipolar, I picture a slimy-green-brown-muddy-amorphous-mass that tries to smother, and choke, and bite, and stab, and kill me. There’s no doubt that this mass exists outside myself. But there’s also no doubt that it wakes up with me every morning and goes to bed with me every night. And every day, the mass and I battle. I’m not scared to admit that.

I Am Bipolar

I am bipolar. I am also sexy, intelligent, uncoordinated, lonely, difficult, an ex-skydiver, creative, witty, and fun. None of those words explain me in my entirety, but that doesn’t stop me from saying all of those things.

I think people should use whatever identification helps them feel good about themselves, but I don’t think we should run from the word bipolar. If we want our illness to be thought of in the same class as epilepsy and diabetes, then we should lead that charge and act like it already is. And someday the rest of the world will hopefully catch up.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2010, July 9). Are You Bipolar, Or Do You Have Bipolar Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

August, 30 2016 at 10:00 pm

Bipolar has ground me down. It's like a conical sand trap that you fall into.
Trying to constantly climb out, but falling back down to the bottom. A mind
that is like a fast flowing river - where the eddies have you spinning around
with the endless obsessions. repeating over and over. Relying on the seroquel
to sleep at night. I hope people out there are swimming better than me.

August, 23 2016 at 2:02 am

I don't usually tell people that I am bipolar except for when I was hospitalized, because it was sort obvious, you know. I'm afraid of others calling me an attention seeker, freak, and so on. It has been difficult for me when I was a kid and it still is. It would be nice to come out and tell others instead hiding and hoping nobody sees the truth.

March, 31 2014 at 9:17 am

Yeah why is it people say I am bipolar but people don't say I'm cancer they say I have cancer and people say I'm so bipolar. I have bipolar disorder please people stop saying you are bipolar cause it is popular it's real,it's a ugly, scary,frustrating, wonderful,exciting,terrifying,good,bad low,high,heart beating illness just to name a few.if you don't understand what I'm talking about you probably do not own this disease,however I am not a doctor I am not bipolar I have a name I am a person my name is John Doe.

September, 10 2013 at 3:28 pm

I use to deny my dipolar. Now, I have learned to embrace it. It is part of my make-up. It makes up part of my personality. I know manic is bad for some, but I embrace that too. I am on medication and have been well for some time now. I support those with mental illness. I always look at it as we are a special breed. I hope everyone who commented are well also. I have a mental illness, and love myself. I may have to repeat that in my head always. I might have to fight those suicidal feelings (sometimes daily) but I thank God that I am not alone.

Usually Cheerful06
February, 27 2012 at 1:37 pm

Probably not accepting something by saying it but I have always used I 'live with bipolar'. Thing is I have always been opposed to a person being called an alcoholic and have referred to people as 'living with alcoholism'. I do like the comment suggesting 'bipolarised' be the bipolar-ic word. Think that runs off the tongue really smoothly and even made me smile.

Social Phobic among other things
October, 2 2010 at 10:01 pm

What about "bipolarised"? That sounds kind of cool.

Natasha Tracy
July, 16 2010 at 6:43 am

Hi Crazy,
It's true, people aren't ALS. But the other things you mentioned are things that are short-term, not life-long disorders. It's a bit different.
Really it comes down to a trick of language. People aren't epilepsy, but they are epileptic. Bipolar doesn't have an equivalent word. We're bipolish. Bipolectic. Some word that hasn't been invented.
But seeing as there is no word, and the word "bipolar" is commonly used in such a way now, my point is that there's no reason to run from it.
- Natasha

crazy mermaid
July, 15 2010 at 2:48 pm

Food for thought: Nobody says they're cancerous. They say they have cancer. Same with ALS. People have a stroke. You have the measles. Or a cold. So for me at least, putting it in the "have" term lends more medical creditability to it.

Natasha Tracy
July, 15 2010 at 5:32 am

Hi Suzy,
Yes, manic depression isn't a particularly nice term but has remained in the public consciousness in spite of "bipolar" being the correct term since the 1970's.
Feel free to go on. That's why we're here.
- Natasha

July, 14 2010 at 6:57 pm

I personally don't care for any of the terms, be it 'Manic Depression' or 'Bipolar'. I like 'Mood Swings'. That's a lot easier for the public to understand---and me, too. I was 56 years old when I finally got diagnosed. That's a lot of years of looking at yourself and 'knowing' you're normal. It's a lot of years for people to assume you're normal, too. Thus, labeling myself as 'mentally ill' is particularly difficult. I can accept it---it's the truth. I see it in depth because I've lived each moment. But those closest to me reject the idea and have made it a spiritual issue. Labeling it as 'Mood Swings' would open new avenues of thought. ----Sojourner

July, 14 2010 at 11:09 am

I think the term Bipolar has been widely used in the past 10-15 years to describe a mental illness that somebody is 'suffering' from.. However, when I was diagnosed with Bipolar, back in the early 1980's, so many people referred to it as "Manic Depression." Those two words scare the heck out of me! I remember being about 12yo and having a friend I would hang out with. She told me her step-father had Manic Depression, and I had no idea what that meant. I asked my mom and dad what it meant and they told me never to go over there again, b/c my friend's step-father could be dangerous! I look back now at what my parents said and I have to laugh b/c I have the same thing my friend's step father has yet I'm not considered dangerous!
I'm so glad that there is a better and newer term for Manic Depression, thus called Bipolar Disorder. It definitely sounds less scary and sounds more of an illness, than a state of mind... If I've ever said to somebody, I'm Bipolar, I surely never meant that Bipolar defines me as a person, b/c it doesn't! My personality defines me.. Having Bipolar Disorder sounds a lot better b/c of that very reason. To me saying "I have Bipolar Disorder," sounds like a person who is dealing with a disorder or an illness... Saying I am this, or I am that, describes what you are and that's just not what I am!
So sorry to go on and on, but sometimes it takes me a bit to really explain where I'm coming from... lol. Thank you, Suzy

Natasha Tracy
July, 14 2010 at 8:08 am

Hi Paul,
Thank-you for sharing your story and some of the techniques you have found helpful. That can benefit many.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
July, 14 2010 at 8:07 am

Hi Donnie,
It sounds like you're in a tough spot. Relationships for bipolars aren't impossible though, others do make it work.
It sounds like you might need to work on your own stability and health before entering a serious relationship. Maybe therapy and new meds would help? A different doctor maybe? The woman you have met may stand by this, or may not, but you won't know if you don't try.
That said, I agree to tread lightly and tell people what to expect. People don't understand this disease and how debilitating it can be and we have to educate them. This person may be a great support from you, who knows? Maybe they will be a friend and not a lover. Friends are hard to come by, so I consider them wonderful too.
I tend to feel like anyone in a relationship with me would be in trouble too, but the fact of the matter is we don't get to make these decisions for other people. Try to be open and let her define her own limits and what she's comfortable with. You might be surprised.
- Natasha

paul prudence
July, 14 2010 at 7:56 am

bipolar can be devastating and soul destroying especially when loved ones desert you. this happened to me after my first breakdown age 30. I was sectioned for 28 days and off work 2 months. Three months later I was sectioned another 28 days. I was retired from work and all alone.
Medication brought weight gain and my confidence low. Other side effects made me resist taking tablets so I was in and out hospital often. I was very low and again woke up in hospital having over dosed. I lost life skills such as cooking and shopping and never wanted to wake up again.
these were the dark and hopeless days but things can change for the better if you stick in there and take charge of the illness. after 7 years of resisting medication and having increased my waist size one last time, I decided to get active and find a life to talk positive about. I got voluntary work for a local charity delivering furniture, made myself a member at a gym doing 2 x half hour sessions at first building up to 2 - 3 hour sessions( even if I had to make me do it).
I worked with my Drs and never missed taking my meds ,(lithium and quetiepine). I dropped one size around the waist, was working more at the project and found my confidence much higher, so much so that i was able to talk to the ladies about myself positively.
I am pleased to share with you that by doing these coping strategies and not looking too much to the future but never dwelling on the past, I have met and married my lovely Michelle and have 2 smashing grandsons.
There have been a few blips with stays in hospital but I mend mend faster and feel much stronger on my discharge. It is now 29 months since the last time in there and I do as much exercise as im able to and get as much sunshine in the autumn and winter. I have also worked for the last 7 yrs in paid employment.
For sufferers out there please look on any positives no matter how small but leave the past behind. Bipolar does not have to control our lives and life is worth living for
Paul P

July, 14 2010 at 7:38 am

relationships are all but impossible for me to have. my mood swing's change from mr wonderful to downright mean. these moods go on for weeks and at times for months. even on meds i don't like to be crowded in by people caregivers and even when a girlfriend visits me too often, i feel the need for my space alone. at times, i destruct relations between girlfriends and friends and family. i have been put into a hospital this year 2010'' seven time's ! getting married is only a dream for me? it's something even if a women understood my illness is not reality for me- and a woman that was deeply in love with me would only be turning away from the truth that the marriage would work out. mood swings ?, not doing group things with her friends and family? constantly checking he takes his meds and sometimes just flat out getting mad because he feels streesed and closed in by a girlfriend only trying to show concern and her love? love as most people know it is not the same with me as being bipolar? i long to be loved and to share love ? but i always seem to destruct the many aspects of love. hugs-not now ? sex not now-going out with friends - not now and so fourth. i have only dated one nice lady in two year's because i don't want to start something i can't finish. i only hurt myself and my lady friend by going into a world of uncertainty and spinning off into my world of self withdrawl, confused about who i am and not capable of controlling my self enough to carry on a relationship ! i have met a new lady ! what will i do? i am almost terrified thinking what's up ahead. donnie..

Natasha Tracy
July, 12 2010 at 6:51 pm

I think that is entirely resonable and may become my new standard.
- Natasha

July, 12 2010 at 6:42 pm

I used both. It depends on both my mood and the context in which I am speaking. I find when I am mired in depression and despair I am my illness and when I am not I have it. When I am manic, neither. Just kidding!

Natasha Tracy
July, 12 2010 at 4:24 pm

Hi Wilda,
Well, I'd say you've entered into a challenging relationship, but then, all relationships are challenging.
You don't talk about how your partner is currently managing his disease or how well that's working. I think it's important to understand what "normal" is for this person. More stable? Less? And what treatments is he willing/not willing to undergo/continue? Is he in therapy? Will he continue? Do you need to go together? Is he on meds? What happens if he decides to go off of them?
I think it's really about the questions and the answers that you are both happy with. No matter how good it is right now, I think you should discuss possibilities - good and bad - that might come about before they happen. Are you prepared to put this man in the hospital even if he doesn't want to go? These are tough questions, but if you want to know what you're getting into, then they seem like prudent ones to discuss.
Lots of people make it work. Good luck.
- Natasha

July, 12 2010 at 3:16 pm

I am dating someone who does have bipolar disorder. It is an uphill battle at times within our relationship, which I mostly see that he tends to sabotage outings and events to get out of being minorly social. But I understand how he may not want to feel the pressure. I get that. I do not have bipolar disorder, and when I feel anxiety, I get nervous...when I feel sad, I get depressed...and when I feel happy, I am joyful...Why I say this, this way, cuz bipolar disorder is only an extreme of the above, and that makes you unique and a great way to live life; once managed. Because your heart is ticking, your limbs are moving and you have another day to make the most and best of it, and what more can anyone ask for, if I am doing the same thing. We've only been dating for 3months; I'd like to know what your opinions are about dating someone with this disorder, and how do people go from dating to married, knowing what they're getting into? Just so you know, I love him. Deeply. Good luck to you both, and take care. I don't see you any are just people with a lot more to give.

July, 12 2010 at 2:27 pm

This is true.

Natasha Tracy
July, 9 2010 at 10:06 am

I certainly understand your point. There is no doubt that media has caused some of the public fear around this disorder. It makes better news when horrible things are happening. That's just the way it is for everything.
- Natasha

July, 9 2010 at 9:42 am

I try my best to never say I AM Bipolar but that I HAVE Bipolar. You have to thank people like Katy Perry for turning Bipolar into a slang term....and all of those evil people that want to kill their family members and then lawyer up with some fool that wants to try to make bipolar their defense. That's why people are scared. Noone in the media ever highlights people with bipolar when they are doing something good!

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