Laura Bain on Living with Bipolar Type II at TEDxTerryTalks (Transcript)

The following is the full transcript of Laura Bain’s TED Talk: Living with Bipolar Type II at TEDxTerryTalks.


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Laura Bain

So, I guess I should start by telling you a little bit about who Laura is. Well, she’s a very passionate person. And she loves science very much, and loves to talk about it all the time, much to her friends’ dismay. And she’s also a sailor. And she used to be the registrar of the UBC Sailing Club.

So, other things — she’s a daughter, she’s a sister, to three big brothers. She’s also an Auntie to the cutest little niece ever. And she’s bipolar.

Bipolar is a brain disorder which causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, or ability to function. It’s unlike the normal ups and downs that people go through. The symptoms of bipolar are more severe. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, it describes it in this way: “Bipolar is the presence or history of one or more major depressive episodes present during the same two-week period, and represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. These symptoms can be: depressed mood most of the day nearly every day, markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities, significant weight loss or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day, psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day, fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day, feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day, diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness, recurrent thoughts of death, not just fear of dying, a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide. There’s also the presence or history of at least one manic episode. Mania is a distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, and abnormally and persistently increased activity or energy lasting at least four consecutive days, and present most of the day, nearly every day. It can be described as inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking. There can be flights of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing. There’s distractibility, increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation. There’s excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences”.

The DSM provides a common language among professionals who treat patients with mental illnesses. By clearly defining the criteria for a mental disorder, the DSM ensures that the diagnosis is both accurate and consistent.

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Okay, enough of this bullshit. I’m going to be real with you. It’s pretty obvious that I’m the crazy one here. My name is Laura and I am living with bipolar. So, I want to offer you today a bit of my story. I want to go beyond the traditional definitions and give you a bit more of the lived experience.

Now, I must admit sometimes it can be frustrating to explain bipolar to those who are not experienced in the same mental skillness as I have. But I’m going to try.

So — I also want to talk about language. And it’s interesting because before I was ever diagnosed, I had never read the DSM. I had no idea what criteria I was falling under. All I knew was that there were times where I was sad and there were times where I was happy. And the times where I was sad or in depression, it was kind of like this winter state. It was like things were darker, colder. And times of mania are more like summer. There’s high energy, things are bright and fun.

So I was about 16 when I first began to experience the inexplicable periods of sadness. There were no external reasons for me to feel this way. My mind simply placed me there in this depressed winter state. It wasn’t until later on that I began to realize the manic summers, which were interesting. And so, what I decided to do is I started to track my moods on a calendar. Each day, depending on if I was feeling if I had higher energy or lower energy, I would place an arrow on that day. I started to notice that there would be persistent upward arrows, indicating higher energy, for about two weeks. And then, there would be a shift into downward arrows which would last for another two weeks.

This was confusing for me. And it was unsettling for my mind, especially in the transition days, going from high to low. I felt out of control in these cycles that I was tossed into. It’s scary, and I needed some relief.

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This is when I sought out a counselor at [Murray] college. In weekly cognitive therapy sessions, I was able to work through some of these ups and downs and highs and lows and whatever was going on. And I learned some really helpful tools for how to find balance. As a scientist, I find it very difficult to look at myself and not apply a formula. If I do this, this, and this, then I’ll be happy. If I do this, this, and this, then I don’t have to be sad anymore. But you know, I learned that wellness is more like art. And you have to be able to see the gray, and there’s not always a right answer.

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