Did the Germanwings pilot suffer from bipolar disorder? *TW*

Andreas Lubitz’ name started appearing in my Google Alert a few days ago with speculations on whether he was depressed, or, in fact, bipolar. But a confirmation showed up yesterday:

In the days running up to the Germanwings crash, Andreas Lubitz repeatedly logged on to his computer under the name “Skydevil” and searched for information on cockpit security, it has emerged.
Prosecutors in Dusseldorf revealed last week that the 27-year-old co-pilot had looked up suicide methods and medical conditions but now a German newspaper has claimed to reveal the exact words used.
[…] From 16 to 23 March – the day before the disaster – he repeatedly searched terms including “bipolarity”, “manic depression”, “migraines”, “impaired vision” and “acoustic trauma”, investigators with access to a tablet computer found in his apartment told the newspaper.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Experts in my Google Alerts claimed, rightfully, that a depressed person doesn’t come up with a detailed plan to die, then execute it, taking 150 people along. Most depressed people, when suicidal, either lay down on their sofa curled into fetal position, or, when a sudden boost of energy comes, harm/kill themselves immediately, without waiting for a week until the right chance comes along.

One of the possible mind states in bipolar disorder is called dysphoric mania. Essentially it means that the person afflicted suffers similarly as during depression, but has the manic energy, creativity, anger and pretty much random other symptoms of mania, like delusions of grandeur. If this was the case of Lubitz — IF, I said — what he has done becomes understandable. (Not justifiable!) A person with delusions of grandeur thinks of themselves as being on a whole different level than “normal” people; when they’re creative, they come up with elaborate plans; when they’re energetic, they put those plans into life; when depressed — see the dysphoric bit — they want to die. Putting all those together would mean — IF I am correct — that people on board of the Germanwings plane didn’t matter to the co-pilot. He wouldn’t mind them not being there at all. The only reason the captain mattered was that he had to be removed from the cockpit. IF Lubitz was in dysphoric mania, he didn’t think of himself as killer of 150, he was just finishing off his personal life story, possibly feeling proud that he is flying an Airbus at his last moments of life.

Should bipolars be allowed to be pilots? I can’t give you the easy correct answer to this question. A lot of people drink alcohol. Should they be allowed to drive? You can’t tell for sure that they will never try to drive drunk or hungover. In many countries, especially those with tight anti-abortion laws, women throw away their infants to die. Should people be forbidden from having sex?

It is an incredibly harmful things when media try to extrapolate single cases onto the whole population. Would papers all over the world be so quick to report Lubitz’ searches if he googled “Barbie dolls” and “strawberries”? I am about to start a second draft of a fictional novel I am writing, and I have been googling “suicide using medicine” and “what happens to the body in the morgue”. If I got hit by a train tomorrow, and was famous enough to warrant papers to go through my Google searches, I’d look very interesting to the media.

A great majority of people suffering from bipolar do NOT kill themselves or others, do NOT fly planes into mountains and generally live rather boring lives (especially if, like me, you follow doctors’ orders to a tee). But newspapers never report “An exclusive: John Doe, who suffers from bipolar disorder, hasn’t killed anyone today”. They never write “Jane Smith, who does NOT suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, narcissistic disorder or antisocial personality disorder, killed her husband by hitting him on the head with a frozen trout. Should we stop selling fish to mentally healthy people?”

My next plane flight is planned for July. When boarding, I will not be wondering whether my pilot: suffers from a mental illness; is drunk; high on speed; just got served divorce papers; his son committed suicide; daughter announced she’s lesbian; does his mortgage exceed the value of his house; did his favourite football team lose 6:0 last night. If you search well enough, you can find a reason any person should/could be forbidden from flying planes, driving buses or trains. I am deeply worried Lubitz’ case will take the public view on bipolar disorder ten years back. I hope and pray that what happened will not lead to a blanket “mentally ill people should not perform any public jobs” sort of “solution”. My name is Grant, I have bipolar disorder, and I am not Andreas Lubitz. And neither is any bipolar person that I know. Don’t tar us all with the same brush.

Photo: Michael Mueller, AP

Bipolar and addictions (Dual Diagnosis)

According to www.dualdiagnosis.org, 56% of people with bipolar disorder suffer(ed) from addiction to drugs or alcohol at some point. According to www.drugabuse.gov, the rate for general population (in America) is 8.9 percent.

Obviously there is something about bipolar disorder that correlates with high addiction rate. While I am not a medical professional or addiction counsellor, I will hazard a guess that bipolar makes you predisposed to addiction, not the other way round. There are some drugs that can trigger a bipolar episode (in particular marijuana and LSD), but they do not create bipolar disorder in a mentally healthy person. They may only make it manifest earlier.

There are a few obvious reasons why bipolars tend to become addicts. One of them is self-medication. I used to self-medicate my depression with alcohol for years – it seemed to be the only way to make the black dog go away for a few hours. I knew that alcohol is a depressant and on some subconscious level I probably realised that I am making things worse for myself long term, but at those times the only thing that counted was quick relief which the bottle provided. The same scenario happened daily: I’d be terribly depressed, I’d get drunk, depression would be replaced by euphoria, I would do some really stupid things, go to sleep, get up in the morning and scream “F–K!!!” (I never blacked out; I always remembered what I did the day before, and it was always terrible and make me more depressed.) Repeat. Repeat.

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Mood charting

The image above is an example of my mood chart. Click the thumbnail below for full size version.

Foto 13-03-15 12 44 01

Mood charting is important for us bipolars for a few reasons. First and foremost, it allows us to identify patterns to our moods — we can look into the past and make comparisons, and once we gathered data for a few years, we may be able to predict mood swings before they happen. (For instance, I always get unwell in the early spring.) Second, it provides us with material we can present to our psychiatrist or therapist, which is especially useful when we change doctors. And perhaps most importantly it gives us hard proof that no matter how we feel right now, this too shall pass. Continue reading

“Bipolar For Beginners” is out now!

What a crazy time it was. The book, even though it’s short, took me eight months to write. I started by writing down a list of sections that I thought need to be covered; then I followed up by writing them one by one. I showed the book to people with bipolar, asking their feedback, which was overwhelmingly positive, which made me feel much better about my idea: a non-professional writing a book about mental illness? Surely that can only end badly! But it didn’t, so far at least.

The way I describe the illness is the way I needed someone to describe it to me when I got diagnosed. I am trying to avoid medical jargon as much as possible – you’ll get enough of that from your doctor. What my goal is: to explain things that are difficult to explain – in a way understandable to someone who hasn’t studied medicine and doesn’t necessarily understand the difference between an anti-psychotic and mood stabiliser. I wanted to write a book that I would like to be handed to me on the day of my diagnosis. It is short on purpose; there are enough thick tomes about bipolar, written by actual doctors, describing in great detail hormonal interactions inside our head and how each particular medication affects them. You’ll notice that often within the book I send you to your doctor – there are questions nobody else can answer. There is no magical pill that will work for everyone. You and your medical team need to work together on achieving what’s best for you.

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