Overidentification with Bipolar

October 16, 2012 Natasha Tracy

There is this whole notion that simply by saying the words, “I’m bipolar” you’re somehow overidentifying with bipolar disorder. In other words, you’re allowing the disease to define who you are. Well, naturally, I find this to be ludicrous and I don’t need to play word games in order to individuate myself as a person.

Nevertheless, I admit that bipolar is a huge part of my life and I make no apologies for that. If you were sick every moment of your life it would have quite an impact on you too.

Overidentifying with Bipolar Disorder

The nice people at Merriam-Webster define overidentification as, “excessive psychological identification.” And, in case you were wondering, “identification,” in the psychological sense, is defined as, “a process by which one ascribes oneself the qualities or characteristics of another person.”

Or, in this case, thing.

So in my little, ol’ layperson’s terms, it’s allowing the disease to define who and what you are.

Perhaps a person who is overidentifying might say, “I can’t do that, I’m bipolar.” Or, “I shouldn’t behave that way, I’m bipolar.”

Or is that really overidentification at all?

Thinking about Bipolar

How often do you think of your bipolar disorder? If you’re me and you’re an actively, not-very-well-controlled bipolar person, you might think about it all day long.

For example, I think about it when I wake up because my sleep cycle is strictly timed due to bipolar. Then I think about it when I take my meds for bipolar. Then I think about it when I force myself to eat so I’ll have the proper nutrition for bipolar. Then I think about it as I try and beat back the fatigue that is the hangover of the night-time meds because of bipolar. Then I think about it because I’m trying to calm the anxiety of bipolar. Then I think about it around 11:00 because I can’t take the nap that I desperately want because it would mess up the strict schedule I need because of bipolar. Then I think about it as I meet with my friend and can’t tell him that I’ve been suicidal because of the bipolar. Then I think about it when I have to push it aside to get my work done because of the bloody bipolar.

In other words, it contributes to most hours of most days of my bloody life. Why can’t I go out? Bipolar. Why can’t I stop crying? Bipolar. Why do I have to moderate every thought in my head? Bipolar.

Bipolar, bipolar, bipolar. And believe me when I tell you, I could go on.

Seriously. My whole life is built around all the things I have to do to be normal in spite of the bipolar on my back. So when I say “I am bipolar,” it’s at least a little true.

Is the very Natasha of my Natasha-ness bipolar? No, of course it isn’t, but everything I think, feel, say and do is affected by bipolar so that’s what you’d call a strong impact.

Overidentification with Bipolar

So is overidentification with a disease a danger? Well, yes. No one should think they are a disease in their entirety. But I think people underestimate the impact a serious mental illness has on the everyday life of the person living with it. Simply saying, “You’re not bipolar, you’re a person with bipolar disorder,” is such an oversimplification it’s almost insulting. I’m more like a person bound to, and being constantly tortured by, bipolar. But somehow, that doesn’t roll off the tongue.

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

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, October 16). Overidentification with Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 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.

December, 7 2012 at 6:24 am

In some of my hospital stays, I've had counselors really stress that we should say we have bipolar instead of that we are bipolar. As for me, I do try to think, write, and say I 'have' bipolar, but I sort of agree with Tina's response. This is a very small action on my part, and I don't believe it has any effect at all on the actual illness. But for me, it constantly reminds me that it's an illness, a disease, a disorder, something in my brain. It just reminds me that there's a slight separation there between it and myself.
As for your blog, I really couldn't agree much more. It's there every morning as soon as I rise, and even when I'm doing really well, I constantly have flashback moments where I remember some embarrassing thing I did while manic. In fact, bipolar has had so many negative effects on my life that I doubt a day ever goes by when I don't remember and at least spend a few seconds dwelling on one of those effects. I try not to, but my entire adult past, some fourteen years or so, is littered with bipolar moments, disruptions, and severe disappointments.
It's funny. Recently I decided to try and write about it, something I've thought about a lot before. Since that time, only a few days really, I found your blog and have been reading several each day to get me started on my own writing. What's funny is that I actually feel better immersing myself in it than I often do avoiding it. This may be just temporary, but it's having a very positive effect for now, at least. Thanks for all your writings.

Pete Sapper
October, 24 2012 at 11:31 am

What if people who over-identify with a label (such as bi-polar) are motivated to do by the same unmet needs which precipitate the behaviors common to a both a hypo-manic and or depressive state?
Just a question. The need to identify on any level with something outside of one's self is not one that is carried out haphazardly. I suspect one would have little use for a label if they lived alone on a desert island, no?

Beauregard Sorm
October, 22 2012 at 6:09 pm

I call my my blog Bipolar Beauregard not because I overidentify with bipolar it's because people will find me better and listen to the story behinf=d it. No followers yet wich is disapointing so I need to work on it. Yes I do. I ammjust beginning my "Search for Providence"...

stephanie hansen
October, 21 2012 at 4:05 am

I don't let anyone put words in my mouth anymore. I alone have the right to tell people who I am and how I am in my own words. I define myself. If they don't like it, that's their problem.
The Bipolar Type II, characterized largely for me by depression IS part of who I AM, not just something I HAVE. Right now, I'm into a depressive cycle, normal for me at this time of year, and it affects every moment of my days. To ignore it, to push it from my thoughts, would be crazy. It would set me up to allow my *feelings* to rule the day, and that would make me even more miserable than I am. How stupid would that make me?? I need to always remind myself why I am feeling what I am feeling right now, why I am so tired, why I am so slow, why I am unmotivated, why I am making so many mistakes and forgetting everything, or else I would take it personally and blame myself for what I really can't control. That's a recipe for total disaster!
As long as I keep the awareness of the bipolar in the forefront of my consciousness I can strategize - like you wrote about in your article - and do what I can to minimize the problems caused by the depression, not fix them all, but keep them from becoming disastrous, as I have serious committments right now. I NEED to identify what is driving my behaviour and feelings in order to have any hope of coping with them. If other people don't understand that, they can screw off. It's not their problem, it's mine, and I will save my own arse as I see fit. I owe them nothing.

October, 20 2012 at 4:45 pm

When I was in a day hospital program a couple of years ago, my primary therapist tried to tell me I think too much about my bipolar and I needed to stop thinking I couldn't do things because of my illness. However, she was of the opinion I didn't really have bipolar (at that time nobody at the hospital had seen me have a full-blown manic episode, and she brushed off the hypomanic episodes I had in between crushing depressive episodes as "the natural happiness that comes from exiting a depressed mood" :/) even though my pdoc had me diagnosed with BP II (Now it's BP I) she was on the side of psychology where she blamed my problems on my childhood, which was admittedly pretty shitty, mostly because my mom has BP symptoms too. Anyway, I remember saying, "How can I say my illness doesn't effect me, when it effects me every second of the day. At least I'm honest with myself" People get so caught up in being politically correct, and optimistic, that they forget mental illness is debilitating, in some cases chronic, and people can't just think happy thoughts and make everything all better. We think about it so much because we're constantly living with the effects of it (when we aren't well controlled, or everytime we think it's under control, suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of an episode) I don't understand why people who don't have SMI can't wrap their brains around us spending a great deal of time thinking about the one thing that makes our lives so difficult. It makes perfect sense to me. I also can't stand when people try to tell us we would fare better if we "tried to think more positively, and stop obsessing over our diagnosis" It all comes back to people who don't understand mental illness, and say stupid offensive things

October, 20 2012 at 5:06 am

Well said. My substitute word in my head, is simply another mental illness. But it is a shame you rarely have the chance to get that much of a statement out to someone who really needs to hear it, before they've already dismissed you as 'obsessive' and such.
This would make a great article to put on a note card to just hand people and walk away, when you know 'they' can't be bothered to hear you out.

October, 18 2012 at 11:48 pm

and then there's the doctor who won't "name" it because it "pathologizes" the person, so instead will tell the individual that in fact their behavior is very normal for THEM, and they just need to change the behavior, and communicate with the family.

October, 17 2012 at 9:26 am

I posted this on the FB post, but wanted to share it here, too.
100%, yes. So many of your pieces hit home, but this one definitely resonates with me the most. Spot on.
I hear, "Don't limit yourself with labels like that." I'm not limiting myself, I'm understanding my disorder so I better know what I need to do to stay healthy and happy. Do we tell people with diabetes to stop calling themselves "diabetic" because it's just bringing them down? If they just ignored being diabetic, would it just disappear?
I also get frustrated when others use it to label themselves or others incorrectly. "Sue was in such a good mood earlier, now she's all b*tchy. Must be bipolar" "I think I'm bipolar, I cry a lot" "We all have mood swings, so aren't we all a little bipolar, honestly?" I want to mention here that I am not bipolar, I have bipolar disorder, and it's a hellacious battle. I went through and still go through so many kinds of hell before I was diagnosed, while being diagnosed, and now, there's the never ending fight of maintaining...something... and other people are just so flippant. It's a hard diagnosis, and usually one of elimination. Bipolar disorder shouldn't be the first diagnosis someone looks at, and an online test doesn't mean that you have bipolar disorder, too. If you'd like, see a doctor, but don't tell me you must be bipolar because you had a hard time getting up yesterday, and normally you're such a morning person. That's insulting. Please don't make this very serious disorder as common and easily manageable as a cold. I think that there's estimated to be a little under 3% of population, world-wide, or U.S., I can't recall, that are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. About 20% have genital herpes, and I don't see people jumping to get on that band wagon. This isn't a club. It is a day to day, if not more accurately an hour to hour condition, and no one without being bipolar really knows the challenges of this condition or level of self control and awareness we must have about ourselves at all times. It's simply exhausting, as if we don't have a hard enough time with proper rest.
Sometimes I'll get these attitudes from people as though I'm making excuses for myself, or as if I think I'm special in some way. The lack of understanding about bipolar leads to some hurtful assumptions. Folks, mood swings, in my opinion, are more of a symptom that the condition. There is a whole lot more that is involved with being and coping with bipolar than just the mood swings. I look at it like this: The chemical department in my body factory doesn't run like yours and so it makes a different product than your body factory. The different product I'm producing changes how efficiently and accurately my emotional and physical departments work, requiring me to have more maintenance workers around in all departments. My emotional department is only one section out of an entire factory. My "mood swings" are only one part of a larger disorder.
Lastly, I don't feel very special. Am I special because I use eye glasses to correct my vision? I don't think so, I just think it's something I have to be aware of and need to use tools to help me manage so I can function better in the world. So, yes, of course I know that bipolar disorder doesn't define me. I am a sum of many parts. Bipolar is not who I am, but you bet your a*s it has a big hand in shaping me and my everyday life.

October, 16 2012 at 8:56 pm

Before bipolar I used to identify myself superficially, and now most of those superficial things have been taken away.
In a sense bipolar has forced me to find my true identity.
I do obsess about bipolar a lot (for example, blogging or searching the net twice a day) and I think a lot about what has happened to me and how I have changed. I also worry a lot about getting sick again.

October, 16 2012 at 7:47 pm

Been trying to sort out my relationship with my bipolar for some time now and realize its an ongoing process. One constant about it is that its never predictable, that it can be hard work, and yes often can be all consuming.

October, 16 2012 at 1:47 pm

I get where you are coming from on this issue, but personally choose to tell people I have or live with bipolar. I don't think doing so diminishes the seriousness of the disorder or how it affects our daily lives. I think of it every day, too. Regardless, I applaud what you are doing for your health and stability. I just discovered your blog and really enjoy your insights. I learn more about my disorder and my personal journey to health every day, and I am glad for every resource and viewpoint I can find. Thank you for putting yourself out there. You are courageous.

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