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Biology 202, Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip

A New Threshold?

Elizabeth Rickenbacher

From childhood and early adolescence, we, members of society, constantly find ourselves bombarded with the idea and understanding of "normal"(1). Throughout school and extracurricular activities, we find ourselves striving to fit in and be included in the accepted and desired way of life. The latest fashion, lingo, and trends are followed in order to achieve the level of normal to not be taunted and discriminated against and maybe even be popular. What determines these standards of normal? Often and sadly the latest fashion and trends capture the interest of most in determining what is normal. Ones behavior and temperament is often a secondary source of information in the order of determination. We are taught early on that discrimination is bad-mannered and wrong, and to embrace the differences in each other, for we all have something to offer to society. However, to enter society, we must act in accordance with its rules and standards of behavior. We are taught that silence is golden and that politely standing in line is the correct thing to do, and if one cannot comply with these rules, medication (20) can assist you in correcting your horrible unacceptable behavior and aid you to reenter society in a fit and normal manner.

Currently, there are 3.3 million Americans (1 in every 83) (3) living with Bipolar Disorder (2) whose struggle to act in accordance with society is a daily battle. Bipolar disorder is an affective disorder in which both manic and depressive episodes occur. Of that 1.7% in the general population, 10% (21) find themselves in a permanent hypomanic state. Hypomania shares symptoms and characteristics with the mania aspect of Bipolar Disorder, but to a lesser degree. The difference between the two is not completely understood or clear (10), however, individuals experiencing hypomania do not experience symptoms that seriously disrupt everyday life, but to the contrary experience a variety of symptoms to the enjoyment of many which elevate energy levels, creativity, enthusiasm, and productivity. Often, individuals experience feelings for less sleep feeling just as rested as having slept eight hours. Individuals often have many ideas and racing thoughts and can easily be distracted moving from one activity to another.

For 10% of the 3.3 million individuals with Bipolar Disorder, this feeling of unwavering energy and productivity is a good thing, almost addicting (14). Things get done quickly and then the next project begins, what's the big deal? Lucky them! It would be great to get one day's worth of work done in two hours! Where does one sign up! It is not that easy. Bipolar Disorder along with a hypomania is a genetically based disorder (6),(7). Individuals with hypomania are often recipients of genes from bipolar family members. Both biological and environmental factors contribute to the onset of Bipolar Disorder (7); however, if criteria are not met for full Bipolar Disorder, derivatives of the disorder such as hypomania are the result. The United States (4) has an extraordinarily large number of hypomanics and individuals living with Bipolar Disorder compared with any other country. John D. Gartner (5), contributes this high occurrence due to the high percentage of immigrants in the United States. The self-selection process of immigration, "those who had the will, optimism, and daring to take the leap into the unknown have passed those traits on to their descendants" (5) has given rise to a population with a greater chance of experiencing an onset of hypomania.

Due to the immense amount of energy and productivity associated with hypomania, many noted individuals have been thought to have hypomania, Henry Ford (18), Emily Dickinson (15), Bill Clinton (19), Christopher Columbus (17), and Benjamin Franklin (16) to name a few. What these individuals have in common is a degree of energy and determination that is contested by few. From a physician's standpoint, symptoms of hypomania can lead to many consequences (22) and even eventual mania, thus the need for medication and therapy. However, 10% (21) of the individuals that experience hypomania do not alter from a depressed or manic mood, but rather experience a permanent hypomania. It would be incredible if we could all experience the positive symptoms (14) of hypomania by taking a simple pill that would alter us from our "normal" (1) behavior to one that allows us to be more productive and creative machines to accomplish our endeavors.

The brain structures and characteristics that differ in hypomanic individuals include the frontal lobe (8). Left frontal cortical activity (9), seen through EEG response, shows an extreme increase in individuals with hypomania. The frontal lobe regions of the brain are associated with the "executive control" of ones behavior such as memory, motivation, cognitive processes, inhibition, and organization. It is no wonder that individuals that are hypomanic process, work, and produce at greater degrees than most.

To be able to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or hypomania, one must be at least eighteen years of age and meet certain criteria used to diagnose the disorders (8). One cannot be diagnosed until the age of eighteen because ones brain is not fully developed well into the teenage years and it is still not fully known what effect experience and maturation have on the brain. Animal studies (8) do not serve as good examples in understanding the frontal lobe development because the development of the human brain is unlike that of any other animal. The frontal lobe is the most developed region in the brain which does not reach a fully developed stage until well into adolescence.

Diagnosing hypomania and Bipolar Disorder is also very controversial (11). Much like the Ritalin debate, which has been under debate for the past two decades, the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is becoming more and more common when a diagnosis is sought after. Everyone has their ups and downs, why not call it Bipolar Disorder? The most commonly used reference books used to give standard symptoms for the diagnosis of different conditions, the DSM-IV (13) and ICD-10 (12), often are interpreted differently in both sources. Hypomania is difficult to define because the DSM-IV (13) and ICD-10 (12) do not completely agree on what criteria need to be met in order to be diagnosed with hypomania, or if it is an actual disorder or "disturbance in mood".

We are all different in temperament and behavior and are constantly reminded of this in every day interaction. Routine and stressors plague most of our lives to the point where meaning and enjoyment often escape us. If we all had the energy to be productive and creative on the level of a hypomanic, could we not relieve ourselves of the hardships which we encounter on a daily basis? If one could mimic the chemical balance of a hypomanic and heighten frontal lobe activity in a "normal" (1) individual, we could then work at the threshold of potential and create an entirely new normal standard in which to base our idea of normal! Are the examples hypomanics are providing us with detrimental? If evolution had done its job, why is the threshold at which hypomanics work not the norm? I believe that there is something to be said about rational and careful thought. It would be difficult to be as careful and rational working at a rate unfamiliar.

1) definition of normal

2) bipolar disorder defined

3) prevalence

4) country statistics

5) negative symptoms

6) location on genome

7) gene and brain characteristics

8) development of frontal lobe

9) frontal lobe functions

10) disorders

11) controversy of diagnosing

12) ICD-10

13) DSM-IV

14) positive symptoms

15) Emily Dickinson

16) Benjamin Franklin

17) Christopher Columbus

18) Henry Ford

19) Bill Clinton

20) medications

21) Prevalence percentages

22) consequences

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