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More than mania: A psychiatrist looks at the Unstoppable Wasp’s Bipolar Disorder

A daring examination of a misunderstood malady.

So, I don’t know if anyone’s told you this, but there’s this character. Her name is Nadia van Dyne. She’s  The Unstoppable Wasp. Yes, the main character. Imagine that!

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Nadia has something going on with her. It’s not what you’d expect. I mean, she’s a genius, but crank it up to a level that you haven’t seen from many. The woman has her own lab. She knows that she’s awesome. She’s always so energetic. It’s almost like it’s infectious, but not really, if that makes sense.

Her brain goes a million miles a minute. It doesn’t stop. Who needs sleep when you can fix everything? Who needs tact when you have all of the answers? Who needs to slow down when you know you can make the world speed up?

And don’t you DARE challenge her on any of this. She’s unique. She’s the best, ever. Is it too much to ask to give her some space? Sure, she may get angry, but who doesn’t? A little emotionally destructive venting among close allies can’t be that bad, right?

Image credit: Marvel Comics

Well, it is that bad. In Unstoppable Wasp: Unlimited Vol. 1:  Fix Everything, Nadia is suffering, and it’s initially difficult for her to notice. She’s going through a manic phase of Bipolar Disorder. For many, this can be “fun.” Variations can lead to an increase in spending and sexual activity. The person may take more risks than usual. Their sense of self worth may be artificially inflated (called “grandiosity”). Depending on their experiences, there can be cultural influences or religious overtones; any array of variations that may lead outsiders to wonder what’s going on under the surface.

Then there are parts that aren’t nearly as glamorous. The irritability, lack of rest (even when it’s desired), and irrational expectations blow up the plans of those around the sufferer. Nadia knows this better than anyone. She embodies the positive nature of a person looking to do good in the world, and navigating the possible expense of her health.

But it’s not hopeless. It doesn’t have to be this way. Thankfully, Nadia has a team around her, willing to help, and after realizing what’s happening, she seeks therapy. Medication is also helpful, but not perfect (sidebar: it’s never perfect, and that’s okay). The willingness to seek help is her greatest superpower, and it’s one we all should share.

Perhaps that’s where I should end the discussion as a professional, but what fun is that? Nothing in mental health is tidy (maybe OCD, but you get my point). See, there’s a stigma that sometimes comes along as excess baggage with Bipolar Disorder. There’s a certain behavior where, if the person does it, an outsider speculates that the person is “having an episode.” That behavior:

Every single action they take for the rest of their lives.

I’ve seen this so often with family and friends of patients. Heck, I’ve seen it from staff! But at least with staff, it’s usually in a crisis/hospital setting, and we’re over-calibrated for a reason. As a whole, I think our zeitgeist is more aware of the nuance involved in daily interactions, but we all speculate too much on each event as someone “being Bipolar” or “off their meds.”

Social media can be relentless. That’s exhausting for anyone to endure. A smile or laugh is not mania. Having sex in a consensual relationship and enjoying it is not mania. Getting frustrated by a situation is not mania. Being angry for experiencing trauma is not mania. Having a substance-fueled bender for three days and losing track of your surroundings is a problem … but it’s NOT mania. Don’t besmirch the lingo.


Image credit: Marvel Comics

Having said that, I’d also like to thank the myriad of people out there who don’t try to take advantage of such stereotypes. “I’m bipolar” is not always going to get someone into the good graces of the healthcare system, due to mislabeling. I’ve actually had some people look to use such a title for the sake of disability, despite little evidence to support such a claim.

The consequences of severe illness may warrant more intensive treatment, and even temporary hospitalization, but the goal is always to improve daily functioning. Setting positive expectations under less than ideal circumstances is what makes emotional stability lasting. Nadia learned this, and I hope we all do the same.

Today’s topic is admittedly one side of an issue, not the whole picture. Depression is a complex beast in and of itself, let alone combined with mania. For more background on Nadia directly from the source, check out our Capes On the Couch interview with Unstoppable Wasp writer, Jeremy Whitley!

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.


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