An essay on bipolar disorder, 14 characteristics of bipolar, and how to control your life.

First of all, everyone has one or more mental or personality disorders – in various degrees.

March 30th is the World Bipolar Day (WBD). The vision of WBD is bring awareness to sufferers of bipolar disorder and overcome social stigma of this mental illness that affects 2.8% of United States adults experiencing bipolar disorder each year. Approximately 83% of cases of bipolar disorder are classified as “severe”. There are a lot less statistics in developing countries.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

WBD will be celebrated each year on March 30th, the birthday of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, who was posthumously diagnosed as probably having a bipolar condition. The most widely accepted account is that van Gogh cut off his left ear lobe in a fit of mania after getting in a fight with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, and then gave it to a prostitute named Rachel as a token of affection.


The Starry Night is an oil on canvas by Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Painted in June 1889, it describes the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an ideal village.

A starry starry night

The new evidence suggests that van Gogh learned about the news of his brother’s marriage on the same day as the ear mutilation and the fight with Gauguin, and therefore makes for a more probable emotional trigger. It happened on a starry, starry but cold Sunday night on 23rd December 1888 in the French city of Arles.

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (January 1889)

Vincent Van Gogh’s self portrait with bandaged ear (January 1889)


After the incident, van Gogh walked into his favorite brothel in Arles to give his ear to an 18-year old girl named Gabrielle Berlatier, who was not a prostitute, but a maid at the facility, according to another recent book Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story, by Bernadette Murphy. Murphy also included a drawing by the doctor who treated the wound, showing that instead of cutting off just the ear lobe- as earlier versions of the story had it – van Gogh had removed almost the entire appendage.

There are three types of bipolar disorder. All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down,” sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.


Famous people with bipolar disorder are Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, Beethoven, Frank Sinatra, Ted Turner, Amy Winehouse, and Carrie Fisher.

Critics had commented that only a bipolar Churchill could have fought against the mighty dictator Hitler, and not surrendered under the Nazi’s The blitz bombing of United Kingdom.

I was officially diagnosed with mild Bipolar Disorder II in University Hospital, Kuala Lumpur in 2007. I have been sharing his coming out story in my leadership and entrepreneurial masterclasses since 2009, showing corporate senior managers that having mental health issues and depression is not something to be ashamed of.


Keep to yourself


There are seven characteristics of mania

1. feeling overly happy or “high” for long periods of time
2. having a decreased need for sleep
3. talking very fast, often with racing thoughts
4. feeling extremely restless or impulsive
5. becoming easily distracted
6. having overconfidence in your abilities
7. engaging in risky behavior, such as having impulsive sex, gambling with life savings, or going on big spending sprees

I have all seven characteristics of mania in various degrees.
Here is a rapid sampling of my mania, I have my daily “high” moments of creativity, writing, and activities, I usually sleep around 5 hours or less, with an afternoon nap, I talk fast not because I lived and worked in fast-past Hong Kong for over twenty years, I feel restless, impulsive, I used to be so obsessed to replace missing food late at night, I use distraction to overcome my obsession, depression, idle thoughts, I can be super convincing, influential, and highly persuasive, I have big spending sprees, I realized that my bipolar started in my first year in Australia after I was ‘abandoned’ by my foster family the Soos, don’t get in my way because I’ll bulldoze my way through, I don’t have the 5 Vices of gambling, smoking, drinking, triad gangsterism, prostitution, I never hit anyone in my life, I’m not-violent but my words, writing, and truth can hurt deeply, they say men think of sex every hour, mine is ten times more intensive, in order not to go insane or hit on someone inappropriate I masturbate daily, with rampant fantasies, yet I was a 31-year old virgin,  at least I’m being honest.


Rut - islieb-depression

Trying to get out of a rut

There are seven characteristics of depression

1. feeling sad or hopeless for long periods of time
2. withdrawing from friends and family
3. losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed
4. having a significant change in appetite
5. feeling severe fatigue or lack of energy
6. having problems with memory, concentration, and decision making
7. thinking about or attempting suicide, or having a preoccupation with death

I have all seven characteristics of depression in various degrees.
Here is a rapid sampling of my depression, I feel deep self-doubts, hopelessness, and melancholy, sometimes I’ll withdraw from family, friends and colleagues but I push myself to make regular calls to my Mum, and some confidante to help check on myself, I know I’m in depression when I don’t want to brush my teeth, shower, comb my hair, enjoy a regular movie, eat my favorite food, when I eat too much or too little, when I sleep more than ten hours, when I’m indecisive or let others decide for my life, I’m most depressed when funds are low, don’t try to advice me to have equanimity because there is a chemical imbalance in my brain that prevents me from having a totally peaceful mind, I think of dark topics, my late Hong Kong born Portuguese wife Brenda José used to tell me that I felt most comfortable in my dark world, I write a lot daily to heal myself, I write about light over darkness, sometimes I don’t know what my Twin Soul Angel Brenda wants from the imperfect “doubting Thomas” in me, often times I care too much what other think of me, other times I don’t give a damn f@#king sh@t, I don’t need your sympathy, support yes, if I drown in depression I rather drown alone, I don’t need you to worry about me, but I don’t have suicidal thoughts, at least I’m being authentic.

Transforming your negative thinking

Equanimity is calmness

Equanimity or rather it is CQ (change & crisis quotient) can be achieved in a bipolar brain if there is a high level of mindfulness, control, ownership, differentiation, and endurance.


● Seven Pointers how you and I can take control of our lives:

1. Lifestyle changes: sleep (use timer to remind myself to sleep early), cycle daily (during a partial coronavirus lockdown, I go once a day to get food), have sunlight on my face and body, good lighting especially in dark winters in Hong Kong.
2. Manage and plan my work and budget my spending.
3. Behavioural changes: understanding Bipolar Disorder Triggers. This method is most empowering which I use to coach all types of people, not just people with mental health issues.
4. Bipolar Disorder conversation: when you or others find you repeating a particular bipolar disorder, you need to stop all activities and deal with your bipolar disorder first, before making decisions and plans.
5. Asking for help: choose wisely who you want in your Supportive Health Care Team. Don’t depend only one or two close ones as it puts too much pressure and responsibility on them.
6. Teach family, friends, colleagues, boss, how to help you stay stable.
7. Medications: Go to the psychiatric department of public government hospitals. I find University Hospital have excellent psychiatrists.


#124 Advancements in Brain Imaging detecting Depression


● My Self Affirmations:
“I aim to be fully functional, bipolar disorder doesn’t define who I am, I deserve the best, any depression and mania will come to pass, I forgive friends and graduates who had used bipolar to discredit and invalidate me, I listen to advice with a pinch of salt, I let go of trolls attacks, bipolar is a superhero gift to be when I use it for a higher good, I channel my heightened bipolar high state to access angelic whisperings, when I help someone and be useful, I’m good, real good!”


● Suicide prevention

If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until help arrives.
  • Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
  • Listen — but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.

If you think someone is considering suicide:

Get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Call the Befrienders +603-7956 8145,

Malaysia Suicide Hotlines at

Robert Chaen is an international change expert, writer, corporate coach, and headhunter. He was officially diagnosed with mild Bipolar Disorder II in University Hospital, Kuala Lumpur in 2007. He shared his coming out story in his leadership and entrepreneurial masterclasses since 2009, showing corporate senior managers that having mental health issues and depression is not something to be ashamed of, at least he is being genuine.

Published: World Bipolar Day, 30th March 2020


This article in Chinese:

How you can take control of your life and bipolar disorder - in Chinese



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Your CQ Level will totally influence HOW you react to crises and changes and how you create successes or failures. Why do some people fall apart while others strive in a crisis like Covid-19?