Bipolar and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Literature


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What do bipolar disorder and obsessive disorder have in common? They are both diseases that three authors have given to their characters in order to develop a great story. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide (Stoppler). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) as an anxiety disorder. It is characterized by distressing intrusive thoughts and/or repetitive actions that interfere with the individual's daily functioning. The DSM-IV criteria for OCD are as follows: The individual expresses wither obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions are defined by the following four criteria: recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images are experienced at some time during the disturbance as intrusive and inappropriate and caused marked anxiety and distress. The thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply worries about real-life problems. The person attempts to suppress or ignore such thoughts, impulses, or images or to neutralize them with some other thought or action. The person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his/her own mind (not imposed from without as in thought insertion). Compulsions are defined by the following two criteria: the person feels driven to perform repetitive behaviors (e.g. hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g. praying, counting, repeating words silently) in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts are either not connected in a realistic way with what they are meant to neutralize or prevent or they are clearly excessive (PsychologyToday). Tennessee Williams' character Blanche DuBois, from Streetcar Named Desire, Hamlet from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, and May from Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees all suffer from these two illnesses in their own ways like by lying and believing their lies to escape reality, lying and acting crazy to seek revenge on another character, and getting really upset by the world's problems and then start singing.
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function.

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Blanche Dubois, Hamlet, and May all suffer from bipolar disorder in his/her own way. Blanche Dubois is so happy at times and than she is dramatically upset all of a sudden because she does not want anyone to get mad at her and find out about her true self and background. For example, she is having a wonderful conversation with Mitch and when he starts to ask her questions about her age and why she only comes out after dark Blanche gets upset and goes on with a long, sad story. Another example is Blanche is fine but when Stanley finds out the truth about Blanche and confronts her about the situation she gets all defensive and upset. William Shakespeare's Hamlet suffers from bipolar disease also but in a different way than Blanche. Hamlet starts out fine in the beginning of the play but when the ghost of his father comes to visit him and tells him the truth about how he died Hamlet comes up with a plan in order to seek revenge on Claudius. Hamlet is bipolar because he acts fine around some people, like Horatio, but when he is talking to Claudius and his mother he acts like he is "mad" so they do not find out that Hamlet knows that people are spying on him and that he is coming up with a plan to kill Claudius. Hamlet's behavior is often explained using Freud's theory of sexual behavior; however the symptoms of bipolar disease explain Hamlet's behavior. Bipolar disease is defined as: This disease causes symptoms like mood swings with periods of both depression and mania. They have consequent changes in thinking and behavior. Bipolar means the sharing of two poles, or high and low, having to do with mood. This shows in Hamlet's attitude towards his mother. He is mad at her because she married his father's brother almost immediately after his father dies but he wants to get close to her to gain control. Another example of Hamlet having bipolar disorder is his feelings towards Ophellia because he claims that he does not love her but suddenly he does when he finds out that she is dead and jumps into her grave and declares his love for her. May's situation, from the Secret Life of Bees, situation is a bit different from Blanche and Hamlet. Ever since May's sister April died May thinks that all the problems in the world is her own and it is not. May is fine until a problem is occurring around her and then she gets very upset and starts humming "Oh Susanna" and goes out to her wailing wall and slips a piece of paper in the crevices and then she is her happy self again. For example, when Lily and Rosaleen first get to the Boatwright's she is fine until Lily asks August why the three of them have names from a calendar. August goes on and explains the reason for Lily and when August mentions that they had another sister, named April, who committed suicide May starts sobbing. August tells her to go out and visit her wall. Another example is the first real day that Rosaleen and Lily are there May gets some cotton balls to clean up Rosaleen's stitches. She is fine until she realizes that Rosaleen has been beaten and she starts humming that song of hers so May tells May to go to her wall. May does this and when she comes back into the house she is the same lovable, happy character that she is. The last example to prove that she is bipolar is, she is having a great time in the pink house with August, June, Lily, and Rosaleen when all of a sudden the phone rings. May answers the phone and it is Zach's mother and she says something about him being in jail and Lily gets upsets, starts singing "Oh Susanna", and goes out to the wailing wall. She did not come back in this time because trying to cope with everyone else's problems was too much for her. Blanche Dubois, Hamlet, and May all suffer from bipolar disorder, the brain disorder that changes a person's mood, in his/her own way.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a disease where the individual expresses either obsessions or compulsions. Blanche DuBois suffers from OCD because she tells lies throughout the entire play and she gets so obsessed with telling her lies that she starts to believe them to escape reality. She wants everyone to believe that she is a great and wonderful person and that she lives this lavish lifestyle and that is where her problems begin. When Blanche comes to visit her sister, Stella, she tells her that she did not get fired from her job and she lies about what happened to the estate. When Stella's husband, Stanley, finds out some details about his sister in law from a friend and confronts Blanche about it she just keeps on lying. Blanche tells everyone that this guy that she use to be best friends with rich and that he wants to take her on a cruise with him. When the phone rings she claims that she is talking to that guy and that he will be at Stella's house to pick her up any day now. Her lies catch up with her in the end because when someone knocks on the door she thinks that it is her previous boyfriend that is taking her on a cruise and she gets surprised when the door is opened and people from the "crazy house" comes through the door. They wrestle Blanche to the floor and take her away. Hamlet's case of obsessive compulsive disorder is a little different from Blanche. Hamlet becomes so obsessed with seeking revenge on Claudius that he uses the other characters to make his plan work. He lies to everyone to produce and carry out his plan that he does not care who he hurts. His obsession with revenge goes too far when he kills the wrong person. His obsession also goes too far when he gets too far caught up in revenge that he loses the great love for Ophellia because she ends up killing herself. Hamlet's obsession with seeking revenge is not an everyday real life problem so he is considered to have obsessive compulsive disorder. May is considered to have OCD because she is obsessed with the problems that are occurring around her that she does not have time to live her life. May is fine until something bad happens and then she gets really upset. The problem is that May does not know how to separate the problems that are actually hers and the problems that belong to other people. Having to cope with the "world's" problems is not an everyday problem. Things that happen may effect others and the way that they live but they do not cry and start humming a song when something bad happens. If May was not obsessed with other people's problems she would not have taken her life. Blanche, Hamlet, and May all suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder because all three of them are obsessed with things that are not real-life problems.
Authors always have symbolism, imagery, or another wow factor to make his/her story great and different from the others. Tennessee Williams, William Shakespeare, and Sue Monk Kidd all happen to give at least one character in his/her story two diseases: bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorder. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is classified by the DSM-IV as an anxiety disorder. It involves thought, impulses, or images that are not simply worries about real-life problems. These three authors give his/her character these two diseases but in a different way from one another. Tennessee William's character Blanche DuBois suffers from bipolar disorder because she is fine and happy until she thinks that someone has found out the truth about her and then she gets hysterically upset. Blanche suffers from OCD because she gets so obsessed with the lies that she tells that she starts to believe them to try to escape reality. Hamlet, William Shakespeare's character, suffers from bipolar disease because he is fine around his friend Horatio but when he is around his mother and Claudius he acts crazy so they will not find out about his plan. Hamlet is OCD because he gets obsessed with seeking revenge on Claudius for his father. May suffers obsessive compulsive disorder because she is obsessed with other people's problems. No matter how the reader looks at it Blanche, Hamlet, and May all suffer from bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Works Cited

Psychology Today. "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder." 10 October 2002. 24 May 2007.
Stoppler, Melissa Conrad, MD. "Bipolar Disorder." 29 September 2006. 24 May 2007.


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