This project is born with the purpose of shedding light on Bipolar Disorder. In particular on how it’s treated in the show “Shameless”, focusing, of course, on Ian Gallagher.
-We’ll quote reliable, trustworthy, competent sources, we will rely on qualified scientific texts and on the words of the doctors from which one of the authors is in care.-
Is there to be noted that mental illnesses in general are difficult to be described because it’s impossible to generalize them. Each subject reacts in a different way, there isn’t a unique way to show this disease.
In this article we’re going to explain the various types of Bipolar Disorder and its less disabling shape, that is the Cyclothymic one. So as to have a complete picture of all the symptoms, hoping that anyone suffering from this disease isn’t going to be considered an apathetic stoned asshole anymore.
Hopefully this article will be helpful to dispel the myths created by the authors of TV series that seem not to be able to do their work properly.
Following these programs, people often get a wrong idea of certain diseases, putting on them more fear and prejudice rather than play them down and make them more “accessible” to all of us, or almost.
What’s Bipolar Disorder?
Quoting Wikipedia; a source accessible to the most and correct just in this particular case:
“Bipolar Spectrum Disorders”, consist of syndromes of psychiatric interest substantially characterized by an alternating between the two counter-polar conditions of psychic, its excitement (hence the so-called “mania”) and on the other side its inhibition.
This dysregulation resulting in the development of functional alterations of thymic balance (psychopathology mood), the thought processes (affecting the shape and content of thought), motor skills and behavior of the initiative, as well as in neurodegenerative manifestations (abnormal levels energy, appetite, libido, the sleep-wake cycle).
Disturbances of the “bipolar spectrum” are mood disorders – not to be confused with personality disorders. (This is extremely important to keep in mind).
Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), bipolar disorders include bipolar disorder type I, bipolar disorder type II, Cyclothymic Disorder and the category remaining, the Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. In all this there’s psychosis, except in the Cyclothymic one.
To characterize Bipolar Disorder there are depressive and manic (or hypomanic) episodes.
Depression’s symptoms are well known: depressed mood, negative thoughts, fatigue and lack of energy ( “can’t make it”) in the daily activities, night waking activity distressing, ideas of death, hopelessness, loss of appetite or overeating, disaffection to the pleasurable activities, reduced sex desire, difficulty concentrating and paying attention, irritability, lack of understanding of the other sensation, indifference to manifestations of solidarity.
Mania’s symptoms are quite striking, though in varying degrees: unusually expansive mood, disinhibition, costliness of money, indefatigability, joy, hyperactivity with strong distractibility, restlessness, overexcitement, euphoria, irritability, aggression and impulsivity, increased speed of the thoughts, decreased need for sleep, overestimation of capacity, low capacity of judgment, drug abuse (particularly cocaine, alcohol and medical drugs), increased sexual activity, provocative, intrusive or aggressive behavior. We talk about “manic episode” if symptoms persist for more than week.
The hypomania is a state less intense compared to the manic state and is distinguished from happiness as it is perceived by others as unusual, not related to life events.
Commonly, there are two forms of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I disorder, in which at least one manic episode is necessary to make the diagnosis; depressive episodes are common in bipolar disorder I, but are unnecessary for the diagnosis and Bipolar II disorder, which is characterized by episodes of major depressive episode and hypomanic episodes.
Severe episodes of mania or depression include sometimes psychotic symptoms, hallucinations and delusions, which tend to reflect the mood phase. Delusions of grandeur may occur during mania; delusions of guilt may appear during depression.
Some patients may implement suicide attempts. The risk is highest early in the disease, when to the subject isn’t clear how to deal with suffering. Once you recognize Bipolar Disorder it become easier to manage it and to ask for help at the right time. Those who talk about suicide must be taken seriously and it must immediately seek the attention of a psychiatrist or psychologist. 
In detail, considering our interest in Ian Gallagher:
Bipolar I disorder: is characterized by the presence of one or more Manic Episodes or Mixed Episodes for at least a week; people who suffer from it often have had one or more Major Depressive Episodes lasting at least two weeks; such episodes cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational and educational activities.
Then, for a better understanding of the type I, considered the graver, these pictures describe the difference between disorders types:
As you can see, the type of bipolar disorder that interests us (Type I), has a course far more troubled than the other two.
It starts with:
-Growing mood increase (Season 4)
-Manic episode (hypersexuality, distortion of reality, psychosis- although this will be seen in the fifth season more)
About manic episode there are to point out a couple of things we haven’t seen but we all know too well.
The period between the end of the third season and the beginning of the fourth one that we don’t get to see.
The tattoo: that, moreover, represents an eagle on a rifle, a typical military symbol. Place on badges, medals, pins.
But what interests us the most is the reference to the helicopter. He tries to steal it and he destroys it. He takes it as a game, not understanding the real severity of the situation. This is clearly a manic episode. [4×08]
-In the fourth season, however, we get to see the hyperthymia phase, ie we see the person getting cheerful, exuberant, playful, optimistic, carefree, self-assured, boastful, megalomaniac, outgoing, looking for people, full of energy, full of projects, that search for risky activities, versatile, who has many interests and is indeed involved in activities; he’s indiscreet, uninhibited, looking for new stimuli.
-Then there’s a total freefall that, within a few days, led him to a Major depression episode (4×12 in particular).
The way to get out of depression is uphill and in fact as we can see from the chart, the mood gets up slowly but, in the end, not even all the way up; he’s therefore always in a state of depressed mood (boredom, dissatisfaction, indifference, apathy, irritability -beginning of the fifth season) which is, perhaps, the normal period of the Bipolar person.
And the cycle begins again:
Manic episode (the seizure of Yevgeny is the result of a distortion of reality, psychosis explained as the “stroke of genius” that led Ian to flee to “save” the baby; religious delusions, hallucinations -5×06 in particular).
But where’s the depressive episode after the manic one? And why did Ian started behaving so bad after 5×06?
Let’s talk about this in distinctives points:
-” Where’s the depressive episode after the manic one?
Ian, after 5×06, underwent an unreliable psychological help.
He passed by a forced hospitalization (Involuntary treatment or forced drugging) to which he had to give his consent without knowing what was going on (“The bipolar doesn’t know himself.”- ) surrendering completely; the important thing, for the family, was to sedate him. Why? Let’s face it –they were afraid that he would do other bullshits; They were concerned, and this is apparently good.
So he went from going to incompetent psychiatrists until returning home without seeing any doctor and without a proper course of treatment.
He was scared by the immediate side effects of the meds, because if you don’t accept that your condition it’s not healthy, you’ll never accept the fact that you must get used to feel so, with medicines, at least for the first periods.
All of this, in a sense, has arrested the possible depressive episode; but definitely it has discombobulated Ian’s already precarious psycho-physical balance. Plus, some bad companies have deviated him even further.
– “Why did he started behaving so bad after 5×06?”
Aside from all the reasons listed above, which have undoubtedly contributed -frustration, confusion and so on- we have to consider Mickey’s behavior towards him.
Unfortunately, as so often happens when the person you love is sick, is inevitable to be concerned and more “interested” to the disease than to the person itself.
It’s not Mickey’s fault, indeed, but if we understand Ian’s feelings, we’ll understand why he got to say some bad things like in 5×10 and subsequently in 5×12; not having accepted his condition, the overprotective behavior of his lover cannot be totally understandable for Ian. He feels misunderstood, different, isolated in a bell jar -and this is never the best solution.
But who’s gonna tell Mickey, who’s just deeply concerned and worried for the person who loves? But at the same time, who ‘s gonna tell Ian that Mickey is just as much scared as he is?
It’s a complete misunderstanding, that hurts and injures equally both of them.
Now let’s compare some episode relating Ian’s behavior to the disease, also trying starting to restore a bit of hope to the fans of the couple, to show that, most likely, the authors has read something about this disease before talking about it on television.
Ian’s reaction in 5×06 makes sense, and the others reactions as well; including the much-hated 6×01 one. (We will open a separate chapter about this topic later).
As mentioned earlier, the “bipolar spectrum” disorders are mood disorders – not to be confused with personality disorders. We want to specify it again, because a person with bipolar disorder is always the person that you know, always. His personality doesn’t change: if not treated, the person with this condition will seem like another person when it’s not; he’s and always will be there.
The bipolar person is a person like any other. The first mistake done with a person suffering from this disorder it’s not be able to see beyond the disease’s barriers.
We will start from some quotes, taken from the blog already mentioned previously  and we’ll try to reason together on the reasons of Ian’s behavior, and later on on the reason why it may not be the definitive end of Gallavich.
[The quotes are taken from an Italian source, then translated by us.]
“Relationships with a bipolar are complicated, complex, painful. Bipolar has no middle ground, or transitions. One of the characteristics of this type of people is boredom: he often get easily bored of routines and things. You must be multifaceted to entertain a bipolar person for a long time. Bipolar always feels misunderstood because the misunderstanding begins from himself, he doesn’t understand himself in the first place. Bipolar is sad or happy but he doesn’t know why; he loves you or hates you but he doesn’t know why; he’s bored or not but he doesn’t know why. Bipolar doesn’t know the reasons why.”
Does this remind you something? Ding, ding, ding!
You remember when Ian started collecting suitcases?
When Ian (due to hyper sexuality) looks for and finds ways to make money doing sex here, there and everywhere? When Ian looks so bored, lethargic, bad, throughout the first half of the fifth season? This concept explains perfectly those tattered and seemingly indefinable behaviors. We read too many times comments like: “Who’s that Ian? I don’t know him. “, Trust us, he’s under there, somewhere, fighting the disease while it takes over, without ever winning.
“Many patients, however, prefer not to be held personally responsible for their situation, they prefer to think that their illness is organic and that there’s nothing to do.”
(“Too much is wrong with me. That’s the problem, is not it? Too much is wrong with me, and you can not do anything about that. You can not change it. You can not fix me because i ‘m not broken. I do not need to be fixed, okay? I’m me.”) [5×12]
Oh, believe it Ian. You are in pieces like you’ve never been before in your life. You are in pieces, the road is uphill, but it’s not true that nothing and no one will ever change it. It’s not true that it’s you; but try to explain it to him, when his conviction is, in fact, that there’s nothing to do with his condition. *
*Recall that before 5×12, Ian was in Monica’s company. During his visit, Monica convinces him of being a burden to Mickey; She convinces him that Mickey wants to change him, and that people like them can find happiness and love even being “themselves.” ( “Ian, there’s always gonna be people That are gonna try and fix us, and you can never make happy Those People- Like, it breaks Their heart just to look at you. I’m sure he means well, but you need to be with people who accept you for who you are. And they’re out there. You Should never apologize for being you. You, Ian. I love you. “)
Has Monica, in your opinion, ever accepted her illness? Has she ever been back on track? Or does she remained with the belief that bipolar disorder is part of her being? The answer is clear to see. In addition, you remember how Ian cried just hearing Mickey’s name? You’d better not forget this detail so easily, because this is the proof that under the black whirlwind of bipolarity there’s still Ian.
Ah … Have you ever tried to put yourself in Ian’s shoes? Have you ever tried to wonder why he gets to say what he said in 5×10? Let’s say that you’ve been newly diagnosed with a life treating condition that will not allow you to live your days as you thought. You are certainly shocked, and most of the time you don’t understand how that feeling of “happiness” may be indicative of a chronic disease condition. You don’t understand and you don’t immediately accept. Then, you don’t even have time to metabolize all, to scratch the surface, that people around you begin to change as if nothing had happened.
“It’s for your own good”, they tell you, “We’re just concerned.” But how can you even think of tackling suck a drastic and traumatizing change if the people you love are no longer the same? If your brothers look at you just waiting for your next splurge? If they tell you that if you want to be normal you have to take these and those medicines without make you understand? If the person of your life turns to be the opposite of who you fell in love with, showing a side of himself that, however, has always preferred to repress? Obviously, all this together harms badly an already compromised psyche. Ian is adrift. Ian is sick, he doesn’t understand, nor accept his illness; how can we blame him if he seems a bad, lethargic and doped up asshole? He’s not even getting a real valid help; in fact, they’re -for lack of information- torturing him even further.
“Bipolars […] have a number of troubled relationships, with difficulty to close them and tend to keep them up over time. They are people who have difficulty with the loss’ process, tending to never ending relationships, without closing them but disappearing. They cannot have a constructive discussion about the relationship, they fail to deal with the pain of separation and the anxiety of abandonment. So as said they literally disappear panicking whom is by their side.”
We cannot mention 5×06 because, in that case, it can’t be considered as an escape due to the relationship with Mickey, but as a result of a manic episode.
We talk about this kind of disappearance if we take into account the time when Ian decided to go with Monica at the end of 5×11; we’ll start from this point, explaining the bad relations to which we referred before.
A bipolar person has, of course, a very vulnerable mind, a fickle character and a conditionable decision capacity . When Sammi slams Ian in prison, all his certainties disappears in the exact moment when he finds himself in that hellish place. If we want, Ian was beginning to accept his disease during 5×10; rather than accepting it, he was at least starting to re-evaluate Mickey’s “abnormal” actions, to understand the cause of his change and to be hopeful for his relationship and for his future. But then he fell back in the vortex, and this is blaming necessarily to the authors. Yet another hole in a relationship that barely was beginning to stand up after five seasons.
When he speaks with Monica he finally feels understood; he knows that Monica is bipolar, he feels understood because who better than Monica knows how it feels? And she’s smart because she convince him to escape bringing up Mickey, speaking of the fact that he wants change him and that he doesn’t necessarily has to change, because he’s what he is and if his boyfriend doesn’t accept who he is, it means he doesn’t love him. She convinces him that he’s only harming Mickey, and that there are people in the world who will love him without making him weigh his illness.
All this is deleterious to Ian and, in general, to those affected by this disorder.
Bipolar Disorder must always be taken care of. It’s disease, not a character trait as selfishness might be. Selfishness that Monica shows with these words.
Having a mental illness doesn’t mean being said disease. But it doesn’t mean pretend it doesn’t exist either. You have to accept it, let it be a part of us without let it domain us, leading us to solitude. The disease and who you are inside are two completely different things. But, again, no one has ever explained all these things to Ian and so he takes the Monica’s words at face value, he justifies his desire to run away and to not deal with things and takes the ball, disappearing.
In 5×12 Ian is clearly being brainwashed, like the fact that he won’t have a constructive conversation with Mickey; he pours everything out, he’s the only one speaking, Mickey is helpless and all this because Ian has no intention of being told otherwise. Because deep down he knows that’s not the truth, he’s afraid of the truth, so he prefers to blame Mickey rather than accept it.
This brings us to 6×01.
We all have hated Ian a bit in this episode, let’s face it. Whoever defended him remained puzzled by such inexplicable evil.
We were about to give up as well, until the end, when Ian says those words.
“I’ll wait for you”. We stood there, stunned, and not for the reasons that we see written all over the internet. Not because Ian is evil and wants to delude him, but because Ian is just as sick as suspended between two realities. It’s heartbreaking.
Why telling Svetlana that he no longer wants to have anything to do with “that part of his life”, calling it “closed”, only to find himself in front of it and prove the exact opposite? There is a reason why Ian doesn’t want to go, even going there only under recompense.
Ian is afraid that once he got there, all his convictions to be moved on inexorably fall. Because it works so, as mentioned above, he cannot close the relationship.
He’s afraid, he’s terrified, and for all this reasons he prefers to keep the relationship going without even believe in it, without even wanting to actually have one. He wants him continuing to be there as a “back-up plan.” -And Ian psyche’s compromised part not even want to do it.- And that It might seem cruel, but that’s the result of a sick mind, not a bad person.
Ian is selfish, but not so selfish to give hope to a man that’ll spend years of his life in prison. And that he supposedly have loved and love. Not as bad as not having had the courage to look him in the eyes throughout the whole meeting, and then finally looking at him and only to tell him that he will wait.
There must be some truth to the bottom of that timid promise, a fear fund to what may be the end of their relationship or even the promise of a rebirth. Ian’s afraid of both. And then he runs away, again, as we have said, because it can’t do anything else. Because, in a sense, he no longer wants to be injured and really wants to pretend to be really gone over to that part of his life.
And to delude oneself is easy, especially when there’s so much more crap to accept, and Ian does so because it’s the least painful way.
Ian is still there, under the black whirlwind of bipolar disorder, we don’t see it because the disease is devouring him; but he’s there. We see him in the smile that he wants to hide from Mickey, in 6×01, that’s Ian. But the disease tells him to cast Mickey away, to escape. It’s really all disease’s fault, and the authors are not giving him enough space to understand it. As they never did.
All the negative that we will see in Ian behaviors are the results of the disease. His being apathetic, it’s the disease. Serving cupcakes to the firefighter (according to the spoilers) will be the disease.
“In particular the escape […] is a way for them to look elsewhere for the emotional instability that cannot be found in the official relationship; affective instability that goes hand in hand with their mood. “
Here it is! The “famous” fireman. Also what happens with him is the result of the disease.
According to the spoilers: Caleb will not give a solid shit about Ian’s condition, he will not be worried about him because he didn’t grow up with him, he didn’t see who he was before and the disturbing course of the disease; Caleb will be indifferent to his condition and this is ideal for Ian.
Caleb is NOT Mickey, and Mickey, for Ian, is the realization of having something wrong. Mickey is the stability that the disease doesn’t want Ian to have.
Here we return to the previous point regarding 6×01:
Ian treats Mickey so badly, keeping him away, he’s incredibly cruel to him: this is the disease.
Ian smiles at some point: this is Ian.
Ian tries to hide said smile: the disease.
But he can’t completely, he shows Mickey that he’s hiding it: Ian.
These are Ian and disease arm wrestling for the supremacy and unfortunately Bipolar Disorder is winning and that’s because Ian’s condition is not being treated properly.
No one is helping him, no one is trying to disenchant him and telling him the truth, to reason with him and this is all fertile ground for the disease.
The only one who was helping him was Mickey and the disease has taken steps to remove the obstacle.
Ian and disease are still two separate entities. Only medicines and an adequate psychological support can prevent the disease to take over, making sure that Ian’ll become the main driver of his mind, albeit always with the shadow of bipolar disorder; he will never return the boy we knew before fourth season. That Ian will no longer exist, we will never see that kid again.
Latest clarifications dictated by what we saw in the 6×01:
– To give medication to someone who doesn’t accept his disease is irresponsible. And certainly not enough.
-We never saw Ian going to a psychologist or planning to go to a psychologist and nobody cares in the least, as long as he takes his meds everything is good. WRONG.
– They apparently care about him, but then he drinks beer after taking his meds; psychiatric drugs should NOT be in any way mixed up with any type of existing alcohol on this earth.
But again, no one seems to notice. The only one caring, ironically, was Mickey. Without Mickey there is no one who really cares for Ian Gallagher. And the disease made him out.
If Ian cared properly for his mental health, he would probably go back to Mickey. If Ian during this season starts the right treatment path there could be a real hope to see the two together again. Or, at least, Ian’s realization of his huge, huge mistake towards Mickey.
What we have seen so far in Shameless regarding mental illness it’s completely deviated, it’s throwing more fear and prejudice.
Of course the yield of dramas keeps million of viewers glued to the TV, increasing the turnover; but it must be given a different message to those who are facing all these diseases.
Suffering from Bipolar Disorder doesn’t necessarily means unhappiness, but the key to stillness lies in the right information and in being addressed to an appropriate care pathway, starting from acceptance. Including those around the subject; they must not be left on their own, just telling them “let him take the meds and let him come to the psychiatric sessions”, it’s wrong. Those who have a friend, a companion, a mental illness affected relative must be helped in the same way as the real patient. It’s a trauma for both.
We’ll never see this in Shameless, but we have some hopes for Ian, albeit weak. We must believe in the authors, even if it’s hard, because Ian’s reactions are truthful, they perfectly fit with the symptoms of a Bipolar I Disorder. Ian wasn’t written randomly, there are some solid basis for hoping and believing that they are doing a good job with Ian. Or have tried to, at least.
Most fans sees Ian Gallagher like a callous, apathetic and stoned asshole; they would like to punch him, kill the authors for how they set the character in this sixth season … we can say with certainty that they are not wrong, at least for now. What we have seen is perfectly in line with the symptoms of a not treated Bipolar I Disorder.
This article it’s not only aimed to rehabilitate Ian to the eyes of the fans, but also it’s aimed to be a healthy information message that we hope will reach as many people as possible.
Yes, It’s a life condition.
No, it’s not your fault.
No, you are not your illness.
Yes, you can accept the disease.
Yes, you can live.
Yes, you can repair the messes.
Yes, you can love and be loved.
Yes, you can be happy.