I have long been a fan of The Hulk, but I had not noticed the incredible wisdom of Dr. David Banner until The Avengers movie made it clear. In his wisdom about managing rage he grasps the secret to managing depression and mania too. In one brief statement he captured the greatest flaw in the current paradigm about treating bipolar. Unfortunately, most people missed it because they thought it was just one of the many great jokes in the movie.
The early scenes in the movie included much concern that Dr. Banner would lose control and turn into The Hulk. Tony Stark even tried messing with him to see if he could trigger it. Like me, Tony Stark was fascinated with the potential of harnessing the power because he knew it was possible in spite of the protestations of those who feared it. It helped that Tony in his Iron Man suit had the tools to protect himself from the danger just as I have developed tools to protect myself and others from the dangers of depression and mania. If depression or mania get too intense I have tools to lower the intensity without needing to be hospitalized. (You can explore the metaphors of harnessing the cube that had unlimited power and the struggles every character had with control in the comments if you like.)
Later in the movie there was a scene where Dr. Banner was entering into the battle as himself and the other's were worried that he needed to turn into The Hulk first. The insinuation was that he needed to get angry first to make the transformation. Dr. Banner smiled back at them and said that the secret to his control is that he is always angry. It was a pretty funny line, but the implications for treating bipolar are profound. It also illustrates what I have been saying for many years.
What Dr. Banner knew was that trying to suppress his anger would never give him the control he needed when anger was provoked. He learned to be angry without allowing it to control him. He was still afraid to let it go too far, but as he grew to understand it he even learned how to harness The Hulk and use the power under control.
Those who do not understand depression and mania think that the only way to control it is to make it go away. It works for a while, but, just like with anger for The Hulk, when mania or depression returns they find themselves back in crisis with no awareness or skills to do something about it. When mania, depression, rage, hallucination, delusion, or any other manifestation return, chaos ensues just as anger triggered The Hulk in previous movies.
You must make sure you are working with a level that you can control. That is what Dr. Banner learned and what I have been teaching people to do for many years. It is not necessary for Dr. Banner to be angry all of the time, but to have enough experience of it to understand both the limits of his control and the tools available to maintain it. We do not learn to control things by avoiding them or denying their existence. We learn by finding the limits of our range and keeping ourselves within it.
The focus of Bipolar IN Order training is recognizing the edge and learning tools to get back within it when we cross it. We teach people how to expand their range instead of contracting it. The focus of the old paradigm is to try to make mania and depression go away. That may not seem like a big change, but it is "the difference that makes the difference" as Gregory Bateson (a famous real person) so eloquently stated. Our approach needs to be different (from the old paradigm of making it go away), but not too different (as it would be by letting depression and mania go completely unchecked).
Dr. Banner learned to BE angry without letting his anger go too far and causing him to start ACTING out-of-control angry as The Hulk. We need to learn to be bipolar without letting it get to far and losing control. Hiding from it and hoping it will somehow never return does not work. Dr. Banner knew the difference. Do you?
I'll finish with a quote from my book Bipolar In Order as it illustrates the same point: "Since it is believed impossible to thrive in depression, mania, hallucination, and delusion, we are not taught how to thrive and are instead taught only how to avoid the symptoms and live in fear that they might some day return."