True Bipolar Disorder may be a lack of quick, rhythmic synchronicity between the brain’s two hemispheres (right and left) that causes an interhemispheric stickiness or slow switching between the two sides of the brain which ultimately leads to one becoming stuck in either the right or the left hemisphere.
When one becomes stuck in stinking thinking or has racing or grandiose thoughts, they are stuck in the left hemisphere (if their brains are set up correctly). When one is stuck in sadness and despair, they are stuck in the right hemisphere. If the communication between the two hemispheres were rapid, then one wouldn’t get stuck—and one wouldn’t have bipolar disorder, either, nor even obsessive-compulsive disorder! Obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD may be for some, the predecessor of bipolar disorder, if the brain stickiness continues to worsen.
It also looks like stress worsens bipolar disorder. It certainly worsens OCD. So, it stands to reason that intense grief or fear could cause the bipolar brain to become stuck in the right hemisphere and worry (which is a thought process) could cause the brain to become stuck in the left side of the brain. Left hemispheric “stuckness” can cause the individual to experience sufficient interhemispheric switching challenges which could ultimately become a manic state for some people.
Two Australian professors dominate the field of bipolar disorder research in quest of a biological marker to better diagnose and define the parameters of this disorder. Dr. Jack Pettigrew, himself afflicted with bipolar disorder, and Dr. Steven Miller have increased our understanding of how slow interhemispheric switching can be the cause of bipolar disorder. They also hypothesized that the ability and speed of switching is regulated by the brain stem (Pettigrew and Miller, 1998).
What it appears to boil down to is that the non-bipolar brain switches from one hemisphere to the other at a rate of 1-2 seconds. It takes the bipolar brain 3-10 seconds to switch from one side to the other, thus creating an inability for one to shift their mood or their thoughts fast enough (Pettigrew and Miller 1998). The more severe the disorder, the slower the switch.
So, if the gestational maternal heart beat sets the unborn child’s rhythm via the brain stem (Perry, 2002), then a child could not only be set up for bipolar disorder due to genetics but could also be set up for bipolar disorder in-utero by a stressed-out, and/or drug-using, alcohol-abusing mom. If there is a slow, rhythmic, predictable ebb and flow to that maternal gestational heartbeat, could that heartbeat be the initial organizer of lower brain functions which in turn influences the speed of the interhemispheric switching of the child’s brain (Perry, 2002)? It sure looks that way.
Another thought…Too many children are too sedentary nowadays. Could the lack of movement, the lack of rhythmic face-to-face interaction with others, and the lack of low-tech, rhythmic play amongst our children be contributing to interhemispheric stickiness? Bipolar disorder and bipolar-looking disorders seem to be rampant in our society now. How much is our fast-paced society creating or at least contributing to the brain disorders we are now seeing? Electronic gadgetry has its place, but increasingly it is creating more isolation, discouraging physical movement, and reducing opportunities for face-to-face real interaction with others (Powell, 2018).
The brain, the cerebellum in particular, loves rhythm, and rhythm changes the brain (Powell, 2012). Rhythmic physical activities combined with physical midline crossing of the body via fun games and physical activities can help speed up interhemispheric integration and make better brains! So, kids need to play like they did in the old days.
For ideas on fun physical activities to get kids on their feet and productively moving to create better brains, and healthier relationships: See Beth Powell’s book: Fun Games and Physical Activities to Help Heal Children Who Hurt: Get on Your Feet! available for order on Amazon Prime and published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
1. Perry, Bruce (2002). EMDRIA Conference in Coronado, California. Sound on Tape: 1- 866-222-8273 or www.soundontape.com.
2. Pettigrew, John D. and Miller, Steven M. (1998). A ‘Sticky’ Interhemispheric Switch in Bipolar Disorder? Vision, Touch and Hearing Research Centre, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Brisbane 4072, Australia. Research accepted by the Royal Society: July 23, 1998.
3. Powell, Beth (2012). “Feel the Beat: The Impact of Rhythm on the Brain.” Adoption Today. See her web site for article: www.infamilyServices.com, under Magazine Articles.
4. Powell, Beth (2018). “Build Awareness of Self and Others through Proprioception Activities and Rhythmic Interactions.” Fun Games and Activities to Help Heal Children Who Hurt: Get on Your Feet. pp 87-96. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
©Beth Powell, LCSW 2012, modified in 2022