When I wrote my last article, Tips on Living with Bipolar Disorder, I was not sure of the reaction. I’m a private person, and sharing this side of me took a lot of courage. It was well-received, and I’m grateful for that, but I saw people questioning their mental health and assuming that they could be “bipolar.” So, I want to follow up with a little information to help those that questioning their status.
Remember that you should talk to a mental health professional before assuming you have a disorder.
Signs & Symptoms
Bipolar disorder looks different in everyone, and symptoms vary in their severity and frequency. Some people experience either mania or depression, while others alternate between both. There are four types of moods associated with bipolar disorder:
- Mixed episodes
With mania, people often experience heightened energy bordering and leading to euphoria. For me, mania may mean that I talk very quickly, sleep very little, and am hyperactive. Before I was on medication, I felt at times like I was invincible and that everyone around me was wrong. It felt great, but the tendency to spiral out of control was a moment away. Some people will gamble away their life savings, engage in inappropriate sexual activity, and make foolish decisions. I liked to run off to foreign countries or buy cars I could not afford. During mania, you can also become angry and aggressive quickly. It can lead to picking fights physical or verbal. Some people even experience delusions and hear voices.
Hypomania is a lesser form of mania. You will feel energetic and productive, but will still be able to live your life without losing touch with reality. It will often look like a good mood to others, but like mania, it can result in adverse decisions. Hypomania often escalates to full mania or depression.
Unlike general depression, bipolar depression is not often helped by the use of antidepressants. Often, and in my case, it makes life worse by triggering mania or rapid cycling between both states. It can also interfere with other mood stabilizers.
The lows of bipolar depression are often so bad that people never leave their homes. Some sleep too much or too little. Decisions, even little ones like what to eat for lunch, are overwhelming. For me, I get obsessed with personal failures and feel guilt or helplessness. These terrible thoughts, in some people, can lead to suicide.
Some people with bipolar disorder experience four or more episodes of mania or depression with a year. Mood swing occurs quickly and slides like a rollercoaster from high to low in hours or days. It leaves you feeling seriously out of control, but this usually happens only if your symptoms are not being treated.
Cause of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder has no single cause. Some people are genetically inclined to bipolar disorder. I’ve also come across brain imaging studies that show physical changes in the brain, while other research claims hormonal imbalances and traumatic events are the cause. Further research is needed in this area.
Seeking help was initially very difficult for me. I didn’t want to believe that there could be something wrong with me, but I hit a very low point and quickly ran out of choices. It is important to remember that this moment, this terrible feeling, won’t last forever. So, if you’re embarrassed or scared to seek help know that this is just temporary. The best-case scenario is that you get some relief. The worst-case scenario doesn’t matter because you’re already experiencing it. Take a deep breath and dial the number. Start with one appointment, take a big step for yourself, you’re worth it.
Here are a few resources that you can use to get started:
- International Bipolar Foundation
- NAMI — National Alliance on Mental Health
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- The Mighty — Bipolar Disorder Topic
For the TL;DR crowd, I like this video. It explains Bipolar Disorder quite thoroughly. Plus. I’m a big fan of Hank Green’s work:
One more for fun: