When someone says the phrase “bipolar disorder,” what image does that conjure up in your mind? Do you picture someone flying off the handle at the slightest provocation? What sort of definition would you attribute to bipolar disorder?
There are a lot of misconceptions about this illness that I hope will be cleared up in this post. I personally live with bipolar disorder and I know how hard it can be to feel misunderstood.
Bipolar Disorder Definition
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder…
“…also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
People normally fluctuate between two states: mania and depression. Mania is a period of higher energy and depression is a period of lows.
There are four different forms of this illness. (According to the previously linked article.)
- Bipolar I: Manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or that are so severe they hospitalization becomes required. Depression that lasts at least 2 weeks. “Mixed episodes” (both states at the same time) are also possible.
- Bipolar II: “Hypomania” and depression, but not severe manic episodes. (This is what I have. I have bipolar 2 with rapid cycling mixed episodes.)
- Cyclothymic disorder/cyclothmia: Symptoms of hypomania and depression but not enough to be classified as distinct hypomanic or depressive episodes.
- Other/unspecified bipolar disorders: Bipolar symptoms that do not meet either of the previous categories.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The NIMH states that symptoms to be aware of are as follows:
- Feel very “up,” “high,” or elated
- Have a lot of energy
- Have increased activity levels
- Feel “jumpy” or “wired”
- Have trouble sleeping
- Become more active than usual
- Talk really fast about a lot of different things
- Be agitated, irritable, or “touchy”
- Feel like their thoughts are going very fast
- Think they can do a lot of things at once
- Do risky things, like spend a lot of money or have reckless sex
- Feel very sad, down, empty, or hopeless
- Have very little energy
- Experience decreased activity levels
- Have trouble sleeping, they may sleep too little or too much
- Feel like they can’t enjoy anything
- Feel worried and empty
- Have trouble concentrating
- Forget things a lot
- Eat too much or too little
- Feel tired or “slowed down”
- Think about death or suicide
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Portrayals in the Media
- “Homeland”– The main character of this series has bipolar disorder. I have never seen this show, but one article I read makes it seem like her disease is used as a plot device more often than it should be.
- “Silver Linings Playbook”– According to the above article, the main character’s battle with bipolar would be more realistic if the film makers did not place as much emphasis on his aggression.
- Britney Spears meltdown– She had a famous meltdown in 2007 that had a lot of classic hallmarks of bipolar disorder. I think for a lot of people that left a bad taste in their mouths as far as the illness is concerned, and made them believe that that sort of behavior is the case for everyone with this diagnosis.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
The two main treatments for bipolar disorder are medication and therapy. There are instances in which a person might choose to try to live with their illness and not seek these forms of treatment. However, I do not recommend that.
Prescription medication for bipolar can take some time to figure out. It is often a game of trial and error. Sometimes, it is incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately, our brain needs these chemicals to stabilize itself, and it is very difficult to live without in most cases.
Therapy has so many benefits. For a person with bipolar disorder, it can help you manage your racing thoughts, and the things that trigger your irritability. It can help you when you are in a depressive episode. It is possible to go without therapy, but there are so many benefits that it is silly to try to manage on your own.
These treatments are lifelong. You will go through phases where you are more stable than other times, and treatment will be adjusted. Just be patient and stay the course. Take care of yourself, and don’t forget to make self care a priority. You are worth it.
And remember: You are not bipolar. You have bipolar disorder. Remind yourself daily that you are so much more than that.