It wasn’t until recently that I realized how little people knew, or understood, about Bipolar Disorder. How it is something we all have heard of, but have a wrong idea about. How it is treated as an imaginary illness. How those who have Bipolar Disorder are often afraid to disclose it to others due to the impression it may give. But the truth is, Bipolar Disorder is a real illness that affects over 3 million individuals yearly in the US alone. Let alone the rest of the world. Many well-known individuals have also been diagnosed, including: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Winston Churchill, Russell Brand, Vincent Van Gogh, Demi Lovato, Amy Winehouse, Vivien Leigh, Carrie Fisher, and so many more. Some of the most brilliant and talented individuals are those suffering with an illness that is not readily understood.
Bipolar Disorder is defined by episodes of mania (“highs”) and depression (“lows”). It causes alterations in mood, activity, energy, and your ability to carry out every day tasks. These episodes can range from weeks to months and the symptoms can impede daily life if not manage appropriately. So, I want to highlight a few symptoms of the manic and depressive episodes that someone may experience and then talk about how this illness can affect someone’s every day life.
- Thoughts: racing thoughts, elated, unrealistic beliefs about one’s abilities, feeling invincible, “on top of the world”, delusions or hallucinations in severe cases, difficulty focusing, feeling energetic
- Behaviors: risky behavior such as excessive spending or reckless sexual behavior, irritable, easily agitated, rapid speech, restlessness, impulsive behavior, difficulty sleeping, “jumpy” or “wired”, taking on more projects than normal
- Thoughts: feelings of inadequacy or “not being good enough”, feeling sad/down/empty/hopeless, worried, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, feeling unable to enjoy things, tired or “slowed down”, thoughts of death or suicide, “impending doom”
- Behaviors: altered sleeping patterns, slowed speech, withdrawal from social activities, decreased libido, forgetful, altered eating habits, inability to start or complete tasks, difficulty maintaining daily activities
Many times the episodes are easily defined by exhibiting symptoms of mania or depression, however, it is also possible for the mood episode to have mixed symptoms. It is also possible that someone who has Bipolar Disorder is experiencing less dramatic mood swings. Their manic phase (hypomania) may just be defined by being feeling great and showing increased productivity. It is possible that the individual does not even recognize the mood changes, however those around them may. However, even for them, it is important to receive appropriate treatment to manage symptoms so that they do not escalate to severe mania or depression.
So, now let’s highlight how this illness’ symptoms can affect daily life. Maybe by doing so, we can better understand ourselves (if you are diagnosed) or those around us (if you know someone who is diagnosed). After all, we all could do with a little better understanding, right?
- Eating. The alterations in mood also tend to bring alterations in eating habits. You may go through extended periods of either an increased appetite, or neglecting to eat enough. During these times, make sure to eat appropriately.
- Sleep. Manic episodes may cause insomnia and depressive episodes may cause hypersomnia. Keep a regular sleep routine, if possible, to ensure you are getting enough sleep.
- Finances. If you are apt to spend too much during manic episodes, find a way to limit yourself. Limit your access to spending or avoid shopping ventures. Make a spending plan to follow.
- Work and Activities. There will be days that you feel as though you can conquer all things, and days that you cannot fathom doing more than getting dressed and brushing your teeth. Make sure to make a list of activities that need to be done and are reasonable to achieve, and complete them one at a time.
- Alcohol & Drugs. Dabbling with these can affect the alterations in mood and even trigger them. It can also inhibit appropriate effectiveness of psych medications used to manage mood or cause negative effects on them. Don’t go there.
- Physical Exercise. We are well aware that physical activity is good for the body, but it is also good for the mind. It releases endorphins and is a great coping skill for managing mental illness. It can keep you motivated during the depressive episodes and manage excess energy during the manic episodes.
- Relationships. The mood swings and subsequent symptoms can sometimes cause issues with relationships. Whether it be due to the social withdrawal, lack of opening up to a support system, or otherwise. It is important to surround yourself with those who are supportive and understanding, and confide in them.
“It’s both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so deeply.” – David Jones
It is time that we learn more about Bipolar Disorder. To quit using “bipolar” as an adjective. To show support. To break the stigma.
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