Bipolar Disorder: What is it?

Bipolar disorder is what we call a variety of exaggerated moods that may be had in one person.  These abnormal mood swings are considered an illness.  There are “high” moods and “low” moods.  The high moods can be positive feeling or negative feeling.  The low moods are generally considered negative mostly.  The high moods are called mania and the low moods are called depression.  An older name for this disorder is Manic Depression.  Mania can be euphoric which is happy or dysphoric which is irritable that’s why it can be positive or negative feeling.  Because everyone with this disorder is different a person may have any combination of these fluctuating symptoms; some with few manic episodes and many depressive episodes, or vice versa.

There is approximately one in four people that have a mental illness and about one out of a hundred will have to be hospitalized for bipolar disorder at least once.  This illness transcends race and sex effecting both equally and often starts when a person is in their twenties.

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Bipolar depression is not like depression alone.  It tends to be less easily treated and requires more persistent care.  It is often accompanied by a feeling of emptiness.  Sometimes a person will feel hopeless or perhaps also sad.  Activities they used to enjoy will usually no longer feel good.  Anxious feelings can be included and often are strong sensations.  Sleep often becomes difficult, either to get to sleep, stay asleep, or get back to sleep when waking too early.  The feelings of hopelessness can often become feelings of worthlessness especially regarding some situation and the idea that the future of the situation is no good.  Sometimes the person’s interest in sex will change.  A person will find their concentration fluctuating and social activities are of much less interest. Thoughts of suicide or plans for suicide may become more focused.

Bipolar Mania also has several layers to it including irritability.  A person who is manic will have an influx of thoughts that come hard and fast.  As they try to communicate all the different thoughts their communication may become disorganized and they become less clear to those around them.  They may not realize they are making less sense and not realize why the others are confused about what they are saying.  This irritability can also be accompanied by physical discomfort that is unexplained while treated before diagnosis.  Along with the flush of racing thoughts and pressured speech the person may sleep a lot less as their minds move so fast.  This rapid flow of ideas also will come with “grandiose” ideas including the idea that they are more talented or have special gifts.  These grandiose thoughts can become delusional even.  With this inflated frame of thought can come poor judgment.  Rational thinking and decisions can become impaired. Also during mania, a change in sex drive can occur.

There is also the possibility of what is called Mixed Episodes when a person may experience any fluctuation between mania and depression at the same time. Getting the proper diagnosis is so important in beginning to explore possible treatment plans. Bipolar I is the most common bipolar diagnosis.  With a full-blown manic episode at least once and severe depressive episodes.  Symptoms come and go but are definitely extreme. Bipolar II has full-blown depressive episodes and hypomania which is a milder form of mania when the person does not disconnect from reality. There is also Rapid Cycling when the mood cycling is more frequent than usual.  This is when a person has four or more episodes of any mood within a year alternating with periods of being well, maybe.

If you think you may be bipolar it is important to get properly diagnosed by a mental health professional.  This information is not sophisticated enough to draw a diagnosis from.  You can ask yourself some questions, however, that may help you decide, whether or not, to see a mental health care professional:

  • What is “normal” behavior for me?
  • How does my day change when I’m depressed?
  • How does my day change when I’m manic?
  • How does my view of myself, others, and the future change when I’m depressed? When I’m manic? Or when I’m normal?
  • What do others notice, or say about me, when I’m depressed, manic, or normal?

Taking a few minutes to write some answers down, or even ask someone you trust, can go a long way to finding out more about yourself.  It can give you some valuable information to take to that health care professional if you decide to go.


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