Bipolar disorder, which is classified as a mood disorder. Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression – it is most known for its mood swings, which can be of varying degrees – mild, moderate, all the way to severe. Moods can be up – like the highs of mania, or they can be down, like the lows of depression. The periods of these mood swings can be brief, as in hours, or as long as months in duration. I have read that the average time between episodes can be about 3 years.
So what is “mania”? Mania is the up side of the mood swing – it can mean the person feels high energy, very creative, very happy. It can also involve irritability, impulsive behaviors like acting out sexually, or going on spending or gambling sprees. It usually means the person feels little need for sleep. They may be hyperactive and notice that their thoughts and even their speech seems to be racing. Again, symptoms of mania can be mild, or they can be severe – anywhere along the spectrum.
Most of us are familiar with the depression side of the disorder. Depression can mean deep sadness, possibly out of proportion to life events. There may be a lack of energy, too much sleep, and no sense of joy in things that used to be pleasurable. The person may feel hopeless and worthless.
During episodes of mania or depression, the person may self medicate with drugs or alcohol to try to manage the symptoms. This doesn’t help, and usually makes it worse.
Bipolar disorder tends to be recurrent. What I mean is, it’s not just one episode then it’s over, or cured. In 90% of people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there will be recurring mood swings of depression and/or mania.
The symptoms of both mania and depression can overwhelm the ability to deal with everyday life. The person’s ability to use reason and logic to manage their behaviors, relationships, personal safety, work, etc may be greatly impaired. One of the most challenging aspects of bipolar disorder is that the person may not recognize that they are in the midst of a manic or a depressive episode. They can go from euphoria to aggression to deep sadness and not be able to identify or verbalize what they are feeling.
All of this can make it difficult for loved ones to stay connected and offer support. It may take them a great deal of time to notice patterns of behavior that may indicate bipolar disorder in a friend or family member. And if they do notice, how do they express their concern in a way that the person can hear, in a non-threatening way? “Hey, I was just noticing that maybe you are bipolar – let’s go to the doctor and see,” probably will not get a favorable response. Bipolar disorder has such a stigma in our society, as does any mental health diagnosis. People misunderstand, they judge, they even make jokes about it. How many times have you heard someone say “Yeah, I changed my mind so many times I must be bipolar!” Ugh. The concept of having someone you care about dealing with bipolar disorder is complex enough for its own video, and that will be coming soon.
For now, let’s focus on the person who may possibly have bipolar disorder and how to get help. I’m going to cover three areas for your attention, to maximize the odds of the best results possible:
See a licensed mental health professional. You might start with a psychiatrist, or a therapist who has experience with bipolar disorder. Chances are, medications may be recommended to help manage your symptoms and help bring about more balance to your life. If you have concerns about this, by all means talk to your doctor and be an active participant in your treatment, but DO see a professional. Bipolar disorder is not something you just have to get tougher to recover from. There is plenty of self-help advice and I am going to mention some tips, but first – see a qualified professional to join your team. Be honest with them about your symptoms, about your family history (particularly if anyone else in your family has bipolar disorder), and about your lifestyle and behaviors. Help them give you the best care available.
Next, lifestyle changes. Here is the self-help stuff, and it’s pretty much common sense. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Exercise. Minimize stress. Take care of your physical health. If you are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, stop – there is real help available, and drinking too much or other substance abuse is not real help.
Third, get support. Bipolar disorder affects your friends, family, and even co-workers. Talk to the people close to you and let them know what you need and how they can help you. Join a support group, or go to see a counselor for talk therapy. Read the many books available about bipolar disorder. You are not alone.
Bipolar disorder can disrupt virtually every area of your life if left untreated. Reach out for support, develop a treatment plan with a qualified professional, and take good care of yourself. The majority of patients with bipolar disorder do find relief by following these steps. The very nature of bipolar disorder can convince you that either you don’t need treatment, or that it wouldn’t work anyway. Talk to those around you, and see what a doctor or therapist says. Look at it this way. If you were diabetic, you could suffer with the roller coaster of your blood sugar going way up then way down, but you would probably see a doctor, get medications, and adjust your lifestyle to maximize your overall health. Bipolar disorder is no different. There are resources available to help you live your life the way you want to.
Video of this blog article can be found here: http://youtu.be/UTb4QSWAEas