LIVING WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER
Do you feel very happy and outgoing—or very irritable—on some days, but unusually sad or anxious on other days? Do the “up” periods go along with increased energy or activity? Do the “downs” go along with low energy, hopelessness, or inability to enjoy what you usually like to do, and sometimes suicidal thoughts? Do these mood swings make it hard to sleep, stay focused, or get things done?
Bipolar disorder is a chronic or episodic (which means occurring occasionally and at irregular intervals)mental disorder. It can cause unusual, often extreme and fluctuating changes in mood, energy, activity, and concentration or focus. Bipolar disorder sometimes is called manic-depressive disorder or manic depression, which are older terms. Everyone goes through normal ups and downs, but bipolar disorder is different. The range of mood changes can be extreme. In manic episodes, someone might feel very happy, irritable, or “up,” and there is a marked increase in activity level. In depressive episodes, someone might feel sad, indifferent, or hopeless, in combination with a very low activity level. Some people have hypomanic episodes, which are like manic episodes, but less severe and troublesome. Most of the time, bipolar disorder develops or starts during late adolescence (teen years) or early adulthood. Occasionally, bipolar symptoms can appear in children. Although the symptoms come and go, bipolar disorder usually requires lifetime treatment and does not go away on its own. Bipolar disorder can be an important factor in suicide, job loss, and family discord, but proper treatment leads to better outcomes.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary. An individual with bipolar disorder may have manic episodes, depressive episodes, or “mixed” episodes. A mixed episode has both manic and depressive symptoms. These mood episodes cause symptoms that last a week or two or sometimes longer. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day. Mood episodes are intense. The feelings are intense and happen along with changes in behavior, energy levels, or activity levels that are noticeable to others.
Some people with bipolar disorder may have milder symptoms than others with the disorder. For example, hypomanic episodes may make the individual feel very good and be very productive; they may not feel like anything is wrong. However, family and friends may notice the mood swings and changes in activity levels as behavior that is different from usual, and severe depression may follow mild hypomanic episodes.
Conditions That Can Co-Occur With Bipolar Disorder
Many people with bipolar disorder also may have other mental health disorders or conditions such as:Psychosis. Sometimes people who have severe episodes of mania or depression also have psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions. The psychotic symptoms tend to match the person’s extreme mood. For example:● Someone having psychotic symptoms during a manic episode may falsely believe that he or she is famous, has a lot of money, or has special powers.● Someone having psychotic symptoms during a depressive episode may believe he or she is financially ruined and penniless or has committed a crime.
Anxiety Disorders and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Anxiety disorders and ADHD often are diagnosed in people with bipolar disorder.Misuse of Drugs or Alcohol. People with bipolar disorder are more prone to misusing drugs or alcohol. Eating Disorders. People with bipolar disorder occasionally may have an eating disorder, such as binge eating or bulimia.Some bipolar disorder symptoms are like those of other illnesses, which can lead to misdiagnosis. For example, some people with bipolar disorder who also have psychotic symptoms can be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid disease, can mimic the moods and other symptoms of bipolar disorder. Street drugs sometimes can mimic, provoke, or worsen mood symptoms. Looking at symptoms over the course of the illness (longitudinal follow-up) and the person’s family history can play a key role in determining whether the person has bipolar disorder with psychosis or schizophrenia.
Coping With Bipolar Disorder
Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging, but there are ways to help make it easier for yourself, a friend, or a loved one.Get treatment and stick with it—recovery takes time and it’s not easy. But treatment is the best way to start feeling better. Keep medical and therapy appointments, and talk with the provider about treatment options. Take all medicines as directed. Structure activities: keep a routine for eating and sleeping, and make sure to get enough sleep and exercise. Learn to recognize your mood swings. Ask for help when trying to stick with your treatment. Be patient; improvement takes time. Social support helps. Remember, bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, but long-term, ongoing treatment can help control symptoms and enable you to live a healthy life.
About the Author
Tusubira Andrew is a student in third year at Uganda Christian University offering a bachelor of science in civil and environmental engineering. He helps with administrative duties within imental. He suffered psychosis during his first manic episode in his bipolar affective disorder. His recovery journey never stops to amuse its listeners.