Bipolar is a mood disorder characterised by periods of intense mood episodes.
Generally Bipolar mood swings last several months at a time, and rapid cycling Bipolar is characterised as someone who has 4 or more mood swings in one year. The idea that people with bipolar are constantly up and down, with moods changing many times a day, is generally untrue and more associated with other conditions, eg Borderline Personality Disorder.
The mood episodes caused by bipolar disorder are not ‘just’ feeling happy and sad, although that is a common mistake.
People with bipolar 2 have episodes of major depression and hypomania. People with Bipolar 1 have episodes of major depression, hypomania and mania.
Some people only experience mood episodes when they have experienced a ‘trigger’, whereas other people can recognise triggers that cause episodes, but are also hit out the blue. Common triggers for mood episodes are:
- Late nights (eg. going out to a party)
- Lack of sleep
- Bright lights (eg shopping centres) or busy city centres
- Chaotic life events, from losing a loved one to Christmas
- Physical illness
What do these feel like, if they aren’t just being happy / sad?
This is far, far more than feeling sad. It’s having no energy to do anything, and spending days in bed because you can’t force yourself to get up, eat or shower. It’s feeling entirely hopeless, thinking there is nothing to live for, and everybody would be better off if you were dead.
It’s crying for hours every day, or feeling too empty and disconnected to cry, and so you just lie and stare up at the ceiling, wondering if you’re already dead.
It’s planning how you would kill yourself, to the very last detail. It’s trying to kill yourself.
Hypomania is feeling a rush of energy, confidence, creativity and power. It’s thinking you are the best at everything, and that everything you think or say is amazing. It’s not sleeping for nights on end. It’s getting frustrated when people don’t agree with your outlandish ideas.
Some people experience a feeling of elation with hypomania, whilst others feel incredibly irritated. Hypomania often includes visible changes, such as talking super fast, darting from one subject to another, and being unable to sit still.
Mania is the same as hypomania, but cranked up. People can usually continue a ‘normal’ routine with hypomania (eg. going shopping, to school, work etc), albeit with difficulty, but mania will smash that routine to pieces.
When I am manic, my sleep is reduced to practically nothing. I will sleep 3-4 hours a night, for weeks on end. My appetite will be non-existent, I can’t concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds at a time, and I’ll think all my ideas are genius. I’ll go on huge spending sprees (or would if my partner didn’t take control of spends!!), and instead of buying things I want / need, I’ll buy things that are most expensive. Before we knew how to deal with manic episodes, I would often leave us virtually penniless. I try get jobs, create my own business, sign up to university. Before I experienced psychosis outside of a mood episode, manic episodes were also when I would hallucinate.
Bipolar disorder is a very individualistic illness, it can vary so much from person to person.
Some people with bipolar experience a mood swing every few years, and are able to lead fairly ‘normal’ lives. Others swing from one episode to another, and are ravaged by the illness.
Treatment generally relies on medication, at least in the UK, although a two-pronged attack of medication and behavioural therapies works best. Medications range from mood stabilisers (including anti-epileptic drugs) to anti-psychotics and anti-depressants. There is controversy on whether or not ADs actually help those with bipolar.
Different medications work for different people, and all carry a range of potential side effects. For some people with treatment resistant bipolar disorder, they will try a vast number of medications with barely any improvement in their illness.
Bipolar disorder is an incredibly hard illness to live with, and today is dedicated to spreading awareness and smashing stigma.
Please excuse if this post is crappily written, I’m living off very minimal sleep for the past week, am full of cold and have had a rough day for seizures.