As some of you know, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder two years. I learned a lot about this disorder in a short period of time, and I became aware of some the many myths and misunderstandings that go along with this disorder. Today I want to set the record straight.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. The symptoms of Bipolar Disorder are extreme. Mania and Depression are on opposite sides of the mood scale. Some people experience several mood episodes in one day. Others may have sustained periods of one single mood or experience episodes infrequently. Bipolar disorder can interfere with family and other personal relationships. It can also make it hard to hold a job or succeed in school.
People in manic episodes often have difficulty sleeping and can sometimes cause a person to energetically start a new project or work extra hard on something. During my manic episode resulting in my diagnosis I worked four part time jobs and was in school full-time. I was overly extroverted – something very weird from my normal introverted ways. I jumped in and out of relationships, spent a ton of money and had horrible sleeping habits.
On the other side of the scale, people experiencing depressive episodes go through long periods in which they feel discouraged and hopeless. This can cause the individual to withdrawal from activities they once felt enjoyable and can sometimes result in thoughts of suicide. During my experiences with my depressive episodes I became very detached, spent most of my time locked in my room and sleeping constantly. My eating habits were not healthy to say the least and I sometimes went a couple days without eating very much, if at all. My depression linked with the physical pain of my chronic migraines brought me to a very suicidal place.
Bipolar Disorder patients can also experience a mixed state which can cause some of the best and worst aspects of the disease to appear all at once, causing major confusion to the patient. An example of this might be being very energetic and hardworking yet feeling very depressed. I found this place the most difficult to deal with because those around me told me there was no way I was depressed because I was constantly going out, working and “worst of all” was smiling.
- Cyclothymic disorder: the mildest version of bipolar disorder. A person still has highs and lows, but they’re less dramatic.
- Bipolar I disorder: the most serious subtype, with extreme shifts between mania and depression.
- Bipolar II disorder: less serious than bipolar I disorder. It can still cause problems in relationships, school, and work.
There are many different myths related to Bipolar Disorder. Here are a few in which I will attempt to set the record straight.
Myth 1: Bipolar Disorder is another way of saying “Mood Swings”
This could not be further from the truth! The mood swings associated with bipolar disorder are very different than those of people without the condition. “The mood swings of bipolar [disorder] are more severe, longer lasting, and maybe most significant of all, they interfere with some important aspect of functioning, such as ability to work at one’s job, or manage one’s home, or be a successful student” says Matthew Rudorfer, MD.
Myth 2: People with Bipolar Disorder shift from Manic to Depressive very often.
The Truth is that people with Bipolar Disorder spend more of their time in the depressive state than the manic. Gary Sachs, MD says that there are people with bipolar that will shift back and forth more quickly, however the typical pattern is to have “an abnormal mood state colored by a predominance of high or low.” This means to have something intense or unexpected happen within a situation such as laughing instead of crying when you find out a loved one is in the hospital.
Although a person with Bipolar Disorder may enter the manic phase happy, they may not stay that way. Mania refers more to having an elevated mood, meaning they have more energy, cannot sleep and have great “work ethic.” Mania can cause you to loose your control over your reality. Those going into a manic episode can often become very frightened because you are losing control of your actions and thoughts and many become edgy and irritable as the mania progresses.
Myth 4: People with Bipolar Disorder cannot be treated and will never have a successful work or family life.
This is not true. There are many forms of medication and therapy that can help an individual with Bipolar Disorder. Paying attention to sleeping and eating habits along with other lifestyle choices such as working out, can also help manage this disease. Knowing and understanding your warning signs can also help prevent the disorder from running the patients life.
There are many ways to help those diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, but here are the top ten!
- Learn. Read about it, try to understand what it is and what it is like to have it. Get reputable information from the library, websites or bookstores. Research the different symptoms and treatments.
- Listen. Try to listen and understand what the patient has to say. Don’t assume you know what they are going through. Every situation is different. Do not assume every emotion expressed is a sign of illness. Just because one is Bipolar does not mean they cannot have good or bad days like everyone else.
- Ask how you can help. During difficult times, every day things can be very overwhelming and reducing any stress that you can will help. Personally, during my depressive state and recovery I needed someone to make decisions for me. I needed someone to tell me what I needed to do. It started with things as small as which pants to wear and a reminder to put on my second sock. Overtime things became easier and I could make decisions on my own again.
- Keep track of symptoms. In many cases, you may notice emotional changes in your loved one before he or she does. So think about keeping records. My doctor gave me a mood diary to track my moods so I could catch any drastic changes before they got out of control. By having the patient fill out a diary as the one mentioned, you can ask to see the mood diary if you feel they may be going through a tough time again.
- Encourage your loved one to stick with treatment. It’s key that your loved one stay on his or her bipolar medication and get regular checkups. Your loved one may also need encouragement to eat well, get enough sleep, and stay away from alcohol and drugs.
- Do things together. People who are depressed often pull away from the world. So urge your friend or loved one to get out and do things he or she enjoys. Ask him or her to join you for a walk or a dinner out. If he or she resists, don’t force the issue. Instead, just gently ask again a few days later.
- Make an explicit plan. Because bipolar disorder is an unpredictable illness, you should plan for bad times. Be explicit. Agree on what to do if symptoms get worse. Have a plan for emergencies. If you both know what to do and what to expect of each other, you’ll feel more confident about the future. When I moved home, my mom and I sat down and wrote out a plan with what we would do when times get tough. This involved an agreement that if things got bad my mom would either transport me to the hospital or call an ambulance to take me. It was always about my safety, rather than being forced to do one thing or the other.
- Express your own concerns. This diagnosis will be hard on you as well and you have the right to talk about it. However, it is very important that you do not blame the other person. Don’t list all of his or her mistakes. Instead, focus on how your loved one’s actions make you feel and how they affect you. Since this can be a very difficult subject, you might find it easiest to discuss it together with a therapist.
- Accept your limits. Supporting your loved one can be key to his or her recovery. But you have to remember that you can’t single-handedly make your loved one better. You can’t take care of him or her every second of the day. So get other people involved. Ask for the help of other family members or friends. Don’t bear the burden on your own.
- Take care of yourself. It’s easy to lose sight of your own needs when you’re taking care of someone else. But you have to stay healthy emotionally and physically. If you push yourself too far, you’ll just burn out — and that’s no good for anyone.
(The Top Ten ways to help a loved one were borrowed from Web MD. You can read their article here.)
If you have any other questions, thoughts or concerns, I would love to answer them! Feel free to comment below of connect with me via any of my social media links.
Nichole is a Social Media Marketing Manager, student, daughter and friend. She has a Marketing Diploma and a Certificate of Christian Theology. She is an avid coffee lover who enjoys a good movie or book. She takes great joy in organizing, scheduling, and volunteering. Her passion for volunteerism extends specifically to those who are hurting, whether it is emotionally, physically, or mentally.
Nichole is certified to provide Mental Health First Aid, which means she can provide immediate support and guidance in a safe environment, comfortably have a conversation about mental health related issues and offer professional and other supports. This does NOT make Nichole a psychologist, or a counselor. It simply gives her the tools to direct people to the help they need.