Bipolar. Two extremes.
In bipolar disorder, it’s mania and depression. Up, up, up into mania; down, down, down into depression. But is it that simple?
When I was a young teen, it was called manic depression. I read a novel about a young man who almost died on his catamaran during a manic episode. It was scary. He didn’t want to take his lithium; he missed the heightened sensations that made him feel alive. The down side: feeling alive almost got him dead, and his reckless choices hurt others along the way.
Mania can feel very, very good, but it can also be overwhelming, even terrifying, when you feel out of control of their own feelings, thoughts, and actions.
And depression? Depression never feels good. Reasonable? Yes. Like we deserve the misery. There can also be a strange comfort in familiar feelings, and, sometimes, in letting go of responsibility. Did I just say that out loud? Come on, I know I’m not the only one who has found collapse a relief from the pressures of life.
It can be difficult for someone to recognize their own mental health disorder. The feelings and thoughts, even the actions, seem reasonable when you’re in the midst of an episode of mania or depression. Sometimes it’s easier for loved ones to notice the signs, but they may not recognize them as potential bipolar disorder.
If you recognize any of the following signs in yourself or a loved one, seek professional help. Cycling between them is particularly indicative of bipolar disorder.
Seven Signs of Bipolar Disorder
Let’s start with the down…
We all know the symptoms of depression, right? Sadness. Maybe weepiness. Fatigue. Changes in sleep. Apathy. Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. Changes in appetite.
Life is dark. Sadness can fall into numbness. Hopelessness. Suicidal thoughts…
That’s depression, right?
But it’s not the only type of depression. Down isn’t always just… down.
Did you know irritability can be a symptom of depression? You know those times when you’re on edge and almost everything about… everything… bugs you? Yeah, that. Your next blow-up is always one word, one look, one noise, one inconvenience, one breath away. Nothing is good, and you can get vocal about it as the negative thoughts swirl and overwhelm your mind. On BPHope, Julie A. Fast calls it an angry and irritated downswing. Check out her 20 Unexpected Signs of Bipolar Disorder Depression: Part One and see if you identify with it like I did…
Welcome to the awesome part of mania. It can be difficult to want this symptom to end. All is well with the world. Better than well. It’s awesome. And you’re pretty darn good yourself, if you do say so yourself. Who wouldn’t want to feel elated? But the feeling is unnaturally elevated. Where depression makes just about everything worse than it really is, mania leaves you blind to hazards. You can lose touch with reality, and slip into delusion. Psychosis isn’t typical of bipolar disorder, but can occur.
You’ll never be immortal, bullet-proof, or immune to natural laws like gravity.
You’re not extremely better, or worse, than the person next to you. Your ideas aren’t the most amazing the world has ever seen.
Your actions really can hurt others.
Can’t. Stop. Thinking. It’s another symptom that can feel good. It can also be miserable. When it’s 3am and the thoughts won’t stop, you can get desperate for a way to put the brakes on, especially when it’s the same cycle of thoughts over and over and over and over. Like depression, it can be tempting to self-medicate.
Then again, new ideas may light up your mind like fireworks. Heightened perception and sensation may let you see things in new, exciting ways. Your creativity may jump into overdrive.
So much energy! You’re getting so much done, and barely need to sleep!
All those great ideas your busy brain is bursting with need to be put to good use, right? How many projects have you started in a burst of awesome? Not doing so great following through on them? Noticing the flaws or impracticality of your plans when your eyes clear?
Not all ideas from an overactive manic brain are bad, but even the best ideas need attention and effort to bear fruit. Overplanting a garden and refusing to weed it doesn’t yield a good crop.
Whatever your ideas are, or the thoughts that bounce through your brain, you may find yourself feeling compelled to talk about them. It might be hard to stop. The people around you may notice that you are talking faster, and maybe more, than usual. With as quick as you are talking, the thoughts keep moving quicker, and your mouth tries to keep up.
In a manic episode, your brain may be brightly alive with thought, but you’re probably not thinking most of those thoughts through. Starting too many projects and abandoning most if not all of them could be the least of your problems.
Why take the time to think when you can just jump?
After a certain point, your brain won’t give you the time to consider consequences. Maybe you’ve found yourself on spending sprees, whether or not you can afford them. If you periodically launch into any type of spree – gambling, binge drinking, or things that seem healthier like exercise or redecorating – it can indicate a problem. What’s your high? Are there times you can’t get enough of it, regardless of how it impacts other areas of life?
Seeking the next heady rush of dopamine or adrenaline can lead to choices you wouldn’t typically make, without sufficient appreciation for the risk.
Speaking of risky behavior…
Increased Interest in Sex
According to The Mighty contributor Jess Melancholia, hypersexuality is a common feature of bipolar disorder that people don’t talk about. So… let’s talk a bit about it. I hate to say it, but this is a symptom that can be missed in young people in our oversexed society. We glorify objectification, and call it empowerment when it’s women objectifying others or themselves. But that’s a different post… It’s not as simple as consenting adults when relationships are compromised and destroyed. As with other compulsive behavior, you can’t comprehend the potential harm in the moment. You can’t see beyond this moment, this sensation, this need, this drive. But you can’t stop the arrival of the next moment, and you have to live in it with the fall-out of your choices, the cold fact that it wasn’t really a need but a compulsion, and it only fills the emptiness temporarily.
The Importance of Getting Help
A danger, probably the most treacherous, of full-blown mania is that nothing is ever enough. And the altered moods of bipolar disorder compromise the ability to think through things to their natural or potential consequences. Filters shatter.
The mania described here is typical of bipolar 1. If you read these signs of bipolar disorder and feel like you experience mania-lite, you may be experiencing hypomania. Hypomania can feel awesome – sanguine and productive. It can also make you feel like you’re coming out of your skin. Although not as intense as mania, hypomania is a sign of bipolar disorder that should be taken seriously. Bipolar 2 is characterized by periods of hypomania and depression. For me, it is paired with periods of blackest depression I’ve barely survived.
Bipolar disorder may not be curable, but the right medication helps stabilize mood. It’s a necessary tool. Though it may take time to get the right medication, or combination of medications, bipolar disorder can be managed. With proper medication and healthy habits like exercise, balanced eating, and sufficient hydration, bipolar disorder isn’t as scary as it was in that out-of-date novel.
The goal is to manage it, and not let it manage us.