What is Bipolar Disorder?

Most of us have heard the term Manic Depression in our lives. Now, it’s called Bipolar Disorder. But what is it really, and what is it like to live with it?

Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness. It’s a chemical disorder in the brain which causes severe mood swings in varying degrees from severe depression to wild mania. Currently, it is thought to affect approximately 2 million people in the United States, but that figure probably is way off as people continue to go undiagnosed for a variety of reasons.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder:

Depression

  • Feeling sad, anxious, or having an “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”, feeling exhausted or drained
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, waking up earlier than normal, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

Mania

  • Abnormal or excessive elation, feeling as if one is on top of the world: invincible
  • Unusual irritability
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Grandiose notions
  • Increased talking
  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Markedly increased energy
  • Poor judgement
  • Inappropriate social behavior

Living with Bipolar Disorder can be very difficult. Please note that I do not speak for every single person living with BP when I describe what some lives are like. Some people manage to live very normal, productive lives.

In a depression phase, it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed, or even wake up at all. If we do make it out of bed, we usually find ourselves on the couch, not able to do anything productive until we begin to cycle up into a manic phase. Our houses become messy, we are not able to focus on anything, we feel like we don’t care about anything, we often won’t shower for days or weeks, we don’t go anywhere. We lose our jobs, our homes, our friends, and sometimes our families. We are chronically suicidal and we do threaten and attempt suicide on a regular basis. It’s almost like having a chronic flu; the depression keeps us that down.

When we’re manic, that can bring an entirely different set of problems. While in a manic phase we can be extremely productive, we also are impulsive, reckless, irresponsible and dangerous. We drink too much, drive too fast and too recklessly, do drugs, gamble excessively and to the point where we lose everything. We are impulsive and sometimes cannot make the correct decisions. For some of us, anger comes with both phases and we are extremely dangerous.

It’s impossible for people to tell us to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get over it’ or some such similar ‘advice’ because that simply does not work. Bipolar Disorder is an illness, just like cancer, just like any other illness, and it must be treated and accepted as any other illness. Mental illness is not anyone’s fault, it simply is and it’s difficult enough simply living with any mental illness without the added judgement and stigma society adds on.