Includes personal notes from a writer living with bipolar disorder.
There’s a nagging voice in your mind telling you it’s time for help. You may want to ignore the signs showing up, but each passing day is making it clearer that something is wrong. Could it be bipolar disorder?
Chances are, if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s a strong possibility. Of course, only a medical professional can diagnose bipolar disorder.
In order to best cope with bipolar disorder, it’s important to first understand what each symptom feels like. Here are eleven of the most common symptoms:
- Mixed episodes
- Dysphoric mania
- Elevated moods
- Blunted emotions, or emotional numbness.
- Rapid cycling
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Poverty of speech
- Intense irritability, anger, and hostility
You may experience some or all of these symptoms. Let’s dive deeper into each one.
Mania is a state of elevated moods. You may feel extremely happy, energetic, and impulsive. You may have a decreased need for sleep, talk more than usual, and take on dozens of new projects. Mania can also lead to poor judgment and risky behavior.
People in a manic state may also have grandiose ideas about themselves or their plans. You not only think you can be a best selling author, but you know you will be one by the end of the week.
I often describe manic episodes as Superman Syndrome. You believe you are invincible and can do anything. I have purchased cars, spent piles of money, and walked down the road of dangerous relationships while manic.
Depression is the polar opposite of mania. You may feel extremely sad, hopeless, and worthless. You may have a decreased appetite and sleep more than usual. This can last for weeks or even months at a time.
Bipolar depression is soul crushing. It not only knocks the wind out of your sails but crumples you up into a lifeless blob unable to get out of bed. The darkness can overtake you suddenly and without warning, holding you captive until it decides to lessen its grip.
My depressive cycles usually are most intense at certain times of the year. Summer is a rough season for me as is the end of the year.
Mixed episodes are periods of time when you experience both mania and depression simultaneously. This is the most dangerous type of bipolar disorder because it’s a very vulnerable state to be in.
I am most likely to start inappropriate relationships or end others while in a mixed state. Decision-making feels black and white, so it’s easy to cut people out of your life, but at the same time, you feel like an abandoned child looking for anyone to comfort you.
Mixed episodes are also one of the hardest symptoms for people without mental illness to understand.
Dysphoric mania occurs when you have an elevated mood, but it’s combined with anxiety and irritability. This can cause feelings of frustration, which then leads to a higher risk for suicide and self-harm. Dysphoric mania is also known as mixed depression because it has symptoms of both mania and depression.
In the past, dysphoric mania has led to destructive results. I have never hurt a person physically, but I have busted more of my things than I care to admit. Items get thrown, smashed, or beaten to a pulp. With age, I have learned how to rein in this monster, but the desire to break things is still there.
Blunted emotions, or emotional numbness, is when you feel like you’re not really feeling anything. This can be mistaken for depression because it’s often accompanied by a lack of energy, decreased appetite, sleep changes, and feelings of emptiness.
I refer to this state as bipolar blur. It’s a period of time when the world swirls around you in a meaningless haze. You feel disconnected and out of place.
Hypomania is a milder form of mania that usually doesn’t require hospitalization. These episodes can still affect your daily life, though. For example, you may feel unusually happy and energetic, but not so much that it disrupts your usual routine. It may be a struggle to sit still or stay on a task long enough to complete it.
Hypomania can cause insomnia and inspire you to say yes even though you know the answer should be no. Mania’s little sister, hypomania is less intense but brings its own problems to the party.
Pushing yourself can often bring on a hypomanic episode. I’ll slip into hypomania when I go too long without sleep or work too hard in the yard.
Rapid cycling is mood swings that happen more frequently than normal, usually four times or more in a year. This symptom can be really tough to deal with because it’s hard to anticipate when your mood is going to change.
I rapid cycle, and much more frequently than four times a year. It’s not uncommon for me to cycle two or three times in the same month. I’m on the right meds to keep me stable, but the cycling of emotions still wreaks havoc on my life from time to time.
Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are unfortunately common with bipolar disorder. You may feel like death is the only way out, or that life isn’t worth living anymore. It’s important to get help if you’re feeling this way, because these thoughts can quickly become actions.
The answer is always to choose life. The worst feelings you’re experiencing will not last forever. Fight on, and you will find light again.
The most important thing to remember is that choosing to live is always the right answer.
Poverty of speech, also known as word salad, is when a person has trouble organizing their thoughts enough to speak fluently. It’s more than forgetting someone’s name or how to spell a word.
This symptom can make it really hard to have conversations or express yourself. It feels like your brain and mouth are disconnected. Something is controlling your mouth, but it’s not you. You may know the words you want to say, but other words come out. It’s extremely frustrating.
Irritability and anger
Intense irritability, anger, and hostility are common in people with bipolar disorder. You may feel like you’re constantly annoyed by everything, or that nothing is going right for you. Even the ticking of a clock can make you want to scream and throw things.
There are other symptoms you may experience with bipolar disorder including insomnia, weight changes, and more. This brief overview is meant to help you understand the surface of bipolar. If you’re experiencing similar symptoms, be sure to discuss them with your professional care team.
You can live a full and productive life with bipolar disorder. It may take a lot of time and effort, but anything is achievable if you’re willing to work for it. A bipolar disorder diagnosis may feel like the end, but you still have a lot of life to live.
Until next time, keep fighting.
Q: What is bipolar disorder?
A: Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings, from intense highs (mania) to severe lows (depression). Only a medical professional can diagnose bipolar disorder.
Q: What are the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder?
A: The most common symptoms of bipolar disorder include feeling extremely happy and energetic one moment, then feeling down and depressed the next. Other symptoms can include irritability, speech problems, suicidal thoughts, and anger.
Q: How do I cope with the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
A: There are many ways to cope with the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Some people find medication helpful, while others find therapy or self-care activities more beneficial. It’s important to find what works best for you and stick with it. A mental health professional can help you determine the cause of your symptoms. At times, additional conditions, such as ADHD, may also be present.
Q: How can I support someone who has bipolar disorder?
A: There are many ways to support a loved one who struggles with bipolar disorder. Listen, be empathetic, offer encouragement when they’re feeling down, and celebrate their successes together. It’s also important that your friend gets help from professionals like doctors or therapists so they have all the tools necessary to manage their illness effectively. Support groups also help many manage their disorder.
Q: Where can I get help if I think I might have bipolar disorder?
A: If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional about your concerns. They will tell you what treatment options are available for you. Finding ways to manage stress will also help reduce symptoms. Try calming activities such as meditation or yoga classes.
Q: How do I know if someone close to me has bipolar disorder?
A: There are many signs that indicate a person may be suffering from bipolar disorder. If you notice your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, such as extreme mood swings or suicidal thoughts, it’s important to encourage them seek medical help immediately. Only a mental health professional can diagnose bipolar disorder.