Imagine getting on a roller coaster alone. Looking down, you see a string of empty cars. You feel ready for the solo ride. You are exhilarated and breathless as you sail down the track, picking up speed as you go.
At the bottom, you reach an abrupt stop and find yourself stuck. You are alone. There doesn’t seem to be any possible way to get out or up. How long have you been there? It’s hard to tell. It seems like forever.
Without warning, the car lurches forward and jerks you upward again. You’re speeding up – and it’s exciting. You seem to be on a long, looping track, with an endless series of ups and downs. Will the ride ever end?
This is how bipolar disorder can feel.
Of all the mental health conditions, bipolar disorder is considered to be among the most challenging to identify. The symptoms are difficult to treat and draining to live with. Signs of bipolar disorder can be subtle or deceptive to family, friends, andto people suffering from bipolar disorder.
For the bipolar disorder sufferer, it often feels like a roller coaster ride. Emotions soar and exhilaration can exist for extended intervals of time. However, a deep, emotional crash and emerging depression often follow this state.
If you love someone with bipolar disorder, it may feel as if this friend or family member is changing or fading away. Sometimes, this change feels positive. Bipolar highs can bring greater productivity. But this increased activity can also bring problems, such as high-risk behavior.
Recognizing the symptoms of bipolar disorder both in yourself or those around you is crucial. This can lead to early, effective treatment. And, this treatment will be a key way to reach more successful, mentally healthy living.
Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder isn’t easily understood. Sometimes people are casually labeled “bipolar” when clinically, they are not. Someone who acts moody isn’t necessarily bipolar. Someone who often changes their mind is not necessarily bipolar. People who are happy, then alternately sad, are not necessarily bipolar. The weather cannot be “bipolar.” Bipolar signs do include extreme emotion changes, though the phases last for weeks at a time.
Each of these false assessments grows out of a simplistic understanding that a person suffering from bipolar disorder alternates between highs and lows. But the misapplication of the term promotes a hazy understanding of the true nature of the disorder. Even clinical names for bipolar disorder have different distinctions.
There are three basic diagnoses of bipolar: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymia. Bipolar I is the typical designation of high-highs and low-lows. Bipolar II manifests as hypo-mania, alternating with deep depression. (“Hypo” means “less”, so this is an elevated mood, although not a complete mania.)
Cyclothymia cycles over the course of years. It includes long-termswitching between elevated, then depressed moods. It does not demonstrate the extremes of full-blown mania or the intense depressive episodes.
To complicate matters, individuals within each of these types of bipolar disorder are unique. A typically depressed person with only one manic incident fits the bipolar definition. On the other hand, a person who rides on the manic side with only one depressive incident over the course of their life could fit into the bipolar description.
Professionals have a way of categorizing these differences, but most sufferers simply speak of their varied experiences as “bipolar.” Because the experiences are drastically different, it can make people wonder if they are really referring to the same disorder.
It’s clear that bipolar disorder is complicated. For each person who lives with it, the disorder can look different. That’s why it’s important to see a professional for a correct diagnosis that will result in accurate treatment for you or your loved one.
Signs of Bipolar Disorder
If you can recognize any or all these signs either inyourself or in a loved one, please seek out a professional for a proper diagnosis:
Bipolar depression appears similar to major clinical depression, though these episodes can vary from individual to individual. Some equate depression with “a sad mood” and while this is part of depression, it’s not the whole story.
A diagnosis of depression includes one (or both) of two signs:
- Sadness or a depressed mood
- A serious lack of interest in pleasure
Some people are not tearful and sad, but still may be depressed. And, a “lack of pleasure” may show itself as a lack of any motivation. Some clients describe the latter experience as being in a fog or a funk. It’s a generally uninterested attitude towards life.
In addition to these telltale features, there are other factors that accompany depression. Some notice all the signs, and some only experience some of them. The list includes drastic changes in weight, sleep patterns or food consumption. Depressed people may feel constantly tired, unfocused or carry unexplained guilt. Some find themselves unusually focused on death.
The difference between depression and bipolar is the occurrence of a “manic episode” at some point. A manic episode is defined as:
“A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood and abnormally and persistently increased activity or energy, lasting at least one week and present most of the day, nearly every day (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary).” – from the DSM-5 manual
The high part of the rollercoaster ride is called “mania” and it’s here that people often have problems. Manic episodes can include impulsive behaviors, such as irresponsible spending sprees. Being with someone who is experiencing mania can be draining.
It can be difficult to keep pace with the speedy stream of words, ideas, and plans. People with manic energy feel less need for sleep. These behaviors often make it difficult to resume a normal life when they come off the mania.
Those who encounter these symptoms often feel exhilarated. In fact, people who experience it look forward to it coming back. Unfortunately, mania tends to make a person out of control and be the worse for it. If a person experiences these high extremes, even without the depression, they may be experiencing bipolar disorder.
Depression and mania constitute the main parts of bipolar disorder, but subtypes of the condition exist, as well. Bipolar I includes the full-blown highs. Bipolar II includes only a “hypomania” with less elevated moods where the episode length is lessened to four days instead of seven.
But the biggest difference with hypomania is that more directed energy is present, but those with the disorder are able to continue their normal life routines. A Bipolar II diagnosis is given when there has been a major depressive episode. This isn’t necessarily trueof a Bipolar I diagnosis; the person may haveonly have experienced the highs.
Cyclothymia is a condition of hypomania that includes mild depression. In this case, a person will experience a mood elevation, but not in the extreme; after which they experience depression, but are able to carry on with daily life. The person continues to function, though, overtime a pattern is noticed.
Another facet of bipolar disorder includes “psychotic features,” which are unique to each person. This may include seeing things that others cannot seeor hearing voices that say bad things. Understandably, this will be distressing.
Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder
If you see symptoms of bipolar disorder, what are your options? Most important, seek professional help. A mixture of medication and therapy is often helpful with many mental health issues.
Finding a qualified prescriber opens your possibilities for taking a mood stabilizer. When meeting with a professional, be honest about any episodes of mania, even if you are experiencing depression.
This is important because some medications that target depression can cause mania to return. An antidepressant can trigger this mania, but a mood stabilizer will simply provide you a steadier, reliable frame of mind.
Therapy complements medication. Talking through bipolar disorder can help you gain needed control over your condition. It can also help you gain tools and skills for in times of instability.
Supportive family therapy can be especially helpful. The mania part of bipolar is often noticed by family members first. Family therapy empowers family members to help a person recognize symptoms, work together, and help someone cope.
After reading this, perhaps you see yourself or a loved one on this rollercoaster. Living with bipolar can be scary and unpredictable. Find a Christian counselor in San Diego who can help you reach a proper assessment of your symptoms and form a plan. With a mix of therapy and medication, you can reach your goals and seek to heal.
“Roller Coaster”, Courtesy of Dlohner, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Swing”, Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Alex Boyd, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Happy,” Courtesy of JanDix, Pixabay.com, CC0 License