Bipolar Disorder, The Low Down - With Self Help Tips

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What is Bipolar Disorder?


Archaically known as Manic Depression, Bipolar Disorder is more than just the ups and downs of daily life. It is a serious mental condition which affects all aspects of a person’s life. From emotions to energy levels Bipolar Disorder disrupts everything in its path. It can cost you your relationships, your job and even your home. It tends to run in families and is thought to be genetic in origin; although it can be brought on by illness or stress.

The manic and depressive phases or episodes can last for weeks; at times even months. Sometimes they last for just a few days but these episodes differ from normal daily moods because of their severity.

Normally identified in adolescence or early adulthood Bipolar Disorder can be treated but not cured. It is often misdiagnosed because of its myriad of confusing symptoms.

Sculpture depicting Bipolar
Sculpture depicting Bipolar | Source

Several Variants of Bipolar


Beginning with the mildest first

Cyclothymia

Cyclothymiacs have mood swings which may last for longer periods than those of Bipolar 1 and II. The disorder as a whole is less severe than Bipolar but it has the potential to develop into full blown Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar 1

To warrant this diagnosis the sufferer must have had at least one manic (high) episode of more than a week in duration. If left untreated the mania phase will continue from 3 – 6 months in duration and depressive phases for between 6 and 12 months. Most people will have the depressive episodes but there are a few people who only experience the manic ones.

Bipolar II

This type of Bipolar is diagnosed when the person has had more than one severe depressive episode and does not get the extreme highs typical of Bipolar 1. The manic episodes are very mild and are termed hypomania.

Rapid Cycling

Rapid Cycling is not a disorder in its own right but an aspect of both main types of Bipolar, which affects approximately 1:10 people with Bipolar Disorder. Rapid Cycling is said to be occurring when five or more mood swings are experienced in a period of one year.

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The Four Types Bipolar Disorder Episodes


Mania

You will feel euphoric and as though you can move mountains and part the Dead Sea. This statement gives a clue as to how invincible you feel when in the manic phase of Bipolar. People may find it difficult to understand you as you will be talking at break-neck speed. You may find that you can manage and even feel refreshed on barely any sleep at all. You could experience ‘grasshopper mind’ with your thoughts jumping from one thing to another and back again. These are the less negative effects of an episode of mania.

The negative side of this phase is that pretty soon you could begin spiralling out of control. You may, because you feel invincible start acting recklessly and doing things you wouldn’t normally consider like having risky sex. You could become irritable and woe betide anyone who does not comply with your demands or assist you with your overambitious plans.

Hypomania

This is a milder form of mania and is characterised by euphoria, increased creativity and energy. There may be some instances of bad decision making but not on the scale of a manic episode. In general an episode of Hypomania will not affect the ability to carry on a normal day to day life. In Bipolar II people Hypomania will be followed by a major depressive episode.

Depressive

The signs and symptoms are quite similar to many major depressive illnesses. The difference is that a Bipolar Depressive episode lasts longer and is characterised by mood swings, guilt, unpredictability and feelings of unrest. Someone in the depressive phase of Bipolar will gain weight and probably sleep for long periods of time. Any activity will be carried out slowly and speech will also be slow. Anti-depressant drugs tend not to help with Bipolar Depression and can make the disorder worse


Mixed Episode

As the term suggests, this type of episode has symptoms of either hypomania and depression or mania and depression. Because of the combination of symptoms, sufferers of this type of episode can be more at risk of suicide.

26 Symptoms of Mania

  1. Feeling extremely high, optimistic, excited and happy or feeling very irritable, aggressive or agitated
  2. An over-inflated sense of self-importance, self-esteem and being over-confident in your ability to perform any feat
  3. Making overambitious and unrealistic plans and having lots of exciting ideas
  4. Delusions
  5. Being hypercritical and rude towards others; even people you don’t know very well
  6. A very high level of optimism
  7. Increased libido
  8. High energy and rapid physical activity on very little sleep
  9. Grasshopper Mind – Jumping from one idea to another
  10. Speaking rapidly and incessantly; others may find it hard to understand you and keep up
  11. Over familiarity with people you don’t know very well
  12. Racing thoughts
  13. Poor judgement
  14. Hallucinations
  15. Impulsivity
  16. Loss of inhibitions
  17. Reckless behaviour
  18. Taking risks
  19. Spending money recklessly and unwisely
  20. Making strange, rapid and unconsidered decisions on the spur of the moment
  21. Decreased appetite; resulting in weight loss
  22. Smelling smells that are not there
  23. Inability to focus and concentrate for more than a short period; easily distracted
  24. Alcohol and illegal substance abuse
  25. Unusual behaviour
  26. Hearing voices not audible to others

You may not notice that there is anything untoward in the way you are behaving. Your family and friends will though but it will probably not concern you as you may be oblivious to the feelings of others.

Psychosis can develop if a manic episode is particularly severe. The way this usually manifests in mania is that you exhibit megalomaniacal tendencies and believe that you are supremely important and have almost magical abilities and powers.

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23 Symptoms of a Bipolar Depressive Episode


  1. Aches and pains without a cause
  2. Feeling worried, sad, unhappy, hopeless or empty for long periods of time
  3. Crying for no reason or feeling as though you want to cry but being unable to
  4. Slow speech
  5. Difficulty in getting started to do things like shopping, housework etc.
  6. Feeling lethargic and slow
  7. Decreased libido
  8. Avoiding social situations and people in general
  9. Feelings of guilt
  10. Impaired decision making
  11. Lack of interest in activities previously found interesting
  12. Bad memory and lack of concentration
  13. Fatigue and a feeling of exhaustion
  14. Constipation and sluggish digestion
  15. Lack of pleasure in things that previously brought pleasure
  16. Sleeping too much or having problems getting to sleep and waking too early
  17. Irritability and agitation – a feeling of unrest
  18. Feelings of inadequacy
  19. Thoughts of suicide or impending death
  20. Changes in weight and appetite
  21. Feeling worthless
  22. Lack of self confidence
  23. Moving around slowly

As with mania, a depressive episode can escalate into psychosis. This manifests as a complete loss of touch with reality where the person affected feels pathologically guilty, as though they are a far worse person than anyone else in the world. They are unable to carry on with normal day to day life either at work or in a social setting. In extreme cases sufferers may feel that they have ceased to exist. Hallucinations may also be present.

8 Symptoms of Hypomania


  1. Sleeping less and feeling rested and energetic after 2-3 hours of sleep
  2. Easily distracted
  3. Talking a lot for most of the time
  4. Racing thoughts with lots of ideas
  5. High self esteem
  6. Thoughts of grandiosity
  7. Risk taking – participating in shopping sprees, risky sex, un-researched business deals or high risk career moves
  8. Moving around quickly or in an agitated manner

A Hypomanic episode is very similar in nature to a manic episode except that the episode isn’t normally bad enough to affect the person’s working or social life. The nature of mood will be heightened or irritable and will last for 5 days or more. It is easy to identify as it is completely different from how the person normally is. There will be at least 3 of the symptoms above present. Unlike a manic episode, psychosis never occurs.

Are there any triggers for Bipolar Episodes?


There are a number of triggers and causes:

Lack of sleep

Substance abuse

Stress

Abnormal Thyroid levels

High levels of the hormone Cortisol

Seasonal Factors

Caffeine

Cold remedies

Corticosteroids

Some Thyroid medications

Up and Down
Up and Down | Source

What are the treatments for Bipolar?


Medication

You will probably be given a mood stabilizer such as Lithium Carbonate, Valproate, Lamotrigine, Olanzapine or Divalproex.

Psychotherapy

Social Rhythm and Interpersonal Therapy

Family Focused Therapy

Mood Monitoring

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Psycho-educational Therapy

General Coping Skills

A combination of some of the above

Electroconvulsive Therapy - ECT

This is sometimes used for people with suicidal tendencies

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Are there any self help measures for people with Bipolar Disorder?


  • Make sure you have an equal measure of fun and relaxation
  • Learn as much as you can about your condition
  • Minimise Stress
  • Exercise at least 3 times a week
  • Keep taking your medication
  • Do not take any illegal drugs or ‘legal highs’
  • Keep alcohol consumption to a bare minimum
  • Keep to a regular routine of getting up, going to bed and mealtimes
  • Confide in family and friends about your disorder, they will be able to recognize when you are not well and help you
  • Join a self help group
  • Make sure you have a back up carer for your children; especially if you are a lone parent
  • If you are not working, consider getting a part time job to keep you from getting bored
  • Eat regularly and healthily; keeping junk food to a minimum

What is it like to live with someone with Bipolar?


There is a lot to consider when deciding whether to live with a person who has a Bipolar disorder. If the disorder is mild and they take their prescribed medication it makes life so much easier; although it is still not a walk in the park.

The first thing you must realise is that people with mental illness think and function differently from you. You will need to have the attribute of endless patience. You will have to understand that, in most cases, whatever they do is not done on purpose to hurt you. If you can’t or won’t accept these two things it may not be possible to have a relationship with a bipolar person; especially one who is not medicated.

Loving a person with Bipolar can be very hard. A person with an unmedicated Bipolar Disorder can have a chaotic lifestyle due to the very nature of the condition. It could be described as like living on a roller coaster with a ticking time bomb at the side of you. It is like living with two people and not knowing which one will be there to greet you when you arrive home from work. They may be unfaithful when having a manic episode or do something criminal. They will almost certainly lie to you and hurt you in every which way. If you cannot overlook these transgressions the relationship will cause you a lot of heartache and worry.

Many people with Bipolar do not take their medication because they do not truly believe that they are ill. Denial is part of the disorder. Obviously this worsens their symptoms and that can be unbearable for the partner who is trying to hold it all together. Living with someone with Bipolar who doesn’t accept they are ill can be exhausting, frustrating and very frightening at times.

Obviously it will not all be a battleground and a feat of human endurance. Between episodes life can be relatively calm and serene. Some people return to ‘normal’ but most still have minor depressive interludes and a slight deviation from ‘normal’ thinking.

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Comments 19 comments

denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

Wow! This is a comprehensive treatment of Bipolar Disorder and has helped my understanding immensely. I have a boss with the disorder, as well as two children. It is definitely an act of endurance! I have to tell myself repeatedly that I am not the one with the problem, even though at times, it feels like it! Thanks!


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Glad you found it useful Denise. I also know people with the disorder and people who may have it but won't go get diagnosed. Frustrating isn't the word. Thanks for your comment.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Hi sue, first of all let me say what a great hub detailed hub, this will be so useful to anybody who needs to know the symptoms and the various forms of bipolar. My brother has suffered with it for many years and yes I will admit that I get annoyed at him at times, then I pull myself back and realise that it's a genuine illness, so useful, and voted up and shared, nell


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Thanks Nell; I value your comment as you speak from first hand knowledge. Thank you for the vote and sharing.


rasta1 profile image

rasta1 3 years ago from Jamaica

Very detailed and interesting. Everything was broken down for me to understand. This is one of my favorite topics and I have gained some new information from this article.


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 3 years ago from The High Seas

Very good hub.


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Thank you


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Thank you


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Thank you


khmazz profile image

khmazz 3 years ago from South Florida

Very interesting and informative! Great hub!


Mary 3 years ago

Very good. I am bipolar and have a sister with the same illness. I am just starting to learn how to handle this illness and your hub was very informative. Thank you


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Thank you khmazz.


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

That is praise indeed Mary. I have clearly painted an accurate picture of the disorder. I wish you and your sister well.


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

A very thorough article. A bipolar friend of mine told me that a part of her thinks her she's fine and her diagnosis is all bull****. She is tempted to stop the meds, especially since they make her gain weight, which she hates. However, she does realize that her life is better when she takes them.


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Yes Sherry that is quite a common thing. Good that she realises this though. Thanks for reading.


misslong123 profile image

misslong123 3 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

Wow. You did a really great job at describing Bipolar. I did not know that a home remedy could be exercising. I've never tried that, mostly because I can do very little exercise, because I have Lupus and am often exhausted. You did an excellent job at describing the symptoms and illustrating home remedies. Keep up the good work!


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Thankyou misslong123 I did my best. Lupus is a difficult condition to manage.


kerlund74 profile image

kerlund74 2 years ago from Sweden

A very well written hub about a subject that moves me. My sister suffer from bipolar disorder and she have chosen to "disappear" 4 times, which means she just left and we have found her first time after few weeks, last time it took over a year. This hub rich with information and fact was really useful for me to read.


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 2 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK Author

Thank you and I'm sorry to hear about your sister. It is a difficult illness both for the sufferer and their family. Stay strong.

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