What Bipolar Really Is
The Bipolar Intro
Bipolar Disorder is commonly thought to be nothing more than mood swings. Although that definition isn't technically incorrect, it still leaves a lot unexplained. So let's go through what it really means, and try to identify what issues come from someone who has this illness.
What is a More Concrete Definition of Bipolar Then?
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and can prevent people from doing basic everyday tasks. Unlike mood swings, these periods are grouped into 2 major categories - Depressive and Manic.
Depressive is fairly self explanatory, it's a period where one has similar symptoms to Depression.
Manic is the one people don't seem to understand. It's where your emotions and mood are extremely high. Many think this is a good thing, or think Bipolar is just a less severe version of Depression because sometimes they aren't sad.
Manic behavior can get very dangerous and shouldn't be romanticized as "being really happy". Manic episodes are just as damaging as Depressive ones.
So let's talk about the specific symptoms someone with Bipolar may face.
What Are The Specific Symptoms?
Essentially someone with Bipolar goes through periods of Depression, wherein they have very low energy levels, get feelings of hopelessness or emptiness, even thoughts of self-harm and suicide. It might sound like clinical Depression, but someone with Bipolar has something else they need to deal with - mania.
We hear the word "Mania" so much in common culture that its become a positive word. Think about it, how many events just stick the word mania on the end of their title to make it seem exciting: WrestleMania, LEGO Mania, and there's even an event called Pumpkin Mania going on.
The definition of Mania isn't so upbeat. Mania is an excessive enthusiasm or desire. The key being excessive, as that's what people with Bipolar experience. A period of time experiencing increased energy levels, increased activity levels, and generally feeling "up" or "high". That doesn't sound too bad, does it? Usually that's where people stop searching and chalk up Bipolar to be occasional Depression. But those increased energy levels experienced during mania can lead to some very dangerous thoughts and actions.
Someone going through a Manic episode may experience: insomnia, increased aggression levels, inability to focus, or even risky behavior like reckless sex and money spending. It can get really dangerous.
So it's Just one emotion or the other?
Not quite, as theses Depressive and Manic episodes can actually mix - and no, they don't cancel out. It's a little hard to imagine, but bear with me a moment.
Someone can be experiencing Manic type symptoms: fast thoughts, less sleep, and being easily irritable. At the same time Depressive symptoms can be present: low self-esteem, feeling tired and lethargic, and worrying about anything that speeds through their mind.
Sounds pretty horrible, doesn't it? It's why when I hear people saying things like "It's just a mood swing", it's heartbreaking. People who suffer from this illness can have so much trouble living day to day, having inconsistent feelings and illogical thoughts.
There are actually four main categories of Bipolar; Bipolar 1, where an individual experiences periods of severe mood episodes; Bipolar 2, where an individual experiences less powerful Manic episodes but more severe Depressive episodes; Cyclothymic, where an individual experiences much shorter Manic and Depressive episodes; and Mixed, where an individual can experience symptoms from both Manic and Depressive episodes simultaneously.
How can you tell if someone has Bipolar?
People with Bipolar aren't always having Depressive and/or Manic episodes, and weeks or even months can go by with a level mood and energy level. Like all mental illness' - or mental health in general - it's a person by person basis.
Symptoms can develop differently depending on the person. If you suspect you or someone you know is suffering from any kind of mental health issue, see a professional as soon as possible.
Over 500,000 people have Bipolar in Canada alone - roughly 1.5% of the population of Canada. The number would likely be higher, but people don't learn about Bipolar the same way they learn about Depression or Social Anxieties, so it may go unnoticed for a very long time.
What Would My Friends and Family Think?
Bipolar is one of the mental illness' that can heavily effect not only the person who has it, but their family and friends. Any mental illness can effect those around you, but Bipolar can be very difficult to live with if you don't have the knowledge about what's happening. Bipolar can cause financial problems, emotional distress, difficulty creating and maintaining relationships outside of family.
And one of the biggest problems is ignorance.
Someone will have these Depressive/Manic episodes and not only will it make them feel like garbage, it might cause the people around them to harshly judge them for something they can't control. Which causes more stress, more reasons to feel like garbage. As most mental health issues are, it's a vicious cycle.
It's a shame that Depression and anxiety are the only mental health issues people think will affect them or those around them. I'm not saying that Depression and anxiety isn't problematic for those who have it, but I always see people tense up, or be skeptical when someone is said to have a mental illness that's not as well known.
I'm not asking anyone to be a perfect encyclopedia of mental health, but I will ask that you try and research the more stigmatized mental illness'. Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anorexia, Addiction - there are so many illness' that are brushed aside by people saying "It probably won't happen to me."
If there is one thing I've learned in life, it's that from education comes compassion for your fellow human. Not pity, not sorrow, but compassion.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.