Friday, November 14, 2008

What does it mean to be bipolar?

Symptoms list (from DBSA):

The "Highs" of Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms of Mania

  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • Heightened mood, exaggerated optimism and self-confidence
  • Excessive irritability, aggressive behavior
  • Decreased need for sleep without experiencing fatigue
  • Grandiose thoughts, inflated sense of self-importance
  • Racing speech, racing thoughts, flight of ideas
  • Impulsiveness, poor judgment, distractibility
  • Reckless behavior
  • In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations

The "Lows" of Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms of Depression

  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Pessimism, indifference
  • Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
  • Inability to take pleasure in former interests, social withdrawal
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

What does it mean to me?

When I'm manic, my thoughts race. I get surges of creativity, and I think that I can create anything I set my mind to (even if it's impractical). I talk faster and have trouble sitting still. I drink a TON of caffeine, because I "need to get things done" and feel like caffeine is my best friend in that respect. I want to do everything imaginable. I get super irritable with those who are closest to me. I feel like people are out to stop me from doing the things I want to do (trying to "pull me down"). I have feelings of paranoia. I sleep for only 3 - 5 hours and I feel fine. My relationship with my husband and family suffers.

When I'm depressed, I don't take care of myself. I don't want to get out of bed, take care of my personal hygiene, etc. I have had (rarely) suicidal thoughts. I don't want to do anything. I feel worthless. I feel nervous to go outside and see people because I feel socially inept. I'm tired a lot. My body aches. My thinking is fuzzy. My confidence and feelings of self-worth suffer.

In other words, it's the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. With bipolar, it's hard to find a middle ground... you feel the emotions that other people do (anger, sadness, feeling great, etc.), but they're highly exaggerated.

The classifications of bipolar disorder (from DBSA):

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is characterized by one or more manic episodes or mixed episodes (symptoms of both a mania and a depression occurring nearly every day for at least one week) and one or more major depressive episodes. Bipolar I disorder is the most severe form of the illness marked by extreme manic episodes.

Bipolar II Disorder

While bipolar I disorder is characterized by one or more manic episodes or mixed episodes and one or more major depressive episodes; bipolar II disorder is diagnosed after one or more major depressive episodes and at least one episode of hypomania, with possible periods of level mood between episodes.

The highs in bipolar II, called hypomanias, are not as high as those in bipolar I (manias). Bipolar II disorder is sometimes misdiagnosed as major depression if hypomanic episodes go unrecognized or unreported.

What is the difference between bipolar disorder and ordinary mood swings?

The three main things that make bipolar disorder different from ordinary mood swings are:

Intensity: Mood swings that come with bipolar disorder are usually more severe than ordinary mood swings.

Length: A bad mood is usually gone in a few days but mania or depression can last weeks or months. With rapid cycling, moods last a short time but change quickly from one extreme to another. With rapid cycling, “level” (euthymic) moods do not last long.

Interference with life: The extremes in mood that come with bipolar disorder can severely disrupt your life. For example, depression can make a person unable to get out of bed or go to work or mania can cause a person to go for days without sleep.

If this is seeming all too familiar, be sure to contact your family doctor, a psychologist, or psychiatrist immediately. You don't have to continue living like this.

- M

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