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One Person, Two Extremes

What you should know about bipolar disorder

One month you feel sad and hopeless. Getting out of bed is nearly impossible and going to work is a dreaded task. The next month your mood changes to the opposite extreme and you feel energized, elated, and ready to face the world. Such is the life of someone with bipolar disorder. This mental health condition, also known as manic depression, is characterized by mood swings of emotional highs (known as mania) and lows (a.k.a. depression).

With this condition, all areas of life are affected by the extreme mood changes. Your work, social life, sleep, behaviors, judgments, thoughts, and energy level become unpredictable and difficult to manage. Some people with bipolar disorder experience episodes several times a year, while others rarely feel the emotional mood swings. Though bipolar is a chronic condition, there are ways to manage and treat symptoms so you can live a normal life.

Read on to learn more about this troubling mental health disorder.

Four Types

No two people experience bipolar the same way, but most people fall into one of four categories.

Bipolar I is diagnosed in someone who has had a severe manic episode or psychosis that lasts at least a week and an episode of depression that lasts a minimum of two weeks.

Bipolar II disorder comes with major depression and at least one episode of mania that’s less severe (hypomania).

An adult with cyclothymic disorder has experienced multiple episodes of hypomania and minor depression over the course of two years.
Drugs, alcohol, or medical conditions cause another type of bipolar disorder.

Emotions, Sleep, and Activity Level

During episodes of bipolar disorder, you’ll experience highs and lows in your emotions, sleep problems, and varying activity levels. The manic phase may cause you to feel “high”—energized, wired, talkative, confident, and irritable. You may engage in risky behaviors, have trouble sleeping, and be highly motivated to get a lot done.

When an episode of depression hits, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness take over. You lack energy, don’t feel like doing anything, and may get too much or too little sleep. You have trouble concentrating and forget important things. Also, you find no pleasure in things you used to enjoy. And while sometimes you don’t eat enough, at other times you overeat. Making this most troublesome is that suicidal thoughts are common during this struggle.

Some people experience a mixture of mania and depression at the same time. They feel sad and hopeless yet full of energy.

Seek Treatment

The cause of bipolar disorder is yet to be determined, though it’s likely due to biological changes in the brain. You’re at a greater risk for the disorder if you have a close family member with the condition, have experienced a traumatic event, do drugs, or drink alcohol in excess.

Family and friends are often first to recognize the early symptoms of bipolar disorder. And while you may hope the condition will improve on its own, it won’t. Rather, without treatment, it’s likely to get worse. Make an appointment with a mental health professional that specializes in treating bipolar disorder.

There’s no quick fix for bipolar disorder. Treatment includes a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Support groups can also be an effective part of treatment. It may take a period of trial and error to find a medication that works best for you. Medications may include antidepressants, atypical antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers. Psychotherapy is also helpful for providing support and guidance for individuals with bipolar disorder and their families.

Since bipolar episodes come and go, it’s tempting for people to stop treatments when things are going well, but doing so puts you at risk for relapses into severe mania or depression. So start treatment soon, keep it up, and make modifications when necessary. Your good health requires it.




Allan Alguire

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