Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Understanding Bipolar Disorder | TheSunnyShadow.com >> Click to Read!It’s no secret, there’s still much stigma surrounding mental illness. I have to admit, before my bipolar II diagnosis (2002?) I was ignorant in this regard myself. Even following my diagnosis, my husband did the research. Not me! I was in the throes of mania and active addiction.

In at least one regard I don’t think my situation is that unique. Most people are not “experts” on illnesses until they have to be. So unless you {yourself} have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or you are close to someone who has, you likely don’t have a great understanding of it. And that’s okay. But if you’re interested, I may be able to change that. I should mention that I am sharing my personal experiences with bipolar disorder, along with some general facts. {Sources below}

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder {manic-depressive illness} is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, & the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It is a lifelong illness. Though there is no “cure,” it can be managed & people with this disorder can live full & productive lives.

Symptoms are severe & different from the normal ups & downs that everyone goes through from time-to-time. Bipolar symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job performance, & even suicide.

*Mood disorders are by far the most common psychiatric conditions associated with suicide. At least 25%-50% of those with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once. As many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder completes suicide.

» Fast Facts

  • Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder {PTSD} & social phobia, often co-occur among people with bipolar disorder.
  • Substance abuse is common among people with bipolar disorder, however, substances may trigger or prolong bipolar symptoms.
  • Bipolar disorder also co-occurs with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder {ADHD}, which has some symptoms that overlap with bipolar disorder, such as restlessness & being easily distracted.
  • Bipolar disorder is genetic.
  • Severe episodes of mania AND depression can include psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions.
  • Bipolar disorder often develops in a person’s late teens or early adult years. At least half of all cases start before age 25. Some people have their first symptoms during childhood, while others may develop symptoms late in life.


  • Period of feeling “high” or overly happy or outgoing.
  • Being overly restless.
  • Being easily distracted.
  • Increasing activities, such as taking on new projects.
  • Fast, pressured speech. Jumping from one idea to another due to racing thoughts.
  • Extreme irritability.
  • Disrupted sleep, sleeping little or not being tired.
  • Having an unrealistic belief in one’s abilities (grandiosity).
  • Behaving impulsively and engaging in pleasurable, high-risk behaviors such as shopping sprees and/or promiscuity.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder | TheSunnyShadow.com >> Click to Read!What Mania Feels Like to ME

The beginning of mania is exhilarating – euphoric even. My speech is fast & pressured, as I can barely keep up with all the brilliant ideas racing through my mind. At least I feel as though they’re brilliant at the time. Unfortunately grandiosity is a part of the disorder & the further into mania one goes, the more grandiose one becomes.

During hypomania I have tons of energy, get loads of stuff done & sleep is elusive. However, if that red flag is ignored hypomania can quickly escalate into full-blown mania, which is rarely fun for anyone. For me, mania is like a tornado, destroying everyone & everything around it. While I wish hypomania was my permanent state of existence, I can tell when I’m nearing that imaginary line into mania. I feel as though I’m going to jump out of my skin.

I find it impossible to convey how it truly feels to be manic unless in the midst of it. It’s almost like an out-of-body experience. I’ve only had one full-blown manic episode which was when I got diagnosed. It’s called “Peripartum Onset,” occurring soon after the birth of my second {& last} daughter. Initially I thought what I was feeling was postpartum depression. My exact words to my OB-GYN & new therapist were, “I feel like I’m going crazy.” My new therapist reassured me, saying that ‘crazy people don’t think they’re crazy.’ I hung onto those words as my doctors worked on a diagnosis & treatment plan.

In the meantime, I was abusing alcohol in an effort to self-medicate, which worsened & prolonged the situation. This also negated the therapeutic effects of the medications being prescribed. I was in full self-destruct mode & if you were around me, you got dragged down too. There was self-mutilation, suicide attempts, & hospitalizations. It was a painful time that tore my family apart for almost two years. I finally accepted help & went to a co-occurring rehab facility that saved my life, along with Alcoholics Anonymous.

Thankfully, I haven’t had another full-blown manic episode since then. I take preventative measures. I do NOT ignore red flags, I am honest with my doctors, I ALWAYS take my medication, & I listen to the feedback given to me. Although I wouldn’t change my past, I want it to stay just that – my past. Read My Recovery Story.

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  • Period of feeling sad and/or hopeless.
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
  • Feeling tired or “slowed down.”
  • Having problems concentrating, remembering and making decisions.
  • Being restless and/or irritable.
  • Changes in eating, sleeping or other habits.

Depression is at the absolute other end of the spectrum from mania, though it can have some overlapping symptoms. It often follows mania but not always. Depression lies to you; it tells you that you are worthless, all alone, & that nobody understands. The emotional & mental pain of depression is crippling, especially once it’s dragged you into its dark hole of hopelessness. It can make you feel physically ill, with body aches & apathy. The littlest of tasks is overwhelming. Getting out of bed every morning is terribly difficult; as is taking a shower or simply making yourself something to eat.

What I would say to anyone battling with bipolar depression is…

‘Don’t believe the lies of negativity it tells you. You are NOT alone. This IS temporary. . . change is the nature of bipolar disorder. Thus, what you are feeling now IS temporary. Keep battling. You are NOT a burden. But you ARE needed, wanted & loved♥’

» Types of Bipolar Disorder

  • BIPOLAR I: Manic episodes that last 7-10 days, or manic symptoms so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting 2 weeks.
  • BIPOLAR II DISORDER: A pattern of depressive episodes & hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed-episodes. A milder form of mood elevation, involving milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with periods of severe depression.
  • BIPOLAR DISORDER NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED  {BP-NOS}: Symptoms of the illness exist but do not meet diagnostic criteria for either Bipolar I or II. However, the symptoms are clearly out of the person’s normal range of behavior.
  • CYCLOTHYMIC DISORDER or CYCLOTHYMIA: A milder form of bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymia have periods of hypomania with brief periods of depression that are not as extensive or long-lasting as seen in full depressive episodes.
  • “MIXED FEATURES” or MIXED STATE: The occurrence of simultaneous symptoms of opposite mood polarities during manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes. It’s marked by high energy, sleeplessness, & racing thoughts. At the same time, one may feel hopeless, despairing, irritable, & even suicidal.
  • RAPID CYCLING: Occurs when a person has four or more episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states, all within a year. It seems to be more common in people who have their first bipolar episode at a young age. It can occur at any time in the course of the illness, but some researchers believe it may be more common at later points in the lifetime duration of illness. Women appear to be more likely than men to have rapid-cycling. Rapid-cycling is considered severe & increases risk for severe depression & suicide attempts.

A Life UNfinished

Having bipolar disorder is beyond frustrating – & I’m talking about when my mood is stable. There are everyday symptoms of bipolar disorder that are challenging on a good day, like cognitive impairment (doesn’t effect all people with bipolar, but it often improves with treatment).

Diagnosing & treating bipolar disorder is difficult. Treating it is basically trial & error, as different medications work for different people & many have bad side effects. I’ve definitely had my fair share of those, including akathisia & unwanted weight gain.

I find that I get angry with myself when I should actually be angry with my disorder. Concentration… what’s that?! My list of unfinished projects continues to grow. It’s so damn hard to finish things! I often feel as though I’m running into the same brick wall over & over & over again. I feel like my mind is always frazzled with half-done to-do lists. Frustrating & exhausting, did I mention frustrating? My energy-levels are unpredictable!

There’s also anxiety involved, though I now know & use effective coping strategies. If  not mindful, I can allow this disorder to get me extremely down on myself. It’s all too easy to feel sorry for myself, & upon diagnosis even acceptable. But eventually that becomes self-defeating behavior.

Finally, I’ve learned that with proper mental health care, self-care & medication it is possible to live a happy & full life. It’s taken a little creativity & it’s definitely not what I had pictured for myself, but I’ve learned to accept my diagnosis & make the most of it. Having a good support system, which includes my psychiatrist, therapist, support group, family, & friends helps immensely.

If anything above sounds familiar, please contact your doctor.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1 {800} 273-TALK {8255}

>> Mental Health Resources Page <<

SOURCES: National Institute of Mental Health | WebMD | National Institutes of Health | Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance


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  1. Pingback: Bipolar Disorder: How Can We Understand It?

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