What is Bipolar Disorder?

I’m not going to try and give a medical definition here of bipolar disorder. There are plenty of those around on the internet if you care to do a search. I am simply going to give you my opinion, based on my experience.

Bipolar disorder was formerly known as manic depression and this term for the disorder is still used in some quarters today. Bipolar disorder, as the name suggests, involves mood swings between depression and elevation plus all points in between. It does not only affect your mood however. It can affect your behaviour, your thought patterns, sleep patterns and feelings. These affects may be minor or major, but the effects of bipolar disorder in whatever its form require management and treatment. Untreated, a person who suffers from bipolar disorder can be well and truly on a path of self destruction. Indeed, the suicide rate amongst bipolars is quite high.

Interestingly enough, bipolar disorder is referred to as a “mental illness”, yet if this is true and it is something in the mind, then how is it that it is treated with drugs? No-one has yet identified specifically what or how bipolar is caused, but the most common suggestions are that it is something to do with cells and activity in the brain. The brain is the organ we know least about, but it is a physical organ. That being the case, perhaps we should be referring to bipolar disorder as being as much a physical illness or disorder as diabetes.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic disorder. That is, once it has been diagnosed you’ve won the lottery. You have it for life.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder are broken up into two groups for all intents and purposes. These are depressive symptoms and manic symptoms. Manic symptoms are broken down however into a further sub-group known as “hypomanic” symptoms.

Depression

Feelings of nothingness, a total “void”

Feelings of sadness and/or anxiety

Wanting to cry, but unable to do so

Crying uncontrollably

Remaining in bed for days

Contant tiredness and fatigue

Complete loss of interest in things you enjoyed

Ignoring daily responsibilities and/or personal hygiene

Loss of self esteem

Inability to make even simple decisions

Wanting to die

Suicide ideation

Restlessness, anger or irritability

Mania

Filled with energy, too much to burn

Extravagant spending, even with credit cards

Increased sexual activity and desires

Going without sleep but not getting tired

Feelings of extreme superiority

Delusions of grandeur

Reckless behaviour even at personal risk

Rapid speech

Racing thoughts

Grandiose ideas and schemes

Inappropriate behaviour

Total self confidence, being “bullet proof”

A lower form of mania also can exist which is known as "hypomania". Symptoms of hypomania can include all of the above, but to a lesser degree. A person in a hypomanic state may exhibit many of the above symptoms but only to the point where they appear to be very happy or cheerful. Consequently, it is not as visible or easy to diagnose as a full blown manic episode.

Because of the two types of mania, bipolar disorder is broken down into two groups, that of Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2 and it is here that I will quote from the American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th Ed.

Bipolar 1

Characterized by the occurrence of one or more Manic Episodes or Mixed Episodes. Often individuals have also had one or more Major Depressive Episodes.

Bipolar 2

Characterized by the occurrence of one or more Major Depressive Episodes accompanied by at least one Hypomanic Episode.

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