Bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depressive illness, is a condition marked by unusually large shifts in energy level, behavior, and mood. Patients with bipolar disorder suffer with periods of mania marked by feeling “high” or irritable, a decreased need for sleep, hyperactivity, being easily distractible, impulsive, and having unrealistic perceptions of themselves. It is common for individuals to engage in self destructive actions such as spending sprees, having sex with multiple partners, and other high risk behaviors. Manic episodes last for at least seven days and interfere with an individuals ability to function at work and at home.
Contrary to normal belief, in order to receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, one must experience a manic episode, but not necessarily a Major Depressive Episode. However, some individuals do experience depressions as well, and still others present in a mixed state, which shares characteristics of both depression and mania. Symptoms of depression include sadness, hopelessness, guilt, lack of interest and enjoyment in pleasurable activities, and sleep disruption.
Although it can be intimidating to be diagnosed with a mental illness, getting the proper care is essential to maintaining mental health. Bipolar disorder cannot be cured, but it can be treated over the long term. With the correct medical attention it is possible to have more control over your mood swings and lead a full life.
- learn your symptoms
- learn about the different treatments available
- seek support
- explore alternative treatments
- have an open dialogue with your doctor
- blame yourself
- ignore the signs
- discontinue your medication
- stop living your life
When you are feeling healthy, try to make a list of the symptoms and behaviors you have had when you are manic or depressed. These might include decreased need for sleep, impulsiveness, irritability, anxiety etc. You might notice an increase in your spending or that you are more promiscuous. Understanding these cues can help you identify a manic or depressive episode before it becomes dangerous and/or out of hand. This can help you feel more in control of your moods and lessen the impact bipolar illness has on your life.
Bipolar illness is often treated with a combination of medication and talk therapy. The medications used to treat bipolar illness include mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, and atypical antipsychotics. Lithium is a common medication for bipolar illness. It is a very effective and safe treatment when taken under a doctors supervision. Other medications used to treat bipolar illness are Depakote, Zyprexa, Abilify, or Seroquel. It is important to discuss any concerns and/or side effects you are having with your doctor. This will help your psychiatrist select a medication that is best suited for you. It will also help you feel more knowledgeable and confident that you are doing what you can to maintain your mental health.
Sadly, many people feel ashamed and embarrassed after being diagnosed with a mental illness. These feelings can isolate you from others and keep you from getting the support that you need. It can be scary to discuss your diagnosis. Nevertheless, seeking help from loving friends and family, support groups, and/or a therapist/mental health counselor can help you manage your stress. Talking about your illness can also help destigmatize your condition and make you feel less alone. You will find that many others have been affected by some form of mental illness, either in their own lives or when a friend or family member has been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. Sharing your experience and listening to what has been successful and challenging for others can help you form a strategy moving forward.
In addition to medication and psychotherapy, there might be some alternative treatments that can mitigate the symptoms of psychotherapy. Acupuncture, massage, yoga, and meditation can help to decrease anxiety and give you a richer appreciation of the present moment. These ancient methods have been used for centuries to improve self awareness and promote feelings of wellbeing and life satisfaction.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness that requires ongoing treatment. With the proper treatment, patients can live full and active lives. However, left untreated, bipolar illness can worsen in severity and seriously impair functioning. If you have questions about your prescriptions or are having side effects, do not stop taking your medications. Discuss your concerns with your doctor. There are many different options available. Through open dialogue, you and your doctor can find the a plan that best addresses your symptoms.
Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming. When we are panicked, it can be difficult to think clearly and take proper care of ourselves. Some people turn to deleterious coping mechanisms, such as drugs and alcohol. Don’t do it! Instead, try to use some of the strategies above, such as seeking support, speaking to your doctor, meditation, exercise, etc. to help you feel more anchored. Once you are feeling better you will be more equipped to take the necessary steps to get healthy and adjust to your diagnosis.
Many individuals experience feelings of shame and unworthiness after receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Know that you are not alone. Many people are living full and meaningful lives with your same condition. Having bipolar disorder is not the result of something you have or haven’t done. Although we are not certain what causes bipolar disorder, we believe it is related to many factors, such as genetics, brain chemistry, and perhaps environmental issues. Overall, these are factors are outside of our control. Do not waste time trying to figure out why you have it, rather try to move forward recognizing your diagnosis.
When left untreated, manic episodes grow in danger and severity. To minimize the potential impact, it is critical to identify an episode early and seek medical help immediately. As stated above, it can be advantageous to understand your moods, triggers, and recognize when an episode is materializing. Early intervention can attenuate negative changes in your mood and bring more stability to your life.
Once you have had a period of health on medications, it might be tempting to disregard their positive effects. It is important to remember that a large part of the progress you have made is because of the effects of medication. It is likely that your moods will relapse if you stop your treatment. If you are having side effects or trouble tolerating your prescriptions, speak to your doctor before discontinuing them.
Do not let your disease take away your life. You can and should pursue your ambitions. Do not use your bipolar diagnosis as a reason to shut down and give up on your personal goals. Bipolar illness need not negate your social, occupational, and romantic life. Try to accept your illness, seek appropriate treatment, and then move forward and live your life to the fullest.
Bipolar illness is a chronic, lifelong illness that requires medical attention. By finding a balanced treatment regimen including medication, social support, talk therapy, exercise and/or alternative treatments you can learn to balance your moods. In addition, identifying triggers for manic and depressive episodes can help you seek timely medical help when necessary. Bipolar illness does not need to take over your personal life. You can be mindful of your mental health and continue to live a full and meaningful life.