Living the Bipolar Life

A large percentage of the US adult population has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At one point, that percentage was 2.8% (NAMI). It is hard to understand this condition, because someone can go years without symptoms. Adults are usually affected by this disorder, however children can be affected as well. Bipolar disorder can affect everything in your life, from your relationship to school to everyday tasks. So the next time someone tells you they are bipolar, don’t look at them with disgust and assume they are violent or full of rage.

I am not violent. I am not full of rage. I was diagnosed with ‘manic depression’ when I was 13 which has translated to bipolar II disorder.

According to MayoClinic.org, there are four types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I: At least one manic episode that could be preceded or followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes. Psychosis can result from mania in some instances.
  • Bipolar II: At least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. No manic episodes. Those with Type II usually experience depression for longer periods.
  • Cyclothymia (or Cyclothymic Disorder): At least 2 years of hypomania and depressive symptoms in multiple instances, where depressive symptoms are less severe than major depression. In children/teenagers this is shortened to 1 year for diagnosis.
  • Bipolar Disorder Unspecified/Other Specified: Bipolar and related disorders induced by certain drugs/alcohol or due to a medical condition, such as Cushing’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or stroke.

There are no definite causes of bipolar disorder but contributing factors are genetics, stress, and brain structure/function (NAMI).

Mania and Hypomania

While mania and hypomania have the same symptoms, mania is more severe and may cause psychosis and hospitalization. When someone experiences these episodes, sometimes they feel ‘on top of the world’ or like ‘they can do anything’. Although the experience is different for everyone, it is considered the ‘high’ and depression is considered the ‘low’ of bipolar disorder.

When I am hypomanic I have learned to do things like meal prep, or do daunting tasks that will help me when I am low. Liiiiike the laundry I have piled up, bathing my dog, socializing with friends more, and all the wonderful things I don’t have the energy to do when I get depressed. I also tend to stay up until 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning, staring at the ceiling scared I won’t get up for work.

To have a manic or hypomanic episode, someone must be experiencing three of the following symptoms: (MayoClinic.org)

  • Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired
  • Increased activity, energy or agitation
  • Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Distractibility
  • Poor decision-making — for example, going on buying sprees, taking sexual risks or making foolish investments

Experiences 

My struggles with bipolar disorder have affected every aspect of my life, from relationships with my friends to my finances and my job. Hypersexuality is one of the symptoms people do not talk about often, but it’s there. I’ve experienced it and still do sometimes. It’s a really weird symptom to deal with. I have extreme periods of productivity when I am manic and can accomplish great things. At one point I had three jobs. Talk about hustling. At another point I couldn’t work and had to take a leave of absence, going on short-term disability. Everyday is truly an internal battle between depression and mania.

Unnecessary spending is a bad habit I have learned to contain. I do it when I am depressed and when I am hypomanic. When I am depressed, I buy things that make me happy… like makeup and clothes. Yall… I work from home! What do I need with new makeup and clothes when I don’t even use what I have? When I am manic, I have spent money on tattoos, piercings, home improvement things, etc. The smell of Lowe’s makes my happy brain cells tingle (;

Personally, I have maxed out credit cards years ago from unnecessary spending. After working hard to pay them off, I have learned to cope and try to channel my emotions towards positive things. I still fall victim to unnecessary spending, but only when I can afford to splurge. Having bipolar disorder and learning to deal with all of the ups and down is rough. I miss being the productive person I used to be. My periods of lows have are more frequent and last longer now.

Treatment

NAMI suggests managing bipolar disorder with psychotherapy, medication, self-management strategies, and complementary health approaches. Personally, I enjoyed counseling when I was younger. I had a counselor who introduced me to cognitive behavior therapy, group therapy, and she made me face my emotions. She did things like creating playlists and had me explain in writing what situations in life the different songs made me think of. As an adult, the counselor I visited last year was interesting. She told me my relationship with migraines and rain was probably all in my head lol.

I’ve tried a lot of different medications, mostly antidepressants. Self-management strategies like detecting manic symptoms and depression symptoms/triggers have been very helpful for me. I call one of my early detection alarms ‘slurred typing,’ itwhensItype like that. I get to working really fast and I have a lot of typing errors. When I do that a lot it’s a sign that I am going into a manic phase… or you know, when I am up at 3 am steam cleaning my floors for no reason. That’s also a sign I am going into a manic phase (: Religion and exercise are also good to add to treatment, but NAMI does not suggest those activities to replace treatment.

Thank you for being a friend.

It takes understanding and patience. We may not always be there. We may not always be able to do everything we want to do, and we may cancel on you last minute. Chances are if your friend has bipolar disorder they have problems sleeping or have issues with anxiety. Help us avoid drugs and alcohol, because it doesn’t mix well with our meds and can trigger the highs/lows. We are more likely to develop alcohol or drug addiction than someone not affected by the disorder. We may not seem like we care sometimes, but we do. It’s not an excuse, but it’s something we need to work on. Hold us accountable when were baseline. Have constructive and calm conversations with us. People with bipolar disorder aren’t dangerous or aggressive but we can be defensive. Our dangerous and aggressive stigma has to end. Sure we may have the same shirt in every color or be a bit cocky sometimes, but we’re human too.

Some people don’t want help though. If you are in a situation like that… then you have to learn to walk away. Unfortunately, I have had to walk away from a family member and it hurt my soul. It hurt every bit of me. It’s been over a year and sometimes I still hurt. You have boundaries and can only handle so much give and take. You can turn the other cheek and forgive someone over and over, and learn to love them from a distance. Choose yourself when your sanity is on the line.

As always.

Love,
Lee-Ann… and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog via e-mail on the homepage.