Sometimes you feel like you have unlimited energy and focus. You blast through your to-do lists and tackle future projects like never before. Other times, you can’t get out of bed or even take a shower. If there never seems to be a middle ground, you may have bipolar disorder.
Even though many people recognize this disorder’s name, they may not know what it looks like in their own lives. Read on to learn more about bipolar disorder and see if it matches what you’ve experienced in the past.
Mania is a state where people experience heightened physical states such as elation, energy and even sexual activity. You might work through the night on a project or hobby without stopping to eat, drink or sleep. Mania can also cause people to put themselves at risk with impulsive acts like gambling, speeding or overspending.
After coming through a manic period, you may suffer from depression for days or weeks at a time. This period shares many symptoms of traditional depression diagnoses, such as:
Bipolar depression most often follows states of mania, as the brain comes down from the heightened sense of being.
If you think you have bipolar disorder, it’s worth researching the four different types. Two are much more common, but reading about all four will give you an idea of what you can discuss with your doctor if the symptoms sound familiar.
While there are four types of bipolar disorder, Bipolar I is one of the most common variations. Patients will undergo states of heightened mania, followed by periods of depression. Symptoms may appear in the late teens or early twenties, but it can also develop later in life and last an average of five to ten years before diagnosis.
Bipolar II disorder mostly lacks extreme mania. Instead, patients live through phases of depression, followed by hypomanic episodes that are less intense than mania. Patients typically feel incredibly productive and happy.
Instead of risking their wellbeing or safety, their hypomania results in high-functioning activities that may benefit their personal or professional lives. Sometimes it’s not noticeable to patients because things go so well for them, but their loved ones may notice the change from their previous state of depression.
Cyclothymia is a much milder form of bipolar disorder. At times, you may be mildly depressed or slightly more energetic. You can recognize that you have a baseline for your moods, and when it swings, it doesn’t usually interfere with your daily life.
Most physicians will look for a two-month period in between these mood changes. If there’s less than two months of baseline moods and behaviors, you’re more likely to have Bipolar I or II.
Often undiagnosed, Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS) is hard to catch. You may have rare moments of depression or mania that alert you or your family members to the need for a checkup with your doctor. Some people dismiss these symptoms as normal mood swings.
If your doctor diagnoses you with BP-NOS, it indicates that you may develop one of the other three types of bipolar disorder later on. It doesn’t mean you have any of them at the time of diagnosis. Even though you’ll likely walk out of that appointment without any treatment plan, it’s a helpful diagnosis to get because you’ll learn what to watch for and when to come back for more serious help.
Sometimes it’s difficult for doctors to diagnose their patients with any of the four types of bipolar disorder. They may believe you have traditional depression or even high-functioning anxiety, depending on your symptoms.
An accurate diagnosis can take time since none of these variations occur suddenly. The best way to get a diagnosis if you have bipolar disorder is to keep in touch with your doctor and update them on any changes in your behaviors, lifestyle or concerns. With time, they can more closely pinpoint your diagnosis and treatment plan with mood charting or frequent psychiatric assessments.
Your doctor may advise a few types of treatments, depending on the severity of your symptoms. Because there’s no cure for bipolar disorder, these are typically lifelong treatments.
Your doctor may choose to start you on mood stabilizers, which are different from antidepressants. Stabilizers reduce mood swings to prevent mania episodes, along with severe periods of depression. They may require several weeks to regulate your moods, so they’re generally preceded by antipsychotic medications that can reduce the severity of your symptoms as your body adjusts to your new prescription.
Antidepressants may be useful for some people, but they commonly trigger episodes of rapid cycling which are more frequent changes between mania and depression. It’s safer for most people to stick with stabilizers at the dosage their doctor prescribes.
Doctors often recommend counseling as another way to combat a bipolar diagnosis. After you find a therapist you like, they can help you sort through your symptoms and begin natural mood-stabilizing activities. Things like a regulated sleep cycle, relaxation techniques and even a weekly workout routine can build the support system you need to overcome shifts in your mood alongside or without medication.
Patients who live with bipolar disorder for years without help frequently develop substance abuse issues. They may drink or start using drugs during manic episodes to stay awake or because they feel invincible. These habits can also begin during periods of depression to cope with overwhelming sorrow or hopelessness.
Checking into a recommended rehab will teach you how to reset these behaviors and resist them in the future so that you can deal with your bipolar disorder diagnosis in healthier ways.
Some bipolar patients are a danger to themselves or others because they’re in a reckless manic episode or a suicidal state of mind. Psychiatric treatment in a hospital provides immediate support and relief while keeping everyone safe until the episode passes.
If you think you have bipolar disorder, make an appointment to talk with your doctor. They’ll help review your history of possible symptoms and begin tracking what you currently experience. With their help, you’ll find the correct diagnosis and start the best treatment to regain control of your life.