Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that can cause dramatic and seemingly uncontrollable shifts in mood and energy between “high” and “low” states. Everyone experiences some swings in their mood, or some days where they feel more happy and energetic, and other days that feel burdened with sadness or a hard time making it through. What makes these healthy fluctuations in emotion different from bipolar conditions is the extremeness of both sides, to the point that it becomes almost impossible to carry out daily tasks.
Enduring either an out of control high or a devastating depression can be difficult to endure, and can interfere with school and work, your relationships, and your physical health. But the good news is that the condition can be treated, and understanding can be an important first step in learning to treat and live with the condition.
Manic episodes are characterized by an extremely joyful and high energy state, when your abilities and energy seems unlimited. A person experiencing mania may feel restless, with a lot of thoughts coming to him or her all the sudden in a rush, leading to taking on new projects and trying new things. In the midst of it, it may be hard for someone in a manic episode to see it as a problem at all.
They may feel very enthusiastic about life and having exciting, new ideas. However, the extremeness of mania can bring unforeseen harms. People with mania may overestimate their own abilities or not properly think through the consequences of their actions. This can lead to taking on tasks they don’t complete, or engaging in high-risk behavior that can be harmful later. Mania can also disrupt a person’s health routines, giving up sleep and eating in a way that can be harmful to health.
Sometimes people with bipolar disorder experience a less severe form of mania known as hypomania. People with hypomania may simply feel good, productive, and think they are simply functioning well. However, an unexplained change in mood can be a sign of potential problems, that can easily lead to depression or more severe mania if left untreated.
After a period of mania, there is often a crash coming down. During a depressive episode, a person may experience a prolonged period of deep sadness, low energy, and feelings of hopelessness. Everything about the manic episode becomes reversed, and you may find yourself with low energy and motivation, not getting pleasure out of life, and feeling doubtful about your abilities. In extreme cases, the pain get can so bad that thoughts turn to death or suicide. Often, the depression lasts longer than the mania.
Some people with certain types of bipolar disorder may even experience what are called “mixed states,” in which the person experiences effects of both mania and depression at the same time. Traits of both conditions can combine in ways that can be very worrisome and stress-inducing. For example, you may feel very energized, but also hopeless about your chances of your plans working out. This can cause you to feel very agitated and tense, and can make going through the routines of daily life very difficult.
While there is no known “cure” for bipolar disorder, there are a number of established treatment plans that can help manage the illness. A large portion of the known cause of bipolar disorder is rooted in imbalances in your brain chemistry, and so medication can be used to help stabilize your hormone and neurotransmitter issues. These include mood stabilizers, such as lithium, Valproic acid, and Lamictal. Other options include atypical antipsychotics, and some antidepressants. Each of these medication possibilities come with different levels of effectiveness and side-effects, so working with a trusted and listening doctor is important to find the medication that works best for you.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, and so needs lifelong treatment to be managed. Going off your medication can easily cause symptoms to come back. The illness can best be managed through extended conversations with your doctor, speaking about your concerns so you can make an informed opinion about your options.