“OMG, my mom wouldn’t let me drive to the mall yesterday when last week she said it was fine. She’s like totally Bipolar Disorder !”
“I swear, yesterday I was in like a totally great mood but today I feel like everything sucks. I must be bipolar or something.”
Have you ever heard someone in the hallway or at a lunch table at school saying things like that? Have you ever wondered if the wicked mood swings that are so typical of teenagers are actually something more serious? What does it really mean to be bipolar and just what is it anyway?
Health Care Management Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, a mental illness affecting thoughts, feelings and behavior. The prefix bi- means two and the poles involved are moods – depressed or low and manic or high. But don’t think that it’s that simple – that manic moods are “happy” and depressed” moods are sad. It gets complex quick.
Timing is pretty important too. The mood cycles in bipolar disorder last weeks if not months. Those people that flip from happy to mad to bawling all in one study hall? They’re not bipolar; they’re just drama kings or queens.
So let’s take a closer look – bipolar disorder has phases, and in some cases the symptoms of both phases are present at the same time (that’s called a mixed phase and it’s no fun at all). What are the classic symptoms of depression? Low mood, crying all the time for no reason or just feeling sad most of the day, most days, lasting for a long time (at least two weeks, but sometimes longer); weight loss or weight gain; you can’t sleep or you can’t stop sleeping; you feel hopeless and/or helpless about all the things that suck in your life; you kind of see the lousy aspect of everything, even good things; you don’t have any fun any more, even doing things that you used to really like; you don’t feel like doing anything at all; and everything bugs you – you feel really sensitive or fragile, quick to start crying, and are totally easily irritated. Thoughts about death are also pretty common, and sometimes they can get really dark: thinking that the world would be better without you, or that you are so angry or upset that you just want to die.
Manic symptoms are different. During a manic episode or phase, you feel like you don’t need sleep at all, and you might sleep very little or go without sleep. You probably won’t feel sad at all, but you might feel really angry, tense, agitated (like you need to move around, pace, or be active), and all keyed up. You might feel like it’s ok to “throw caution to the wind” and do intense things without thinking them through (like spending a lot of money on a major shopping spree, having sex with people you don’t know or even like, drinking or getting high, gambling, or doing other intense “crazy” things like driving really fast or taking risks). You feel like you can do no wrong, like you are the best ever at whatever it is you are doing. We’re not talking healthy self esteem here, we’re talking like you really believe that you could win American Idol and compete in the Olympics, and discover the God particle in class next week.
In order to actually get diagnosed bipolar, you have to have both manic symptoms and depressed symptoms (there are different types of bipolar disorder based on which phase you’re in and what “extra” symptoms you might also have), and each phase needs to last at least two weeks.
To get help, if you are feeling like you need some outreach of sorts, tell someone you trust, and let them help you find the right professional to call. You’ll need to be honest about everything you think and feel, even if it feels really embarrassing or stupid or weird. Bipolar disorder often responds really well to the right treatment and people with this disease can totally pass as “normal” (whatever that might mean!) – no symptoms at all! It is completely worth it to get help because the suffering that goes along with this disease can be unnecessary. A lot of times the treatment includes medications called mood stabilizers, but sometimes, especially with more mild cases, you can start to learn what triggers each phase of the disease, and how to stabilize your moods and behaviors using coping skills and techniques a therapist could teach you.
So now you know what bipolar is and what it isn’t, spread the word! Who knows? One day one of your friends might thank you for it.