Bipolar 101

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Coming with a history of being an introvert and anti-social I’ve taken notice in the last couple years my ability to connect with just about every person I meet. Being the shy, self conscious and overwhelmed with social anxiety kid that I was, I don’t really know how I got to this point but I’m rolling with it. In the last couple years through the climbing community, gaining confidence with my bipolar disorder and being more open about it has helped me feel more comfortable breaking out of my shell – not to just talk to people, but also help them. Being comfortable in my own silly skin, I’m able to help my friends be confident in their own. I love that I’m able to talk to strangers now, spark up a conversation, and leave knowing we learned or made an impact on each other. If I can help someone I will and recently I’ve been helping a lot. I’ve been able to see into the lives of the new people I’ve met recently. See their struggles, hear their thoughts, and feel there pain. I’m thankful to have this personality that makes people feel welcome and comfortable enough to let me in and help them anyway I can.

One of the things about the bipolar community is that most people don’t know they have it. And if they do, most of them don’t know how to manage it. Being the type of person I am, if I meet you and you express to me something this confident and how you need help, I will speak from my personal experiences and give as much insight until I think it helped even a little. One of my friends recently came to me with this same problem. I feel that since I’ve been stable long enough and know my triggers and ins and outs of my own disorder, it would be selfish not to help someone with there’s. And then I realize OH YEAH most of the population out there has no clue what this disorder is, what it looks like, how to manage it and how to tell if someone (or you) has it. So enough babble, here’s the start:

There are four main types of Bipolar disorder. They are diagnosed based on the pattern and severity of manic and depressive episodes using guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) Here are the four types of bipolar disorder according to the DSM:

  • Bipolar 1- mainly defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually the person also has depressive episodes, typically lasting at least two weeks. The symptoms of mania or depression must be a major change from the person’s normal behavior.
  • Bipolar 2- defined by a pattern of depressive episodes shifting back and forth with hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes. (This is what I’m diagnosed as)
  • Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS) – diagnosed when a person has symptoms of the illness that do not meet diagnostic criteria for either bipolar 1 or 2. The symptoms may not last long enough, or the person may have too few symptoms, to be diagnosed with bipolar 1 or 2. However, the symptoms are clearly out of the person’s normal range of behavior. (Also often used to diagnose children under 18, ruling out a final diagnoses until their brain is fully developed)
  • Cylothymic Disorder, or Cyclothymia – mild form of bipolar disorder. People who have cylothymia have episodes of hypomania that shift back and forth with mild depression for at least two years. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for any other type of bipolar disorder.

Some people may also be diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. This is when a person has four or more episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed symptoms within a year.

If you’re not sure what a bipolar or mania state is or what the symptoms are, here’s a breakdown:

Manic symptoms, the “highs” of bipolar disorder

  • Heightened mood (euphoric), exaggerated optimism and self confidence
  • Excessive irritability, aggressive behavior
  • Decrease need for sleep without experiencing fatigue
  • Increased energy and activity
  • Grandiose thoughts, inflated sense of self importance
  • Racing speech, racing thoughts, flight of ideas
  • Impulsiveness, poor judgment
  • Easily distracted, poor concentration
  • Spending sprees
  • Increased sexual behavior
  • Reckless behavior
  • Abuse of drugs, alcohol, and sleeping medication
  • Denial that anything is wrong
  • In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations

Depression symptoms, the “lows” of bipolar disorder

  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Significant changed in appetite, unintended weight loss or gain
  • Sleeplessness or sleeping too much
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, and indifference
  • Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Inability to concentrate, remembering or making decisions
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Social withdrawal
  • Bodily symptoms not caused by physical illness or injury
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

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It’s important to note that bipolar disorder differs significantly from depression or clinical depression, although the symptoms for the depressive phase of the illness are similar. Most people with bipolar disorder will talk about experiencing “highs” and “lows” – periods of mania and depression, and at times there “normal” state in between. The highs may last from several days to a month or more, but the lows often last longer and can harrowingly deep.

Remember bipolar disorder is a chronic condition and requires a watchful eye. Some experts say this psychiatric condition affects about one in every 25 Americans. More than 5.7 million American adults or 2.6 percent of the population age 18 or older in any given year have bipolar disorder. The condition typically starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can show up in children and in older adults. It also tends to run in families and appears to have a genetic link. Remember bipolar disorder is chronic condition and requires a watchful eye. Maintaining a regular schedule and focusing on stability is the best way to manage it. Structure provides predictability, and also reduces stimulation and promotes organization and stability.  Stress management is big trigger for episodes so focusing on getting the right about of sleep each night, balanced meals, and exercise can help maintain a leveled mood. This along with medical treatment and supervision by a psychiatrist and maybe visits with a therapist can help you maintain a healthy life with your disorder.

A great way to find more information or local support is through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: www.dbsalliance.org

 

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