What is Bipolar Disorder and do I have it?
Mania and Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder can be so utterly confusing for all of those involved. The symptoms can vary and give either the person afflicted or their loved ones some whiplash. When it comes to those that aren’t intimately familiar with BD, it can be especially confusing or even downright scary. The media we consume doesn’t help in this, often portraying people with the symptoms as “crazy” and not to be trusted.
So, it’s best to set the record straight. What is bipolar disorder and – more importantly – what are some signals you should keep an eye out for when it comes to it?
There are often so many misconceptions tossed around when it comes to bipolar disorder. So, staying well informed can only do some good. For one, as clinically defined, BD is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in various mental processes such as mood, energy, and activity level. In other words, all processes that are related to people’s ability to carry out their day-to-day tasks.
Contrary to popular belief being bipolar isn’t just having mood changes throughout the day. It’s easy to jump the gun and assume you have it, but no matter how often your mood changes, this isn’t necessarily symptomatic of bipolar disorder.
Fluctuation in emotion throughout the day is natural and can simply be caused by other factors in one’s life. Maybe they slept well and started the day right but fell into a bad mood later because of some subconscious desire not being met. This isn’t meant to dissuade anyone from reaching out to a physician if they’re genuinely concerned, of course. There’s no harm in being safe, just don’t get yourself too worked up over it!
BD also isn’t just one broad diagnosis, even if the abbreviation coincidentally matches up. It has five possible specific categories according to the DSM 5, Bipolar I disorder, Bipolar II disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder, Substance/medication-induced, Related to another medical condition, other specified, and unspecified. However, the focus of this piece, in particular, is on the first two: Bipolar I and Bipolar II.
The prominent difference between these two types is their symptoms, specifically in intensity. Bipolar II can be seen as the less intense of the two but that doesn’t mean it’s any less harmful. Its symptoms vary from the traditionally perceived bipolar symptoms and instead consist mainly of depressive emotion. Fatigue, lack of energy, restlessness, all lasting at least two weeks.
So, naturally, that leads one to ask: What’s the difference between Bipolar II and just depression? While they’re incredibly similar and BD II is often misdiagnosed as depression, the biggest differentiator is also a symptom most should keep an eye for, hypomania.
For those who aren’t aware, mania is a key symptom of bipolar disorder and can be roughly defined as an absurd high following a deep low, which is where the signature whiplash from emotion-to-emotion kicks in.
Mania is heightened by the escape from the previous depressive episode, and often sufferers don’t even realize they’re going through it or “blackout” during the process. This is where the intensity difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II is shown. Bipolar II patients do have symptoms of mania but they’re much more subtle and can be seen as normal behavior if not just more energized. These episodes can last a few days on average.
Bipolar I on the other hand can be much more serious, with the manic episodes being the defining feature, lasting at least seven days, and can last for months. Depression can kick in as well, typically lasting about two weeks, and can even be mixed in with that mania simultaneously. Care for those who are in a Bipolar I manic episode is essential to not only protect themselves but their loved ones.
Symptoms are more than just a burst of elation or high energy. During an episode, the mania can be so intense that interferes with necessary daily activities, and it can be incredibly difficult to redirect sufferers to calmness. It can also lead to irrational decision-making, such as engaging in high-risk behaviors such as cheating on a long-time partner or spending absurd amounts of money.
What to do with Biplor Disorder
This behavior can be especially dangerous, and it should be a high priority to keep an eye out for symptoms of mania in those with confirmed BD, either as the afflicted or someone close to them who can identify their general demeanor. If they exhibit any of the following symptoms and seem erratic or could become a threat, it’s important to reach out to the right resources.
It may catch some by surprise, but slurred speech is a sign of a manic episode. The individual’s thoughts are essentially on max speed, rushing faster than their body or motor function can keep up with. Their handwriting may be erratic, and they may have hyper movement, but it’s also important to note that if these symptoms are caused by drugs or alcohol, it’s not considered a manic episode.
Another defining attribute of mania is the delusions of grandeur. This is most often manifested in ideas that the individual touts as genius or remarkable. However, more often than not, it’s an exciting idea with no follow-through.
Excess energy and thoughts can easily keep the mind occupied and lead to less rest or a complete lack of it. Individuals may get no sleep, and be incredibly fatigued, but mask it with continued energy.
When one’s thoughts are racing and their thoughts latch onto something or someone of interest, it can lead to hyperfocus and exhausting all energy on that subject. This could be people, places, scenarios, conspiracies, or any idea at all.
Excess energy, brimming confidence and obsessive thinking can also lead to hypersexuality. That combined with a tendency to act on risky behavior can lead to making advances that the individual would normally not make
As mentioned earlier, rash purchasing decisions are another big sign of mania. High confidence, delusions, obsession, and a lack of forethought can lead to spending sprees and generally poor financial decisions.
Bipolar disorder and mania are not subjects to be taken lightly and keeping close tabs on your loved ones is highly recommended. If you suspect that you or someone else with bipolar disorder is exhibiting signs of mania, it’s recommended that you reach out to any mental health support services. You can ask your personal care physician for a possible referral or call the number for the National Alliance on mental Illness at 800-950-6264.