Living with bipolar disorder requires strength, courage, determination and adaptability. This condition will challenge you, confuse you and leave you grasping for air as you hang on through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Riding a roller coaster of emotions, when you suffer from bipolar disorder you’re left searching for a state of equilibrium that seems to have permanently slipped away. Mania and depression alternate, one following the other, making it impossible for you to gain a foothold in normalcy. The severity of the two stages can vary greatly among sufferers, but the pattern is inescapable.
Unlike some forms of mental disorder, bipolar never fades into the background. With an anxiety disorder you’ll only feel anxious in certain situations (which can often be avoided), and once clinical depression lifts you’ll be set free to live again. But bipolar symptoms are a 24-hour affair, and when the mania or bipolar depression recedes, its opposite rushes in to take over.
Because bipolar disorder is a constant companion, it dominates its victims’ waking hours. Under its influence, who you really are, or were, begins to seem like a distant memory. You find yourself trapped in a surreal landscape of consciousness; the person you see staring back at you when you look in the mirror may seem like a complete stranger, or an imposter.
As author Alyssa Reyans describes it in Letters from a Bipolar Mother, her autobiographical memoir, “bipolar robs you of that which is you. It can take from you the very core of your being and replace it with something completely opposite of who and what you truly are.”
Symptoms of Bipolar Mania
During the mania stage you may feel invincible, like you can conquer the world. At first this may seem like a positive development, but as time goes along the mania may deepen and intensify until you’re no longer able to control your emotional responses or actions.
No two episodes of mania are ever exactly alike, but there are a set of symptoms you’d likely mention if asked to explain what the mania state feels like. These symptoms include:
- Racing thoughts
- Rapid or uncontrolled speech
- Inability to focus or sit still
- An exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Verbal or physical aggression
- Impulsivity and recklessness
When you’re deep inside a manic state you don’t know what you’ll do or say next, and neither will your close friends or loved ones.
Some bipolar sufferers exhibit a more muted version of this condition, known as hypomania. Here the usual symptoms are still present, but they’re not as severe or life-altering. The pattern of highs and lows remains the same, however, and no one who experiences hypomania would describe it as a benign or harmless condition.
Symptoms of Bipolar Depression
While there is a clear overlap between the two conditions, bipolar depression is not the same as clinical depression. Bipolar depression is a more mercurial condition, with lesser ups and downs inside the depression bubble that partially mimic the overall mania-depression cycle.
You can identify bipolar depressive states by the following symptoms:
- Feelings of emptiness
- Low motivation
- A chronic lack of energy
- Persistent guilt and shame
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Mood swings
- Deep pessimism
- Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts (or actions)
Depression can manifest at a variety of intensity levels, but regardless of its depth bipolar depression is a troubling condition and a difficult condition to cope with and manage.
Mixed Episodes: Trapped Between the Dark and the Light
Author Kay Redfield Jamison wrote a book about her experiences with bipolar disorder called An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. Describing the ups and downs of bipolar, she asks rhetorically:
“Which of my feelings are real? Which of the me’s is me? The wild, impulsive, chaotic, energetic and crazy one? Or the shy, withdrawn, desperate, suicidal, doomed and tired one?”
Answering these questions is hard enough under normal circumstances. But during mixed episodes, where bipolar disorder victims experience a mishmash of symptoms from depressive and manic states simultaneously, the usual categories are upended and authenticity becomes even more difficult to uncover.
At first consideration it is hard to imagine that such a state of mind is possible. But if your encounter with bipolar disorder has included mixed episodes, you know this phenomenon is all too real.
Both sides of the disorder, as described so vividly by Jamison, intrude into daily reality and barge into consciousness with a fury that won’t be denied. If conventional bipolar disorder is like riding a roller coaster, a mixed episode is more like wandering alone through an amusement park on a dark night, surrounded by disconnected fragments of sound, movement and flashing lights wherever you turn.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder Can Make a Difference
In her book Forever Different: A Memoir of One Woman’s Journey Living with Bipolar Disorder, author Christine F. Anderson refers to the bipolar disorder label as “a nice way of saying you will feel so high no street drug can compete and you will feel so low you wish you had been hit by a Mack truck instead.”
Nothing about living this way is easy. But fortunately good treatment methods are available that can help bipolar victims find relief from their misery and confusion.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder, but no treatment has ever been sought, don’t wait another moment. Make an appointment to see a mental health professional today, before the situation becomes worse — which it will, if you try to make it through this on your own.