The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines Bipolar disorder as follows: “a chronic illness with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from one day to months. This mental illness causes unusual and dramatic shifts in mood, energy and the ability to think clearly. Cycles of high (manic) and low (depressive) moods may follow an irregular pattern that differs from the typical ups and downs experienced by most people. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can have a negative impact on a person’s life. Damaged relationships or a decline in job or school performance are potential effects, but positive outcomes are possible. More than 10 million Americans have bipolar disorder. Because of its irregular patterns, bipolar disorder is often hard to diagnose. Although the illness can occur at any point in life, more than one-half of all cases begin between ages 15-25. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally.”
Yesterday I wrote in my blog about unipolar disorder (uni-polar means one pole). Depression is the one “pole” of Unipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder has two “poles,” depression and mania. Some individuals with this diagnosis also experience a mixed state of moods, when they experience both “poles,” depression and mania, at the same time. This is a frightful and confusing state of mind when the victim feels almost no control over their thoughts and emotions.
The manic side of bipolar illness can manifest itself as irritability, agitation, surges of energy, flighty thoughts, a feeling of invincibility, sleeplessness, talkativeness, pleasure seeking, and extreme risk taking. The depressive side of bipolar illness will manifest itself with a depressed mood, sadness, poor concentration, sleep disturbances, fatigue, appetite disturbances, excessive guilt, and suicidal thoughts, just like the depression caused by unipolar disorder.
The length of time an individual remains in one of the two “poles,” varies greatly. Some individuals have only several days of one or the other mood with long periods of a normal mood in between. Other sufferers experience weeks/months of depression, followed by weeks/months of mania, followed by weeks/months of a normal mood. Still other individuals experience rapid cycling of their moods many times each day. I have found, with my loved ones, that the intensity of one mood will usually indicate the intensity and length of the next mood. For instance, if mania is very high for 2 weeks, depression will be very low for 2 weeks.
My daughter was a rapid cycler, which means she cycled multiple times each day. One minute she could be the most loveable, tenderhearted, obedient child and the next minute turn into an aggressive, demanding, irritable, hateful monster. Born in 1969, she grew up in an era when medical professionals and educators denied that children could suffer from a mental illness. Every childhood behavioral problem pointed directly back to the parents. In other words, an emotionally troubled child equated to poor parenting – plain and simple, discussion closed! My book, “God Placed Her in My Path – Lessons Learned from the Furnace of Bipolar Disorder,” tells my story of the frustrations, hurts, and hopelessness I felt during the 17 years prior to my daughter’s diagnosis and how God helped me get through those years.
Bipolar disorder, while persistent, chronic, and incurable, can be somewhat managed in about 80% of the cases. The people who are able to manage this illness are the ones who take responsibility for their own health. Medication compliance, exercise, eating well, adequate rest, and a calm environment all help to stabilize someone who experiences bipolar disorder. However, nothing guarantees protection from manic highs and depressive lows and most people who suffer from bipolar illness will have at least one psychotic episode needing hospitalization in their lifetime.
Medications for bipolar disorder have numerous side effects making it undesirable to continue taking them. The most dangerous aspect of bipolar disorder happens when the individual’s moods normalize and they feel they can discontinue their medications. That commonly throws them into either a state of mania or depression, which leads to high-risk behavior or death by suicide.
More tomorrow on other brain disorders
Dorothy Ruppert, author of “God Placed Her in My Path – Lessons Learned from the Furnace of Bipolar Disorder.”