- Posted by Jon Harju
- On May 15, 2019
Imagine you’re sitting in a seat on a rollercoaster. As the metal cars begin to jerk along to the symphony of loud technical signals, the excitement begins to run through your veins. You start to ascend the steep metal slope. You smile as you inhale a sense of power. Invincible feelings take charge as you become set to defy the laws of gravity. Euphoria trickles down your spine at the prospect of sheer joy from being up so high above the world that it sends wind rushing through each strand of your hair. It’s electrifying, and you can’t keep calm for the sheer buzz.
Then you look down and realize your seatbelt is not there; you’re riding alone and without support. Within seconds your body reacts and catches up to your thoughts of panic, shock, and confusion. The tipping point approaches, you sense the momentum building and you have no control. The descent brings you a terrible feeling in your stomach, one of despair, fear, and loneliness. You feel trapped within this uncomfortable ride, a piercing moment leaving you scared, upset, alone.
How did this happen? How did an exciting, colorful moment turn into one of dense, dark black torment?
Imagine experiencing intense, abrupt moods that bring you up, down, then circle you around in confusion.
Imagine not being able to get off the rollercoaster. Imagine the ride is a continual cycle carrying a mixed bag of feelings: anxiety, excitement, fear, and upset.
Imagine having Bipolar Disorder.
Often, a bipolar sufferer’s condition becomes a secret nobody wants to talk about. It’s the elephant in the room, a taboo topic never truly explored.
You see, when something unnerves us, we want to put it in a box, shut the lid and leave it alone because we have no idea how to handle it. Rest assured, it’s a reaction that is shared by many of us.
However, this is precisely why the stigma of mental health has managed to live on through the years. We’ve come a long way, but we still have further to go.
“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”
— Carrie Fisher, actress and author — diagnosed with bipolar.
I’ve gathered some truths about bipolar, so please read on and stash them in your tool belt. Absorb the facts, but more importantly, gain a greater understanding and confidence in how to support the people in your life who may be suffering from bipolar.
Let’s break it down.
What does mania look like and how does it affect your overall mental health?
Think of extreme optimism and euphoria. Tap into those feelings where you feel invincible and just so darn good at spinning the plates as you nail multiple tasks all at once! Imagine feeling hyperactive, talking excessively at a mile a minute with a thousand and one thoughts running through your head. You feel so wired that you NEED to do something.
Check off impulsiveness on the mania list too, along with a decreased need for sleep, and possibly reckless behaviour.
What does depression look like and how does it affect your overall mental health?
Foremost, think of those heavily loaded feelings of undiluted sadness.
People can feel worthless, hopeless, guilty, or anxious with depression, while some people may feel irritable or angry.
With depression, perhaps you find it hard to focus on tasks, learn new things, and remember information. Eating and sleeping habits may be affected, and many people experience physical health problems. Maybe you’ve lost interest in things you used to enjoy and desperately want to withdraw from the company of others. The weight of depression feels so heavy on your shoulders that it seems impossible to stand up. People may experience feelings of exhaustion along with suicidal thoughts or an impulse to self-harm.
“You can’t reason yourself back into cheerfulness any more than you can reason yourself into an extra six inches of height.” — Stephen Fry, actor and author — diagnosed with bipolar.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
The World Bipolar Day organization describe it as “Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe and different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Sometimes called manic-depressive illness or manic-depression, bipolar symptoms characteristically involve cycles of extreme depression and elation or mania.”
According to the DSM-5 — the guide used to diagnose mental illnesses — two main types of bipolar disorder can be diagnosed based on their severity and characteristics of their symptoms, bipolar I and II.
Who Does Bipolar Disorder Affect?
Bipolar disorder affects over 60 million people worldwide.
The Canadian Mental Health Association report that “More than 2% of the population will have bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. About 1% of people have experienced bipolar disorder in the past year. Unlike other causes of depression, men and women seem to experience bipolar I in equal numbers. Bipolar II, however, is more likely to affect women.”
What is Bipolar I?
People with bipolar I disorder will experience at least one manic episode in their lifetime, and will likely also experience bouts of major depression.
They can alternate between intense mania and extreme states of depression. Bipolar I disorder sufferers may also experience psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia or grandiose delusions.
Bipolar I disorder requires long-term treatment with medication and may result in psychiatric hospitalization. Once bipolar I begins, it can often continue throughout a person’s life.
What is Bipolar II?
It’s important to remember that bipolar II disorder is not just a milder form of bipolar I disorder, but rather a related diagnosis.
People with bipolar II disorder will have at least one episode hypomania and one episdoe of major depression.
While hypomania and mania both exhibit the same traits of a grandiose mood and a reduced need for sleep, a period of hypomania brings an incredible energy, charm and productivity, which we associate with super-achievers.
What is Cyclothymic Disorder?
Cyclothymic disorder is when your moods change regularly and quickly from periods of hypomania to depression; however, you’re rarely in a “normal” mood. Cyclothymic disorder begins early in a person’s life and the symptoms are so constant that they are often mistaken for being part of their personality. But these mood swings can impair life and create chaos with feelings of being on top of the world one day and feeling low and depressed the next day. Some cyclothymia sufferers go on to develop a more severe form of bipolar illness while for others, it can continue as a chronic (ongoing) condition.
Help is Available for All Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are many treatment options available for bipolar sufferers. It’s essential to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor or mental health professional in order to establish a personalized treatment plan.
People with bipolar disorder can live fulfilling and rewarding lives. Treatment for bipolar disorder usually includes a variety of strategies to manage the condition over the long term. Treatment is typically ongoing since bipolar disorder is a chronic illness.
Medications are typically an important part of treatment. Those medications may include mood stabilizers, antipsychotic drugs, or antidepressants.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is brilliant to help change the negative thinking and behaviour associated with depression. The goal of this therapy is to recognize the negative thoughts and teach positive thinking habits along with coping strategies.
Psychotherapy focused on self-care and stress regulation helps a person improve self-care, recognize patterns of the onset of the symptoms and to manage stress.
How can I support Someone Struggling With Bipolar?
Fundamentally, please look at this person for who they are — a human being.
I believe that we often want to do the right thing to such an extent that we inevitably end up either missing the target altogether or not doing anything at all.
Personally, I adore how Stephen Fry suggests a direction for our intentions.
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straight forward response to a bad situation, depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do.”
Show empathy, patience and understanding towards others and ditch the judgment. We never truly know what someone is struggling with in their life unless they share it with us, but that doesn’t excuse us of showing kindness every day. Think about the people you encounter in your daily life: the woman at the post office, your co-worker, the coffee shop barista, the guy at reception… you can never underestimate the value of just being kind.
Helping a bipolar sufferer not feel alone or ostracised is the greatest support you can offer.
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