In Their Shoes: Understanding What Bipolar Disorder Feels Like

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by periods of depression and mania. Depression occurs when mood swings cause the depressed person to become sad or hopeless. They may have thoughts like “I don’t want to live anymore” or “I am going crazy”. During these times they may feel worthless, helpless, anxious, irritable and tired. On the other hand during manic episodes the person feels energized, energetic and happy. They may act impulsively, lose their temper and have trouble controlling their behavior. People with bipolar disorder are often very impulsive. When they do not experience a depressive episode, they tend to engage in risky behaviors such as drug use, unprotected sexual activity, reckless driving and excessive drinking.

How Does A Person With Bipolar Disorder Feel?

People with bipolar disorder feel good or bad depending on which mood cycle they’re experiencing at any given time. For example, someone with bipolar I disorder (a milder form) will feel extremely down most of the time. However, they’ll have moments where they feel euphoric. If a person doesn’t experience a depressive episode, they might feel extremely down for months at a time but then suddenly start feeling up again after experiencing one or two manic episodes. For someone with bipolar II disorder (a more severe form), they may feel mostly up but have periodic major depressive episodes.

As you can see, the extremes of both moods are severe and in need of medical attention. In addition to the different types of bipolar disorders there is also rapid cycling in which a person goes through several mood swings within a short period of time. If this isn’t treated immediately it can result in suicide attempts and sometimes even death.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while someone has bipolar disorder, it’s common for them to engage in risky behavior. This can cause them to have legal problems that can result in losing their job and other miscellaneous issues. Bipolar disorder also causes them to have a shorter life span due to the potential of suicide attempts and dangerous activities. According to studies, about 15% of people with bipolar disorder commit suicide.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder?

It’s usually easy to tell when someone has bipolar disorder. During an extreme manic episode, a person might be caught engaging in risky behavior such as speeding in their car, having sexual relations with many people or abusing illegal drugs. It’s also common for them to not sleep for days at a time and go on shopping sprees where they spend all their money. If a person is experiencing an extreme depressive episode, they may appear to be without any emotions. They may even attempt suicide.

Most of the time, a person with bipolar disorder will have at least a few manic or depressive episodes during their life. The types of bipolar disorder that make up these episodes are known as Bipolar I and Bipolar II. A person with Bipolar I experiences both mania and depression but to a great degree. On the other hand, a person with Bipolar II experiences mostly depression but to a great degree as well. It’s also common for them to experience rapid cycling which is when they experience several mood swings within a short period of time.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Like most mental illnesses, the cause of bipolar disorder isn’t entirely known. While it was believed to be caused by psychological trauma or poor parenting techniques in the past, we now know that isn’t the case. Most people with bipolar disorder have no family members with the condition and there appears to be a genetic link.

Scientists are still looking into the causes of bipolar disorder such as the effect of hormones or neurotransmitters in the brain but there still isn’t a clear answer as to why it happens.

How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of bipolar disorder, you should see a doctor. They can run tests to determine if you have the condition and begin treatment right away. In order to be properly diagnosed with the condition, you need to have an extensive mental history taken and go through a physical examination. Your doctor will ask you questions such as:

Do you have periods of depression?

Do you have periods of mania?

Do you use any drugs or alcohol?

Do you engage in dangerous activities during manic episodes?

Have you ever engaged in reckless behavior during manic episodes?

Have you ever attempted suicide?

Do you have a family history of any mental illness?

Your doctor will also perform a physical examination where they check your vital signs and ask questions about your medical history. During this process, your doctor might refer you to a psychiatrist who can diagnose you and begin treatment.

The psychiatrist can also prescribe medication which can help stabilize your moods.

Sources & references used in this article:

Young children’s experiences of living with a parent with bipolar disorder: Understanding the child’s perspective by C Backer, R Murphy, JRE Fox, F Ulph… – … Theory, Research and …, 2017 – Wiley Online Library

Adapting interpersonal and social rhythm therapy to the developmental needs of adolescents with bipolar disorder by SA Hlastala, E Frank – Development and psychopathology, 2006 – cambridge.org

Understanding sensory dysfunction: learning, development and sensory dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, learning disabilities and bipolar … by P Emmons, L Anderson – 2005 – books.google.com

Mental imagery as an emotional amplifier: Application to bipolar disorder by EA Holmes, JR Geddes, F Colom… – Behaviour research and …, 2008 – Elsevier

Bipolar expeditions: Mania and depression in American culture by M Hornbacher – 2009 – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Transdiagnostic treatment of bipolar disorder and comorbid anxiety with the unified protocol: a clinical replication series by E Martin – 2009 – books.google.com