Here is my quick and easy guide about bipolar disorder. I am not a physician and do not work in the medical profession. I’m just a guy giving my interpretation of living with the wild roller coaster called bipolar disorder.
There are two classifications of bipolar. Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Both are characterized by extreme mood swings, ranging between episodes of acute mania and severe depression. Here are the symptoms that each share:
•Weight loss or gain
•Decreased need for sleep
•Tendency to engage in behavior that could have serious consequences. Gross overspending and sexual promiscuity are two examples.
The primary difference between BP I and BP II is severity. Those with BP I experience higher levels of mania for longer periods. Those with BP I may experience psychotic episodes or breaks from reality. Because of its extreme nature, it’s common for BP I individuals to have been hospitalized for mania.
BP II is considered the milder of the two. BP II typically have “hypomanic” episodes, which are not as severe as mania. Those with BP II tend to be more depressive. They’re frequently diagnosed with major depression before it’s determined they’re BP. They may have required hospitalization for depression, but rarely do for mania.
The cause of bipolar disorder is not entirely known. Researchers currently think it is likely a biological disorder that affect the brains neurotransmitters. Heredity seems to play a major part. Because bipolar, and other forms of mental illness, can’t be seen, many people view them as a weakness. For this reason, many individuals do not seek help and hide their illness in the bipolar closet. The reality is that bipolar should not be viewed differently from other forms of illness, such as diabetes. Diabetics are not told they are weak and just need to get over it. They are also not criticized for taking insulin, while many frown upon those with BP receiving medication just because they “feel sad.”
One of the biggest bugaboo’s regarding mental illness is medication. Many folks have the impression that doctors diagnose and hand out medication like candy. They drug people up for things as simple as just feeling sad. When I speak of depression I am not talking feeling sad. Major depression is not sadness. It’s sadness on steroids. Certainly there are abuses, but these exceptions are what make the headlines. Not everyone with BP takes meds. Some don’t like the effects they may have, while other prefer a holistic approach. As for me, I’m all about better living through chemistry. It’s no exaggeration when I say that medications saved my life. I’ve been homeless and I’ve been hospitalized twice for being suicidal. I’m wary of others who don’t treat bipolar with medication, but that is their choice. I, simply, can’t take that risk.
I hope I shed a little light on what it means to live with bipolar disorder and have alleviated any fears you may have of those diagnosed with BP. If you or a loved one is living with bipolar disorder, there are two organizations I highly recommend.
The first is The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. DBSA is primarily for those living with bipolar or depression. It is a peer led organization. DBSA can be reached at:
The second is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. While NAMI has excellent programs for those who have mental illness, their programs for friends and family are especially good. They can be reached at :