Bipolar: What Is It?

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:

•Decreased energy
•Weight loss or gain
•Uncontrollable crying

•Decreased need for sleep
•Pressured speech
•Racing thoughts
•Tendency to engage in behavior that could have serious consequences. Gross overspending and sexual promiscuity are two examples.
•Excess energy

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 :

  21 comments for “Bipolar: What Is It?

  1. June 27, 2018 at 16:50

    Thank you! Our beloved and beautiful daughter has just told us about her bipolar 1 diagnosis. We are frightened and hurting. Your writing was informative and comforting. Bless you.

    • Bradley
      June 27, 2018 at 21:57

      I’m glad you found it useful. It’s comments like yours that keep me going.

  2. Sandra
    May 22, 2017 at 20:37

    You are a valiente person. God bless youl, also im psy patient, i began with depression then psychotic depression. I think that we need to finish with the word stigma in mental health, is like asthmas , diabetes, allergies, parkinson, essential tremor you need medication for that also for psy illnes

  3. Sandra
    May 22, 2017 at 20:32

    Hi im sandra, i really love your explanation, my friends is bipolar. Kisses from peru

  4. December 24, 2016 at 09:42

    Thank you for the clarification between Bipolar I and II. I happen to be a Bipolar type I with psychotic features among about 4 anxiety disorders. The only thing I think you inadvertently missed is that women, regardless of type, will generally present as depressed. That is what kept me from getting a proper diagnosis until I was 31. All the doctors I had been sent to by my very well-meaning parents had diagnosed me with everything from major unipolar depression to narcissistic personality disorder. They were all wrong. It took about 6 months of weekly therapy for a very astute psychologist to catch on to the fact that I also experienced manic episodes. Then, came the steamroller; Bipolar Type I. Men tend to present with manic episodes. At least this is what I have read regarding gender differences in people with Bipolar.

    I wish I was Bipolar II. The frequency of the wave one rides seems to be longer between ups and downs. I, on the other hand, cycle rapidly, and can go through depression and mania all in the same day. Or worse, at the same time.

    I have almost lost my life to this disease multiple times (I am not going to say how many), I have been hospitalized more times than I can count. This illness, disorder, disease, whatever you want to call it has severely impaired my functioning in many ways. I cannot work so I live on Disability (read: abject poverty), I have panic disorder which can limit how far I range from home (sometimes the mailbox is a struggle), I have PTSD from an assault when I was just 16 (I think that was the trigger that ignited the genetic predisposition to this disorder), and some other fun friends like ADHD. Like I needed something else to distract me 🙂

    Anyway, very well put definition of Bipolar. I was just thinking about when I was first diagnosed, my mother went to NAMI’s “Family to Family” classes which educate caregivers about various serious mental illnesses like Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and others. The classes have activities designed to allow “normal” people see what it is like to live with voices in your head, or visual hallucinations, or the extreme ups and downs of Bipolar. Just a thought on another resource for caregivers. I am very glad my mother took the time to learn about what I go through on a daily basis. These “Family to Family” classes are held wherever there is a local branch of NAMI.

  5. September 20, 2016 at 20:34

    I was diagnosed anxiety round 14-15 my dr then told me I had two choices:1 see a therapist and be put on meds or 2 take care of it myself. So I did I did breathing technics and did things to relax me like riding horses. In 2012 ny son was born, and I had PPD so I saw my now dr and he said I was in the time frame of PPD. In 2014 apperantly I went manic, no idea I was I was paranoid up all hours. So my dr said come in but no one could see me they said the dr says ti go to the ER be tested for tumor. That was negative I asked fir something ti help me rest when I woke up I was on a medical stretcher being help by paramedics to a physic ward. I was not happy where i was diagnosed BPD I was not happy at all I spent 12 days there, but I’m not giving up the race, my Great Physician Jesus Christ will help me heal in time.
    John 3:16

  6. September 17, 2016 at 02:15

    Great info. Thanks for sharing.
    I’m a Psych-Mental Health Nurse… I have been for many years and I’m also an advocate for patients with mental illness. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety just a few years ago after my mom died but I have recovered after a few months of taking anti-depressant medication. I feel that I have become a more effective nurse after I have had that experience. I do not wish it on anyone. I am very passionate about stamping out the stigma on mental illness. I feel that it’s one of the biggest barrier on why patients refuse to seek treatment. More power to you!

    Namaste !
    <3 BP

    • Bradley
      September 17, 2016 at 09:03

      Thank you for your kind words, Belle. I believe stigma, or the fear of stigma, has been the number one killer of those with mental illness. The good news is its gotten better and is getting better every day, though we still have a long way to go. I think it’s wonderful that you have found the positive in your depression/anxiety experience. You seem like a nurse I would very much like to have.

    • September 20, 2016 at 20:23

      Thank you for helping patients w BP

  7. August 24, 2016 at 22:41

    Hi Bradley

    I took a couple of decades getting to the bottom of my depression through facing childhood traumas, healthy living, spirituality etc, and it worked! Then, guess what? My darling daughter, who I showered with love from in-utero onwards, was diagnosed with BP I. What a kick in the bum for me! She pulled out of uni, started drinking and lost years to this illness. Ten years later, with 2 small boys, and a fledgling business, her diagnosis has been modified to BP II, and the new meds for BP II seem to be doing the trick. I find BP people are special, creative, spiritual, and always above average in intelligence, if not super bright. What a strange paradoxical thing this is!

    By the way, I love Kay Redfield Jamison’s books “Touched with Fire” and “An Unquiet Mind”.

    • Bradley
      August 24, 2016 at 23:17

      Welcome Anne!
      Your daughters reckless period reminds me of me before I was diagnosed. It’s hard to be properly diagnosed when self medicating because drugs and alcohol mask the symptoms.

      I believe I read “An Unquiet Mind,” but not “Touched with Fire.” Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out.

  8. July 14, 2016 at 04:08

    Depression, anxiety and PTSD alone are terrible add the BP disorder on top and YOWSER! What a mixed bag…. Nope I am not a professional either… Just a survivor of deep depression, anxiety and the P thingy! Years ago, when I was a teen they added BP but that has since removed… not sure where it moved to, it never writes, not even one postcard after all these years!!

    I work with helping myself and others to find the positive side, the humor in life… there truly are no rights or wrongs… If you can laugh at yourself, be kind to others, truly care, love a touch of irony maybe have a romantic side or just plain like to belly laugh… then I am in… Loving the Polar bear!!

    Definitely glad I stopped by!!

    Kind Regards and keep em’ chuckling – K
    ( from and also writing for Success Inspirers World)

    • Bradley
      July 14, 2016 at 07:00

      I love your attitude. I’m glad you stopped by too

  9. July 8, 2016 at 19:15

    Hi great writing as usual. Check out my blog for new genes just discovered for bipolar 🙂

  10. Laureen
    February 13, 2016 at 19:41

    My Psyciatrist keeps telling me that Bipolar people have voices in their heads. I too, have been hospialized 2x for Suicidal tights and plans. I feel tha I could be BPll, as al also on 3 different antidepressants and they don’ seem to e helping. I experiences lot of Depression and my so-called Manic episodes are quite in duration. This has been goin on since 2007 and quite frankly,I am sick of feeling depressed. I have long ago lost interest in the things that I used to really enjoy, such as my hobbies and my friends. What can I do?

    • Bradley
      February 14, 2016 at 17:22

      Sad to hear you’re having such a struggle, Laureen. Interesting that your psychiatrist says that people with bipolar hear voices in their heads. I’ve never heard that for. As for me, I don’t believe the voices in my head, such as self-doubt, worry, insecurity, etc, are any different than the average person on the street. I just think mine are multiplied ten-fold…maybe a hundred fold…hell, maybe more than that.

      I can’t specifically tell you what to do. I don’t know how long you’ve been with your psychiatrist, but If you feel that you haven’t improved over time, then you may want to try a different doctor.

      The best advice I can give is to join a bipolar/depression support group. It helps to know you’re not alone. Here’s a couple of links and you can see if there’s one in your area. I know with depression it can be damn near impossible to push yourself to go, but they are worth it.

  11. David Rousseau
    May 29, 2014 at 02:25

    Thank you for this. Very descriptive and it really helps me understand what our daughter is going through. She has been hospitalized twice in the past six weeks in two different states.

    • Bradley
      May 29, 2014 at 03:29

      I’m thrilled to hear you have a better understanding. That’s my goal. Keep coming back. You’ll see plenty more.

  12. ayan86
    May 23, 2014 at 17:50

    Brad, this is a very succinct definition of BP. To be honest, I did not know much about it till mid of 2013, until I learnt more about it through my psychotherapy training and especially after hanging out with a guy suffering from BP at my local drum circle. The first time I realized, he had flipped out at me for no reason and then others told me that he had BP. That made me fear BP as an illness. Thinking that everyone with the illness can flip out angrily at you for no reason.
    Until I met another friend with BP who made me understand it a little better. She was able to contain her symptoms and reduce dosage by meditation and by adopting a more spiritual lifestyle.
    It’s great that you are expressing, as your story needs to be told. Told to people like me, who don’t really know how mental illness feels like. Thank you for doing what you do 🙂 Best of luck!

  13. May 22, 2014 at 18:24

    Nice clear examination of Bipolar disorder. I’d only make one slight change. That’s when you say that BP I is “more severe” than BP II. I have the second type, supposedly, tho I have experienced some pretty rough manias too, and frankly the depressions I go thru are so severe that it’s a joke to say it’s less severe than mania is. In my 63 years I’ve almost died from this shit too many times and had my life so impaired by it it’s just not true to call it less severe. It’s just a different kind of severity. Still, I think you’ve done a great job of explaining this awful illness to others who don’t perhaps understand it. I, unfortunately, do… if one ever really can understand it that is…. Thanks for posting this. We need all the help we can get… 🙂
    All the best to you, and good luck,

    • Bradley
      May 22, 2014 at 18:38

      Thank you, Steven. Good points. I’ll take a closer look at the changes you suggest

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