What happens when mood swings reach an extreme? We call this Bi-Polar Disorder. In my experience this is one of the most misunderstood diagnoses. Medical professionals also miss it a lot. That means people go undiagnosed (and thus improperly medicated) for periods of time. And there’s a terrible stigma attached to it. So let’s break it down, Healthyish style. We’re returning to our roots with mental health matters.
What is Bi-Polar Disorder?
Bi-Polar disorder is characterized by periods of highs AND lows. A patient typically has some depressive episodes or in general might feel lousy. But then there are times when the Bi-Polar patient feels great, and we call those time periods manic. I’m going to go into detail later but imagine you feel great, don’t need sleep, have great ideas and feel like you can tackle the world. That’s a period of mania. When a patient has even one manic episode they move from the diagnosis of Major Depression to a Diagnosis of Bi-Polar Disorder.
Explain Mania, like wth?
Basically it’s a period of time (a few days to a week or so) where a person is on a high. They have a decreased need for sleep. They feel their ideas are great and feel like nothing can stop them. A lot of times we see patterns of behavior during these highs: like spending money you don’t have, doing drugs, or having sex with people you have no business hookin’ up with. During these times people often get themselves into trouble (cuz money, drugs and sex sometimes does that).
That’s not quite me, but its kinda me.
Well, mania isn’t the full picture. There’s also a condition called “hypomania” which is like mania-lite. Its not full blown manic symptoms but its getting close. We make the distinction – if you have full blown depression and full blown mania – Its Bi-Polar I Disorder. If you are just a little sad and just a little manic we call it Bi-Polar II Disorder. The distinction is minor, and it may take more than one appointment with a psychiatrist to tease out what you’re workin’ with.
So I definitely think that’s me you just described. What now?
Well, its important that patients who have Bi-Polar I or II are on mood stabilizers. Often times they get prescribed anti-depressants; which is not the best option. Some common mood stabilizers include Trileptal, Lamictal or even Lithium. Some of these meds require blood work or regular checkups, but your provider will go over that with you.
What should I tell my family and friends?
Tell them you think you might have bi-polar disorder. Just like that. And then ask them to help you monitor moods. Sometimes it takes an outsider looking in to get good perspective on how you’re actually functioning. That might mean you have a frank discussion with your roomie: “Tell me when I’m acting too wild…” Then know and trust their words.
Well I feel like I’m weird. This is a serious condition.
You’re not weird. (well maybe you are, but that’s not for this blog to tackle…) You simply have a diagnosis and need to be treated accordingly. Lots of artists and famous peeps actually have Bi-Polar. Lady Gaga, Carrie Fisher & Mariah Carey to name a few. One of my most favorite books on the subject is called “Marbles”. I’d recommend it to anyone who struggles with mental illness.
So here it is – a short primer on an under diagnosed illness. Please reach out if you have questions, want more info or want to chat about Bi-Polar Disorder.