It’s easy to appreciate why people might have this very common misunderstanding about bipolar disorder. People often say, “OMG, I’m so bipolar, my moods are all over the place!” But that’s not bipolar disorder.
WHAT IS MANIA?
Look at the symptoms of mania: inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking, flight of ideas or racing thoughts, distractibility, increase in goal-directed activity or moving around a lot more, or excessive engagement in activities that can have serious negative consequences (like spending sprees, gambling binges, etc).
When we read that list, it’s easy to feel like we can relate to a lot of those items. Lots of people have experienced many similar behaviors, symptoms, and feelings to almost everything on that list. The new World of Warcraft raid came out and you didn’t sleep more than 3 hours a night for about a week! Sometimes you’re so excited and talking it’s hard to have your mouth keep up with your brain! Everyone gets distracted sometimes and we all have periods where we feel super motivated and get way more stuff done. But this doesn’t mean we have mania or hypomania (the milder form of mania).
Actual mania or hypomania lasts for at least 4 days and the elevated, expansive, or irritable mood is abnormal and pervasive. The most important thing? Is mania and hypomania isn’t just feeling good or wound up. When we people who don’t have mania experience similar symptoms, like racing thoughts or more talkative, the symptoms are much less severe and they last for a much shorter period of time. Everyone gets distracted sometimes, not everyone has severe dysfunctional levels of distraction.
Mania is a serious mental health problem. It can be incredibly SEVERE and is much more than “feeling amazing or driven.” It can be delusional-levels of inflated self-esteem – you walk out of your job and abandon your kids and partner to drive to Vegas because you’re going to be a professional poker player despite not even thinking twice about how you haven’t even played poker to any serious degree. Mania is taking risks, like getting your house foreclosed on because you spent $15,000 ON YARN by draining your life’s savings and racking up credit card debt to start your new baby blanket knitting store that you suddenly thought of starting despite only having knit a few hats. Mania is needing to be hospitalized because you are hallucinating and hearing voices and seeing things that aren’t there. Mania is being taken to the ER because you drove to the local news station, insisting they interview you about your ingenious political ideas, and they called the police because you were barely coherent and your family picked you up and took you to the ER because you were so out of sorts. Mania is you not showering, eating, or sleeping at all for 5 days straight, and your family and loved ones are crying because they’re scared and worried for you.
Even hypomania? It might not be so severe that it majorly interferes with our ability to function in life, but it is a seriously abnormal, pervasive, persistent and ongoing problem that lasts for at least 4 days straight.
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
The depression symptoms? Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless is one of the hallmark symptoms of depression. Other symptoms include losing interest or enjoyment in things, unintentional weight loss or gain, sleeping more or less than usual, moving around a lot or finding it hard to move much at all, fatigue or loss of energy, trouble concentrating, difficulty making decisions, and having thoughts about death or suicide.
Like the mania list, many people have experienced similar feelings, thoughts, or symptoms sometimes in their life, but that doesn’t mean you met the actual criteria for having depression. To have a depressive episode, you need to be more than just sad or having trouble. The symptoms need to cause serious distress or majorly interfere with your ability to function in life, like at work, school, in your relationships, chores, or grooming.
WHAT CAUSES BIPOLAR DISORDER?
Bipolar disorder doesn’t happen because someone is emotionally “weak,” their mom didn’t hug them enough as a child, or because they were treated badly in school. It isn’t because they don’t know how to cope or don’t try hard enough to be emotionally healthy.
Bipolar disorder is more of a neurobiological and a genetic disorder. This means that people have bipolar disorder because of the way their brain has developed, the way their neurotransmitters in their brain work, and the way their genetics have influenced their biology. These things are not caused by lack of effort, bad parenting, or being a bad person. This is biology, like the shape of your nose or your eyesight.
BIPOLAR DISORDER TREATMENT
There are different types of bipolar disorder. Some with full mania, some with hypomania and episodes of major depression. You can see how hard it can be to tell the difference between when is it irritability and when is it mania or hypomania or irritability as part of depression? How do you figure it all out? You ask a mental health professional to help.
When you have symptoms that make you think you might have a serious medical problem, you go to a medical doctor. And when you have symptoms that make you think you might have a mental health problem, you go to a mental health professional.
Any type of bipolar disorder can be treated and their symptoms can be managed so you can live a healthy, functional life. Find a therapist with experience working with people with bipolar disorder who can help you identify, cope with, and manage your symptoms. For many people with bipolar disorder, especially if you have more severe manic or depressive symptoms, medication management can be a crucial part of treatment. People might need to try different types of medication and different dosages in order to find a medication plan that most effectively works for them.