What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. People who have it experience dramatic mood swings. They may go from overly energetic, “high” and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again. They often have normal moods in between. The up feeling is called mania. The down feeling is depression.

Bipolar disorder can run in families. It usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood. If you think you may have it, tell your health care provider. A medical checkup can rule out other illnesses that might cause your mood changes. Untreated, bipolar disorder can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance and even suicide. However, there are effective treatments: medicines and “talk therapy.” A combination usually works best.

Does this sound like you?

I’ve had times of feeling “down” and sad most of my life. I used to skip school a lot when I felt like this because I just couldn’t get out of bed. At first I didn’t take these feelings very seriously. I also had times when I felt really terrific, like I could do anything. I felt really “wound up,” and I didn’t need much sleep. Sometimes friends would tell me I was talking too fast. But everyone around me seemed to be going too slow.

My job was getting more stressful each week, and the “up” and “down” times were coming more often. My wife and friends said that I was acting very different from my usual self. I kept telling them that everything was fine, there was no problem and to leave me alone.

Then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t keep it together. I stopped going to work and stayed in bed for days at a time. I felt like my life wasn’t worth living anymore. My wife made an appointment for me to see our family doctor and went with me. The doctor checked me out and then sent me to a psychiatrist, who is an expert in treating the kinds of problems I was having.

The psychiatrist talked with me about how I’d been feeling and acting over the last six months. We also talked about the fact that my grandfather had serious ups and downs like me. I wasn’t very familiar with “bipolar disorder,” but it sure sounded like what I was going through. It was a great relief to finally know that the ups and downs really were periods of “mania” and “depression” caused by an illness that can be treated.

For four months now, I’ve been taking a medicine to keep my moods stable, and I see my psychiatrist once a month. I also see someone else for “talk therapy,” which helps me learn how to deal with this illness in my everyday life.

The first several weeks were hard before the medicine and talk therapy started to work. But now, my mood changes are much less severe and don’t happen as often. I’m able to go to work each day, and I’m starting to enjoy things again with my family and friends.

For help with bipolar disorder, contact Saint Simons By-The-Sea.

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Information provided by the National Institutes of Health