All of us have days when we would like to give our emotions the day off but, in general, we don’t swing very high, nor do we plummet that low – our moods seem to stay within limits. But if we have Bipolar Disorder, our moods go beyond those limits. The disorder has lots of variations but, typically, a person gets so high they are called ‘manic’. They might feel great: full of energy, often with plans and schemes and full of optimism. They would never say they are unwell, but people close to them can tell things are not right. Their behaviour is often rash and illogical, they can go on wild spending sprees or do reckless and impulsive things. Sometimes they can become angry and argumentative, and at times they leave reality behind, believing great things about themselves, or imagining they have amazing abilities or special relationships with famous people, or other signs of psychosis. The flip side of this is that they drop into depression (which is why Bipolar Disorder used to be called Manic-Depression).
As mentioned above, there can be lots of variations: sometimes the manic phase is not very elevated, sometimes the person cycles rapidly between the moods, and so on.
It can be a very serious and scary mental illness. Fortunately, medication can help us both in the manic and depressive phases, and also help us to stay well between episodes. Therapy helps us to avoid the triggers that tip us into unwellness.
Not uncommonly a person will recover from an episode but will be left with staggering debts and other consequences of their manic phase. It can put terrible stress on our relationships and family. Support services are very important for those of us with Bipolar Disorder. As well as helping us manage our medication (which often needs to be closely monitored to ensure the correct dose), support services help with accommodation, employment and rebuilding life skills that are needed for healthy, happy living.
Some things that help:
Get a good diagnosis. Typically, there can be years between first symptoms and diagnosis
Educate yourselves and your family. The more that family and friends are aware, the more they can help
Watch for triggers, especially stress.
Stay on meds. By all means, get your medication reviewed and finetuned, but it seems to be very risky to come off medication, especially rapidly.
Be optimistic. With a combination of good strategies, therapy, medication and support, a person with Bipolar Disorder can realistically expect to have a good and fulfilling life.
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