Moods fluctuating between extreme highs and lows every day to the point where they’re interfering with your life could be warning signs of bipolar disorder. It’s an illness affecting nearly three percent of U.S. adults, but the symptoms are manageable. Medication isn’t for everyone, and there are other ways to live with bipolar disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
“Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to think clearly. People with bipolar experience high and low moods—known as mania and depression—which differ from the typical ups-and-downs most people experience.”
Bouts of mood swings may happen rarely or several times a year. Even though most people will have some emotional signs between incidents, some may experience nothing at all. But symptoms are manageable.
What Are The Symptoms?
People with bipolar disorder suffer episodes of unusually strong emotion, disruptions in sleep habits and activity levels, and unusual behaviors — often without knowing the likely damaging or undesirable outcomes. These diverse periods are referred to as “mood episodes.” These are vastly different from what’s considered typical for the person. During an event, the symptoms persist every day for most of the day. Episodes can persist for longer periods, even going several days or weeks.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
- If you have biological parents or siblings with bipolar, there’s a greater risk you’ll develop it, but the role of genetics isn’t certain. If it’s present in your family, that doesn’t mean you’ll get it. And studies of identical twins are inconclusive, as well.
- Stress, like the death of a loved one or financial hardships, can trigger the disorder. How you handle stress may also have a part in getting bipolar disorder.
- Brain structure and function.
Types Of Bipolar Disorder
- Bipolar I Disorder, featuring manic episodes lasting at least seven days or severe manic symptoms requiring immediate hospital care.
- Bipolar II Disorder, where there’s a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, minus the kinds of changes seen with Bipolar I Disorder.
- Cyclothymia, with hypomanic symptoms and periods of depression, persisting for at least two years (1 year in kids and adolescents).
Living With Bipolar Disorder
Living with bipolar disorder demands a combination of perseverance and skills that some people find daunting. Besides the apparent solutions of psychotherapy or medicine, one of the best things you can do is become educated about the illness, advocate for yourself, and find the right support network to start the recovery process. But what else can you do?
- Follow a consistent routine. Get the recommended amount of sleep for your age group as a way to defend against manic or depressive episodes. Abnormal sleep patterns could be signs of depression. Also, cut back on caffeine, which can interrupt sleep.
- Eat healthily and exercise regularly to improve your mood.
- If you’ve been prescribed medication, take it as directed, even with stable moods.
- Check in with your doctor, especially if you’ve received a treatment recommendation from another medical professional. Certain medicines pose health risks if taken simultaneously.
- Maintain a mood journal. Track your daily feelings, potential triggers, whether your treatment is working, and changes in your diet or sleep habits. Be truthful and willing to share this information with your doctor.
- Keep your primary healthcare provider updated, even between appointments. They’re an important ally in your recovery, as well as any mental health professional you may be seeing.
- Stay away from alcohol and illicit drugs.
- Manage stress with meditation or tai chi.
- Find a support network of family, friends, third-party peer groups, a church, or other organizations. Sharing knowledge about your disorder can help them recognize symptoms and triggers and help recovery efforts.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Suppose you think you have bipolar disorder and require a diagnosis. In that case, you can expect to undergo a physical examination by a medical doctor and a psychiatric assessment by a mental health specialist. The goal is to confirm an underlying cause for the symptoms; the psych exam will focus on thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and personal and family history of mental illness. Your doctor will create a mood chart and compare your symptoms to diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Bipolar disorder is manageable with psychotherapy, certain medicine and lifestyle changes, and newer ketamine therapy.
Maintaining a productive life if you have bipolar disorder can be hard but not impossible. With knowledge and a commitment to get better, you may find the road to recovery isn’t as challenging as you thought. Ask your doctor for help and whether ketamine may work for your condition.