What is Bipolar Disorder?

Have you ever woken up in the morning and felt like nothing could stop you that day? You feel a sense of magnificence running through your veins. Then, as soon as you get out of bed you get right to work and focus on your plans. You map out your goals for the day, week, month, or even year. You sit there quickly tapping your foot on the floor, you get up and pace around, or even wring your hands. You stop your work, and then start again. Your thoughts are bouncing around so fast you can’t focus on just one. It’s like there’s 10 different conversations going around in your head, and you’re trying to listen to them all. At that point everything just feels so distracting! So, you need to escape. You go out and before you realize it you’re going on a shopping spree, or maybe you hit up the nearest casino and started to gamble for a bit. You’ve exhausted yourself at this point and you decide to go back home, but now you can’t sleep. I mean, why do you need 8 hours of sleep anyways? Why not go back to the activity you started and try that again for a while? Four hours of sleep seems sufficient.

On the other hand, maybe you wake up in the morning and feel crabby. You didn’t get much sleep, but who really needs that much sleep anyways? You’re annoyed and irritated at the world and you haven’t even gotten out of bed yet. You still proceed to map out your goals, but you get distracted and frustrated so you decide to blow off some steam. You want to do something, anything, that will make you feel good, and the aftermath of it doesn’t matter. Your friend calls you in the midst of everything and wants to hang out. You drop what you’re doing and go see them. While talking, you start going off on a tirade about something that pissed you off. You keep going and going. Your friend looks bored and just wants you to shut up, but you don’t. You keep spewing words out of your mouth and half of what you’re saying doesn’t even make sense. Your just jumping from topic to topic.

After you experience this for about a week, maybe longer, something changes. You wake up and feel drained. Part of you feels empty and worthless. You can’t even fathom getting out of bed to do anything. You look over at the clock and realize you’ve slept for over 10 hours, so how are you still tired?! You finally make it out of bed and decide it’s time to get your day started. Once out of bed you find it hard to concentrate on what you’re doing. Time seems to slow down and you go into autopilot– you just keep going through the motions. You get to work and just stare blankly ahead. Before you know it you start to get these thoughts. You start fantasizing about death. What it would be like, what it would feel like, who would miss you, how you could die, but you don’t plan on committing suicide. Maybe you think, “hmm…if I speed maybe I’ll get hit,” or “It’s 40  degrees out, maybe I wont wear a jacket and get hypothermia if I stay out long enough.”

The worst part is you feel this way for weeks at a time. To make it even worse you can feel the irritation/euphoria and depression AT THE SAME TIME. This is what’s it can be like for a person struggling with Bipolar Disorder. This is my person experience (for the most part), but everyone is different. I experience the irritability to the point of wanting to rage and just fuck shit up and break everything in sight. I can switch in an instance and go into a depressive episode. It’s like there’s a tug of war between my emotions, and all I can do is submit to them. There is no overpowering them. Medication can help, but your moods still resurface from time to time and you just have to deal with it.

To better understand the exact symptoms that can be experience there are plenty of resources. The DSM-V is the most recent diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals. The DSM in itself can be really confusing and overwhelming. The Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation has simplified the contents of the DSM that specify the  Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. Again, everyone experiences a different combination of symptoms and levels of intensity for those symptoms. Understanding the symptoms is what’s imperative though. It can help us to support those who do suffer from mood disorders, and can hopefully help lead to the reduction of the stigma associated with them.