What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. A stable mood is something that we want. We want to feel and react in a proper way to a stimulus. With that being said, there are two separate ends of the spectrum with bipolar disorder. These are defined as mania and depression. Mania is when our mood is at a high. Depression is when our mood is at a low.

Common symptoms of mania:
• Grandiose plans or beliefs
• Euphoria
• Irritability
• Racing thoughts
• Talking fast
• Increased energy

Common symptoms of depression:
• Excessive sadness
• Sleep changes
• Hopelessness
• Losing interest in activities
• Fatigue
• Suicidal thoughts

These are textbook symptoms of mania and depression. However, those of us with bipolar disorder know that it can be more complex than that. Sometimes it can be hard to explain what is going on inside our brain. Sometimes, people can confuse the fact that we are genuinely upset about something with us having bipolar disorder. When we mix everyday emotions with having bipolar disorder, it may be hard to iron out feelings and reasons for our moods. For example, everyone feels jealous from time to time. If I get jealous when someone flirts with my husband, I may tell myself that it is because of the fact that I have bipolar disorder. However, my feelings are valid. It is completely normal to feel jealous.

If I hold the jealous feeling inside, I could end up mulling over it. Within my brain and body, I could deeply internalize this feeling. I might feel alone. I might blame myself for feeling jealous. Then will come feelings of sadness. I might tell myself that I am not good enough. A normal everyday human emotion has triggered a bipolar symptom. I am now feeling depression. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s rewind.

The moment I feel jealous, I decide to pull my husband aside and quietly explain to him how I’m feeling. He looks back and realizes a person was flirting with him and he sees how it makes me feel. We discuss how she kept touching his arm and laughing. I tell him how that makes me feel. He realizes if he was in my shoes, he would feel jealous too. We then decide to avoid the person or leave the party. I didn’t give the feeling of jealousy enough time to fester and grow. Someone who does not have bipolar disorder can have the same situation and handle it in the exact same way. We are no different than someone with a brain that is not affected by bipolar disorder when it comes to jealousy. But for those of us with bipolar disorder, we need to keep our moods in check. I use an example in 10 Ways to Thrive with Bipolar Disorder. The same way someone with diabetes will check their blood sugar, we need to check our moods.

I’m feeling sad. Why? I’m feeling extra talkative. Was it too much coffee or something else? Unfortunately, as of yet, bipolar disorder does not have a cure. But by learning common triggers within ourselves, we can lead a happy life with less symptoms. As mentioned before, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder and is characterized by highs and lows. Just how a feeling of jealousy can trigger a low feeling it could also trigger a high feeling. A person could feel irritable or develop grandiose plans. Therefore, triggers can provoke symptoms on both ends of the bipolar disorder spectrum. Our mood could be anywhere on the spectrum. Our mood could be very low, somewhat low, somewhat high or very high. In a more complex situation, both ends of the spectrum could be triggered at the same time. Our goal is to stay stable or around the middle of a spectrum.

It is completely normal to feel happy or sad from different people, places or things or events. For example, I was happy when my sister told me she was pregnant. That is completely normal. At the same time, my grandfather was in the hospital and I was feeling sad. That is also normal. Because I take steps to stay stable, I am able to handle these life events that could possibly be triggers. I practice the areas in 10 Steps to Thrive with Bipolar Disorder so that I can handle things that could be triggers. If I wasn’t stable when I learned of my sister’s pregnancy, I might have ended up feeling euphoric from being too happy. This part is hard to explain to people who do not have bipolar disorder.

When I tell people that I could be triggered by a happy event, they look at me with pure confusion. Had I not been stable when I learned that I was getting a niece, I might have ran up credit cards buying baby gifts. I might have stayed up all night with excitement. So, it boils down to the triggers and how we handle them. The first step is to be honest with yourself and your support system. A support system could be your closest loved ones, friends, psychiatrists, and medical staff. It is completely normal to feel happiness and sadness throughout the day, week and year. It’s okay to cry or feel anger. It is just important for us to ask ourselves if it’s appropriate for the situation. This is where it is important for those of us with bipolar disorder to have someone to talk to.

Whether it be a spouse, parent, sibling, friend or therapist. Letting someone get to know you and how you act when you are stable is important. When someone knows who you are when you are stable, they can possibly see warning signs before you do. Warning signs are very important to spot upcoming extreme highs and lows with bipolar disorder. Some warning signs for depression could be not wanting to get out of bed, not showering and/or feeling hopeless. This should be brought to the attention of a therapist, psychiatrist or family member. Triggers can lead to certain behavior.

Just to note, if a person experiences lows or highs at too much of an extreme, hospitalization may be needed to reach stability. There are medical staff and doctors who are trained in how to treat people with bipolar disorder. A person with bipolar disorder might need some talk therapy or possibly a medication adjustment. If warning signs are not taken seriously, the person with bipolar disorder could be at risk. If feelings or talk of suicide are present, that is an emergency situation. It should be taken with the same seriousness as a heart attack. That is a time to call an emergency number or go to an emergency room. Sometimes bipolar disorder is bigger than us. That’s okay. We would never tell someone who is diagnosed with diabetes to handle it on their own. The same goes for us. Bipolar disorder is not something we are supposed to handle all by ourselves. However, there are a lot of strategies we can apply to help keep ourselves stable. One area is recognizing our triggers. Learn more in Bipolar Disorder: Triggers, Boundaries and Roadblocks

About the author:

Author of Manic, 10 Ways to Thrive with Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder: Love and Relationships, Bipolar Disorder: Triggers, Boundaries and Roadblocks and The Anxiety Warriors

Amy Perez has a Master’s Degree in General Psychology. She has worked in Miami, Florida with people living with various mental illnesses. She has spent many hours inside mental health facilities with a first hand patient perspective. Amy lives in Florida with her family and orange tabby. She enjoys reading, writing, cooking and spending time in nature.
Instagram: avidauthor
Twitter: @Psychologyamy
Facebook Group: Mental Health Encouragement

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of PatientNextDoor. Any omissions or errors are the author’s and PatientNextDoor does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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