Living with Bipolar Disorder

Friday, September 4, 2009

Feeling down when something bad happens is normal. Feeling elated when something good happens is great. Bipolar disorder is neither. Previously referred to as manic depressive disorder, bipolar disorder consists of mood episodes ranging from deep, dark depression to the sense of invincibility and superiority that is characteristic of a manic phase. It disrupts the lives of those who suffer from it and all those around them. Luckily, however, with the right course of treatment it can be kept under control.

Bipolar disorder has been found to be linked genetically and physiologically to schizophrenia. A person suffering from bipolar disorder can experience the same sort of hallucinations and delusions as someone with schizophrenia. Both have a genetic component, with a number of genes interacting to create a pre-disposition to these disorders. The families of those afflicted often include others with one of these disorders, mood disorders or alcoholism.

Depression is a common symptom of many health problems. It can stem from difficult situations or simply an inability to cope with the stresses of everyday life. In the case of bipolar disorder, depression is a component of a mood cycle that can send the individual on a roller coaster of trouble. My own experiences with depression have affected me greatly. For 6 months in 2004, I had to leave work in order to recover from a severe episode. There were days I never left bed, others where I couldn’t even face leaving home to walk my dogs. It’s debilitating, but only one aspect of bipolar disorder.

The phase most associated with bipolar disorder, by the public, is mania. Mania can consist of impulsive behaviour, a sense of elation without reason, inappropriate behaviour, delusions and hallucinations. This phase is incredibly disruptive to the social community around the individual. It can lead to lost jobs, lost friendships, massive debt from impulsive spending or gifting, serious jail time and the contraction of STDs from high-risk sex. Luckily, in my case mania has not been a big component. It has surfaced, however, and has ruined at least one of my most treasured friendships. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Hypomania, as its name implies, is a milder form of mania. It is often characterized by increased creativity, increased self-confidence and an increase in productivity. Persons in this state are often more social, displaying an unusual amount of charm. This phase is one of the reasons some people with bipolar disorder stop taking their medication. When the effects of hypomania are dampened by medication, many individuals stop their treatment in an effort to regain some of the benefits of this mood. It is, however, a symptom of the disorder, and should be regarded as such and treated accordingly.

An individual suffering from the disorder can also find themselves in a mixed state, where depressive and manic symptoms mingle to create a special kind of hell. Irritability, delusions, lack of energy and a short temper are a few of the traits that can be found in a person in this state.

There are a number of diagnoses within bipolar disorder that are characterized by the individual’s specific history of these different phases. However, I am not a psychiatrist, and if you think you are experiencing these symptoms see a qualified psychiatrist as soon as possible.

Treatment requires a number of approaches. From the pharmacological end, sometimes anti-psychotics are required. Mood stabilizers are a common prescription, since in most cases the extreme peaks and valleys need to be brought in check. Some individuals also require an anti-depressant to lift them up out of recurring depressive episodes. Medication is usually the front line of the battle, as it can be impossible to work with an individual who is hallucinating, delusional or otherwise unable to fully cooperate.

Cognitive behavioural therapy can help the person suffering learn how to rein in their mood. It’s been shown to be one of the few talk therapies that can actually help in the treatment of depression. There have been clinical trials demonstrating its effectiveness, and I can attest that it worked for me.

Symptoms can manifest themselves at a relatively young age. Occasionally children who later turn out to have bipolar disorder are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The stimulants used to treat ADHD can often aggravate the child’s condition and make treatment down the road more difficult. It is always important to make sure you tell your child’s doctor, as well as your own, of any and all family history of psychiatric illness or symptoms similar to those of bipolar disorder.

My own history of bipolar disorder has sensitized me to the issues facing individuals with psychiatric disorders. Unfortunately, much of the population is unaware of the nature of these illnesses, and often attribute the symptoms to personal failings on the part of those suffering. A terrible stigma is attached to bipolar disorder and it can be difficult to shake.


Jonas-Thanatos the Engineer said...

That was really well-articulated. I am starting to see the resemblances between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. There are similarities, too, between persecutory delusions and certain obsessions in extreme cases of OCD (atypical cases, if you will). I'm finding it hard just to live a simple human life, with just the basics. No one around me, no friends or family nearby, is making it harder. To me I lived a perfect week if I ate regularly, slept regular hours, took all my meds at regular hours, and if I took at least one shower then wow! If I did a load of laundry, a miracle has happened! If on any given week, now if I left the house once a day, then it is almost impossible..

I bring a bit of comedy to an otherwise very serious discourse.. I have to, cause everything I've ever wanted to do, my dreams were all destroyed by my illness, and almost every relationship that meant anything to me was destroyed by the illness.. So since I have about only health left, I try to be happy.

I haven't had a computer since March, 2009, no television, only a radio. I consider myself an Athlete of I dunno what.. an Athlete of resolve, the resolve to make it through whatever life presents before me.. all the livelong day, I contemplate nasty things, things that frighten me, that petrify me, and terror reigns in my heart.. but short of literally turning to stone, what do you think I can do? I take walks, I eat well, I just stopped smoking, my friend, it's been two weeks now.. and I'm drinking 3 or 4 coffees per day compared to the 50 coffees I used to drink before..

I think heck life couldn't be better.. until the next s**ty mood, s**ty thought, or s**ty thing. ;)

skwirl42 said...

Bipolar and schizophrenia share many of the same genetic markers. It may come out that they're just steps along a linear continuum of disorder.

They've found that about 30% of the cause is genetics. But they don't know entirely what those genes do...

amynicole said...

I am truly sorry you have to deal with this. I have chronic depression, and I take meds for it, which seem to help for the most part...but there is always a hint of it around every corner of my life. It will always be a problem.

skwirl42 said...

It's never an easy thing to live through. Luckily with the meds, the therapy and a loving wife who takes great care of me, I'm pulling through. :)

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