On top of the world one day, ready to change everything? Then crashed so hard you can’t get out of bed the next?

You might have bipolar disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, still sometimes also referred to as 'manic depression', is a mood disorder that sees sufferers have episodes of both depression and mania.

Depression means you feel numb, lethargic, uninterested in life, and might have dark thoughts about yourself and whether life is worth living.

Mania is the opposite. You feel like your energy is endless, your head buzzes with ideas that seem perfect, you make decisions quickly.

When you are depressed, you push people away. When you are manic you do crazy things that seem logical at the time. You use all your money saved for university to buy a car to travel Europe blogging... even when you don't have a license and just won a spot at Oxford.

But I often feel just fine

It's not that you are always on a high or low with bipolar disorder. You will have days, weeks, or even many months inbetween. It's just that, unlike depression where stress throws you into just low and dark moods, you can go either way when life gets too much.

Aren't mood swings normal?

Yes. We all can have good days and bad days, depending on what life throws at us.

But if you have bipolar disorder, the big buzz can go on for days or weeks, as can the low lows. And you can't control it. You can't just decide to make it stop, to calm down, or to cheer yourself up.

Signs of bipolar disorder

When you are manic, you might find you:

  • feel 'supercharged', ready to take on the world
  • have really fast thoughts and tons of ideas
  • are the life of the party
  • talk quickly
  • have little to no appetite
  • make impulsive decisions
  • feel impatient with others
  • spend money without thinking
  • drink too much alcohol
  • become promiscuous.

When you are depressed, you might find you:

  • are exhausted and lethargic
  • don't want to do anything or see anyone
  • have a foggy mind that makes thinking hard
  • feel worthless
  • overeat or undereat
  • oversleep or have disrupted sleep
  • have dark, destructive thoughts.

Other issues that can come along with bipolar disorder as a result of the highs and lows can include:

  • sleep problems
  • alcohol or drug issues
  • relationship problems.

Why would I have bipolar disorder?

Around one in 100 people have bipolar disorder, and it most commonly begins between 15 to 19 years of age.

It’s thought to be a mix of genes and environment that cause it. You’d likely have the genetic variant to be bipolar, and then a difficult upbringing and series of stressful events would effectively ‘trigger’ it. Child maltreatment and abuse has been recognised as one of the environments that can leave you with bipolar disorder.

Studies involving twins found that if one twin had bipolar, the other had an around 65% chance of also having it.

Is there a cure for bipolar?

There isn’t a cure, but it’s highly treatable. The treatment for bipolar disorder involves medication, most often lithium, combined with therapy.

It's also highly recommended to practise self-care and wellbeing to avoid being triggered. This means getting sleep, avoiding alcohol and drugs, exercising, and eating well. It also means surrounding yourself with people who support you and make you feel good.

What talk therapies help bipolar disorder?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends in their bipolar disorder guidelines interpersonal therapy, behavioural couples therapy, and CBT.

CBT therapy is probably the most popular. It helps you think rationally about your thoughts and feelings, controlling them before they control you.

Suspect you have bipolar disorder? Connect with a understanding therapist now to talk about it.

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