Life can be a rollercoaster. For those with bipolar, this rollercoaster is defined by steep inclines and sudden, deep, drops. 

Also known as manic depression, bipolar is a mental illness that brings severely high and low moods as well as changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior.

The highs and lows of bipolar are characterized by periods of feeling overly happy and energized followed by periods of feeling very sad, hopeless, and sluggish. The in-between of these two periods is usually what would we call “normal”.

You can think of these two different extremes between high and low as two poles, or polar opposites, hence we have bipolar.

In order to understand bipolar disorder, we should breakdown the meanings behind the words manic and depression in reference to this specific mental illness.

Manic or mania describes the time when someone with bipolar disorder feels overly excited and confident. These feelings can also involve irritability and impulsive or reckless decision-making. About half of people during mania can also have delusions (believing things that aren’t true and that they can’t be talked out of) or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there).

There is a subcategory of mania known as hypomania. Hypomania describes milder or less severe periods of mania, in which someone does not have delusions or hallucinations and their high symptoms do not interfere with their everyday life.

Depressive. Depressive describes the low points of a bipolar person’s rollercoaster. This is when they are sad or depressed. These symptoms are the same as those described in major depressive disorder or “clinical depression,” a condition in which someone never has manic or hypomanic episodes.

Most people with bipolar disorder spend most of their time on the lows, or with depressive symptoms rather than with manic or hypomanic symptoms.

In bipolar disorder, the dramatic episodes of high and low moods do not follow a set pattern. Someone may feel the same mood state (depressed or manic) several times before switching to the opposite mood. These episodes can happen over a period of weeks, months, and sometimes even years. How severe it gets differs from person to person and can also change over time, becoming more or less severe.

Symptoms of mania ("the highs"):

  • Excessive happiness, hopefulness, and excitement
  • Sudden changes from being joyful to being irritable, angry, and hostile
  • Restlessness
  • Rapid speech and poor concentration
  • Increased energy and less need for sleep
  • Unusually high sex drive
  • Making grand and unrealistic plans
  • Showing poor judgment
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Becoming more impulsive

During depressive periods ("the lows"), a person with bipolar disorder may have:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Not enjoying things they once liked
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Irritability
  • Needing more sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite changes that make them lose or gain weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Attempting suicide

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can be treated. It is a long-term condition that needs ongoing care. Medication is the main treatment for bipolar disorder and usually includes some variation of a “mood stabilizer”. During drug and alcohol treatment, work with a resident psychiatrist for medication management and a clinical psychologist for a wide array of talk therapies, can help stabilize mood, provide symptom relief and begin the journey towards self-awareness and self-management. At RECO, and with drug and alcohol addiction, it is common for us to see these dual diagnoses. Our board-certified psychiatrist, as well as our clinical staff, are equipped to help you begin finding balance on this rollercoaster we call life.