The Bipolar Experience

roller coaster at night

How Bipolar Disorder Feels: Normal Feelings Become Extreme and Unmanageable

Everyone has days when they feel energetic and the world seems to be smiling upon them. We all have the other types of days, when obstacles seem to appear at every step to make us irritable, our energy level drops and we just feel down.

Bipolar disorder takes these ups and downs to painful extremes, from euphoricly manic to black clouded depression. Bipolar I is the more severe form of the disorder, with manic episodes lasting seven days or more and the person often having to be hospitalized, with depressive episodes that can last two weeks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar II has manic and depressive episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes characteristic of bipolar I.

The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-5, describes the symptoms, and also the impact on daily life, of bipolar II disorder “…symptoms of depression or the unpredictability caused by frequent alternation between periods of depression and hypomania causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

Biploar Can Produce a Frantic Sense of Urgency

Insomnia may be one part of the manic phase of bipolar disorder for some people, among them writer Bassey Ikp, who describes her personal experience in an article in the New York Times.

“You have to write the entire book tonight before you can sleep or eat or leave the house or do anything,” says Ikpi. “But first you have to call your friends and your sister and the guy you just met and tell them all how much you love them…”

Ikpi also describes the “down” phase of bipolar disorder, in relation to the same people she “loved” in the manic phase.

“Everything about them, the way their voices trail, the way their mouths move when they chew, the fact that he crosses his legs at the knee… starts to make you feel like your blood is filled with snakes and you want to scream awful things at them…You want to bury your hatred in them, but you’re never quite sure who you hate the most. You, it’s always you.”

The constant stress of bipolar disorder, says Ikpi, is that “…You imagine you don’t fit anywhere, not even in your own head.”

Living Day-to-Day with Bipolar Disorder

The digitial health community The Mighty offers an online connection for people facing physical and mental health challenges who want to share their experiences. Here are some of the personal experiences of bipolar disorder from Facebook postings by that onlne community about confronting each day with bipolar disorder:
“It’s like a severe storm that hits you with a hurricane of depression and then strikes your body and mind with lightning bolts of mania.”

“Bipolar is an emotional roller coaster…While a roller coaster flips you upside down, bipolar filps the person’s life and world upside down.”

“It’s like a severe storm that hits you with a hurricane of depression and then strikes your body and mind with lightning bolts of mania.”

“Bipolar is an emotional roller coaster…While a roller coaster flips you upside down, bipolar filps the person’s life and world upside down.”

“Some days I hate everything and everyone. I hate my life and myself…I push the people away who are just trying to love and support me. Other days I’m on top of the world and all I want to do is be around people and help others.”

“It’s like walking through a lighted tunnel and then suddenly having everything go dark. You feel trapped, scared and anxious, not knowing when, or if, the lights wille ever come on again. You feel lost and alone, uncertain of what is waiting for you in the dark.”

“Bipolar disorder is like being behind the wheel of a car with the gas peddle stuck down.l..You attempt to avoid hitting other people for as long as you can, but it’s impossible to avoid everyone. Meanwhile, you’re scared, crying and lonely in this out of control car.”

Treatment Can Help Control Bipolar Disorder

The first step is to have an examination by a physician to determine whether the severe mood swings are symptoms of bipolar disorder or other physical issues.

If bipolar disorder is indicated, it’s important to seek treatment from a licensed mental health professional. A combination of medication and psychotherapy often helps people gain control of the mood swings of bipolar disorder and function well in relationships and daily life.

References

Ikpi, Bassey, “What Bipolar Feels Like,” New York Times, July 6, 2019

Bipolar Disorder, National Institute of Mental Health, October 2018

Schuster, Sarah, “17 People Describe What It’s Like to Have Bipolar Disorder,” The Mighty, Feb. 6, 2017

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