When you have a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder, navigating relationships can be difficult. Not only is it difficult to overcome the self-limiting factors those with bipolar disorder may place on themselves, but it’s difficult to get over the limitations that may externally be placed on a person with bipolar disorder. These are challenges that can feel impossible to overcome but people with bipolar disorder can have social and intimate relationships, and what’s more, doing so can even improve their mental health.
In 1997 I was a happy person. I had recently moved to a new city with my then-boyfriend, gotten a little distance from my family, and started attending university. I was working toward a bachelor’s of computer science. It was challenging, but I was handling it and feeling uplifted by the challenge.
I was used to a roller-coaster of moods through my earlier teenage years, but I thought that turbulence was behind me. I had no idea anything was brewing in my brain.
Unfortunately, by the end of 1998, my mental health had reached its breaking point. I had slid, little by little, into the vortex of a severe depression. By that time I was wishing for death every day, could barely get out of bed, and had turned to self-harm for some small measure of relief. I had no idea why these things were happening to me as nothing notable had preceded them, but they were obviously happening — brutally.
There are multiple types of bipolar disorder — a disorder known as an affective or mood disorder. The three main types are: bipolar disorder type I, bipolar disorder type II and cyclothymia. Also, there are certain additional “specifiers” that denote particular types of symptoms seen in each bipolar mood.
Bipolar disorder appears evenly in men and women. Women, however, are more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II. Women are also more likely to experience mixed episodes (see below) and a “rapid cycling” version of the illness where the person experiences more than four mood episodes per year.
Bipolar Disorder Type I
Bipolar disorder type I is what people tend to think of when they imagine bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression). It is made of up a very elevated mood known as “mania” and a very low mood called “depression.”
A person with bipolar disorder type I experiences these moods episodically. He or she may experience a manic episode for two months followed by a three-month depression followed by a symptom-free period (known as euthymia). Continue reading How Do I Know What Kind of Bipolar I Have?
As part of May’s Mental Health Month, we shared stories that raised awareness about mental illness and empowered those who suffer from it. This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others. #LightYourWay
Recently I began experiencing symptoms of hypomania. I was irritable, had the sex drive of a teenage boy, and felt euphoric. I knew something was off with me. I hadn’t felt this way before, not to this extent. I contacted my psychiatrist and made an appointment. He confirmed that I was experiencing hypomania, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II.
It was a relief to know what was happening. Nonetheless, I was frightened because — unlike what the media portrays — mania isn’t fun. It’s exhausting and scary.
You do feel temporarily euphoric, at least I did. The feeling of mania is surreal and sometimes wonderful, but other times terrifying. It makes you feel out of sorts and a different version of yourself. I feel pressured to speak quickly, keep moving and keep doing things until my body can’t take it anymore. It’s awful and I don’t wish these feelings on anyone.
Mania isn’t wonderful. It’s a terrible feeling that impacts people living with bipolar disorder. Continue reading When I Knew I Had Bipolar Disorder