The bipolar coaster: not your typical moodiness

November 09, 2017 | by Ryan McFeeters, PA-C
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

We all get moody sometimes. Mood swings are a drag, but most of the time they don’t disrupt our lives too much. If you have bipolar disorder, episodes of moodiness are much different.

When you have bipolar disorder, you could go for days without sleep and be on an extreme high. Or, you could be so low you can’t even get out of bed. Going to work and caring for personal and family responsibilities can become impossible.

What exactly makes bipolar disorder different than typical moodiness? Read on to get answers to common questions people ask about bipolar disorder.

  1. What is bipolar disorder?
    The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines bipolar disorder as a mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly. It is marked by periods of unusually intense emotion (mood episodes). Diagnosed in about 2.6 percent of Americans, bipolar disorder is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Scientists have not yet discovered a single cause, but several factors may contribute to it, such as genetics, stress and brain structure and function.
  2. How can I tell if it’s just moodiness?
    Bipolar mood swings are markedly more severe than ordinary mood swings and can last a lot longer. All emotions, either high or low, are intensified. You may experience extreme changes in energy, activity and sleep that aren’t typical for you. Where a bad mood is usually gone in a few days, it can last for weeks or even months for someone with bipolar disorder.
  3. How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?
    To diagnose bipolar disorder, your doctor may first rule out other conditions that can resemble the disorder. If no other illnesses are causing the symptoms, a mental health evalution is often the next step. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you must have experienced at least one episode of mania or hypomania (a milder form of mania that doesn’t include psychotic episodes). Learn about the four types of bipolar disorder.
  4. What are the symptoms?
    The bipolar journey doesn't always take the same route. Sometimes your mood shifts up or down without any apparent cause. The National Institue of Mental Health (NIH) lists symptoms of bipolar disorder.

    When having a manic episode, you may:

    • Feel very "up," "high," or elated
    • Have a lot of energy
    • Have increased activity levels
    • Feel “jumpy” or "wired"
    • Have trouble sleeping
    • Become more active than usual
    • Talk really fast about a lot of different things
    • Be agitated, irritable, or "touchy"
    • Feel like your thoughts are going very fast
    • Think you can do a lot of things at once
    • Do risky things, like spend a lot of money or have reckless sex

    When having a depressive episode, you may:

    • Feel very sad, down, empty, or hopeless
    • Have very little energy
    • Have decreased activity levels
    • May sleep too little or too much
    • Feel like you can’t enjoy anything
    • Feel worried and empty
    • Have trouble concentrating
    • Forget things a lot
    • Eat too much or too little
    • Feel tired or "slowed down"
    • Think about death or suicide

    Sometimes a mood episode includes both manic and depressive symptoms. This means you could feel very sad and empty while at the same time feel extremely energized. Many people experience depressive episodes more often than mania or hypomania.

  5. Why is early treatment important?
    If left untreated, bipolar disorder usually gets worse. A close examination of your family history can help identify patterns that could become a problem later on. Also, sometimes the early phase of bipolar disorder starts out with mild to moderate symptoms of moodiness which can develop into more severe symptoms without proper treatment. With bipolar disorder, suicide is an ever-present danger.
  6. Isn’t mania productive?
    During periods of mania, you may feel very good and have lots of energy with little to no sleep. At the same time, you may behave impulsively, make reckless decisions and take unusual risks. This can damage your career, finances and relationships. Treatment often allows you to think more clearly and improve your work and quality of life.
  7. Is medication the only way to treat it?
    While medication is often the first line treatment, there’s more to it than that. Experts recommend a combination of medication, psychotherapy, self-management strategies (symptom monitoring) and healthy lifestyle changes (managing stress, proper sleep, diet and exercise).
  8. Can I still lead a normal life with bipolar disorder?
    Althout there is currently no cure for bipolar disorder, with the right treatment, you can live a productive, fulfilling life. A person with bipolar disorder may even have extended periods — sometimes years — without mood symptoms.

Bipolar is different from the typical ups and downs we all have in life. If you’re concerned about how your fluctuating moods are interfering in your daily life, help is available. You may find once you get a handle on it, it’s quite treatable and liveable.

Just as with any other illness, the first step to feeling better is identifying the problem. Get a free, confidential behavioral health assessment at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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