Today is World Bipolar Day, a day created to bring about awareness and show support for those suffering with the disorder. There are many myths and misconceptions when it comes to bipolar disorder, and it is often used in improper context. We say that someone who is moody is bipolar, and we say that the weather is bipolar when it constantly changes, but bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that affects over 5 million adults and 2 million children each year.
There are different types of mood disorders, such as bipolar I, bipolar II, rapid cycling bipolar, etc. I’ll run through the basics of those three as they are the most common. First is bipolar I, characterized by manic and depressive episodes. Mania consists of elevated energy levels, elevated mood, grandiose thoughts, poor judgement, reckless behavior, inability to concentrate, restlessness. It can cause auditory or visual hallucinations in some cases. Each person cycles at a different rate, some faster than other, and some periods last longer than others. No experience is the same.
Bipolar II is categorized by hypomania and depressive episodes. Hypomania is very similar to mania, just less severe. However, it can be just as debilitating. The depressive episodes are relatively the same as bipolar I.
Rapid cycling bipolar disorder can occur in those with bipolar I or bipolar II, and it causes moods to change at a more advanced pace. For some, it happens daily, for others a few times a month. Surprisingly, nearly 20% of individuals diagnosed as bipolar disorder are rapid cyclers.
Now that I got the definitions out of the way, let’s discuss myths.
Myth: Bipolar disorder is the same as mood swings. However, bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance of the chemicals in one’s brain. They are more severe, longer lasting, and impede every day functioning.
Myth: Mania is always happy. Unfortunately this is not the case. There are often mixed states, in which one experiences the elevated mood of mania (or hypomania) with the depressed thoughts. There is often irritability corresponding with mania, and sometimes agitation.
Myth: Bipolar disorder is an excuse to act how you want when you want. This is a stigmatized assumption for those who wish to discount those with mental illness. Those with the disorder often have difficulty regulating their moods and the actions resulting from those moods. This is not voluntary, and can ruin many relationships be it familial, romantic, or platonic.
Myth: There is no way to treat bipolar disorder. Although it is a lifelong condition, there are ways to regulate the disorder. This could be through medication, therapy, or a mix of the two.
Managing bipolar disorder is not easy for those with the diagnosis as well as for those with a loved one who has a diagnosis. The best way to work through it is communication. Be open and honest about what you need, and be receptive to those who are expressing their needs. Be patient with yourself, and be patient with other people. Surround yourself with people who are understanding and kind, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t control your emotions. Just know that you are not alone, and that each of your emotions are valid.