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Living with Bipolar Disorder

From the uphill battles to learning to live a full life with bipolar disorder.

Key points

  • Bipolar disorder is generally misunderstood as a disorder of rapidly alternating moods that cycle from deep sadness to extraordinary elation.
  • It is important to remove the stigma associated with bipolar disorder by spreading awareness and providing more access to treatment services.
  • It is possible and common to live a happy life with a successful career, a loving family, and a flourishing social life while having BPD
  • It is important to speak honestly about your symptoms with your doctor or therapist so they can help you figure out a treatment plan.

"Before I was diagnosed by my former psychiatrist, I experienced intense mood swings and, retrospectively, extreme overreactions to everyday situations. I would swing from deeply insecure to super confident, and I had thoughts of suicide and worthlessness coupled with bouts of creativity. My symptoms now aren't much different really, but I'm older now so I know how to recognize when I'm having a swing and can attempt to not give into it. I still experience insanely low lows that last for a couple weeks at a time. The suicidal thoughts that come when I'm down are really tough. Even though I can recognize them as temporary because of my experience with bipolar, it doesn't change that those thoughts are deeply unsettling. For me, the highs are much more infrequent”.

– Danielle, 29

Bipolar disorder is generally misunderstood as a disorder of rapidly alternating moods that cycle from deep sadness to extraordinary elation. However, this common mood disorder is much more complicated than the assumed emotional labile rollercoaster that our society believes it to be.

2.5 million American adults are believed to be living with either bipolar I or II disorder. This number does not include those who haven't been properly diagnosed, a significant issue that is deeply tied to misinformation about symptoms.

The uphill battle of bipolar disorder

Living with bipolar disorder can be difficult. Manic and depressive symptoms can creep up and cause individuals to overspend, say hurtful words to people they care about, engage in reckless behavior, use alcohol and drugs as a way to cope, and experience heightened and uncontrollable emotions. Often, bipolar disorder is challenging to diagnose and may be misdiagnosed as ADHD or another mental health disorder such as OCD or anxiety.

As a result, the lag time between symptoms and diagnosis can be unbearable for many individuals. It is important to remove the stigma associated with bipolar disorder by spreading awareness and providing more access to treatment services. Bipolar disorder does have the potential to be an uphill battle, and there are extreme consequences if individuals are unable to control their symptoms with medication, therapy, and coping skills. Many individuals have been appropriately diagnosed with bipolar disorder but are too terrified to share their stories. As a result, they live in isolation and fear. Bipolar can be a heavy burden if you allow it to be, or it can be a treatable disorder that anyone can live with, given that they use to practice the right tools and coping skills accordingly.

Living a full life with bipolar affective disorder

It is possible and common to live a happy life with a successful career, a loving family, and a flourishing social life while simultaneously having bipolar disorder. Whether you divulge to others about your mental illness is your choice, but it is essential to have a support system that you can lean on during trying times. Living a fulfilling life with bipolar disorder is manageable with the right medication and treatment team. Psychotherapy includes cognitive behavior therapy, which allows individuals to adopt positive coping skills to deal with manic and depressive episodes instead of turning to drugs or alcohol or letting these symptoms dominate all aspects of one’s life. As a result, it is possible to control your emotions, deal with the highs and lows, curb the uncontrollable urges to excessively spending money, and be able to engage appropriately with others. There may still be difficult days, and sometimes it may take a while to figure out the best dosage and combination of medications, but within time signs and symptoms associated with bipolar disorder are, in fact, manageable.

Seeking help

It is important to speak honestly about your symptoms with your doctor or therapist so they can help you figure out a treatment plan. You can find a local therapist who specializes in bipolar disorder in the Psychology Today Directory. You can also find support groups and resources through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the National Institute of Mental Health. If you feel like you have the urge to harm yourself, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or use their Lifeline Crisis Chat service. Both are available 24/7.

Previously written for and posted on AKUA Mind and Body

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