Our emotions are powerful forces that we experience every day. Some weeks we have “off days” and other weeks we are really “on our game”, but for someone who is suffering from bipolar disorder these peaks are steep and the valleys are deep. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can hurt:

Your job and school performance

Your sense of self

Your relationships and careers

Your daily life

Bipolar disorder is very treatable!

However, most people don’t recognize the warning signs for years and years, and some never get the help they need. Since bipolar disorder tends to worsen without treatment, it’s important to learn what the symptoms look like. Recognizing the problem is the first step to getting it under control.

Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) causes serious shifts in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior–from the highs of mania on one extreme to the lows of depression on the other. More than just a fleeting good or bad mood, the cycles of bipolar disorder last for days, weeks, or months. And unlike ordinary mood swings, the mood changes of bipolar disorder are so intense that they interfere with your ability to function.

During a manic episode, a person might impulsively quit a job, charge up huge amounts on credit cards, or even feel rested after sleeping two hours. During a depressive episode, the same person might be too tired to get out of bed and full of self-loathing and hopelessness over being unemployed and in debt.

The causes of bipolar disorder aren’t completely understood, but it often runs in families. The first manic or depressive episode of bipolar disorder usually occurs in the teenage years or early adulthood. The symptoms can be subtle and confusing; many people with bipolar disorder are overlooked or misdiagnosed, resulting in unnecessary suffering. But with proper treatment and support, you can lead a rich and fulfilling life.

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Some Myths of Bipolar Disorder

Myth #1: People with bipolar disorder have emotional swings from highs to lows and back again.

Truth: While some people experience these episodes between highs and lows, most experience depression more often. The mania cycle may not even be recognized as it is much milder.

Myth #2: Bipolar disorder only affects feelings and moods.

Truth: While having a cold causes nasal drip, our bodies are a complicated system of dependent feedback loops that affect each other. Bipolar impacts our eating and sleeping patterns and our self-discipline, and affects our ability to concentrate, make decisions, study, handle normal stress, resolve conflict, control spending and manage a healthy sex life. It influences our judgment, memory and energy levels as well.

Myth #3: Bipolar is hereditary.

Truth: While bipolar is not hereditary it does run in families. Several factors are involved in bipolar disorder, but the precise cause is not known. However, there is strong evidence that biological, including genetic, factors play an important role. This does not mean that a person has to inherit the genes: the genes involved may be altered when a person is conceived. What we do know is that stress does not cause the disorder, but it often does trigger it.

Myth #4: Bipolar can be cured with medication.

Truth: The role of medication in the treatment of bipolar disorder is foundational to recovery and in the prevention of relapse. It is not a cure but only a management tool. Most people who are not treated will relapse within a few short years. What we know is that people who remain on medications are far less likely to relapse. Having a competent medical doctor is essential for such treatment.

Myth #5: People suffering from bipolar disorder can’t live a normal productive life.

Truth: Many, many people have learned to manage their disorder and have gone on to continue to live a very productive and successful life. While it takes education, work and skill development, everyone can learn healthy strategies for living with bipolar disorder.

Myth #6: Medication is the only real strategy for managing bipolar disorder.

Truth: While medication is the cornerstone of most management strategies, there are other critical things that this individual and the family should do. First, they need to become a student of the disorder by monitoring, listening and talking about their emotional rhythms and the effects within a non-judgmental atmosphere.

Second, they need to live a consistent and healthy lifestyle in every area of their life, from finances, diet, exercise, relationships, spirituality and sleep hygiene to managing stress.

Lastly, they need to create a strong supportive therapeutic team of both professionals and friends. The clients we see who have trustworthy people around them; who graciously give them feedback; fare, by far, the best. You do not want to do this alone. Because this disorder directly affects one’s executive functioning of the brain you will need to have people around you who can help monitor how you are doing.

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Learn more about our bipolar disorder therapists.