Bipolar: a rollercoaster ride

“An incredible high, racing thoughts, millions of ideas, go, go, go” and then “depressed, no energy, can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel”. These expressions describe some of the feelings of someone suffering from bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterised by extreme shifts in mood, energy and functioning.

It is normal for people to go through ups and downs. But in people with bipolar disorder, mood swings are extreme, out of proportion to how one would normally react and not related to what is happening in the person’s life.

The word “bipolar” refers to the two poles in the continuum of mood – mania and depression. There are usually periods of normal mood between episodes of mania and depression.

The “high” episode
During a manic, “high” episode a person displays out of character behaviour. He/she is “overly” happy and/or highly irritable, have boundless energy and can go for days without sleeping. The manic person behaves inappropriately in social settings (having lost their normal inhibitions). During a manic phase people often develop an unrealistic belief in their capabilities and have impaired judgement, as a result of which they engage in foolish activities or projects which often lead them into financial or other difficulties. As a manic episode develops, there may be an increase in the use of alcohol or stimulants which may exacerbate or prolong the episode.

Although the manic person denies that there is anything wrong or unusual with him/her, the changes in mood and behaviour are observable by others who know the person well.

Hitting the low
During the “low” phase the person is depressed, lacks energy and struggles to enjoy activities which were previously enjoyable to the person.

Some people can experience symptoms of depression and mania at the same time. This is called a mixed episode. It is experienced as an unpleasant, agitated “high”.

The disorder can disrupt the person’s work, school, family and social life. Although the disorder can be very disabling, it responds well to treatment. Treatment usually consists of mood stabilising drugs with antidepressants. Because it tends to be a chronic, recurring condition, many people need medication for the rest of their lives. – (Ilse Pauw, health24)

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