“Bipolar is like being on a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes you can predict the drop-offs and others you just have to hang on because the next turn sends you into a spiral. Sometimes you are laughing and throwing your hands in the air and then other times you are clinging, simply holding on to dear life screaming at the top of your lungs.” – Unknown

Bipolar Disorder is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses. (There is a spectrum of Bi Polar disorders, which is discussed further on in this article). People even use it as an adjective to describe shifts in behavior, unpredictability, mood swings or strong emotions; “Stop being so bipolar” “You are acting bipolar” “The weather is so bipolar today” – which adds to the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder. Let’s start this conversation by talking about what bipolar disorder is not so that we can unlearn and then learn the facts.

  • Bipolar disorder is not synonymous with “crazy” or mere mood changes.
  • People with bipolar are not violent or dangerous.
  • Bipolar is not a rare illness. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year.
  • Bipolar is not a women’s disease. It affects both genders at equal rates.
  • Bipolar does not only affect adults. Children and teenagers can also be diagnosed with it.
  • People with bipolar are not beyond help. With the right treatment plans and care, they can learn how to manage it.
  • Drugs and alcohol abuse doesn’t cause bipolar but can worsen or trigger its symptoms.

What is bipolar disorder?

Imagine living on the edge with your emotions. Just like a rollercoaster ride, they come to you so fast and you lose control sometimes. You are incredibly happy one minute and before you know it or can hold on to that moment of joy, here comes the depressive episodes. It’s like you’re at war with your mind and you’re always trying to catch up with it.

People misunderstand you and think that you act this way on purpose but the truth is you feel like you have no control; you don’t know what it’s like to have stable emotional health because you’re always on a see-saw with your emotions – not knowing which side will carry more weight – the depression or the mania. That’s what living with bipolar disorder feels like.

Bipolar is a disorder that causes dramatic low and high changes in mood, behavior, concentration, energy, and ability to function normally. People with bipolar disorder can suddenly shift from experiencing extreme feelings of joy, excitement, high energy (called manic episodes), to extreme feelings of sadness, hopelessness, low energy and concentration (called depressive episodes).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that most people are diagnosed with bipolar in their twenties and the average age-of-onset is 25. Teenagers and children can also develop it. 83% of bipolar 1 cases are extremely severe. Without treatment, it can get worse over time. There’s no cure for bipolar disorder but people with it can learn how to manage it well throughout their lives with psychotherapy, healthy lifestyle habits and medications.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown but its onset can be triggered by:

  1. Biological factors: Brain chemistry, genetics, inflammation.
  2. Environmental factors: Traumatic events, extreme stress, drug, and alcohol misuse.

Types of bipolar disorder

There are several types of bipolar disorder but they are all characterized by dramatic changes in mood, energy, activity levels, and behavior. Manic episodes are the extreme highs, hypomanic episodes are less severe manic episodes, and depressive episodes are the extreme lows.

  1. Bipolar 1 disorder: Defined by at least one manic episode that lasts for about 7 days. It’s so severe that one needs hospitalization. Depressive symptoms may also occur and last up to two weeks but they’re not essential for a diagnosis.
  2. Bipolar II disorder: Defined by at least one hypomanic episode and one depressive episode which can create a pattern or cycle. It’s not full-blown manic episodes or highs but the depressive episodes can be extreme.
  3. Cyclothymic disorder: Defined by regular unstable moods of hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes lasting for at least two years for adults and at least one year in children. Normal moods only last for about eight weeks. It’s not as chronic as bipolar I or bipolar II.

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

Someone experiencing manic episodes (highs): Someone experiencing depressive episodes (lows):
·       Has racing thoughts or a flood of ideas

·       Indulges in extremely pleasurable or reckless activities without thinking of the consequences

·       Has a decreased need for sleep

·       Is extremely driven and productive

·       Has an inflated sense of self

·       Is in an excessively high or euphoric mood

·       May go on spending sprees and become extravagant

·       Has rapid speech and talks a lot

·       Has poor judgment and planning

·       Becomes extremely irritable, distracted, and restless

·       Feels sad, empty, hopeless

·       Thinks, talks, or contemplates suicide

·       Sleeps too little or too much

·       Loses or gains a lot of appetite and has weight fluctuations

·       Becomes sluggish, tired and unproductive

·       May become physically sick

·       Experiences low self-esteem and negative self-talk

·       Becomes disinterested in all activities

·       Loses concentration

·       Easily Irritable and restless

·       Withdraws socially

·       May lose touch with reality

·       Has outbursts of emotions like anger



People living with bipolar disorders are not “bad” people who don’t care about others because that’s how it can come off. Also think of them as passionate, curious, insightful, intense, creative and spontaneous people who just happen to be living with bipolar disorder. What is normal functioning to you is not normal to a person with bipolar. It’s like having an electric switch in your brain that goes on and off without your consent.

Treatment methods for bipolar are best discussed on a personal basis because the symptoms and severity of the disorder may vary. What you should keep in mind is that it’s possible to successfully live with and manage bipolar. Our contact lines are open if you need consultation or psychotherapy for bipolar disorder.

“Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony, and music inside me.”
― Vincent van Gogh