One of my best friends is a Psychology major and she had to interview someone with Bipolar for her abnormal Psych class! These were my responses.
1. What do you know about Bipolar Disorder and its symptoms? How does this disorder affect the day-to-day life of the person?
I have Bipolar, so I live it every day. I was diagnosed about a year and a half ago, but I was experiencing cyclothymic hypomania and depressive phases all throughout college. I figured out I was Bipolar before I was officially diagnosed because of a lot of research I did. I came across an article on cyclothymic disorder when I was a junior in college and I was so excited because it fit my personality perfectly. I didn’t take it too seriously though because there’s always that tendency to be all hypochondriac. I thought back to it a year or so later when I was diagnosed with major depression and six months later talked to my psychiatrist and she confirmed it!
The simplest way to explain it is that depression is your brain slowed down and hypomania is your brain sped up. Depression is like Alzheimer’s in that parts of your brain begin to shut down. In brain scans they’ve done of people in Depression, parts of the brain are shrinking in size. In Depression I forget to eat, sleep 15 hours a day, feel physically fatigued, have no motivation, cannot think of words and feel mentally confused. I have these violent, disturbing dreams when I’m going into a hypomanic phase. In Hypomania it feels like my life is perfect, I have so much energy and I’m incredibly happy and excited! There are facets of inspiration in everything I see and my writing is amazing during this time. I’ll sleep for four and a half hours and then wake up with so much energy, stoked to start my day! I write out paragraphs of affirmation texts to my friends late at night and have so many ideas for my YouTube videos and my novel, all these epiphanies about my life. I have so many thoughts coming so fast that I can’t write everything down fast enough.
2. What are potential causes of the disorder? It is genetic. That’s the only cause. It tends to come out in your early 20s, although in some cases— 40s or 50s. That’s very rare though. As with any mental illness, any sort of stress will set it off.
3. What is the stereotype of bipolar disorder? What is the attitude towards individuals that have bipolar? The stereotype of Bipolar is that the mood swings occur within a single day and that it is this angry backlash at something said or some immediate change in how someone feels. In reality, mood phases last for months or close to a year. Even in rapid spiraling Bipolar, the mood phases change only every couple weeks. The attitude toward people with Bipolar is that they are crazy and unstable— that they have these sudden, unpredictable emotional reactions.
4. Have you ever met or seen anyone with Bipolar Disorder? If it's a friend, how would you take care of a friend that has this disorder? What stood out to you about them?
I have only met a few people with Bipolar and one person with Schizoaffective disorder. It is this instant connection where we’re both so excited and just start talking about all our symptoms and diagnosis—all these vulnerable parts of our lives that we wouldn’t feel safe sharing with anyone else. Everyone with Bipolar is different but we tend to be very empathetic and emotionally sensitive i.e. Elaine Aron’s HSP. We have crazy vivid dreams (apart from medications) and our depression (compared to unipolar depression) tends to be more physical than emotional.
The best way to take care of someone with Bipolar is to make sure they take their medicine and are not ever drinking alcohol. It is so typical for people with Bipolar to randomly go off their medicine, run away from treatment and become alcoholics. My senior year at Pepperdine I was constantly spiraling between severe depression and these hypomanic spikes and the people who helped me the most were my friends who worked out with with me, reminded me to eat and just spent time with me. In Depression you feel numb and sometimes disconnected from reality, like this phantom or ghost that isn’t fully there. Being around friends as much as possible was amazing because I felt their energy and they made me feel alive when I couldn’t feel at all. When someone is in Depression, inviting them to things and forcing them to go out and socialize is so important! Nothing will stand out about someone who has Bipolar. The symptoms are all hidden and people will automatically overlook them, even close friends. Once someone is stabilized, they’ll be just like anyone else, maybe a bit more intense or creative, but normal.