People who have Bipolar Disorder have periods of time where they are extremely happy or euphoric and other times when they are depressed, but the phases usually do not shift back and forth as quickly as people think, and they usually last for weeks to months at a time (except in children).
When someone is going through a “high phase,” or manic episode, of Bipolar Disorder, they have way more energy than usual. They may start out using the excess energy to get more things done at home or at work, but they may reach a point where they seem almost frantic to do things. In the manic phase, the person with Bipolar Disorder may start talking faster than usual, have a hard time completing a task, or even a conversation, before wanting to move on to something different. They may have unusually big ideas, like going back to school, starting a new business, inventing something revolutionary, or going on a spontaneous trip.
When they are manic, the person with Bipolar Disorder may become impulsive in wanting to do things that sound fun, without thinking of the possible consequences like spending all of their savings on a “get rich quick” scheme, unexpectedly walking out on their job, or maxing out their credit cards in a few days because they did not want to stop shopping. Some people have had more dangerous impulses like using street drugs to get a quick high or engaging in sexual acts with people they hardly know.
Another very noticeable characteristic in someone in the manic phase of Bipolar Disorder is that the person seems to need much less sleep than usual. They may only sleep for a few hours per night for several nights in a row and still seem to have an extraordinary amount of energy. When someone is in the midst of a manic phase, they may also be more irritable than usual and have unpredictable outbursts of anger.
Episodes of depression are the other half of what makes up Bipolar Disorder. Just like when someone experiences an episode of depression that is not part of Bipolar Disorder, the person will start to feel sad or down most of the time and will usually show less interest in the things in life that would usually bring happiness. It’s common for people with depression to stop spending time with friends and family, to stop doing activities and hobbies that they typically enjoy, and to put less effort into responsibilities at home and work or school.
A person suffering from depression may appear tearful at times, irritable, unmotivated, and sluggish. Depression can cause a person to eat a lot more or a lot less than usual, which can lead to drastic changes in their body weight. Depression also causes changes in normal sleeping habits. Some people end up sleeping much more than usual, and still feel tired. Other people with depression have a hard time falling asleep or sleeping well throughout the night.
Many people with depression also have a hard time focusing or concentrating. They may have a hard time doing anything that requires attention, like paying bills or completing work-related tasks, and may even have a hard time carrying on a conversation. Some people with depression may have recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
A common misconception is that people need a specific reason to feel depressed, like losing a job, a relationship ending, or other drastic life changes. In reality, many people who become depressed cannot describe one specific thing that caused them to feel down. Many people who suffer from depression tell us that everything is great in their lives and that they don’t know why they are feeling down.
Many of us will have times in our lives that we are feeling down, but when the feelings last for more than 2 consecutive weeks, and things do not seem to be getting better despite the situation changing, you may be depressed. If you feel like you cycle back and forth between weeks to months of feeling manic and weeks to months of feeling depressed, it could be bipolar disorder.
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