What is Bipolar Disorder?

A question that keep repeating itself is “are bipolar disorder and manic depression the same thing?” Bipolar disorder was previously called manic depression, it was officially changed to Bipolar Disorder in 1980 with the publication of the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Bipolar disorder affects the mood significantly; your mood can swing from one extreme to another. Bipolar was discovered as far back as Ancient Greece and might be the reason behind the terms “Euphoria” and “melancholia” which both originates in ancient Greece.

A bipolar episode ranges between two extremes:

  • Bipolar depression – feeling very low and lethargic
  • Bipolar mania – feeling very high and overactive (Bipolar 2 is often signified by episodes of hypomania, which is a milder form of mania)

In between bipolar episodes it is common to experience euthymic mood, which is similar to what would be considered a normal, stable mood. There is a strong link between bipolar disorder and anxiety (Cambridge study), and anxiety can be prevalent even in while in an euthymic mood even if all symptoms of depression and mania is absent.

There is also a type of episode which is called mixed state, where the sufferer can experience both bipolar mania and depression at the same time or in rapid sequence.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on which mood you’re experiencing. Unlike simple mood swings, each extreme episode of bipolar disorder can last for several weeks (or even longer), and some people may not experience a euthymic mood in between.

The disorder is categorised into two bipolar disorder types: bipolar 1 and bipolar 2. Both these disorders are signified by experiencing both episodes of bipolar mania and bipolar depression, however bipolar 2 is often signified by hypomanic state. Therefore, there is no question of which bipolar disorder has mania.

I, personally, am diagnosed with bipolar 2, which sometimes is considered a milder form of Bipolar as I will usually only get hypomanic episodes and not a full-blown mania. As part of my disorder I have mostly suffered from depressive episode with occasional interruption of a high. My best fitness journey was completed while I was surfing on a bipolar manic episode (before I was diagnosed). I later crashed and am starting over again. It is was what got me interested in fitness and want me to try to help other to manage their bipolar through fitness and healthy choices (even if I make quite a few unhealthy choices myself).

Bipolar is very different in everyone, which means it is a very hard disorder to diagnose. In the U.K. it takes approximately 10 years to get a diagnosis. Often Bipolar will be misdiagnosed as Major Depression disorder, borderline personality disorder and other disorders with similar symptoms to Bipolar.

Does bipolar disorder get worse?

There is no hard reason to think that bipolar disorder worsens with age, and with proper treatment and care most people can live a full life with the disorder. Without treatment, bipolar disorder can get worse. This is one reason behind why most bipolar patients do take medication. Whether bipolar can be treated without drugs must be a decision between you and your doctor. It is vital to follow any advice from your GP regarding treatment options and medication.

Bipolar disorder symptoms:

Bipolar disorder can cause hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety and other severe conditions which can occur in both depressive and manic state. There are also other mild to moderate symptoms that might occur such as lack of energy, feeling over joyed or lack of concentration. Below I have put a list of normal symptoms of bipolar disorder. Please note that the list is not complete and other bipolar disorder signs might occur.

Bipolar depression:

  • feeling sad, hopeless or irritable most of the time
  • lacking energy
  • difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • loss of interest in everyday activities
  • feelings of emptiness or worthlessness
  • feelings of guilt and despair
  • feeling pessimistic about everything
  • self-doubt
  • being delusional, Bipolar depression can cause hallucinations and disturbed or illogical thinking
  • lack of appetite or increased appetite
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • waking up early
  • suicidal thoughts

Bipolar Mania:

  • feeling very happy, elated or overjoyed
  • talking very quickly
  • feeling full of energy
  • feeling self-important
  • feeling full of great new ideas and having important plans
  • being easily distracted
  • being easily irritated or agitated
  • being delusional. Bipolar mania can cause hallucinations and disturbed or illogical thinking.
  • not feeling like sleeping
  • not eating
  • doing things that often have disastrous consequences – such as spending large sums of money on expensive and sometimes unaffordable items
  • making decisions or saying things that are out of character and that others see as being risky or harmful

Mania and Depression can come in cycles of varied length and the patterns may not always be clear-cut as mixed states (where you experience symptoms from both bipolar mania and depression) or rapid cycling might occur. Rapid cycling in bipolar is signified by having more than 4 episodes within a 12-month period.

If you suspect that you might have this condition, it is important to see a health professional who can help you. The first step will be to discuss the condition with your GP who may refer you to a psychiatrist or other specialist health professional.