Bipolar Disorder: a Simple Look At A Very Complex Illness

This is about bipolar disorder, a very complex mental disorder.

I'm sure we can all think of times when we've mistaken one thing for something else.  Coke and Pepsi are both brown sodas and look exactly alike in a glass, for instance. However, unlike grabbing the wrong soda, confusing a mental illness for something else can cause a lot of problems. In a previous Factoid, I gave a few ways to tell the usual 'blue periods' from clinical depression (knoji.com/is-it-just-sadness-or-could-it-be-clinical-depression/). In this article i'm going to discuss bipolar disorder, an illness with which I have personal experience. Let's begin. 

Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme highs ('mania' or 'manic') and extreme lows ('depression').  This is one of the simpler ways to explain this very complex disorder. I think one reason this disorder is so misunderstood is because it is very easy to be misdiagnosed. For instance, I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 1995. About five years later, I moved and went to a new doctor. When I went to this new doctor and filled out their questionnaire, it was discovered that I actually had bipolar disorder. It's possible that I might have developed bipolar from the type of depression I had, but what's more likely is that I had bipolar all along but was misdiagnosed. I think a big part of that was that I was in college during that in-between time and so a lot of things that can go along with bipolar (i.e. impulsivity, extravagant partying and/or spending, not sleeping very much but still feeling energetic, etc) seem relatively normal for college students.  Also, when you're feeling good you're not as likely to go to the doctor, so the extreme depressive side might be the only thing the doctor sees.  It's a medical disorder and so it's treated like one, but that doesn't help much if it's the wrong treatment. 

There is more than one kind of bipolar, and some people lean more toward one side than the other. I personally lean much more toward depression. I've had some pretty extreme times, mostly involving extreme fatigue for no real reason, insomnia, and undue feelings of hopelessness and guilt.  My self-esteem was practically non-existent, although that's always been a problem. I've actually had suicidal ideations at one point, but at other times not caring if I lived or died.  Some of us also don't get *fully* manic, but get a lesser version called 'hypomania'. The heightened feelings of energy, confidence, and being 'on top of the world' are present here, but not the hallucinations or delusions that can come along with the more extreme forms of mania. I fit in this category. The worst part of bipolar for me has been what is called 'mixed state'-being manic and depressive at the same time. The best way I can think to describe it is this: feeling like you have something else inside of you, controlling your thoughts and actions. Quite scary. If someone had told me that I had a demon or spirit during the times I've been in mixed state (actually...never mind, that's another article), I'd be willing to believe them, because that's pretty much what I feel like. 

I could go on much more and into much more detail about bipolar, but I won't. This disorder is much more complex than what I've described above, but I'll leave the 'doctor-speak' to the doctors! 

Source: About.com bipolar.about.com/cs/bpbasics/a/0210_whatisbp.htm

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Martine Pauwels
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Posted on Apr 28, 2010