Essential Facts to Know About Bipolar Disorder

**Trigger warning: this post discusses mania, depression, suicide and other topics that may upset those who have lived experience. Please read with caution.**

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health illness. It affects millions of people (2.6% of the American population), but yet, you may not see the signs for a long time. I have friends that live with this illness and while they do struggle, they also have great days, weeks and even months between episodes.

It hurts my heart when they are not doing so well, but all I can do is support them if they want it. The disorder and its many presentations differ among people, even among episodes. One episode can be a mixed episode, the next can be full-on depression. There is no way of knowing, even if there is a known pattern of episodes.

There are facts that can expand your knowledge of and help someone you know that has bipolar disorder.

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More Than Mood Swings

Almost everyone has mood swings- some days we are happy, some we are sad. In the case of bipolar disorder, these changes affect a person’s ability to function in daily life- work, relationships, school, etc. These changes include mania (“highs”) and depression (“lows”). Suicide attempts are common in those with bipolar disorder, especially during a depressive episode. The risk is even higher when there is a history of previous attempts.

Bipolar disorder can be treated with therapy and medication. Some have issues staying compliant with their medications because of side effects and/or once they feel better, they don’t see the need for medications.

It is vitally important that once medications are started to stay on them unless otherwise directed by the prescribing physician. Many people with this disorder can live full, productive lives. Most people see their first episode between their late teen years and mid-20’s.

What does mania look like?

  • Feelings of euphoria and elation, in some people- this can come out as irritability or anger
  • Impulsive, high-risk behaviors- this varies among people, but this can include spending sprees, sexual promiscuity, daredevil-like behaviors, and drug and/or alcohol abuse.
  • increased energy, rapid speech
  • decreased sleep and appetite
  • disorganized thoughts and difficulty concentrating

What does depression look like?

  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Inability to sleep/sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in regularly liked activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness/guilt
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or appearance

Causes, Types and Risk Factors

There isn’t a single cause for bipolar disorder, but there are multiple contributing factors.

Genetics- This disorder tends to run in families. Please read Mental Health and Genetics: The Main Connections for more information on how genetics play a role in certain mental health illnesses. Scientists are working on finding abnormalities in specific genes in this case.

Biological- Researchers believe that some neurotransmitters don’t work correctly in the brains of those with bipolar disorder.

Environmental- Outside factors, like a major life change, may trigger a biological reaction or genetic predisposition. It’s hard to know for sure, but it is seen as a possibility.

The Different Types of Bipolar Disorder:

  • Bipolar I: An individual has both manic and depressive episodes of different lengths.
  • Bipolar II: Less severe manic episodes than Bipolar I, but the depressive episodes are the same.
  • Rapid-cycling: experiencing four or more episodes of mania, depression or both within one year
  • Mixed episodes: Mania and depression occur at the same time. This means someone can feel hopeless but yet energetic enough to do risky things.

Risk Factors:

  • A family history of bipolar disorder or other psychological disorders
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse
  • Major life changes
  • Stress
  • Medication interactions- for example, some antidepressants can induce mania.

Angry cat

Knowing When to Get Help

When someone you care about seems a bit “off” for a period of more than a few days, it may be time to get them to go to a mental health facility, therapist or other assistance. The concern can be sudden or gradual after seeing someone not taking care of themselves, acting out of character, spending large amounts of money, or showing other signs of mental distress.

It may be hard to talk to them about it, but it may be what they need most. Knowing that someone cares for them may be the push they need to get help. Bipolar disorder does not get better on its own.

Their treatment may include medication, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) or other options as needed. They may even have a co-occurring condition that may also need to be treated. The most common conditions are ADHD, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

If you or someone you care about is in a bipolar episode and experiencing thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, please get to an ER immediately, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text HOME to 741741. Both are free.

Support and Love

Those with bipolar disorder need two major things from those they love and care about: support and love. It’s not easy to battle your own mind every day. It can get exhausting. I’ve watched my friends battle through issues with medications, hallucinations, depressive and manic episodes. This is not fun, but they did not choose their chemical makeup. They just try to get through life like the rest of us.

If you love someone with bipolar disorder, please read Mental Illness and Relationships

It can be a bumpy road, as I learned, but it’s entirely worth it.

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Information courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Psych Central

The Day Before

*Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. Please read with this in mind.*

I wrote about “A Million Little Things” when it premiered and thanks to the 1/24/19 episode, it gets another blog post.

This episode discusses the day before John, the main character, completes suicide. His death baffles everyone around him. In the episode, he gets into an argument with one of his friends, Gary and promises his wife, Delilah, that they will have a long-needed talk.

John was freaked out about finances. The walls were closing in on him financially. He told his assistant, Ashley, to take the night off.

I’ll stop there with the spoilers, in case you want to catch up on the episode.

“Call Me Blind/But I Didn’t See it Coming”- P.O.D.

August 31, 2015, was my day before. I went to work at the job I loved- a mental health associate at a mental health facility. I worked on a unit for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities. I was days away from filing for divorce – Matthew and I were barely on speaking terms. Jake had been a bit quieter than usual, but I thought maybe he was just in a depressive episode.

Many people who knew about us have asked if I saw any signs, but I didn’t. I could see many things just by looking into Jake’s eyes. This wasn’t one of them. If I had even thought of him taking his own life, I would have done anything to stop it. It beats the hell out of losing him.

Jake and I texted like usual until he went to bed. He worked third shift and didn’t go to sleep before about 9 am. We made plans to hang out in a few days when our schedules would match up- I didn’t know then that those plans would never go through. I meant to text him later that day, but I got busy after work.

Early the next morning, September 1, 2015, I sent him a picture of Tails. He had blue ink all over him from Cameron picking him up the night before after a pen bled all over his hands. His very last text to me read: “Poor Tails”. He was still awake after not being able to sleep the night before. I had texted him on my way to work.

That was it.

Jake died later that day.

The Worst Phone Call

I’ll never forget the pain in Josh’s voice when he told me about Jake’s death. It is one of the worst phone calls I’ve ever had.

The aftermath of losing someone to suicide is.. shattering. It’s one of the few words I have been able to find to accurately describe how Jake’s loss affected me. This kind of loss will make you question a lot of things– I questioned who my friends really were, my strength and of course, my marriage.

Living without Jake has been difficult- but I am here, living the life he made me strong enough to live and having finished the work he started in 2013. I hope so much that he is proud of me, from wherever his caring spirit is.

There is a post about the day after, and you can find it here

Today’s PSA: If you love someone, tell them. You may lose that chance. The regret is hard to live with.

Pics courtesy of Pinterest

Resources:

AFSP

Why it’s Okay to be the Not So Fun Parent

Where’s the Fun?

Parenting is not fun 100% all the time. Any parent that says this is lying. I love my kids dearly, but there are days in which this parenting thing entirely sucks. Either two or all three kids are fighting (their longtime favorite is the front seat of my car), someone is sick or injured, or if I’m really lucky, both. I even nicknamed the fighting between Julian and Lily “The Petty Olympics” because they constantly go for who can bring up the pettiest thing and get on my nerves the most.

Other days, my house is a magical place in which dinner is done on time and nobody fights. This is great.

Most of the time, I’m home with the three ring circus, as the kids are jokingly called. Even when I worked, much of the after-school childcare has been my arena. I’m permanently on call while the kids are at school if anything goes down (and it has- I’ve picked up each kid at least once). This leads me to be the enforcer. The not-so-fun parent.

Someone’s gotta do it, right?

This is not to say Matthew is not a good dad, because he is. He simply works a schedule that brings him home around 7 PM and it’s been this way for many years. Many dinners have been burnt in the process of the kids not tearing the house apart, having a meltdown, or fighting. Fighting is a common theme at my house.

Mom is a Meanie

If I had a dollar for everytime that Lily told me I am “the meanest mommy ever” I would never have to work again.

She’s 10. She has no idea what’s coming for her in the future.

It used to hurt my feelings that my kids thought I was mean and they didn’t like me…but no longer. I had a chat with my mom, the queen of mean moms. She reminded me that it’s not really my job for these kids to like me but for me to raise them to be decent people.

Good point, Mom.

Now quit buying my kids recorders.

One of our biggest challenges as parents is to do what my mom said- raise our kids to be decent people. They need to learn manners, to fight fairly, talk appropriately, and many other lessons. This may mean not being the fun parent all the time.

Sigh.

I’ve had to let the kids learn to squash their sibling fights on their own (unless things get super bad) because it got draining on all of us. Being the not so fun parent means having to enforce the rules, all the discipline stuff (big bummer), making sure your kids don’t hurt others and teaching them how the world works, especially when they mess up.

I do worry that I’m a bit too hard on the kids. When we’re out in public, I do tend to crack down a lot on their behavior before it even looks bad. One of the last times Julian had to get a haircut, he was so angry he walked out as soon as he was done. He got my evil mom glare as he walked out. I took a deep breath, apologized to the hairdresser and gave her a really nice tip. He was mad that he had to get two inches off the top, not just one.

Matthew tends to be a bit more laid back in general so someone’s got to be be a bit heavier with things. If I wasn’t, I’m pretty sure this house would be a crap show in an hour. This also fits my semi Type A personality. It’s okay to be the enforcer. Kids need structure, rules and guidance. My kids gets that from both Matthew and I. They know that I have basically zero tolerance for certain things but being kids, they will still attempt to push buttons. It’s what kids do.

The biggest payoff, not that I was looking for one, is hearing how well-mannered my kids are when they are with other people. My friend Madonna has five kids. She kept my boys overnight recently and when she brought them back, she told me “Your boys are so good! You should be proud of them. They were so nice and have good manners.”

I thanked her. I guess the not fun mom thing does pay off. She told me her kids are loud and wild no matter where they go, but she and her hubby are working on this. I figured that while my sons are less than mannered sometimes with me, I have taught them something while they have been rolling their eyes and sighing at me.

The lesson here is: your kid might be annoyed at you while you’re teaching them manners and other things but it does pay off.

If you’re the “not so fun” parent, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s okay to be a bit harder on your kids, especially in the age of super disrespectful kids. I’ve seen videos of kids that shocked me- my mom wouldn’t have tolerated any of that for a second. Kids aren’t robots, they do have thoughts and feelings- but it is good to instill things like respect and good behavior in your kids.

Parenting is a tough job- try to make the mental load a little lighter. Try to have a bit of fun in the midst of the seriousness. I certainly do.

Pics courtesy of Pinterest

Twin Mummy and Daddy

Not Just the 3 of Us