What is Bipolar?

According to the International Bipolar Foundation website, Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by “dramatic mood swings” and “severe changes in energy and behavior” that are referred to episodes of mania and depression.

Symptoms of mania include

  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Excessively high, or euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts, increased speech, talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
  • Easily distracted
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Unrealistic beliefs in an individual’s abilities or powers (Grandiose)
  • Poor judgment
  • Increased high-risk behavior: spending sprees, self-medicating, drug and alcohol abuse
  • Hypersexuality
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong
  • Psychosis, resulting in hospitalization

Symptoms of depression include

  • Decreased or increased appetite
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too little or too much)
  • Nervousness, worry
  • Loss of interest in usual activities (anhedonia)
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Feelings of sadness that don’t go away (dysthymia)
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt
  • Inability to think or concentrate
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Chronic pain or other physical problems that don’t respond to treatment

Bipolar 1 vs. Bipolar 2

It is important to note a couple of things here. First, everybody’s symptoms manifest differently. I know my agitation and irritability make me a generally unpleasant person to be around; I wake up with that “wrong side of the bed” feeling, but instead of it going away, it sticks with me for days, or sometimes weeks.

Secondly, not everyone with Bipolar experiences psychosis. Many websites refer to “milder” manic symptoms without psychosis; this is referred  to as hypomania.

Bipolar 1 is defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms so severe they require hospitalization. Depression also occurs, usually lasting at least two weeks. Mixed episodes (episodes with both depressive and manic features) can also occur.

Bipolar 2 is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full blown mania listed above. Hypomanic episodes can last as little as four days and depressive episodes as little as a week.

There are other categories for Bipolar Disorder, including Cyclothymia (otherwise known as rapid-cycling) or “Not Otherwise Specified.” For all intents and purposes, my blog will focus on Bipolar 1 and 2. Personally, I have never experienced episodes of psychosis and I have never required hospitalization. This categorizes me as Bipolar 2.


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