A lot of people only know of bipolar disorder based on movies or tv shows. You know the basic story: one minute, characters are catatonically depressed, and the next, they’re so manic that they can bounce off walls and fly. They can’t hold down a steady job, their relationships with friends and family are destructive, and they’re hypersexual. And most times, these are the things that define the character and little else. But for real people living with bipolar disorder, their lives may not always resemble these stereotypes.
What’s Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by swift shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. Depending on the type of bipolar disorder a person has, they may struggle with major depressive episodes to high-energy periods of mania.
Typically, these mood shifts are characterized by their own symptoms and can range in frequency and intensity depending on the type of bipolar disorder they have. The major kinds of bipolar disorder include:
- Bipolar I disorder: In people with type 1 bipolar disorder, manic episodes can last at least seven days or are severe enough to require immediate hospital care. Depressive episodes usually occur, as well, and last at least two weeks. Mixed episodes are also possible in people with this disorder.
- Bipolar II disorder: This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes (which are less severe) without ever experiencing a full manic episode.
- Cyclothymic disorder: People with cyclothymic bipolar disorder experience multiple episodes of manic and depressive symptoms lasting for at least two years, though not meeting the diagnostic criteria of hypomania or depressive episodes.
- Bipolar disorder "other specified" or "unspecified": People diagnosed with other specified or unspecified bipolar disorder don't fit into the other subtypes of the condition but do experience significant shifts in mood and energy levels.
While you can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder at any age, it’s more common for people to be diagnosed in their teens or twenties. People with a family history of bipolar disorder are also more likely to develop the condition. Traumatic events like the death of a loved one or long-term substance abuse can also trigger the onset of bipolar disorder.
How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Everyday Life
While you can begin to understand how bipolar disorder works by reviewing a list of symptoms and behavioral characteristics, you have to remember that no one’s life can be defined by a bullet point list. Behind every bipolar disorder diagnosis is a unique individual who experiences various struggles and achievements due to and despite their diagnosis.
That’s why it’s important to understand how bipolar disorder can affect someone’s life on a day-to-day basis rather than basing our opinions on stereotypical portrayals of the disorder on social media, in movies, and on tv shows. With that said, some common effects of bipolar disorder on everyday life include:
Struggles With Mood Regulation
Considering that bipolar disorder primarily impacts a person’s mood, it’s understandable why the number one thing that people living with bipolar disorder struggle with is mood regulation and control. Individuals with this diagnosis can experience moments of extreme depression, during which they may not want to get out of bed, or moments of extreme mania, during which they may want to open a new business selling cupcake molds. These shifts in mood can be exhausting for the person and their loved ones, which is why programs like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are used to help individuals learn how to identify and manage potentially risky symptoms.
People living with bipolar disorder may also struggle with their finances, mainly because of things they might do when they’re in a manic state. For instance, because mania can trigger impulsivity, a person with bipolar disorder may go on major shopping sprees during a manic episode, which can lead to debt and other financial problems.
Difficulty Maintaining Healthy Relationships
Due to the fluctuations in mood that are common to people living with bipolar disorder, it’s not uncommon for relationships to take a hit from this diagnosis. It can be impossible to predict the mood of someone who has bipolar disorder, and friendships to romantic relationships can be a challenge to form and sustain for people with the disorder.
Challenges Managing Responsibilities at Work
Because stress is a common trigger for mental illness, partnered with the shifts in mood that occur in people with bipolar disorder, work can be a challenge. Finding and holding up a job can also be difficult for someone living with bipolar disorder due to their symptoms. For weeks or months, the person might feel like they’re on top of the world at work, followed by a period during which they can’t get out of bed. As you can imagine, this can severely impact productivity.
Similar to work, people with bipolar disorder may also take up a sudden interest in particular hobbies or activities during a manic episode and then just as quickly lose interest in them with the onset of depressive symptoms. While hobbies can be a healthy outlet for someone living with bipolar disorder, the constant switch can become expensive, exhausting, and unfulfilling.
Maintaining Healthy Sleep Patterns
Irregular sleep patterns are one of the most defining physical symptoms of bipolar disorder. During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorder can do more with less sleep or may even feel as if they don’t need to sleep at all. On the other hand, during a depressive episode, individuals may struggle with insomnia or hypersomnia, during which they may always feel groggy due to a lack of sleep or oversleeping.
Eating Enough and Healthily
Fluctuations in mood patterns can also influence a person’s eating habits. During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorders may feel as if they can get by with less food or no food at all, which depression may trigger a need to eat nothing or eat everything. One in three people with bipolar disorder also meets the criteria for binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and other types of eating disorders.1
Bipolar disorder predominantly affects mood, and drugs and alcohol are mood-altering substances. See the connection? It’s common for people with mental health disorders like bipolar to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms. There are also cases of individuals with bipolar disorder whose symptoms are triggered by mild drinking. Especially if the individual takes medication for their disorder, adding drugs or alcohol to the mix can lead to adverse effects.
Get Bipolar Disorder Treatment and Support Today
Do you suspect that you or a loved one has bipolar disorder? If so, our Banyan rehab locations can create a treatment plan that can help.
Banyan offers various types of mental health services in Florida, including bipolar disorder treatment. We incorporate both individual and group therapy modalities to help clients discover and overcome the sources of their disorder and receive support from others in recovery.
We also offer family therapy at Banyan Stuart to help spouses, family members, and close friends of clients recover from the impact mental illness has had on their lives. Our family services also educate those closest to clients and prepare them to act as a support system for the individual at home.
Our specialists know what a day in life with bipolar disorder is like, and with the right kind of help, you or someone you care about can safely and effectively manage bipolar disorder symptoms.
- Journal of Eating Disorders - Eating disorders, bipolar disorders, and other mood disorders: complex and under-researched relationships