As it turns out, simply knowing that it involves happy times and bad times isn’t enough. Even with my family history, I didn’t even know that until after I got diagnosed. Just like “cancer” describes the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells (thanks, Google) but actually has many different types and ways it presents, so too does Bipolar.
This is Bipolar 101.
Disclaimer: I have not studied mental health professionally and I may have some aspects wrong
Before starting this I thought it would be a fun idea to find out what the average person knows about Bipolar. Answer? … Not much. The majority of responses involved confusion, with some not even knowing it was a mental health condition, and those that did know could only describe it in the most basic terms of having highs and lows.
Bipolar does involve highs and lows, and also periods of stability in between. The highs are called Manic or Hypomanic states, depending on the severity, and involve not only feels of euphoria but can also involve anger, aggression, severe anxiety, or full on psychosis. The lows are known as Depression and pretty much everyone understands what that means. There are also mixed episodes, which occur more in those with Type I, where someone will get symptoms from both mania and depression.
So what are the different types?
Most people with basic knowledge on it are familiar with Type I and Type II, but there is a third type called Cyclothymia. Cyclothymia involves less severe mood shifts than the other two, while Type II involves full blown depressions but limited highs, called Hypomania. Type I, my type, involves severe depressions and also full manic episodes complete with delusions and psychosis.
Following so far? Cause there are more divisions. Someone might also be diagnosed as having mixed episodes, as I briefly described earlier, and rapid cycling. Rapid Cycling is apparent when someone has 4 or more distinct episodes in one year and approximately 10-20% of sufferers will experience it for some period of time.
Fun fact: a common misconception about Bipolar Disorder is that mood can change very quickly, when in fact the shortest period of time for it to be considered an episode is 2 weeks, but can last for months or even years in some people.
But wait, there’s more
Even with all those variations I cannot possibly describe how it presents in individual people. Some people have barely any episodes, while others are just about constantly cycling. Some people have manic episodes that feel wonderful while others only fear the psychosis that comes with it. Some medications work for some people while for others are completely useless. Just like you could not summarise the personalities of a large group of people, you could not possibly summarise the way it presents in everyone.
It is important not to assume you know what someone is going through, even if you have a label for their condition. Ask them and listen to what they have to say, as they are the expert of their own struggles.