How much do you know about bipolar disorder? You might mention the mood swings. The depression. The mania that follows.
If you don’t live with it, or know a loved one who lives with it, that’s likely where your knowledge stops.
But what else is important about bipolar disorder that we don’t talk about? To honor Mental Health Awareness Month, we teamed up with the International Bipolar Foundation to explore the unspoken corners of bipolar disorder, and asked what parts of bipolar disorder really need awareness not just this month, but every month.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “The effects of various types of medications — from weight gain (or loss) to ‘brain fog,’ forgetfulness, word-finding difficulties… It’s frustrating and can lower your self-esteem.”
2. “It seems like no one, including doctors, wants to discuss the ‘hyper-sexuality‘
that can come along with bipolar mania. This can be a very shameful part of the illness. It can cause serious damage to the person suffering.”
3. “Manic states aren’t fun, like many think. You can become self-destructive, and often impulsive decisions are made that have potentially devastating consequences. It can be overwhelming to deal with racing thoughts, and I get incredibly irritable. I think mania reduces my inhibitions and I get aggravated much more easily. I also don’t sleep much at all when I’m manic. It’s not a euphoria for me, and it’s often followed by severe depression.”
4. “The media portrayal of the illness is very narrow. It focuses on the acute stage of mania and depression and rarely acknowledges that patients have stable moods and their symptoms can be in remission for a good deal of time.”
5. “Having bipolar can lead to darkness in your life. Mental illness is just as deadly as many other life-threatening diseases.”
6. “People don’t talk about how it actually feels to have bipolar. People talk about signs and symptoms, but not what it actually feels like going through them. How frightening it is to have it, how totally out of control it makes you feel. People without it don’t see it as debilitating — they know it as a ‘mood swing’ when it’s so much more.”
7. “People need to understand it is not an excuse, it is a disorder. Read about it before you judge.”
8. “I think nobody talks about the difference between our mood swings and our actual emotions we feel as human beings. I have encountered my legitimate feelings being mistaken for my mental illness. I feel like my mental illness gets blamed for anything negative I’m going through, taking away my right as a human being to feel those emotions.”
9. “The mixed episodes are rarely mentioned. People without bipolar often assume there’s only two phases, mania and depression, and they present in specific ways with specific symptoms. However, each episode can present itself uniquely and aren’t always pure mania or pure depression.”
10. “I’m very open about my bipolar disorder, but I never talk about hallucinations. People can handle when you explain highs and lows, but trying to explain hallucinations when manic is just a recipe for disaster.”