When I was younger, before receiving an official diagnosis, I had bouts of debilitating depression that I never talked about. I grew up in an environment where I wasn’t able to speak up, so I put on a shell and I kept quiet.
During my teens and 20s I experienced intense cycles of mania and depression. I would have major swings up, everything about me super-charged: I would act recklessly; I would sleep only two hours a night; I felt like I couldn’t stop moving and that I couldn’t think rationally. And then I’d swing down, getting so depressed that I could barely move or talk. It was debilitating. During my lows, I would also get bouts of irritability – so much made me angry or annoyed. Everything was magnified. I was just feeling so out of control, and for a long time I was self-medicating with alcohol so I could be numb.
“I hope people will hear my story and think, ‘oh my gosh – that’s me. I’m not the only one who feels this way.'”
I didn't want to talk, I didn't want to be a part of anything. I would just shut down. And with a husband, a career, three kids and trying to balance everything – you finally hit a moment where you go, “Ok, this isn't good. This isn't going to work. This isn't healthy and certainly not setting any kind of example for my kids.”
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was in my late 20s. Part of me was relieved to have a name for what I was experiencing. But I was also terrified of all of the unknowns, and of becoming a person I didn’t want to be. I didn’t understand this diagnosis and was worried it would become my identity.
It took me years to realize that my diagnosis doesn’t define me and that it’s possible to live well with a mental health condition.
For me, managing my bipolar disorder means taking care of myself physically, knowing my triggers and avoiding them, leaning on my incredible support system and staying open and honest with both my doctor and myself so we can ensure my care plan is working.
Living with a mental health condition is a long journey with no finite destination, but I’m finally at a point in my life where I feel like I can speak my truth in my own way, on my own terms.
Joining Be Vocal is my way of saying, “Ok. I’m ready to talk.” I know that there are millions of people who feel the same way. So let’s do it together.
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 12.6 million individuals in the United States and an estimated 29 million people worldwide.1,2
A person is usually diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he or she experience at least one manic episode, and the occurrence of both the manic and depressive episodes that are not better explained by another mental health condition, such as schizophrenia.3
Although each person's experience is unique, bipolar disorder is characterized by debilitating mood swings.4 While some people experience periods of stable mood and behavior after a period of abnormally excited or elevated mood, or mania, people with bipolar disorder usually experience at least one depressive episode, also known as bipolar depression.5,6 When individuals with bipolar disorder are experiencing symptoms, most tend to be depressed, rather than manic.3
There are many different types of mental health conditions that cause individuals to feel depressed. The presence of sadness and feelings of emptiness and irritability are shared across most forms of depression. These symptoms can diminish a person's ability to set goals and complete activities that once seemed simple.3
While everyone's experience is unique, many people seek help during the depressive phase of bipolar disorder when they're experiencing symptoms.3
Symptoms of bipolar depression often persist over a two week period and may include:3
Symptoms of mania are typically persistent for at least one week and include:1
Bipolar disorder can create significant losses in people's ability to function and enjoy life.7
It can affect personal and work relationships, create stress for the individual and his or her family, and reduce expected lifespan.5,8,9
Although research is ongoing, there is no single cause for bipolar disorder. In fact, there are many contributing factors including genetics and environmental factors.2,10
Diagnosis can be a long process and can take up to 10 years. It can take 15-20 years for those with alcohol or drug problems to be diagnosed properly.3
For many, the symptoms can be controlled.11
- “Bipolar Disorder.” Decision Resources. Table 2-2: Number of Total Prevalent Cases of Bipolar Disorder in the Major Pharmaceutical Markets, by Subtype, 2012-2022. Burlington, MA. December 2013.
- World Health Organization. Global Burden of Disease, 2004 Report. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.who.int. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Health Topics, Global Burden of Disease, The Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update).
- American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.nimh.nih.gov. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Health & Education, Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depressive Illness), Featured Publications About Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder).
- The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Mood Disorders and Different Kinds of Depression. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.dbsalliance.org. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Education, Brochures, Mood Disorders and Depression and Bipolar Disorder).
- Mental Health America. Bipolar Disorder: What You Need to Know. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Health Info, Mental Health Info, Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder: What You Need to Know).
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Impact and Cost of Mental Illness: The Case of Bipolar Disorder. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.nami.org. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Communities, Living With, Bipolar Disorder).
- Perlick, DA et al. Impact of Family Burden and Affective Response on Clinical Outcome Among Patients with Bipolar Disorder. Psychiatric Serv. 2004 Sep; 55(9): 1029-1035.
- The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Bipolar Disorder Statistics. [Internet] Available from: http://www.dbsalliance.org. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Education, Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder Statistics).
- Nurnberger JI, Jr., Foroud T. Genetics of bipolar affective disorder. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2000 Apr;2(2):147-157.
- Pary R, Matuschka P, Lewis S, Lippmann S. Managing Bipolar Depression. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2006 February; 3(2): 30-41.