09 Sep What’s It Like to Live with Bipolar Disorder? A Guide for Loved Ones
If you have a loved one with bipolar disorder, you may feel distanced from them. Their behaviors may drive you away, and you may sometimes feel as though you will never truly be able to understand. This can very easily lead to a rapid breakdown in the relationship, causing unnecessary stress stemming from strained relationships and a perceived lack of support and understanding.
While you may never be able to fully grasp what it feels like to live with a mental illness like bipolar disorder, you can gain a greater understanding and insight on the condition, allowing you to be better prepared for your loved one’s behaviors. Here is a basic overview on what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder.
Mania: Happiness, Grandiose, and Productivity
The “high” moods typically seen in bipolar disorder are known as mania. Manic episodes can vary widely in their severity but tend to involve productivity, happiness, energy, and self-importance. Though minor episodes can seem harmless and even positive, they can also include risk-taking behaviors such as excessive spending, irresponsible sex, or grand plans for things like businesses or lifestyle changes.
The energy of the episode can also cause insomnia, further aggravating the symptoms of the disorder. In very severe episodes, the person may believe they have super powers, are famous, or other irrationally self-important thoughts.
People who are experiencing a manic episode may get irritated and lash out if you do not share their optimism, meaning a well-meaning loved one trying to talk them down may get the brunt of the episode.
Depression: Agitation, Restlessness, and Sadness
Like mania, the severity of the depressive episodes can vary widely. A mild episode can look like typical depression in which the sufferer has difficulty sleeping or maybe sleeps too much, feels hopeless, and loses interest in their hobbies. A more severe episode may involve suicidal thoughts and actions. These episodes can be very serious, putting your loved one at risk for self-harm or suicide.
Also, as with manic episodes, your loved one cannot be talked out of a depressive episode. It is a chemical imbalance, a physical inability to alter the mood. You cannot talk a person with bipolar disorder out of an episode any more than you can talk a person out of a broken bone. The best you can do is sit down with your loved one when they are stable and work on creating a response plan.
Psychotic Symptoms: Hallucinations, Delusions, and False Sensory Perceptions
Not all people with bipolar disorder will experience psychotic symptoms. However, up to 70% of people with bipolar disorder will experience psychosis. It occurs during episodes of mania but can also present in about half of people with bipolar depression. Psychosis may include visual or auditory hallucinations, delusions such as believing they are famous, or false sensory perceptions such as feeling a touch when no one is near.
For people who suffer psychotic symptoms, it is critical that they seek help and receive medication. If left untreated, these symptoms can be dangerous to both the person with the illness and those around them.
Bipolar disorder is not something that can be dealt with without professional help. A doctor, a counselor, and medications are often critical if your loved one is to live a healthy, happy life. Furthermore, self-medication is a very real risk. When people with bipolar are not given professional treatment, they are very likely to turn to substance abuse as a way to cope.
With about 56% of bipolar people experiencing addiction in their lifetime, avoiding professional care is not worth the risk. Though coping with this disorder can be difficult, your love and support means the world to your loved one. Continue to research and learn how you can help.
Jennifer Scott knows how difficult it can be to live with anxiety and depression. She has experienced both since she was in her teens. Today, she writes about the ups and downs of her mental illness on SpiritFinder.org. The blog serves as both a source of information for people with mental illness and a forum where those living with anxiety and depression can come together to discuss their experiences.