• Lady J

The Ins and Outs About Bipolar Disorder

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

When you think of someone who has bipolar disorder, you may think of someone who acts and talks crazy, makes irrational decisions, appears manic, and is either very happy or very depressed.  Or some of you may think of Kanye West (insert shrug emoji).  As with many mental illnesses, there are stereotypes, misconceptions and stigmas about being Bipolar that they have to deal with. However it’s important that we know all we can about it before we misjudge someone who lives with it.

BUT - this blog is about Black Women and mental illness so this post is about how bipolar disorder affects women is differently than men.  I looked at several articles because I wanted to see if there was a difference in symptoms between black and white women, however, from what I found, the symptoms are similar.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

One of my favorite sites to get my research from is, Healthline.com. They define it as having a ‘mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood.’  Bipolar disease or manic depression are also terms that bipolar disorder are known for.  As with many mental health issues, bipolar disorder can disrupt managing your everyday life at work, mantiang relationships and school.  Sadly, there is no cure, but the disorder can be treated to help manage the symptoms!

The 3 Different Types of Bipolar Disorders

  • Bipolar I Disorder - at least one manic or mixed episode that lasts a week or may cause hospitalization. The episode can come before or after a hypomanic or depressive episode. You can have Bipolar I without having a depressive episode

  • Bipolar Disorder II - involves a current or past major depressive episode that lasts at least 2 weeks. Hypomania must have been in the past or current

  • Cyclothymic Disorder - People with cyclothymic disorder may experience ongoing bipolar symptoms that don’t meet the full criteria for a bipolar I or bipolar II diagnosis. Cyclothymic disorder is considered a less severe form of bipolar disorder. It involves the frequent recurrence of hypomanic and depressive symptoms that never become severe enough to be diagnosed as having bipolar II disorder. These symptoms generally persist for a two-year period.

  • Taken from healthline.com

What Are the Symptoms?

Mania, hypomania, depression and mixed mania are the 4 symptoms that occur with bipolar disorder.  I’m going to break down each symptom and some of the behaviors that come with each.

  • Mania - feeling emotionally high, such as being excited, impulsive, euphoric and full of energy.  If someone is going through a manic phase they may participate in:

  • Feel very high-spirited, energetic and creative

  • Irritability

  • Engage in high risk behaviors such as drug/alcohol abuse or increased sexual activity

  • Spending sprees or making bad investments

  • Visual, auditory hallucinations or delusions

  • Hypomania - this is associated with bipolar II disorder (we’ll get into that laer), but not as severe as disrupting someone’s life.  You may however, experience elevated moods (similar to mania).  Women are more likely to develop hypomania than men

  • Mixed mania - you may experience both manic and depressive symptoms everyday or a week or longe. Women are more likely to experience mixed mixed episodes than men

  • Rapid Cycling - if you have at least 4 manic or depressive episodes within one year, this is a pattern that bipolar episodes can be characterized by.  Women are more likely to experience rapid cycling than men. Rapid cycling is linked to increased rates of:

  • Depression

  • Suicide

  • Substance abuse

  • Anxiety

  • Hypothyroidism 

  • Depression - this is part of the bipolar cycle.  It can keep you from feeling like yourself and make it hard to do some of the things you want or need to do.  Here are some of the behaviors you may experience while being in a depressive cycle:

  • Deep sadness

  • Hopelessness

  • Loss of energy

  • Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed

  • Periods of too little or too much sleep

  • Suicidal thoughts

Side note: 

  • Because women are more hormonal than men, due to menstruation, PMS/PDD, pregnancy and menopause it is thought that this is the cause of onset or increase relapse due to hormonal fluctuations.

  • Women may also experience other conditions at the same time, including thyroid disease, obesity, anxiety disorders, and migraines

How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

If I would try to explain what bipolar disorder is to someone with no medical background, I would say that it’s like having several mental health disorders (ADHD, schizophrenia, psychosis, anxiety, depression, etc) going on at one time or several times including being hormonal. This is why it’s hard to diagnose.

Your doctor will complete a physical exam, go over your family history and speak with your family (with your permission) to gather info about any behaviors that are abnormal.  They also may try several medications to see what works before confirming your diagnosis.

How is Bipolar Disorder Treated

There is no cure for the disorder, but the symptoms are treatable based on the individual symptoms.  Here are few treatment options your doctor may recommend:

  • Medication - used as the initial treatment to get symptoms controlled such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and anticonvulsants

  • Psychotherapy - talk therapy can, like medication can help stabilize your mood and help you get used to your treatment

  • Electroconvulsive therapy - involves the use of electrical stimulation to induce a seizure in the brain. ECT has been shown to be an effective treatment option for severe depression and manic episodes, although how and why it works is still unclear. The side effects that can be associated with ECT include:

  • Anxiety

  • Confusion

  • Headache 

  • Permanent memory loss

Alternative Treatments

Some people with bipolar disorder have reported that using alternative treatments provides relief from symptoms. Scientific evidence supports many of the benefits in treating depression. But the effectiveness in treating bipolar disorder requires more research.

Always check with your doctor before starting any alternative treatments. Supplements and therapies may interact with your medication and cause unintended side effects. Alternative treatments shouldn’t replace traditional treatments or medications. Some people have reported feeling increased benefits when combining the two together.

  • Fish Oil

  • Rhodiola rosea (arctic root or golden root)

  • S-adenosylmethionine (SAM)

  • N-acetylcysteine

  • Choline

  • Inositol

  • St. John’s wort

  • Calming techniques (massage, yoga, acupuncture, meditation, prayer)

  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT)

  • Lifestyle changes (structured routines with exercise, sleep and healthy eating)

For those of you that read this post and had no clue about what it means to be bipolar, I hope you have a better understanding of what it means to live with the disorder.  Living with a mental illness is difficult and if this post helps to break some of the judgement and stigma around the disorder  - I feel like that’s a good thing!  For those of you surthriving with this disorder, I hope that you feel that this post educated, uplifted, supported and empowered in some way.  

My 2 Cents

  1. I knew about bipolar disorder, but learned A LOT more about what surthrivers go through and I salute your strength.  This disorder seems like it’s a beast to get through on top fighting through everyday life

  2. I’m all about treatment and taking meds as needed.  As with any new in life, there might be some trepidation, but please be open to what your doctors and family are do to try to help you

  3. Don’t give up hope, there is help and treatment out there

Hey Ya'll, I recorded about about being bipolar, want to hear it, click HERE:

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*I am not a licensed therapist.  This post does not serve as a form of therapy or diagnosis.  If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or your doctor.