Living with Bipolar disorder

By The Space Between Us

Experiencing changes in mood is part of daily life and these changes in mood can last a few hours at most for most individuals. The problem is when the fluctuation in moods last for days and affects or impairs daily functioning. This is the case with bipolar disorder.When the intensity of mood fluctuations, this can be disruptive to a person’s relationships and impact negatively on occupational functioning. The mood changes in bipolar disorder go together with immense behaviour change. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience alternating depressive episodes with periods of manic symptoms.

Bipolar mood disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions and according to the World Health Organization, affects more than 45 million people around the globe. It is estimated that 3-4 % of South Africans have bipolar disorder, this is according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). Research suggests that a combination of factors could increase one’s chance of developing bipolar, as the exact cause is unknown. This includes physical, environmental, social conditions, biochemical, genetic and psychological factors. A diagnosis of bipolar can be scary and difficult to accept as it can leave one with uncertainty about the disorder and how to cope.

What is Bipolar?

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder and it is a category that includes three different types for this article: bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar I disorder is characterised by a manic episode or symptoms for at least seven days and due to its severity usually requires hospitalisation, while bipolar-II disorder is associated with depressive and hypomanic episodes. 

During the manic episode, the individual may engage in multiple overlapping new projects. The projects are often initiated with little knowledge of the topic and nothing seems out of the individual’s reach. Individuals often do not perceive that they are ill or in need of treatment and vigorously resist efforts to be treated, during a manic episode. While during a depressive episode, the individual experiences depressed mood (feeling sad, irritable, empty) or a loss of pleasure or interest in activities, for most of the day, nearly every day. Individuals with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of suicide. Cyclothymic disorder is for individuals (2 years in adults or 1 year in children or adolescents) who experience both hypomanic and depressive periods without ever fulfilling the criteria for an episode of mania, hypomania, or major depression. 

Mania and hypomania are two varied types of episodes with symptoms that are alike, however mania is more severe than hypomania and may cause more noticeable problems at work, school, social activities or in relationships. Psychosis can be triggered during a manic episode, immediate medical attention in required in such an instance.

Bipolar disorder causes intense alterations in mood and energy levels. This can be overwhelming for the person diagnosed with bipolar disorder as they may feel out of control with the intense change moods and not certain how to cope. Managing these symptoms can be challenging for someone living with bipolar disorder and those around them can be affected as a result. It starts with the individual accepting the condition, learning and understanding the symptoms of the disorder to assist in better management of the disorder. 

Managing Bipolar

Since there is no cure for bipolar disorder a combined approach of medication, therapy and lifestyle change are beneficial in management of the disorder. Partnering with the treating team goes a long way in assisting in managing the condition. Keeping a record of change in mood and how they affect treatment, feelings and sleep, can be helpful in identifying triggers or when an adjustment in treatment is required. As result of the stigma at times associated with bipolar disorder, symptoms such a suicidal ideations, low self-esteem and strained relationships can be exacerbated. Learning to manage bipolar is ongoing process and developing effective coping strategies can go a long way in managing symptoms and prevent conflict with loved ones. Having a support network provides for opportunity to ask for help when the individual is not coping. The people the individual surrounds themselves with can offer valuable insights about their behaviour when it is most needed, such as observations during a manic episode.

Some people with bipolar prefer to keep their condition confidential at work, out of fear of being discriminated further in the workplace. This may limit that level of support they could receive from their leaders, if they are not aware of their condition. Mental health has been more recognised in the last few years, with workplace programmes to support employees. By cultivating trust through talking, training and connecting with each member of the team, employee engagement and performance is likely to improve. With the correct treatment and support a person with bipolar can lead a functional life.

Avoiding triggers

There are some aspects to consider in preventing episodes and triggers, such as:

1. Avoid drugs and alcohol

2. Watch for early warning signs

3. Take medication exactly as directed

4. Manage stress and recharge

5. Keep a sleep schedule and involve friends and family