Life can be crazy, hectic, and stressful at times but if you or someone you love is grappling with bipolar disorder, life’s difficulties can be multiplied and become unbearable. Bipolar disorder brings about a certain set of challenges that are unique to the disorder itself as well as magnifying the other normal everyday issues that we all come across.
Throughout this article, we’re going to look at bipolar disorder and how the condition can affect different aspects to one’s daily life. Although complex in nature, you can be manage bipolar disorder in order to live a more fulfilling life.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is actually a set of four different distinct disorders that range in severity as well as in their symptoms. ¹ These include:
- Bipolar 1 – marked by a shift from a relatively normal state of functionality to a manic one that commonly lasts for anywhere to a handful of days to a couple of weeks.
- Bipolar 2 – similar to Bipolar 1, however, the shifts are usually towards a depressive state rather than a period of mania.
- Cyclothymic disorder – a kind of bipolar disorder that resembles bipolar 2 but is less severe in its symptoms.
- Mixed features – a subset of bipolar disorder in which the person who struggles experiences both high and low effects within the same episode
The major difference between these conditions is essentially the severity of the mood shifts and the duration of said mood swings. However, due note that while these diagnoses might seem similar to one another, they each require a distinct treatment method.
Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
In order to identify the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s important to categorize symptoms by three separate classes. These include:
Mania is a common class of symptoms for bipolar disorders and it’s marked by periods of great excitement, euphoria, delusions, or overactivity that is heightened compared to how the patient usually functions.
Those experiencing mania or a manic-related episode might have the following sub-symptoms to their overlying mania:
- Dabbling in behavior(s) deemed usually risky
- Distracted easily
- Fast in speech and movements
- Feeling wired or naturally high
- Heightened sensations, especially in smell and touch
- Increase in energy
- Interrupting, racing or intrusive thoughts
Hypomania is a subset to mania but it’s less severe than regular mania or manic episodes. Those that experience hypomania might actually feel good or even better than they usually do and , more importantly, as though their mania isn’t out of control.
However, it is always best to air on the side of caution if you or someone you love is suffering from hypomania. If gone unchecked, this symptom set can spiral into full blown mania and cause interruptions or complications in a person’s day-to-day life.
Depression or depressive-related symptoms are common in those that struggle with bipolar disorders. They often develop in cycles, much like mania or hypomania, and make it difficult for the person to function normally.
Its also common for those suffering from bipolar disorders to experience depression with large amounts of energy and to have deep depressive episodes a couple of times a year.
Those that are suffering from depression or a depressive-related episode might experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Complications in paying attention, concentration and decision making
- Eating too much or too little
- Hard time getting up and out of bed in the morning or during the day
- Little to no joy, wonder or excitement in what one is usually interested in
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?
It can be quite difficult to diagnose bipolar in the first place. Due to its constantly shifting mood sets and the fact that the symptom set is similar to other mental health conditions, bipolar disorder has created an issue in finding clear and concise diagnosing methods. ³
Added to this predicament is the fact that there isn’t any specific tests to diagnose bipolar disorder (i.e. blood tests or brain scans). That being said, that isn’t to say there aren’t any measures that can be done to try and diagnose bipolar disorder.
The testing methods are more through long-term care and consultation when it comes to charting and recording developments of symptoms as well as physical and mental exams by medical professionals. These help to rule out other possible conflicting disorders or diseases and to confirm that the real culprit is bipolar disorder.
How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Your Life?
Bipolar disorder can be difficult to live with and will have an effect on your daily life. Luckily, there are some habits you can pick up in order to avoid a severity in symptoms. Here are five ways in which bipolar disorder affects your life.
1.) Food and Drink Habits
The nutrition we consume plays a major role in our mental health – regardless of whether we struggle with a condition or not. If those that suffer from bipolar disorder were to follow a diet that provides much needed nutrients, the severity of symptoms may decrease.
Some mental health professionals recommend keeping a food journal in order to have a written account for which foods and drinks you have consumed. Most of those suffering from bipolar disorder find that having a balanced and regulated diet that includes nutrient rich veggies, fruits, meats, and grains. These can provide some relief from certain symptoms and can help try and reign in some of the more severe mood swings that are attributed to bipolar disorder. ⁴
Most of the foods that are recommended for bipolar disorder are:
- Lean meats like chicken and turkey breast, which help provide protein.
- Fruits and veggies which help with digestion, mood, and provide vital nutrients and minerals. Examples include:
- Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries (for certain vital vitamins)
- Bananas (for serotonin)
- Spinach (for energy)
- Whole grain-based pastas, cereals and breads
Of course, you may find a certain course of nutrients works better for you. We suggest experimenting around with what you consume and, from there, documenting the foods that make you feel better.
2.) Wake and Sleep Cycle
Sleep disturbances are a core symptom in bipolar disorder. The prevalence of sleep issues is directly tied to specific symptoms of the disorder including but not limited to depression, mania, and hyper-mania. ⁵
When someone struggling with bipolar disorder has a depressive episode, it’s common for them to experience frequent fatigue. However, some individuals may experience insomnia brought on by stress or anxiety – two emotions that naturally disturb the rhythms of sleep.
Vice versa, if someone is experiencing a cycle of mania or hyper-mania, often in result of a upswing from a depressive episode, they may have difficulties in falling asleep, staying asleep, or sticking to a sleep schedule. ⁶
There are long term repercussions from a lack of consistent sleep which may include increased mood swings featuring hostility or frustration, mental fogginess, and issues in staying concentrated and motivated on a particular task. Luckily, certain medications (such as melatonin) can be taken in order to promote sleep.
3.) Work and Financial Responsibilities
Work and financial issues usually go hand-in-hand with mental health. Not only will you experience these problems as a result of your mental disorder getting in the way of responsibility, but the disorder itself can be quite expensive to treat.
With its consistent shifts in mood and emotion, bipolar disorder brings on responsibility challenges that are unique to the condition. There is a growing trend of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder working from home, with an estimated 58% of those with bipolar disorder deciding to work from home. The reason for doing so range from difficulties with coworkers to having an easier time coping and working without distraction from others or a workplace. ⁷
Many with bipolar disorder will utilize avoidance behaviors in order to try and not deal with work and financial responsibilities. These evasive maneuvers might look like any of the following: ⁸
- Difficulties in concentrating on the task at hand.
- Pushing off work or fanatical responsibilities with other tasks that seem not as important in retrospect
- Starting other tasks in order not to deal with the inevitable
- Using excuses in order to get around issues or difficulties
Those that are diagnosed with bipolar disorder often have issues pertaining to relationships with friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Due to symptoms and the overall maintenance required for these symptoms, it’s common for those suffering from the disorder to have difficulties in finding strong emotional ties to others.
In close romantic relationships, it’s common for those with bipolar disorder to have issues with intimacy and closeness. This is due to the mood swings, usually from a manic or hypo-manic state to a depressive one. However, during manic and hypomanic episodes, intimacy and the need to spend time with a romantic partner might increase.
These fluctuations often lead to long-term issues in consistency of the relationship as well as being there for the other partners’ needs and desires. Sex drive can also be hampered by medications, as most pharmaceuticals used to treat bipolar disorders have a side effect of a lowered sex drive and testosterone levels. ⁹
5.) Drug and Alcohol Difficulties
When one is struggling with bipolar disorder the risk of over-indulging in drinking and eating becomes more prevalent. Oftentimes, these are ways to cope with symptoms. However, there are those that fear that there might be a more serious link to drinking and self-soothing behaviors that stem from bipolar disorder.
The reason why there may be a higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder is due to the symptom subset that bipolar disorder brings about. Symptoms like depression, mania, and mood swings can act like triggers for drug and alcohol use. Not to mention, there are other genetic factors that might make this situation worse as well. ¹⁰
Bipolar Disorder and Other Mental Illnesses
As we’ve discussed, bipolar disorder has a set of symptoms that mirror symptoms of other mental health conditions. In turn, this can cause confusion during diagnosis. However, if left untreated, bipolar can actually develop into other mental health conditions – most notably, anxiety and depression.
Not to mention, misdiagnosing bipolar disorder for other conditions can lead someone down a treatment path that isn’t for them. For example, a person can have symptoms and behaviors that are indicative of bipolar disorder, when in fact, they actually are suffering from another condition, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD). ¹¹
Bipolar disorder is a complex condition that can cause a lot of complications in person’s life. However, with the right treatment approach and utilizing certain self-help techniques, anyone with bipolar disorder can go onto lead a fulfilling life.
The most useful thing to have on your side as someone who is suffering from, or knows someone who’s suffering from, bipolar disorder is education and knowledge. By having information on your side, you can be better equipped to face the difficulties and concerns that bipolar disorder can bring about.
Still have questions regarding bipolar disorder and its daily challenges?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also like to hear from you.
¹ Mayo Clinic: Bipolar Disorder – A Definition
² National Institute for Mental Health: Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
³ National Institute of Mental Health: Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis: Challenges and Future Directions
⁴ Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance: Nutrition for Bipolar Disorder
⁵ International Bipolar Foundation: “How Food Changed My Bipolar Disorder”
⁶ National Center for Biotechnology Information via National Institute of Mental Health: Sleep Disturbance in Bipolar Disorder Across the Lifespan
⁷ Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance: Bipolar Wellness at Work
⁸ CBSNews: Subtle Signs of Bipolar Disorder
⁹ John Hopkins Medicine: Bipolar Relationships: What to Expect
¹⁰ Mayo Clinic: Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism: Are They Related?
¹¹ National Alliance on Mental Health: Borderline Personality Disorder VS Bipolar Disorder – What’s The Difference?