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A story of bipolar disorder - Does this sound like you?

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Bipolar Disorder » Featured Article

Are you feeling really "down" sometimes and really "up" other times? Are these mood changes causing problems at work, school, or home? If yes, you may have bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness.

James' Story:

I've had times of feeling "down" and sad most of my life. I used to skip school a lot when I felt like this because I just couldn't get out of bed. At first I didn't take these feelings very seriously.

I also had times when I felt really terrific, like I could do anything. I felt really "wound up" and I didn't need much sleep. Sometimes friends would tell me I was talking too fast. But everyone around me seemed to be going too slow.

My job was getting more stressful each week, and the "up" and "down" times were coming more often. My wife and friends said that I was acting very different from my usual self. I kept telling them that everything was fine, there was no problem, and to leave me alone.

Then, all of a sudden, I couldn't keep it together. I stopped going to work and stayed in bed for days at a time. I felt like my life wasn't worth living anymore. My wife made an appointment for me to see our family doctor and went with me. The doctor checked me out and then sent me to a psychiatrist, who is an expert in treating the kinds of problems I was having.

The psychiatrist talked with me about how I'd been feeling and acting over the last six months. We also talked about the fact that my grandfather had serious ups and downs like me. I wasn't real familiar with "bipolar disorder," but it sure sounded like what I was going through. It was a great relief to finally know that the ups and downs really were periods of "mania" and "depression" caused by an illness that can be treated.

For four months now, I've been taking a medicine to keep my moods stable and I see my psychiatrist once a month. I also see someone else for "talk" therapy, which helps me learn how to deal with this illness in my everyday life.

The first several weeks were hard before the medicine and talk therapy started to work. But now, my mood changes are much less severe and don't happen as often. I'm able to go to work each day, and I'm starting to enjoy things again with my family and friends.

Many people who have bipolar disorder donít know they have it. This article tells you about four steps you can take to understand and get help for bipolar disorder.

Four steps to understand and get help for bipolar disorder:

  1. Look for signs of bipolar disorder.
  2. Understand that bipolar disorder is a real illness.
  3. See your doctor. Get a checkup and talk about how you are feeling.
  4. Get treatment for your bipolar disorder. You can feel better.

Step 1: Look for signs of bipolar disorder.

Read the following lists. Put a check mark by each sign that sounds like you now or in the past.

Signs of Mania (Ups)

  • I feel like I'm on top of the world.
  • I feel powerful. I can do anything I want - nothing can stop me.
  • I have lots of energy.
  • I don't seem to need much sleep.
  • I feel restless all the time.
  • I feel really mad.
  • I have a lot of sexual energy.
  • I can't focus on anything for very long.
  • I sometimes can't stop talking and I talk really fast.
  • I'm spending lots of money on things I don't need and can't afford.
  • Friends tell me I'm acting differently. They tell me that I'm starting fights, talking louder, and getting more angry.

Signs of Depression (Downs)

  • I am really sad most of the time.
  • I don't enjoy doing the things I've always enjoyed doing.
  • I don't sleep well at night and am very restless.
  • I am always tired. I find it hard to get out of bed.
  • I don't feel like eating much.
  • I feel like eating all the time.
  • I have lots of aches and pains that don't go away.
  • I have little to no sexual energy.
  • I find it hard to focus and am very forgetful.
  • I am mad at everybody and everything.
  • I feel upset and fearful, but can't figure out why.
  • I don't feel like talking to people.
  • I feel like there isn't much point to living, nothing good is going to happen to me.
  • I don't like myself very much. I feel bad most of the time.
  • I think about death a lot. I even think about how I might kill myself.

Other Signs of Bipolar Disorder

  • I go back and forth between feeling really "up" and feeling really "down."
  • My ups and downs cause problems at work and at home.

If you checked several signs in these lists, call your doctor. Take the lists to show your doctor. You may need to get a checkup and find out if you have bipolar disorder.

Step 2: Understand that bipolar disorder is a real illness.

Bipolar disorder is more than the usual ups and downs of life. It is a serious medical illness that involves the brain. The up feelings are called mania and the down feelings are called depression.

Most people with bipolar disorder go back and forth between mania and depression. Some people have both feelings at the same time, which is called a mixed state.

More than 2 million Americans have bipolar disorder. It can happen to anyone, no matter what age you are or where you come from.

What causes bipolar disorder?

You may want to know why you feel these extreme ups and downs. There may be several causes.

  • Bipolar disorder may happen because of changes in your brain.
  • Bipolar disorder tends to run in families. This means that someone in your family such as a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, sister, or brother may have bipolar disorder.
  • Sometimes the cause of bipolar disorder is not clear.

Bipolar disorder is a serious illness, but it can be treated. You can feel better.

Suicide

Sometimes bipolar disorder can cause people to feel like killing themselves. If you are thinking about killing yourself or know someone who is talking about it, get help:

  • Call 911.
  • Go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
  • Call and talk to your doctor now.
  • Ask a friend or family member to take you to the hospital or call your doctor.

Step 3: See your doctor.

Don't wait. Talk to your doctor about how you are feeling. Get a medical check-up to rule out any other illnesses that might be causing your mood changes. Ask your doctor to send you to a psychiatrist (a medical doctor trained in helping people with bipolar disorder).

Step 4: Get treatment for your bipolar disorder. You can feel better.

There are two common types of treatment for bipolar disorder: (1) medicine and (2) "talk" therapy. Having both kinds of treatment usually works best. It is important to get help because bipolar disorder can get worse without treatment. Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that needs to be treated throughout a person's lifetime.

Medicine

  • See the psychiatrist your doctor suggests. He or she can prescribe medicines that work to control your moods. These medicines are called "mood stabilizers." You also may need to take other medicines to help treat your illness.
  • The medicines may take a few weeks to work. Be sure to tell your psychiatrist how you are feeling. If you are not feeling better, you may need to try different medicines to find out what works best for you.
  • Medicines can sometimes cause unwanted "side effects." You may feel tired, have blurred vision, or feel sick to your stomach. Tell your psychiatrist if you have these or any other side effects.

Talk Therapy

  • "Talk" therapy involves talking to someone such as a psychologist, social worker, or counselor. It helps you learn to change how bipolar disorder makes you think, feel, and act. Ask your psychiatrist who you should go to for talk therapy.

How to help someone with severe mood changes

If you know someone who is having severe mood changes and may need help, here are some things you can do:

  • Tell the person that you are concerned about him or her.
  • Share this article with the person.
  • Talk to the person about seeing a doctor.
  • Offer to take the person to see the doctor.
  • If the doctor offers the name and phone number of a psychiatrist or someone for "talk" therapy, call the number and help the person make an appointment.
  • Offer to take the person to the appointment.
  • "Be there" for the person after he or she starts treatment.

For more information:

You can call or write any of these organizations for free information about bipolar disorder. You can also find more information on their Web sites. "Free call" phone numbers can be used free by anyone, anywhere in the United States.

  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
    Office of Communications and Public Liaison
    Information Resources and Inquiries Branch
    6001 Executive Boulevard
    Room 8184, MSC 9663
    Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
    Free call: 1-800-421-4211
    Local call: 301-443-4513
    Hearing impaired (TTY): 301-443-8431
    Web site: http://www.nimh.nih.gov
    E-mail: nimhinfo@nih.gov

  • National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
    2107 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 300
    Arlington, VA 22201-3042
    Free call: 1-800-950-6264
    Local call: 703-524-7600
    Web site: http://www.nami.org

  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
    730 N. Franklin Street, Suite 501
    Chicago, IL 60610-7224
    Free call: 1-800-826-3632
    Local call: 312-642-0049
    Web site: http://www.dbsalliance.org

  • National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc. (NAFDI)
    P.O. Box 2257
    New York, NY 10116
    Free call: 1-800-239-1265
    Local call: 212-268-4260
    Web site: http://www.depression.org

  • National Mental Health Association (NMHA)
    1021 Prince Street
    Alexandria, VA 22314-2971
    Free call: 1-800-969-6642
    Local call: 703-684-7722
    Free call - hearing impaired (TTY): 1-800-433-5959
    Web site: http://www.nmha.org

  • Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation
    1187 Willmette Avenue, PMB #331
    Willmette, IL 60091
    Local call: 847-256-8525
    Web site: http://www.bpkids.org

SOURCE: National Institute of Mental Health; January 2002



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