What Does Bipolar Feel Like?

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 4.4% of American adults have bipolar disorder. But, what does bipolar feel like? And how do you know if you might have it?

Onset typically occurs in a person’s mid-twenties, with people between 18 and 29 having the highest rates of the disorder. While bipolar disorder is not curable, it is treatable and can be managed so you can lead a productive, healthy lifestyle.

If left untreated, however, bipolar disorder can negatively affect your overall health. For example, it can cause a reduction in lifespan among some people but increase the risk of suicide and substance use disorders.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Daily events and encounters produce ups and downs that lead to mood fluctuations. It is not unusual to feel happy and excited when something good happens and sad or blue when something bad happens. These mood shifts are considered “normal.” Moods undergo abnormal or extreme changes that represent a disorder for some people.

Classified as a mood disorder, bipolar refers to a shift between mania and depression. Bipolar occurs on a spectrum with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Bipolar I, II, and Cyclothymic disorders are varying types in which doctors diagnose someone based on the exact symptoms, frequency, and severity.

What Does Bipolar Mania Feel Like?

Imagine completing all your tasks at home, work, and school and still feel energized to do more. Imagine feeling happy, optimistic, excited, and full of creativity. In addition, your energy levels do not wane, and you go days without sleeping. You get so much accomplished it gives you a feeling of euphoria. This is called bipolar mania.

Anyone with mania will likely tell you they enjoy this phase of bipolar disorder. It feels good to be manic. However, in a manic phase, many people engage in risky behaviors that lead to negative consequences. Examples include drug and alcohol misuse, criminal activity, unhealthy sexual encounters, etc. In extreme cases, you may experience hallucinations, psychosis, or delusions.

What Does Bipolar Hypomania Feel Like?

A milder version of bipolar mania is called hypomania. With this, you remain high functioning but do not experience psychotic episodes. Your mood is happier than usual, but you are also more easily irritated than normal.

You may have an exaggerated sense of confidence or feel invincible. You become unusually talkative, have racing thoughts, and are easily distracted. Hypomania may resemble attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in some.

What Does Low-Level Bipolar Disorder Feel Like?

Mild or low-level bipolar is also known as cyclothymia. Symptoms are the same as hypomania and mania but less severe. You have more energy, struggle to concentrate, feel restless, pacing, and fidgety. The same is true for bipolar depressive symptoms. They exist but on a much milder level than types I and II.

What Does Bipolar Depression Feel Like?

Going from such a high to an extreme low can be debilitating. Bipolar depression lasts much longer than mania, from weeks to months. It interferes with your ability to function daily at work, home, school, and socially. You feel exhausted but on a level that prevents you from getting out of bed.

Many people tend to have sleep disturbances or oversleep and avoid being around others. With bipolar depression, you may experience crying episodes that aren’t connected to any sad event. You may also feel hopeless, unworthy, and as if you have no reason to live.

Bipolar depression can cause you to become obsessed with negative thoughts of failure, guilt, and shame, and like the world would be a better place without them. It is in the bipolar depression phase that some people consider committing suicide.

Both bipolar mania and depression can be successfully treated using medication, behavioral therapies, and alternative therapies.

Medications for Bipolar Disorder

Many medication options exist for treating all types of bipolar disorder. Lithium has been a go-to medication since the 1970s. It prevents severe mania and reduces the number of shifts from manic to depression.

Anticonvulsants that stabilize mood and are prescribed for bipolar disorder include Depakote, Depakene, and Lamictal. In people with hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis, doctors typically prescribe antipsychotic medications. Examples include Abilify, Seroquel, Zyprexa, and Latuda.

Treating depressive symptoms requires adding an antidepressant medication to your antipsychotic protocol. Common antidepressants given for bipolar disorder include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs, and tricyclics.

Today, medications can be administered as injectables weekly or monthly, making it much easier to maintain medication regimens.

Psychotherapies for Bipolar Disorder

Medication alone does not provide long-term results. When combined with psychotherapies, however, a person can experience improved outcomes. Psychotherapies, or psychosocial treatments, aim to change negative thought patterns that lead to unhealthy behaviors.

Types of therapies for treating bipolar disorder include the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Psychoeducation
  • Peer support
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (ISRT)
  • Family-focused Therapy (FFT)
  • Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)
  • Social skills
  • Mindfulness

What Does Bipolar Feel Like? Is It Really Bipolar Disorder?

To receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, your doctor will order lab work and a comprehensive evaluation of your genetic, biological, psychological, social, and environmental history. You can answer some simple questions to determine if your symptoms are more closely related to bipolar or another condition.

Have you had repeated episodes of mood swings from mania to depression?

Did your symptoms start or worsen in your twenties?

Does your family include people with a bipolar diagnosis?

Do you have repeated episodes where your energy levels are much higher than others?

Has your antidepressant stopped working?

Have you experienced hallucinations, delusions, or psychosis during mania?

Have any of your family, friends, or coworkers shown concern over your mood swings?

Have you ever felt like you are not your usual self?

Answering “yes” to any of these questions means you should make an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health therapist who can provide further assessment of your symptoms. If diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you can create a treatment plan for managing symptoms long-term so you can continue working, socializing, and participating in the many activities you enjoy.

For more information, reach out to the Mental Health Center.