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Living With Bipolar Disorder

Just recently a friend went off her medicines and wrote, “I was doing so much better! I thought I didn’t need them.” The interesting thing is that she’s a doctor! No matter how educated we are or how smart we are, bipolar disorder can still trick us regarding medications.

So, to begin with, let’s find out what bipolar disorder exactly is.

Bipolar Disorder is a disorder of mood, that causes extreme mood swings that range from emotional highs, called mania or hypomania, to emotional lows, or depression. Mood swings may occur multiple times per year or hardly at all. Some individuals with the disorder may rarely experience “normal” moods.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. It runs an unpredictable course of ups and downs. When left untreated, these ups and downs can be devastating.It’s rather unfair that the onset of bipolar is typically late teens or early twenties, a time where people usually enjoy life without abandon or many responsibilities.

It is important to be educated about the disorder. The more you know about it, the better you will be at helping yourself or others to expedite recovery. There is one important fact that each one of us should remember though; the person is NOT bipolar, he/ she lives with bipolar.

While bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose, once it’s identified, it can be treated.

Bipolar Diagnosis

Unless you have severe mania, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be hard to spot. People who have hypomania may feel more energized than usual, more confident and full of ideas, and able to get by on less sleep. These are things that hardly anyone complains about.

A bipolar disorder diagnosis is made only by taking careful note of symptoms, including their severity, length, and frequency. “Mood swings” from day to day or moment to moment do not necessarily indicate a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Rather, the diagnosis hinges on having periods of unusual elevation or irritability in mood that are coupled with increases in energy, sleeplessness, and fast thinking or speech. The patient’s symptoms are fully assessed using specific criteria by psychiatrists and/ or trained psychologists.

How Can One be Sure that he/ she has Bipolar Disorder? When people with bipolar disorder experience acute mania, immediate referral to a specialist psychiatric service is usually necessary.

Diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be tricky and often difficult. So, in order to get the best treatment, it is advisable to work with a psychiatrist who is skilled in the disorder and can help you wade through the many twists and turns.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder can be very complex and the first assessment may not provide a definitive diagnosis.

To make matters more complex other illnesses mimic symptoms of bipolar disorder. Mood swings and impulsive behaviour can sometimes reflect psychiatric problems other than bipolar disorder, including:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Conduct disorders
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Developmental disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Certain anxiety disorderssuch as post-traumatic stress disorder

To confirm the diagnosis, a mental health professional (usually a psychiatrist) should undertake a comprehensive assessment. If you agree, this may include speaking with your family/ whanau, partner or someone who knows your behaviour prior to, and after, the onset of the symptoms. It is necessary to conduct a full psychiatric history, mental state assessment and physical examination to confirm the diagnosis.

The doctor will exclude any underlying organiccause (such as a prescription drug or substance-induced manic state) and identify any physical complications (such as dehydration).The doctor will also decide if there is any risk to the person’s safety or to others, a key consideration in deciding how best to manage the condition. Mania refers to elevated mood that is characterised by high-risk behaviour of either: aggression, excessive spending, or engaging in what is called, ‘disinhibited behaviour’. This is behaviour that is likely to severely damage your reputation, such as sexual indiscretions.

Research indicates that people who take medications for bipolar disorder are more likely to get better faster and stay well if they also receive therapy. Therapy can teach you how to deal with problems your symptoms are causing, including relationship, work, and self-esteem issues. Therapy will also address any other problems you’re struggling with, such as substance abuse or anxiety.

Recovering from bipolar disorder doesn’t happen overnight. As with the mood swings of bipolar disorder, treatment has its own ups and downs.

People who manage their bipolar disorder well provide assurance and hope that living with it and achieving a good lifestyle is now possible. The wider community is now more aware and understanding of bipolar disorder, there is support and there are highly effective treatments now available.

“I often get mails and online queries for advice from people who are living with bipolar disorder” says Dr. Asif Iqbal Ahmed, Founder of PsyCare.He adds, “I try my best to help them.  Eat right.  Exercise.  Do yoga.  Meditate.  Indulge in a hobby.  But I have one piece of advice, the most important piece of advice of all…Take your meds”.

It is a myth that people with bipolar disorder cannot recover and lead a normal life. Yes, living with the disorder is challenging but there are many who are leading a healthy life with successful careers and families.

With treatment, it is possible to lead a good quality of life if you have bipolar disorder. Take care of your mental health.

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