Defining Bipolar: Meet the Bears.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder linked to hormone/chemical imbalances in the brain. It is the Manic state of this illness that causes extreme mood swings and emotional and physical vulnerability.

There are different types of Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar 2 Disorder is the less extreme form, with generally longer periods of wellness. There is a middle state between illness and stability which Bipolar 1 Disorder people in particular have more often. This is called hypo-mania where you have blended symptoms of Mania and Depression, or also cyclothymia, going in cycles, rather than easing between states with some wellness.


Imagine your brain is a see-saw. A range of hormones go up and down on both ends to make sure important instructions get around the body in the right amounts. The two major hormones in bipolar are: cortisol (the stress hormone) and dopamine (the pleasure chemical.)

A stressed brain starts to release cortisol as a sign that you need to relax. Bipolar sufferers excel at ignoring this. Stress is a sign to stop, rest and re-balance.

If you don’t, adrenaline attempts to pull you through, but after our adrenaline has gone, there is no choice but for cortisol to crank up. It’s the child who is stuck up high at one end of the see-saw. Adrenaline is on the floor screaming: “I’m done, you should REALLY get off!” and cortisol is kicking the air, saying “I really can’t because you’re down there!”

You’re no longer in a gentle pattern. When you are flooded with cortisol your judgement becomes impaired and some, like gamblers, might feel a reckless buzz. This is when stress leads to loss of inhibition and feeling like you are invincible. Welcome to playmate two, dopamine. Dopamine boosts adrenaline off the see-saw and says: “Well you’re here now, why not play all day, really, really fast?” 

Dopamine is often tagged ‘the pleasure/reward chemical.’ It gets released during sex, eating chocolate and even rules an entire phase of falling in love. But a dopamine spike leads to Mania or Manic “highs” that can lead to risk taking and delusional or psychotic thoughts. ‘Psychotic’ means holding onto and making decisions based on negative or untrue beliefs. The resulting “come down” manifests as Clinical Depression.

You’re exhausted. There seems to be no point in a calm, rational (joyless) existence: Even if you can sleep at last. This lack of energy can lead to suicidal thoughts because Mania makes you believe you are super-charged when your battery is in crisis.

When the “I have superpowers” feeling wears off, Depression arrives. People mostly don’t actually WANT to die – they want is to stop feeling such crushing tiredness and pain. Depressive state is when medication forcibly, like a parent, pulls you off the see-saw, until your brain learns to play equally again. It is beneficial to learn your triggers so that you can avoid risks which cause these cycles called Manic episodes.

Managing  bipolar over time requires awareness – a holistic lifestyle change: exercise, routine, healthy eating, occupational therapy, anti-stress techniques. Medically it becomes a ‘pharmacy illness’ so there is always hope.

Long periods of stability mean that you can have a fulfilling, active and creative life eventually.

 Keep scribbling,

~ Pola ~




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