Defining Bipolar: Meet the Bears.

Welcome Escritori to today’s article: 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 a range of types of Bipolar Disorder depending on the severity and cycles of your symptoms. I have Bipolar 2 Disorder which is the less extreme form, with generally longer periods of wellness. There is an in-between 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 cyclothymia, literally going in cycles rather than one state easing into another, leading to periods of medicated stability.

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

A brain under stress starts to release cortisol as a sign that you need to relax. Bipolar sufferers excel at ignoring this. Stress is a sign to get off the see-saw or at least stop going up and down and re-balance.

If you don’t rest, adrenaline attempts to then pull you through, but although we have amazing abilities of endurance, even when our adrenaline reserves have dried, 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 know! But I really can’t because you’re down there!”

You’re not in a gentle up and down. You’re stuck and stressed. When you are flooded with cortisol your judgement becomes impaired and those who like gambling may be able to relate to the secondary feeling of a reckless buzz. This is when stress leads to loss of inhibition and the sense that you are suddenly untouchable. 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 a bully.

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

This is on the floor exhaustion. There seems to be no point in a calm, rational (and by dopamine standards – joyless) existence. Even if it means you can FINALLY sleep. This lack of energy, (dopamine’s dubious gift) can lead to thoughts of suicide because Mania makes you believe you are super-charged when really, your battery is in crisis. Once that “I have superpowers” feeling wears off Depression arrives. People who say they want to die during this phase, they don’t actually WANT to a lot of the time, the fluctuation is so extreme that in general what they want is to stop feeling such crushing, uncontrollable mental and emotional pain. 

That is the basic pattern of Bipolar Disorder, after which you DO help yourself back to wellness.

Early on, 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 more ‘pharmacy illness’ than ‘hospital 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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