Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition where a person experiences extreme changes in mood. A person with bipolar disorder will experience alternating episodes of mania and depression. Each episode can last for days or weeks. Emotions can be very intense during each phase and may be accompanied by changes in sleep patterns, activity levels, and behaviors. The episodes can be debilitating and often interfere with a person’s day-to-day life.
While there are some similarities between the experiences people with bipolar disorder have, it is important to remember that the disorder can manifest differently in different people. Some people will experience all of the symptoms and some will experience only a few. The intensity of the experiences can also vary from person to person. This article will describe the symptoms of bipolar disorder and what it feels like to be bipolar.
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During the manic phase, a person may feel overjoyed, euphoric and full of life. They will generally have a lot of energy and feel like they can take on the world. Mania symptoms can vary greatly in type and intensity between people but tend to be characterized by a general feeling of positivity. Some people may also experience a sense of impending fear of mania subsiding and experiencing a depressive phase.
What does mania feel like? Bipolar mania symptoms can include:
- Increased Energy: A person in a manic state can feel like they will never get tired. They will be more active than usual, yet never feel strained. They may also feel restless and unable to calm down, which can lead to insomnia. The excess energy can also make a person irritable, angry or aggressive.
- Increased Optimism: When a person is in a manic episode, they may feel positive about everything that is going on in their life. Sometimes, this optimism may even lead to them losing touch with reality and becoming delusional about their capabilities. They may also become irritated when others don’t share the same optimism.
- Trouble Concentrating: A person experiencing mania may be easily diverted from the task at hand. They find it hard to focus on one thing at a time, jumping quickly from one idea to another. During mania, a person can experience racing thoughts, where they have many thoughts at once that come and go at a fast pace.
- Feelings of Invincibility: During mania, a person may feel like they are indestructible. This invincibility can cause them to participate in risky behaviors that they normally would not participate in. It can also lead to an increase in goal-directed activity, sometimes to the point where the person becomes obsessed with completing the task at hand, no matter what it takes or who they disappoint in the process.
- Increased Sex Drive: A person in a manic state may have an increased libido. This may also have to do with them feeling invincible and participating in more risky activities than they normally would. Increased sex drive could cause a person to be more promiscuous than they would be normally, which can have the potential to ruin relationships.
- Increased Impulsivity: People in a manic state may have impulsivity that they can’t control. An individual may experience manic spending, where they have the urge to buy something and will do it regardless of the consequences, even if they don’t have enough money. In some cases, this can lead to debt.
On the other end of the spectrum from mania is depression. The symptoms of bipolar depression can be similar to those of major depressive disorder, but it is important to be able to distinguish between the two so that a person can receive the proper treatment for their disorder.
What does bipolar depression feel like? Bipolar depression symptoms include:
- Lack of Motivation: During the depressive phase, a person may lack the motivation to do anything, including getting out of bed. People in this state may stay in bed for days at a time. A person in this state will likely be detached and withdrawn from friends, loved ones and previously enjoyed activities.
- Suicidal Thoughts: Many people will experience suicidal thoughts during depressive episodes. This is usually caused by feelings of hopelessness and despair. They feel that they will be stuck in the depressive state forever and forget what it’s like to feel happy. They may feel the only way to escape is through suicide.
- Difficulty Making Decisions: A person experiencing bipolar depression may find it extremely hard to make decisions. They will likely rely on others to help them make decisions and will not do so until they have someone else’s opinion. This can be debilitating for the person experiencing it and frustrating for those around them.
- Extreme Fatigue: During the depression phase, a person may feel weak and lack energy. They may feel as if their body is being weighed down and find it difficult to move. They can also experience physical symptoms such as joint and muscle aches.
- Increased Irritability: When a person is experiencing the depression phase of bipolar disorder, they may be more irritable than usual. They may feel as though they can’t do anything right and everyone is criticizing them. Usually, they just want to be left alone and may become annoyed by seeing other people living a normal life.
- Feelings of Despair: A person experiencing bipolar depression may have feelings of unhappiness that will not go away. They may feel as though everything is dull, boring or unappealing and there is nothing to look forward to. They are unable to enjoy the things they normally would and may relive past mistakes or grievances and obsess over them.
In between manic and depressive mood episodes, a person with bipolar disorder may feel relatively normal. They have a typical amount of energy and do not have symptoms of depression or mania. They can go about their day-to-day life without excessive worry or straining over every detail. This phenomenon is referred to as stable bipolar.
Many times, however, people with bipolar disorder live in fear of when the next episode will happen and what they will experience. They may avoid certain activities or situations that could trigger an episode. The goal of treatment for a person with bipolar disorder is to achieve a stable bipolar state for as much time as possible.
Do I Have Bipolar Disorder?
If you are asking yourself, “Do I have bipolar disorder?”, The Recovery Village has a 12-question quiz to help you evaluate the likelihood of having bipolar disorder. Of course, bipolar disorder can only be diagnosed by a medical professional. If you are experiencing symptoms similar to those described in this article, it may be helpful to speak to a mental health professional.
If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and have turned to substances to help you cope, The Recovery Village is here to help. To learn more about our comprehensive treatment plans for co-occurring substance use and mental health conditions, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative today.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar Disorder.” April 2016. Accessed July 5, 2019. Dailey, Mark W.; Saadabadi, Abdolreza. “Mania.” StatPearls Publishing, May 13, 2019. Accessed July 5, 2019. Ballester, Javier, et al. “Is bipolar disorder specifically associated with aggression?” Bipolar Disorders, May 1, 2013. Accessed July 5, 2019. Hirschfeld, R.M. “Differential diagnosis of bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.” Journal of Affective Disorders, December 2014. Accessed July 5, 2019.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar Disorder.” April 2016. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Dailey, Mark W.; Saadabadi, Abdolreza. “Mania.” StatPearls Publishing, May 13, 2019. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Ballester, Javier, et al. “Is bipolar disorder specifically associated with aggression?” Bipolar Disorders, May 1, 2013. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Hirschfeld, R.M. “Differential diagnosis of bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.” Journal of Affective Disorders, December 2014. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.