Bipolar disorder affects an estimated four percent of adults in the US alone, and millions more worldwide. Yet despite its prevalence, bipolar disorder continues to be one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions, and one of the most heavily stigmatized. For example, for those who don’t have the disorder, they may be wondering, “How does bipolar disorder affect daily life?”
For starters, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, but it is often mischaracterized as a disorder defined by constant instability, aberrant personality changes, daily mood shifts, and more.
Today, we will explore the question of “how does bipolar disorder affect daily life,” and why you should not let it define you.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, like depression. One way to characterize it is as a version of depression with mild-to-severe symptoms, and additional symptoms of mania, or hyperactivity. Most cases of bipolar disorder can be categorized as either bipolar I or bipolar II.
Bipolar I is defined by severe episodes of mania. Where depression is a constantly low mood, and mania is a constantly high mood. This is not always as pleasant as it sounds, however. Mania can be accompanied by overwhelming feelings of grandeur, irritability, restlessness, and boundless energy, followed by severe crashes. Bipolar I does not necessarily require a person to have experienced depressive episodes as well.
Bipolar II is defined by hypomania, or less severe manic symptoms. Where mania can often require the supervision of a psychiatric professional and may even require partial hospitalization, hypomania is more manageable, but shares many of the same symptoms. Bipolar II usually also requires at least one episode of depression for a proper diagnosis.
While bipolar disorder is known for its mood shifts, these are far from a daily occurrence. People with bipolar disorder experience their episodes a few times a year, rather than multiple times a week. In rare cases – less than ten percent – people with bipolar disorder may experience rapid cycling symptoms, with mood shifts occurring as often as once every two weeks.
How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Daily Life?
However, whether your episodes occur a few times a year or on a more frequent basis, the daily impact of bipolar disorder is undeniable. You don’t need to be manic or depressed for weeks at a time for bipolar disorder to have a significant and debilitating impact on your life.
Bipolar Disorder and Relationships
There is a definite stigma attached to the bipolar disorder diagnosis. While not everyone recognizes or knows the differences between bipolar I and II, or between full-blown mania and hypomania, most people assume that being bipolar comes with a certain level of personal instability and mood changes. This can be an inherently difficult trait to work with when dating.
But it can also strain established relationships, between partners who know full well how bipolar disorder works, and why symptoms occur.
Treatment helps. But progress is not always linear. Partners can and do get frustrated. There can and will be moments of hesitation in the strength of the relationship.
For many people, it’s not an easy thing to recognize and accept a mental health diagnosis – and this in and of itself can lead to strain in a relationship.
Whether or not a person is experiencing an episode, the effects of a diagnosis like bipolar disorder on a person’s relationships can take significant amounts of patience. But that’s not unique to relationships where mental health issues are concerned. All relationships work this way, which is something clients with bipolar disorder should take to heart.
Bipolar Disorder and Work
Some jobs are more or less forgiving about the effects of a condition like bipolar disorder on the productivity and reliability of an employee.
While there are definite laws in place to protect people from being discriminated against for a mental health diagnosis, most people with bipolar disorder can attest to the fact that it still complicates things at work, and when finding work. Furthermore, anti-discrimination laws don’t guarantee you a good job, nor do they keep your employer from firing you for nearly any perceivable offense if they simply decide to have it out for you.
This can create a justifiable sense of tension and anxiety in many people with bipolar disorder, with or without an oncoming episode. It can be difficult to manage these fears, on top of the condition itself.
Bipolar Disorder and Finances
One of the most debilitating aspects of a manic episode is a relative loss of impulse control. Mania is not just restlessness, creativity, and productivity – it can aggravate impulsive decision-making and eliminate risk assessment, and lead to poor personal and financial choices during a manic episode.
Whether it’s something deliberately addictive like gambling or spending sprees on online shopping sites, one of the more nefarious elements of a manic episode is a loss of control, leading to indulgence in activities with extreme consequences.
Bipolar Disorder and Sleep Hygiene
The see-saw of restlessness and fatigue between manic or hypomanic episodes and depressive phases can heavily affect both the body and the mind. Sleep is important, often more so than we tend to give it credit for, and good sleep can make a world of difference in a person’s cognition – from problem-solving to memory – and mood regulation.
Bipolar disorder can kickstart a vicious cycle of disordered sleeping leading to worse bipolar symptoms, leading to even worse sleeping habits. Learning to adopt better sleep habits – usually with the help of your loved ones and physician-prescribed sleeping aids, whether pharmacological or otherwise – can greatly help attenuate bipolar symptoms and improve mood regulation.
A Condition Does Not Define You
Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder – or struggling with it for years while undiagnosed – is just one small facet of who you might be as a person.
While its effects can be felt in everyday living, so can many other things, from the impact of friends and family to the effects of our formative memories and core personal tenets, inherent values, personality traits, and motivations as people. We are each complex creatures, and learning to embrace and address one aspect of ourselves should not invalidate the rest.
Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, and that there are countless others who have learned healthy ways to cope with their diagnosis, while continuing to lead fulfilling lives. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or if it runs in the family, consider seeing a professional today.