Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder characterised by abnormal mood states. More accurately it involves cycling between the high mood state of mania to the incredibly low state of depression. Bipolar disorder affects at least one in every 70 people, greatly impeding the sufferer’s ability to live a normal life, and putting them at a higher risk of personal, relationship and work related issues.
In order to understand this disorder correctly, a discussion about how we actually define mood or abnormality of mood is in order. Our moods include the obvious states of happiness and sadness, but also optimism, pessimism, contentedness or dissatisfaction and they can even cover physical states such as how fatigued one can feel. You could say that mood is like an emotional barometer a set of feelings that expresses our sense of emotional comfort or discomfort.
Generally speaking everyone’s moods vary within a certain range from day to day, people are not constantly in one state or the other and it is quite normal for people to have ups and downs of mood. So what is the difference between these regular ups and downs in mood and the moods of a bipolar disorder sufferer? Do they simply have higher ups and lower downs?
Well yes, in a certain way this is correct. A bipolar sufferers’ moods quite often are so outside the range of normal that it doesn’t take a psychologist to know something is wrong. They can swing from mood to mood like a monkey swings from a tree at a rate that is almost impossible to keep up with and that doesn’t make any rational sense. Therefore, the symptoms of bipolar disorder seem to be caused more by a defect in the brains regulation of mood.
So for what is essentially a biological condition, the effects are felt both physically and psychologically. Bipolar disorder is accompanied by a range of symptoms that affect not only mood but energy levels, memory, cognitive ability and ones ability to relate and connect to the people around them. Physically one suffers sleep impairments, energy surges or lack thereof, appetite changes and concentration difficulties. Psychologically one might experience changes in thoughts, feelings, choices and actions. As the symptoms are cyclic in nature a sufferer can be left feeling as if they are always losing ground and never quite able to get a handle on their life.
As such the prognosis for bipolar disorder can seem quite dim, however it does not have to be that way. With greater understanding of this disorder and improved medical options over the past 30 years, fortunately today there is much hope for the bipolar sufferer. Through better understanding and management techniques combined with medications such as lithium a bipolar suffer can control the cycling moods and triggers for mania and depression so that one can live an enjoyable life.
Of the treatments necessary for sufferers of bipolar disorder, non is more important than self management strategies. By developing the ability to recognise the triggers and adjusting your life accordingly, a bipolar suffer can lessen the onset and severity of manic and depressive episodes.
The most beneficial self management strategies include:
1. Sleep wake monitoring
2. Staying on a regular daily and nightly routine
3. Keeping a mood chart
A mood chart is really helpful in creating a structure for recognising daily changes in moods and emotions and how these changes are related to sleeping patterns, medications and stressful life events.
4. Developing a list of early warning signs is also beneficial to signaling an oncoming episode
The key to recovery is to achieve stability of mood. And what do we mean by stability of mood? Stability doesn’t mean you don’t have highs and lows. As we discussed earlier, having high and lows are quite normal. What it does means is that your mood needs to make sense to you and be in synch with what is happening in your life. You should be able to live your life with confidence that you can tolerate stress, and when your mood is affected by something either you get upset or excited, you can regain your balance reasonably quickly.