A Different Reality: Bipolar Disorder

The Razor’s Edge, by Madeleine Richey

There is a world very different from ours in which some of our friends live. It’s a world that is within ours but strange to us; a different reality.

I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness what Bipolar Disorder can do to a life. It’s funny how those little pills can hold our lives in the balance. Without them some of us spiral out of control. Our eyes deceive us; even though they seem on the outside to recover from an episode, their world is still unstable, and in an instant it can go bad and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Bipolar Disorder is commonly known as Manic-Depressive Disorder; it is a mood disorder, which is commonly diagnosed by a Physiatrist. It is recognized by elevated moods, or Manias. Sufferers of Bipolar Disorder often experience Manias, states of depression, or combinations of the two, punctuated by periods of normal moods. In cases of rapid cycling, the mood swings occur at least four times within a time period of twelve months; some might experience ultra-rapid cycling, where they could have mood swings up to several times a day.

When a severe mania occurs, a person suffering from Bipolar Disorder might also become hallucinatory, a symptom of a psychotic episode. Linked to creativity, many people famous for creative minds and goal-driven accomplishments have suffered from Bipolar Disorder.

The exact cause of Bipolar Disorder has yet to be discovered, but chances of a child being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder have been shown to be higher when the father is of advanced age at the time of conception. Unbalanced levels of Serotonin, Dopamine, and Glutamate (some of the hormones most affected with the use of common street drugs) have been proposed as causes for Bipolar Disorder, but studies have not been able to replicate results or come up with consistent factors for a possible cause.

Mood changes are often associated with periods of stress that can trigger a manic or depressive state in a bipolar person. Environment has also proven to play a role in Bipolar Disorder: adults diagnosed with Bipolar disorder reported a higher percentage of stressful occurrences in their youth, such as abuse or traumatic experiences, and, the higher the number of abusive or traumatic experiences, the earlier the onset of Bipolar Disorder.

The medicines used to treat Bipolar Disorder are most commonly mood stabilizers, the most prominent of these being lithium carbonate, which is used to treat acute manic episodes; it is more effective in treating manic episodes than depressive states. The use of lithium carbonate shows a reduced risk of suicide, death, or self-harm. Lamotrigine is used in the treatment of depression, most effective for severe depressive attacks. Carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant, was commonly prescribed for the treatment of manic episodes in the 1980s and 90s, but was then replaced by sodium valproate, another anticonvulsant, which is also effective in treating manic episodes.

Unfortunately, the use of such drugs as sodium valproate, have been shown to have a high risk of birth defects in pregnant women. They also can also cause unpleasant side effects; sedation, uncontrollable shaking, or hair loss.

People who are experiencing a manic episode often have a huge increase in energy, spending hours at a time on their feet and participating in vigorous exercise without ceasing, never feeling tired or the need for sleep, sleeping three to four hours a night, or going days with none and no lapse in their energy levels. They might become aggressive, or intolerant of other people; sexual drive may increase, and they easily slip into substance abuse. When suffering a manic episode, they are easily distracted with a short attention span, and may go on spending sprees with no self control due to impaired judgment. They might also feel as if they have been specially chosen for a special mission, and express other such delusions.

A depressive episode is recognized by; anxiety, severe sadness, hopelessness, an indifferent attitude, short attention span, morbidity, and/or loss of interest in sexual activity and other activities usually found to be pleasurable. A major depressive episode can last anywhere from two weeks to six months. A depressed state of mind can often lead to suicidal thoughts or actions and self harm, sometimes leading to hospitalization.

Bipolar Disorder often becomes apparent in adolescence and young adulthood, but is sometimes diagnosed in children. Often misdiagnosed, it can take more than ten years for a correct diagnosis and for treatment to begin, putting those suffering from Bipolar Disorder, and those around them, at risk from their uncontrollable behaviors. Bipolar Disorder shares many symptoms with Schizophrenia.

Bipolar Disorder is a misunderstood mental illness, often leading to the feeling of isolation. Unfortunately, self-treatment in the form of stopping medicine is common in Bipolar Disorder, and, without the stabilizing effects of the drugs, many people lose control of their lives, leading themselves in a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior, becoming paranoid and unable to make educated judgments, and further leading themselves astray.

Dealing with a person struggling with Bipolar Disorder, especially when they are experiencing a manic or depressive episode, is taxing on a relationship. When off their meds, paranoia often makes bipolar people hard to trust; it might be the truth, or an invention of their imagination. What seems like a normal world to us can be a strange place to someone with Bipolar Disorder. It is truly a different reality.

Madeleine, 16, says: “I want to help people and I want to tell stories, especially the stories of people who don’t have a voice of their own…The people who we brand as crazy or criminals, addicts, or damned for homicide or suicide, are people just like you and me.”

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