The Facts About Bipolar Disorder

Scan 7

 Three generations:  Grandmother, Mother, Daughter

As we approach 2014, I spend too much time every day trying to imagine what it will be like to have my debut book in hand.  Ah, the exciting great unknown!  Which brings me to the driving force behind my book in the first place:  the fearful great unknown.  The overarching theme of CRAZY is Laura’s fear that she will “come down with” her mother’s mental illness, and that she does not have a name for the illness beyond the vague “nervous breakdown.”

In the sixties there was neither the easy access to information nor the inclination for families to talk openly about such things.  When we are faced with mental illness ourselves or in someone we love, the more we can learn and understand, the better able we are to manage and cope with the disorder.

I hope the information below might help someone who is being affected in some way by mental illness.  AND, I hope that this might be a place where we can dialogue about all things having to do with mental health.  What’s on your mind?


What is it?

  • serious brain illness
  • also known as manic depressive illness
  • mood changes, from happy and “up” called mania to sad and “down” called depression
  • can cause changes in energy and behavior
  • more severe than normal ups and downs
  • can damage relationships and make it difficult to go to school or keep a job
  • some with bipolar hurt themselves or attempt suicide
  • treatment is available and patients can get better and lead successful lives

Who can get it?

  • anyone
  • often starts in late teens or early adult years but children can get it too
  • lasts a lifetime

What causes it?

  • genes; the illness runs in families
  • abnormal brain structure and brain function

What are the symptoms?

  • mood episodes:  manic, depressive or mixed
    • manic:  may feel very high, jumpy, wired; talk fast about many things; agitated, trouble sleeping or relaxing; think they can do many things at once; more active than usual; engage in risky behaviors
    • depressive:  may feel very down, worried, empty; trouble concentrating; forgetful; lose interest in fun activities; become less active; tired, trouble sleeping; think about death or suicide
    • episodes may last a week or two or longer
    • during an episode, symptoms last every day for most of the day
    • intense feelings accompanied by changes in behavior and energy levels

How is bipolar disorder treated?

  • medications are wide-ranging and depend on individual responses
  • sometimes a person needs to try different medications to find which one works best
  • treatment works best when it is ongoing instead of off and on
  • medications can have side effects and need to be monitored carefully by a doctor
  • talk therapy and other kinds of counseling can help
  • some people do not respond well to medication or therapy and electroconvulsive therapy or shock therapy may be needed

Miscellaneous facts:

  • people with very strong mood episodes may also have psychotic symptoms
    • believing they are rich and famous or have special powers
    • believing they have committed a crime
    • believing that their life is ruined
  • behavior problems may go along with bipolar disorder
    • alcohol or drug abuse
    • reckless spending or sex
    • poor job or school performance
  • bipolar disorder is not easy to diagnose
    • a person may have it for years before being diagnosed
    • symptoms can mimic other physical or emotional problems
    • there is no cure

Check out these blogs for further information and support:

The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive is the online diary of Seaneen Molloy, a 23-year-old Irish woman living in London. Officially diagnosed withrapid-cycling bipolar I disorder. Molloy writes about her ups and downs in a lively, no-holds-barred style that will have you clicking the bookmark button.  Her blend of humor and candor has made her something of a minor celebrity in the U.K. Playwright Louise Ramsden adapted selections from Molloy’s blog into a radio play, Do’s and Don’ts for the Mentally Interesting, which aired on the BBC in May 2009.

Liz Spikol is the executive editor of an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia. She also happens to have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and dissociative disorder not otherwise specified.

Her addictive blog, The Trouble With Spikol, grew out of an award-winning column of the same name that she writes for the Philadelphia Weekly. With a pro’s touch, Spikol covers health insurance, prescription drugs, and other important mental-health issues—but, like any good blogger, she also leaves plenty of room for kitten photos.

Amy, a 34-year-old mother of four who lives in Tennessee, blogs at All About Bipolar under the handle “atorturedsoul.” (Amy, shown here with her husband in a recent picture, does not use her last name online.On her very professional-looking blog, Amy writes about family, her experience with bipolar I and psychosis, and the portrayal of mental illness in movies, among other topics. Best of all, she’s a truly dedicated blogger, usually posting once or twice a day.

John McManamy is the dean of bipolar bloggers. A mental-health journalist who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1999, at the age of 49, McManamy has maintained an encyclopedic website, McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web, for nearly a decade. He writes about everything from treatment options to research news. McManamy’s blog, Knowledge Is Necessity, provides a steady stream of funny and informative writing—and videos!—on mental health.


Hey READERS, we would love to hear from you.

Is your MIND FULL of old thoughts or new?  


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