How will I know if I’m bipolar? You’ll know by your moods and behaviors. Bipolar Disorder used to be called manic depression. Now it’s called Bipolar I and Bipolar II. When you have a Bipolar I Disorder you will have manic episodes where you have lots of energy, talk fast, have racing thoughts, sleep little, and behave recklessly regarding spending, decision-making or sexual activity. This can create lots of problems later. With Bipolar II you will experience hypomania. This is a milder form than mania and is generally brief. All bipolars experience depression, although with Bipolar II is more frequent and lengthy.

Are there other ways to tell? Yes. Some people become addicted to drugs and alcohol. If they have bipolar, this means they are self-medicating. Since 60% of substance abusers have a bipolar disorder this is a strong indicator.

How do I get it? It is primarily genetic and runs in families.

How old do I have to be? Most people get it in late teens or early twenties although children can develop it too.

What will help? First, get an accurate diagnosis from a professional experienced with bipolar. If you have bipolar then medications and therapy will provide relief. Medications manage your mood swings. Individual, group and/or family therapy give you a safe place to express your feelings about having bipolar. They are where you’ll learn new ways to improve aspects of your daily life like diet, exercise, relaxation and sleep. Books also provide up-to-date information.

Does this mean I’m “crazy”? Definitely not. “Crazy” is an old way of thinking based on misunderstanding. Having bipolar means that you have a chemical imbalance in your brain. Diabetics have a chemical imbalance in their pancreas. You don’t think of diabetics as crazy because of their chemical imbalance and neither are you!

Is there a cure? Unfortunately no. Feeling better takes time, energy and patience with yourself. It takes finding professionals who meet your needs. It takes getting the support you require from those who care about you. It means creating stability and structure in your daily life. When you decide to direct your life towards improving your mental health, then you will learn “to manage [your] disorder rather than [be] managed by it.” (“The Bipolar Survival Guide”, Miklowitz) Knowing you have an achievable goal is the best solution.

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Arlene M. Green, LCSW
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Denver, CO 80210

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