Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Bipolar Scale

Do you often feel driven to make grandiose plans, and pursue them relentlessly? And, do weeks go by when you just can’t get out of bed? If you find that these contrasting moods predominate your life, please read over this description of common bipolar disorder symptoms: it may help you to determine whether to talk to a doctor about a potentially serious medical condition.

Someone with bipolar disorder suffers from, and may be disabled by, a chronically unbalanced mood. He or she may cycle from mania, an excited, hyperactive state to depression, a state of despair, and back again. Sometimes a sufferer will experience mixed bipolar symptoms, combining both extremes. How long someone spends in each mood state varies with the individual; from less than a day at each extreme, for those with rapid-cycling bipolar, to several weeks. Psychosis, or being out of touch with reality, may accompany these mood extremes. Fortunately, if the illness is recognized early enough, it can be treated and managed well. In fact, many people who live with bipolar disorder spend much of their lives symptom-free.

Manic bipolar disorder symptoms

Mania is a mood state in which someone cannot slow down. A state of mild mania, or hypomania, can be pleasurable and highly productive–some people with bipolar disorder report that they like it. Full-blown mania, however, can put someone at risk of damaging their physical health and their relationships. Someone experiencing mania may:

  • Feel either euphoric or highly irritable 
  • Run on boundless energy: More than one bipolar sufferer has confided that, when having manic symptoms, they feel like working eighty hours or more a week.
  • Think and talk at a “mile a minute”, often leaping from idea to idea 
  • Entertain inflated ideas about one’s abilities, and make plans accordingly 
  • Make impulsive choices: A memorable example of this manic symptom comes through in this quote from Marya Hornbacher’s 2008 memoir Madness: A Bipolar Life: “Apparently I have agreed to marry him. I have trouble remembering his name. I will work on this.”
  • Exercise an assertive, confident sex drive

Depressive bipolar disorder symptoms

The symptoms of bipolar depression are akin to those of major depression. Bipolar depression can cause such tormenting symptoms as:

  • Preoccupation with feelings of sadness, guilt, and/or hopelessness
  • Loss of energy and motivation
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
  • Disturbance in sleep pattern–sleeping either too much or too little
  • Disturbance in appetite–eating either too much or too little Physical pains and perceived ailments that resist treatment
  • In prolonged instances, the sufferer may think of suicide

Mixed bipolar disorder symptoms

Someone experiencing a mixed bipolar episode may feel simultaneously energized and debilitated. As Marya Hornbacher vividly describes it: “Everything is moving at a shrieking pitch, and my thoughts turn black and bloody. This hell is garish, sharp, and cuts at my brain.” Many with bipolar disorder report this state as the most excruciating part of the disease.

Psychotic bipolar disorder symptoms

If someone’s illness progresses far enough, psychosis may arise. Someone with bipolar psychosis may hallucinate (perceive products of their own fantasies as real), or experience delusions (believe things to be true that are demonstrably false). Psychosis can be a terrifying experience.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar Disorder Type I: This form of the illness includes the “highest” manic episodes or mixed episodes or both, usually major depressive episodes, and possible psychosis.
  • Bipolar Disorder Type II: This less extreme form alternates states of hypomania and major depression.
  • Cyclothymia: This less severe mood disorder alternates hypomania and mild depression, with neither progressing into full-blown episodes.

Help for bipolar disorder

If you experience feelings like these, and they disrupt your life on an ongoing basis, know that there is help available. Doctors and mental health professionals can treat the illness. The earlier bipolar disorder is treated, if present, the more manageable it can be.

If you need immediate help or if you are having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room. Or, talk to a family member or friend.

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