What is Bipolar Illness?
Fundamentally, this condition is an abnormality of brain chemistry . The illness appears in response to stress, but sometimes occurs as a result of childbirth or taking prescribed medication such as cortisone or other steroid medications.
The term "bipolar" is medical jargon referring to two opposite aspects (or poles) of illnesses that affect your mood. At one end of the illness, we have depression . At the other end of the illness we have an equally disabling condition, known as hypomania or the more severe form called mania. (Traditionally this condition used to be called manic depressive illness, but please do note that manic refers to being elated and high, and has nothing to do with the term maniac.)
Unfortunately, people with bipolar illness who suffer both depression and highs, usually have far more depression than they do highs.
When depression strikes , people are often aware that they are very negative, do not enjoy things the way they used to, find things much more of an effort, and cannot get positive feelings from anything in their lives . Almost inevitably, people find that their ability to concentrate , (such as when reading something, or watching a TV program) is impaired, and they also find that they are much more absent-minded than usual. As depression becomes more severe, people have problems with being unable to sleep very well, not being able to eat normally or not being able to function and work normally. At its most severe, depression tries to convince people that they will not recover and that suicide is a logical option. A well known doctor some years ago described how he himself had suffered a kidney stone, a heart attack and depression, and he described depression as the most painful of these three very painful illnesses!
Highs, known medically as hypomania (meaning less severe than mania) or mania (the more severe form of the illness) are a state of mind in which a person is in overdrive both mentally and physically. Typically the patient will be far more talkative than usual, often making more telephone calls than usual. The person will have far more energy than usual, not feeling tired and indeed requiring far less sleep than they usually do . At the sam e time, the person feels unusually well and they get angry and upset at the suggestion that there is anything wrong with him or her. Typically the person is much more confident and extrovert than usual , joking and being much more friendly than usual , and sometimes is inappropriately sexually friendly. While such people may seem infectiously charming and nice to know on brief interaction, it becomes apparent to those who know them well, or who live with them, that they are unable to stop this overdrive. Indeed, the person may describe himself or herself as "wired" and may feel that nothing can possibly go wrong with their positive state of mine and their new confidence and wonderful plans . A major risk in this situation is that the person involved will spend large amounts of money very quickly on inappropriate purchases or rushed decisions.
In rare cases, people with the depressed phase of bipolar illness may become convinced they are dreadful people who deserve to be punished. Similarly, those in the manic phase of bipolar illness may become convinced that they have unique skills and abilities.
While feeling sad in response to bad news or feeling excited and sleepless in response to very good news, are normal human responses, the patterns described above going on for days at a time (or sometimes weeks or months at a time) are not normal. Often, however, it is difficult to persuade a person suffering from the depressed or the hypomanic phase of bipolar illness that the way they convincingly see themselves and the world is actually a distorted viewpoint due to a problem having taken place in their brain chemistry.