Lesser-Known Symptoms of Bipolar
Many people today are aware of the basic symptoms of bipolar disorder, sometimes also called manic-depressive illness. The disorder is characterized by extreme changes in mood, ranging from mania to depression. These episodes vary in duration, frequency and severity, and can cause erratic and even destructive behavior.
But aside from the traits that define the disorder, there are many lesser-known symptoms of bipolar — some of which might seem completely unexpected or even appear unrelated.
I remember the day I realized what psychosis actually was. I’d always heard it described as a “break with reality,” which never made a whole lot of sense to me and didn’t sound like something I’d ever experienced — until I started reading more about it, that is.
A psychotic break can often involve delusions or false beliefs that a person believes to be true despite lack of evidence, or evidence to the contrary. These might include the belief that one is a god, is impoverished, is being controlled by other people or forces, that one’s thoughts are being read by an outside force, or even that one’s spouse or partner is having an affair — that one is particularly painful; I’ve suffered from it on several occasions.
In some forms, psychosis manifests itself as catatonia, disordered thought (including ‘word salad’), and hallucinations.
This was the sneaky little thing that did a great job of hiding my condition for a long time despite having suffered from bipolar episodes for more than 15 years. Hypomania is an elevated mood, but is usually much less noticeable than full-blown mania.
People who are hypomanic might suddenly be very sociable, but not obnoxious in the presence of others in the way someone who is manic can be. They might spend more money than usual, but generally not to excess. They will probably sleep less than usual but maintain a normal to high level of energy, and they will very likely be much more productive than they normally are.
You can spot my hypomanic episodes from a mile away — my house is normally never that clean.
Inability to Follow Through or Complete Tasks
One pattern you might notice in bipolar people is that they often have a lot of unfinished projects lying around. They may start new craft projects they’ll never finish, decide to start a business that doesn’t really take off, or plan grand vacations that just never seem to happen.
People with bipolar disorder jump easily from one task to the next, leaving many incomplete ones in their wake while searching for the next interesting shiny new thing. I think I have about 15 unfinished sweaters tucked away in bags and boxes somewhere. Realistically, no matter how good my intentions, most of them will never see the light of day again.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse
It’s estimated that 50-60% of people with bipolar disorder will abuse alcohol or drugs at some point. In many cases, it can be a form of self-medication; different substances influence the mood in different ways.
Sometimes the use or abuse of alcohol and drugs is a coping mechanism through which a person attempts to dull feeling; being ‘out of it,’ if only for a little while, can seem like welcome relief. Generally, however, abuse of alcohol and drugs only serves to make bipolar symptoms worse.
Next page: four more lesser-known symptoms of bipolar disorder.