When I was in my 30s, I reached a point at which I spent days in my living room seated in a chair with my feet on a footstool, while I alternately drank beer and nodded off to episodes of Supernatural. I couldn’t bring myself to clean (my apartment, my clothes, or myself). I tried to get work done, but it wasn’t happening. Going to work was becoming more and more difficult. And, when things got bad enough, when I had extended people’s patience as much as possible, I would stay up for days without sleeping and get everything done that I had ignored. I thought it was simply a lifestyle born out of procrastination.
However, when things progressed to the point where I sought psychiatric help, I was surprised to be diagnosed with bipolar 2. I had a history of depression, extending all the way back to high school, when I first began taking anti-depressants. I had been on multiple medications without a sizable improvement in my depression. But, I still assumed I was depressed. Through continued treatment and the use of mood stabilizers, I was able to climb out of the cycle I had established.
I don’t know that I would have gotten better had I not been given an accurate diagnosis. And, I didn’t go into that situation thinking I was bipolar in any form. But, the signs were all there.
What Is Bipolar 2?
Most people are familiar with the signs of standard bipolar disorder. They understand that sufferers fluctuate between states of mania and depression.
People who have bipolar 2 also cycle between high and low, but their up moods aren’t outright mania. They are still elevated moods, but they are less intense than those experienced by traditionally bipolar people. These states are called hypomanic.
More often, people with bipolar 2 are in a state of depression. And in the times between fluctuations, people with bipolar 2 generally live traditional, stable lives.
Is It Common?
Everyone could develop the disorder. Currently, bipolar (in all of its forms) affects almost 6 million people, or 2.5 percent of the US population. Most people will begin to see symptoms in their teens and early 20s, and it is incredibly rare for it to develop after age 50.
People who have an immediate family member diagnosed with bipolar face a greater risk of developing it. My father had been diagnosed bipolar, which made the likelihood that I was suffering from it much higher.
What Are Some Symptoms?
Most people with bipolar 2 experience a lot of depression, much more than the hypomania. As hypomania subsides or some time after it has gone, depression will set in. I dealt with an abundance of it. I had more time being depressed than being normal or hypomanic. These symptoms are not that different than those associated with traditional clinical depression. The following symptoms of depression can continue for weeks or months.
• Feelings of guilt
• Feelings of worthlessness
• Depressed mood
• Thoughts of suicide
• Low activity
• Low energy
• Loss of pleasure
Alternately, sufferers experience the euphoria of hypomanic episodes. Symptoms include:
• Decreased need for sleep
• Increased energy
• Loud, rapid, and uninterruptible speech
• Quickly shifting from one idea to the next
• Inflated self-confidence
It can manifest as a general positivity that makes the person showing the symptoms really fun to be around. During these episodes, I joked and laughed and entertained everyone. But, it can also shift toward full blown mania and cause people experiencing it to become impulsive and engage in dangerous behavior. This can include spending money they don’t have and engaging in risky sexual activity.
If your experiences sound like mine, you should talk to a mental health professional. With the proper use of therapy and medications, you can find balance in your life.
Alia Stearns is a former college instructor who now works as a freelance writer. Her diagnosis allowed her to transition to successful full-time self-employment. She is an expert health blogger specializing in behaviors, addiction, recovery, and treatment such as treatment for cocaine. You can visit her official website at: http://www.addictions.com/.