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Bipolar Disorder: Do you recognize your mood changes?

By LaRae LaBouff@LaRaeRLaBouff

One of the best ways to manage treatment for bipolar disorder is symptom awareness. Basically, if you know you are experiencing symptoms, you’re better able and more likely to seek treatment. It makes sense. If you don’t recognize there’s a problem, there’s not really a reason why you would seek help. That’s why it’s incredibly important for people with bipolar disorder to track behavior on a daily basis. If you do this, it’s easier to recognize when a pattern change happens and you can act accordingly.

A cursory glance at bipolar disorder may give the impression that there isn’t a whole lot to it other than simply being manic or being depressed, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Bipolar disorder is incredibly complex and often misunderstood. It’s this misunderstanding by both patients and physicians that leave a patient undiagnosed for years. In fact, the average time it takes from first presenting symptoms to achieving diagnosis is ten years.

This is why, once you do have the diagnosis, it’s important to pay attention and learn all you can about your particular brand of bipolar disorder.

How long do your depressive episodes usually last?
Do you experience hypomania, mania or both?
Are there changes in your behavior before you become manic or depressed?
What kinds of things trigger your depression?
What can trigger your mania?
Is there a time of year when you’re more susceptible to triggers?
These are all important questions about your bipolar disorder in general. Knowing the answers can help you better manage your symptoms overall and possibly keep you in a high-functioning state. However, there are more subtle traits of bipolar states that, when recognized early, can help keep symptoms at bay or at the very least can let you know when you need to seek help. Some of these questions were posed to a group of bipolar disorder patients to see what level of insight they had about their disorder.

Have you noticed a particularly depressive or irritable mood?
Are you gaining or losing weight?
How are you sleeping?
Is your energy level higher or lower than normal?
Are you withdrawing from friends and family or do you find yourself being more social?
Are you more easily distracted?
Have you been feeling useless or hopeless?
Are you taking care of yourself?
How are your relationships going?

Keeping track of these questions can make it easier to recognize when you’re headed into either a depressive or manic state. With depression, symptoms are usually recognized as detrimental fairly quickly, especially when you’ve been dealing with bipolar disorder for a while.

With mania, however, we’re less likely to recognize it’s happening. This is especially the case when mania makes us feel good. You can feel on top of the world with loads of energy and nothing to lose. This sounds great until you get into the consequences of feeling that you’re invincible. These consequences can run from monetary to social and even physical harm. It’s also during phases like this that patients tend to stop treatment. Stopping treatment can have serious short and long-term consequences. Abruptly stopping medication can bring back symptoms with a vengeance. It can also make you incredibly sick.

This is why it’s especially important to try to keep ahead of your symptoms. Make a plan with your doctor ahead of time to determine what actions you need to take, whether it’s changing your daily routine to make it less stressful or a change in medication dosage. When you know what’s coming, you can be better prepared.