20 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

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Because bipolar disorder is considered a mental illness — most people focus on how mentally taxing the ups and downs of manic and depressive episodes can be. It may also be common for people to talk about the signs and symptoms, and not what it actually feels like to go through them.

But the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be just as physical as they are mental. And sometimes, the different “categories” of symptoms intertwine.

That’s why we asked our Mighty mental health community living with bipolar disorder to tell us some surprising physical symptoms of bipolar disorder they’ve experienced. Because by talking about everything that bipolar disorder entails, we can continue to deepen our understanding of it.

Here is what they had to say:

1. “Memory loss. I’ve done things during a manic episode that I don’t remember later, wondering how I got to whatever place I’m in.” — Shannon D.

2. Akathisia. Imagine being in a lecture and becoming really antsy, and you start bouncing your leg. Now imagine being so agitated, you have to bounce or shake your entire body to try to relieve the discomfort. And not for just an hour, for multiple on end, sometimes days. It feels like I’m literally trapped in my own skin, and the only way out is to rip it open or peel it off.” — Meghan G.

3. “Not being able to sleep when in hypomania and not get enough sleep when depressed. Energy levels are erratic. Lack of appetite or starving and eating so much. Body pains and feeling like you need to burst out of your own skin.” — Jazmyne F.

4. “My energy levels shift really dramatically. When hypomanic I can stay out the whole day and fit in four different things, whereas when I’m depressed, I don’t have the energy to get out of bed at times.” — Madoka S.

5. “Clumsiness. When I’m too ‘up,’ I move too fast and drop everything, slam cabinets and doors without meaning to, I trip on the floor. When I start getting extra clumsy, I know I need to slow down or I’ll turn full on manic.” — Icie B.

6. “Mind going a million miles per hour but your body is so exhausted that you can’t move. Feels like a marathon just to lift your arms to brush you hair, if you even get that far that day.” — Kaytlynn J.

7. “My irritability physically hurts. I feel my brain painfully pulsing against my skull and my limbs get tingly and my heart randomly starts pounding faster and it’s almost like an exhaustive but constant anxiety attack when I’m in an irritable mood.” — Betsi L.

8. “I get knots in my shoulders and back due to the fact that I stay tensed up all the time. Some are the size of a golfball. I get muscle cramps as well. I really wish I could afford to have regular massages. I never feel relaxed and it affects my posture.” — Robin J.

9. “Not be able to talk. I think I’m forming full sentences when I’m experiencing the anxiety associated with my bipolar. However. people tell me it’s really just a bunch of ‘umm’s’ and forgetting what I was saying.” — Olivia W.

10. “Weird buzzing feeling I feel all over my body, and the endless butterflies in my stomach during a manic episode. It makes me feel like I could run for hours but also vomit. Plus it makes sleeping nearly impossible.” — Cassy H.

11. “Being overweight. I eat too much and can’t work out when I’m depressed. And I stay up late and get super hungry when I’m manic. No good can come for me physically when I’m using all my energy fighting to stay in it mentally.” — Mallory J.

12. “Your body and your mind sort of become separate. For example, when you’re in a depressive episode and can’t get out of bed, your brain screams at you, trying to force you to get up, but your body doesn’t listen. Then, during a manic episode, your body screams at you to let it rest, but your brain’s all, ‘No. We gotta finish rearranging your room by one in the morning so we have time to finish a hardcover notebook and read two novels before the sun shows up.’” — Reinrose B.

13. “While experiencing anxiety symptoms and hypomanic phases, I tug at my hair (not to pull it out though). I also roll and flex my ankles and wrists, usually without realizing.” — Aimee C.

14. “I talk to myself out loud when I’m manic. There are so many racing thoughts and stress about certain aspects of my life that I replay how to handle situations over and over in my head so I don’t have diarrhea of the mouth inappropriately. But I’m not just thinking these situations, I’m saying them out loud: in the car, shower, etc. I catch myself and hope no one has heard me. It’s like there are so many thoughts racing they can’t help but overflow verbally too.” — Tracy S.

15. “Varying skin problems. When I’m going a million miles an hour and not sleeping, I’m filled with stress hormones and my skin takes a hit. Same with depression. When I’m leveled out, my skin clears up until the next episode.” — Kelly A.

16. “Gastrointestinal issues are common for me. I have had to have emergency gallbladder surgery and still live with issues everyday.” — Tiffany I.

17. “Blackout. When the rage sets in, I blackout and don’t remember everything I say or do. I also get headaches from the extreme anger or adrenaline rushes. I get very fatigued as well, even though I may not physically be doing anything. My brain exhausts me.” — Randi E.

18. “Tactile hallucinations — things crawling on me or people or things brushing against me that aren’t there. Not being able to keep my body still and having muscle-like spasms without the pain (akathisia), memory loss and brain fog, constantly running into or hitting things, knots, pain, and really tight muscles in my back and shoulders and neck, a stiff and sore jaw from clamping it shut and grinding my teeth, not being able to breath, auditory hallucination — usually not any specific words I can make out, more like screaming. Claustrophobia and hyperventilating during anxiety and during a manic episodes.” — Crystal T.

19.Stuttering. Sometimes it’s so bad I can’t finish my sentence, so I just stop and say never mind and walk away — it’s easier than embarrassing myself further.” — Kiesha L.

20. “I can feel my heart pounding through my whole body. I feel like I’m traveling as fast as a humming bird while sitting completely still.” — AmberLinn G.


20 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
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How My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis Helped Me Come Out About My Sexuality

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June for some may be considered the start of summer, but for others, June is also known as a special month signifying more than just sunshine and warm weather. Pride Month has just passed, and as a member of the LGBTQI community, it means something very special to me. A part of that reason is how it is officially a year since I came out to my mother, a year since my first real girlfriend and a year after accepting my sexuality as a part of my life.

My whole life, I’ve always known a part of me was attracted to women. I even mentioned it to my mother one time, in middle school — something along the lines of, “I think girls are pretty too. Maybe I like girls too?” I was about 11-12 years old. Nothing ever came of it. We never discussed it again. But it wasn’t that I was lonely or wasn’t getting any attention from boys at school. In fact. I’ve always had boyfriends.

My high school career consisted of depression and heartbreak — always feeling unhappy, too sensitive, too unloved due to depression and toxic friendships/relationships. Of course, the people we date in high school don’t define our love lives, but it made me feel like maybe it was just my choices in partners, or I was too sensitive. Once I came to college, I pretty much had to put those feelings very far back in my mind. Life happened. I had my first bipolar episode. After being officially diagnosed in October 2014, my life changed forever. When you realize you have a mental illness, I believe you learn to be more self-aware, to be vulnerable and strong.

When I was diagnosed, I remember being terrified of telling my family. I remember thinking they would judge me and disown me — I would become the black sheep of the family. What I now realize is that I was gathering tools that would help me cope with more than just my mental health, but with life in general. It hasn’t been the easiest process, getting them to understand and listen, but over time they have opened up and been more supportive than ever.

Bipolar disorder taught me that people can dislike something about you — they can dislike certain actions and opinions — but it doesn’t mean they don’t love you and support you. Coping with my mental health helped me prepare for when I was ready to deal with my sexuality, and it gave me the blueprint for being able to accept rejection or misjudgment. It gave me the blueprint for realizing that sometimes people do not feel frustrated towards you directly, but they feel frustrated for you. They feel frustrated because they know life may be harder for you. They know people might target you or they might make comments. They know your mental health is a bit more fragile. They know suicide is a bigger risk. Having a mental health condition makes life a bit more difficult, and some would also agree that so does going against the grain in society. Realizing I still had to love and accept myself, even with my mental illness, prepared me to learn to love and accept my sexuality. It provided the tools to make that leap and be brave.

So last June, I called my mother and I told her I’d begun seeing someone. Her first response, joyfully, was “Oh wow! What’s his name?” Instead of crawling back into a well-known shell, afraid of judgment and shame, I told her the truth. I told my mother her name. Although I am no longer with my ex-girlfriend, coming out to my mom was one of the hardest yet easiest conversations — because we were prepared for this. She knew how to love me, even if she was afraid for me. She knew she could accept me through anything because of everything we have been through so far.

One of the things they often tell you in therapy is, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” Hiding your true identity, your sexuality and even your mental health condition puts you in place of fear — fear of being judged, fear of being misunderstood or even just fear of disappointing those around you any more than you may feel you have. But you are not a disappointment. You are strong and you are prepared for this. Although not everyone is able to come out for safety reasons, religious religions and whatever else they feel is stopping them, coming out to yourself is the first step. Just as you have accepted your diagnosis and the things life has put upon you, you can make it through this.

Coming out is a process and they don’t tell you that you often have to come out again and again. But just as you do with your mental illness, it’s up to you and at your discretion who you share it with.

If you’re feeling suicidal, or just need a safe place to talk, you can call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.

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To the One Recently Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder

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I know it’s hard. I know how heavy it can feel, to be in a doctor’s office or a hospital and be handed a label that doesn’t yet make sense. It can change you somehow. Before you were just you, an individual of your own making — and now they have named you bipolar. Maybe the stigmas and stereotypes flood you for a moment, the way people joke about bipolar meaning “moody” — like bipolar means “crazy.”

I want to tell you that you are still you. You haven’t changed. You are still an individual and you still have authority over your life. Now you just have a name to describe part that makes your life difficult sometimes.

A diagnosis helps. A diagnosis means you have a shorthand to describe how you are feeling. It means now when your mind churns out a million thoughts a minute, and your thoughts become grandiose, when you no longer seem to need sleep or food and you find yourself doing bizarre things… you can call it mania. And you can understand this is part of your illness. And it means when you can’t get out of bed, when everything feels hopeless and you cry for hours and struggle to find the energy to shower or leave the house… you can call this depression. And those days when you are hyper and full of ideas, with a racing feverish energy… you can call that hypomania.

Names help. Now you can tell your friend, “I’m depressed lately,” and they may understand a little bit about depression, or they can look it up on their phone. It’s easier that way, easier than spouting a list of symptoms of everything that feels wrong about you now. Sharing the name is a starting point of a conversation about how you feel.

A bipolar diagnosis means feeling this way is not your fault. A diagnosis proves you have a legitimate medical illness. Bipolar disorder has been linked to chemical reactions in the brain, and often runs in families. It’s a medical condition.

A bipolar diagnosis means there are medications that have been proven to help stabilize moods. Meeting with a psychiatrist and finding medications that work can make a huge difference in becoming stable for so many people.

A bipolar diagnosis is a step on the road to recovery. Getting that diagnosis is not only key to possibly starting medications, but it helps begin the conversation with a counselor, who is experienced with bipolar and knows ways of talking that can help.

A bipolar diagnosis means you can go to a support group, talk to people online and find people who “get you” since they also have bipolar. You can go online and find coping skills for depression and mania, and read inspirational stories by people in recovery with bipolar.

A bipolar diagnosis means now you understand yourself a little better. Suddenly your strange experiences make more sense, as you realize they were depressive episodes or mania.

A bipolar diagnosis means you can consider yourself part of a large group of people with bipolar disorder. Famous people with bipolar include: Demi Lovato, Pete Wentz, Carrie Fisher, Jane Pauley, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Amy Winehouse, Mel Gibson, Russell Brand, Chris Brown, Britney Spears, Rosemary Clooney, Richard Dreyfuss, Patty Duke, Sinead O’Connor, Kurt Cobain, Nina Simone, Edvard Munch, Ernest Hemingway, Gustav Mahler, Jackson Pollock, Robert Schumann, Anne Sexton and Vincent Van Gogh.

You can still have a normal life with bipolar. You may have to work hard to manage it, but it is possible. Medications can help. Counseling can help. Building support networks can help.

A bipolar diagnosis can be hard to take in at first. But I believe getting that diagnosis is one of the first steps on the road to recovery. You are still the same person. Now you just understand a piece of your story that didn’t make sense before. Peace and joy are still possible for people with bipolar. Stable friendships and relationships are possible. Job satisfaction is possible.

You have that diagnosis. Now you can use that new piece of information to shape your path to recovery. Recovery is hard work. But it’s worth it.

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5 Reasons Why I Stopped Going to Therapy for My Bipolar Disorder

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I got my first hint that I might be ready to stop therapy when I realized how little I was going. Over the years I have scaled down from weekly sessions to biweekly.

Then I noticed, I’d been going about once a month. I’d been forgetting appointments, showing up on the wrong day, oversleeping or having too much freelance work to do. Of course, those also could have looked like signs I was in denial, resisting therapy or that we’d hit a bad patch of difficult issues and I just didn’t want to deal with them.

But I don’t think that’s what’s happened. Here’s why:

1. I’m stabilized on my medications and they’re effective. 

When my psychiatrist moved away, he left me with refills and a list of other psychiatrists. My primary care physician agreed to prescribe my psychotropics if I lined up another psychiatrist for emergencies. I did that, though I couldn’t get an appointment for months.

And that doesn’t alarm me. I don’t have the oh-my-god-what-if-my-brain-breaks-again panics. I don’t have the feeling my brain is about to break again. I’ve thought about it, and I’m comfortable with letting my involvement with the psychiatric profession fade into the background of my life.

As long as I keep getting my meds.

2. I have more good days and I’m beginning to trust them.

Oh, I still question whether I’m genuinely feeling good, happy and productive or whether I’m merely riding the slight high of hypomania. But really? It doesn’t seem to matter very much. A little while ago I reflected on a string of particularly good days — when I accomplished things, enjoyed my hobbies and generally felt content. And I simply allowed myself to bask in those feelings.

That’s not to say I don’t still have bad days. After a few days of hypomania, I hit the wall, look around for spoons, don’t find any and require mega naps to restore me. (I’m intensely grateful I work at home and can do that. Most offices don’t appreciate finding an employee snoring underneath her desk. And my cat-filled bed is much more comfy cozy.)

I still get low days too, but they are noticeably dysthymic rather than full out, sobbing-for-no-reason, pit-of-despair type lows that last seemingly forever. I know — really know — deep within me, they will last a day or two at the most. And just that knowledge makes me feel a little bit better.

3. My creativity, concentration and output are improving.

 I can work longer, read longer, write longer, take on new projects, think past today or even next week. I can trust my muse and my energy, if not immediately when I call on them, at least within a reasonable time.

4. I have trouble remembering how bad it used to be.

I’ve made connections with several online support groups for bipolar and mental health. I find I’m astonished at the crises, the outpourings of misery, the questioning of every feeling and circumstance, the desperate drama of even the most mundane interactions. They are overwhelming. But I realized it’s been a long time since they’ve overwhelmed me. I recognize I could some day be in that place again — that’s the nature of this disorder. But I have a good support system I trust to help me not fall too far without a net.

5. I don’t have much to talk about when I go to therapy. 

There are issues I need to work on — getting older, getting out of the house more, reclaiming my sexuality. But most of those I feel competent to work out on my own. My sessions are mostly an update on what’s going on in my life at the moment, plus a recap of my recurring problems. But those problems are ones I’ve faced before and know how to cope with. I already have the tools I need and use them without needing a reminder.

So I’ve talked it over with my psychotherapist and I’m stopping therapy. I know if and when the bipolar starts giving me major trouble again, I can always call for an appointment or a telephone therapy session.

I’m not going to stop writing blogs. I still have a lot to say about where I’ve been, how I’ve got to where I am now, how things will go in the future and all the many ways mental illness affects society and vice versa. I’m sticking around.

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Accepting a New, Unfamiliar Mental Illness Diagnosis

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About five years ago, I went to a doctor to tell him I was feeling restless, sad and uninspired. He asked what my personal life was like and besides a few hiccups in my personal life, everything was fairly good. Then he asked a few questions and, after answering truthfully, he said I had all the symptoms of depression. I laughed and said no, that couldn’t be. My life was OK, it didn’t make sense that I was depressed. I walked out of that office thinking I needed to see a new doctor.

After about a year, my life got better but my symptoms stayed around. So I went to see a new doctor. He gave me a longer exam that was similar to the last doctor and again said it was depression. He suggested I try Prozac and filled a prescription for me. I think I stared at that bottle of Prozac for two whole weeks and did a ton of research on antidepressants. I didn’t want to be one of those people who had to take medication for depression at first, but then I realized, “If I had another health issue, I wouldn’t second guess taking medication, so why I am questioning this?” I took my first pill and continued for a month.

After a month of nausea and headaches, my depression finally started feeling lifted. I didn’t feel upset or useless. I didn’t feel… anything. I watched a drama and the main character died and I remember sitting on my bed thinking, “I should be feeling something!” but nothing came. I stopped taking the Prozac and just tried to “think better thoughts,” the treatment plan those who don’t have depression give people with depression.

Then last fall my depression took a bigger turn and I was afraid to be alone with myself. Afraid of my thoughts, afraid of my anxiety spiraling out of control, afraid of anyone seeing I couldn’t hold it in anymore and that the reason my makeup was “flawless” was because I was trying to conceal the puffy bags under my eyes from crying. I hit the end of the road and my depression started saying it was either him or me. That’s when I called to make an appointment with a therapist.

It’s not easy to ask for help. I was always the first person to tell people there is no shame in therapy, but was terrified of my first appointment. After a few sessions and a few exams, my therapist told me she thought I had bipolar II. I told her check again. I came in for depression and I could not be bipolar. She said I was ignoring the hypomania part (apparently, most people do) and wasn’t looking at my cycles. After doing a ton of research and seeing a good psychiatrist, I accepted it. I was bipolar II. I would take the medication and would try to get better. After all, I had to. There was no other option at this point.

Telling my best friends was tough though. How do you tell your friends that on top of your fibromyalgia (oh yeah, I have that too — jackpot!) you also have a mental illness that is portrayed as being unstable and often dangerous in the media? I started with my best friend who I have known for 15 years. She hugged me and said that it didn’t change who I was at all, I just was going to be able to get the stability I have been seeking for years. She also kindly told me I was being a little silly being totally OK with a depression diagnosis but not this new one. “What’s the difference?” she asked, while I cried. “A lot of people have depression! Do you know who has bipolar?! No one!” I told her with tears streaming down my cheek. She then reminded me that her cousins had it, and that while they weren’t taking medication or working on theirs, she was fully confident I would be completely fine.

It took me a few months of research on the illness, my medication working properly, my moods finally stabilizing, and a number of sessions asking my therapist, “So you’re sure it’s bipolar?” for me to finally be OK with it. I went from thinking depression wasn’t something I could have, to hitting close to the bottom, to rejecting my bipolar diagnosis, to turning a new leaf and accepting it all. Now I wish I had done so earlier. Why did I wait so long to feel stable?

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In Honor of Pride Month: I Am Black, Gay and Bipolar

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here. If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

My name is Dani, I am a young homosexual black female living with bipolar disorder Type 2.

As much as we don’t want labels to define us, in a way they do. Sometimes I feel as if these labels are boldly stamped across my forehead wherever I go. Coming out is naturally challenging thing to do, but imagine having to do it over and over and over again. Flashbacks of being one of the handful of black girls throughout my classes growing up, lying about my sexuality due to constant bullying throughout my high school and painfully hiding the reality of my mental illness.

“Are you mixed? You have really nice hair and you talk like a white girl. You can’t be fully black.”

“But you’re too pretty to actually be gay, you just haven’t met the right guy.”

“You don’t look sick. You’re probably just being dramatic or too sensitive.”

These are just some of the questions, comments and remarks that I’ve heard from a number of people — far too often.

I officially came out to my family and friends during my junior year in high school. It didn’t take long for the news to spread around. That was one of the periods in my life where my depression hit an all time low. I became an overly emotional eater and found comfort in binging and purging. I began engaging in self-harm, hidden from where others could see my scars. I started partying, sneaking around and getting into drugs. Years passed, my struggle with self-identity grew, partying and drinking became excessive and the ups and downs of battling my mind continued. I didn’t know which way was up and it wasn’t until I became really sick that I was ready to make a complete change in my life.

Looking back at the times I wanted to give up, I remind myself of where I am today. I was a girl fighting within myself, hating myself, because of my attraction to the same sex. At 17 years old, I came out and shared that I was gay. To the lost girl who felt unlovable and broken after a 5+ year relationship, I found my soulmate at 28 years old and I am now married to the love of my life. Losing my grip on life, I decided it was time to seek professional help and this year I was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and bipolar disorder.

This is to anyone who doesn’t feel beautiful enough, strong enough or good enough — you are enough. Being a member of the black community, LGBT community and living with a mental illness seems to be a deep sea of stigmas. I am filled and surrounded with so much love from these communities. We have to keep fighting the stigmas.

I am black, gay and bipolar.

And I am proud.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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