What I Wish People Knew About Bipolar II Disorder

When you hear about bipolar disorder, you might think about the “highs and lows” associated with mania and the depression However, what many people might not know is that there are different types of bipolar disorder. Although the most well-known type of bipolar disorder is bipolar I, another type is bipolar II. I was diagnosed with bipolar II my sophomore year of college after living with a diagnosis of depression for many of my teenage years. This disorder can often be misdiagnosed because it has many of the same characteristics of other disorders.

Bipolar II is different than bipolar I in a few important ways. In my own experience, intense and explosive irritability manifested instead of the typical manic episodes. Instead of mania, a person with bipolar II might experience “hypomania.” In other words, the elevated moods almost never reach full-blown mania and cause less impairment. Symptoms of hypomania are often very similar to mania and can include: heightened confidence, racing thoughts and ideas, rapid and loud speech, increased energy, decreased need for sleep, increased sex drive, recklessness, impulsive behavior and intense irritability. However, a person with bipolar II, as opposed to bipolar I, will often experience more depressive episodes. A person with bipolar II has to have had at least one hypomanic episode in their lifetime to be diagnosed.

I can remember the one hypomanic episode that stands out the most. It was just a year ago, and I was struggling to finish my bachelor’s degree. I was just coming out of a deep depression after a hospitalization for suicidal ideation, and I was feeling better than ever. I started drinking and going out almost every night of the week with friends, and a lot of times, strangers. This was when I discovered online dating — and not just online dating — I discovered the notion of meeting with strangers for sex. This is something I pursued with passion every single night and had never done before. In fact, up to this point, I had only been with two sexual partners. This went on for at least a month or two. I was on an absolute high, meeting strangers for sex, drinking to get drunk every night, becoming a social butterfly when that was absolutely not my typical persona, and never getting tired of it. I had also racked up about 3,500 dollars on my credit card between impulsive shopping sprees, haircuts and buying alcohol for myself and everyone I met at the bar — all in the span of 30 to 60 days. However, this behavior is very atypical of me. I have gone through more severe depressive episodes in my life than I can count on one hand, and been hospitalized for many of them.

Hypersexuality, impulsive spending and irritability are just some of the symptoms that are not often discussed when bipolar disorder is recognized. Bipolar II, along with hypomania, is an illness I think is not as well known as it should be, and for this reason, it’s often under-diagnosed and misunderstood. Perhaps with more awareness, these things can be changed.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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