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How I Experience the 'Other' Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

When people think about bipolar disorder, they often only think of the phases of depression and mania; however, bipolar disorder is much more than simply being sad or excited. The other symptoms of bipolar disorder often go unmentioned, and many people still don’t quite grasp the reality of it.

One symptom that impacts me the most is apathy, which is totally losing interest in everything. When I am apathetic, I no longer experience the emotion of joy. I can be participating in my favorite hobby, watching a favorite movie or even eating a favorite food and I will feel completely apathetic to it. I will experience no rushing emotions of pleasure. Typically when I am apathetic, I force myself to do things with the hope of sparking an emotion of joy. Most of the time I feel no joy, but still continue to participate in the activity anyway.

Another symptom I experience on a regular basis is under or oversleeping. When I am restless I will often jolt awake about 30 times a night, constantly interrupting my sleep, which is typically one of my first signs of an upcoming manic episode. I also tend to oversleep when I begin to feel depressed. I will sleep for 12 hours overnight and then still need an afternoon nap to make it through the day.

Isolation is another symptom of bipolar disorder I routinely experience. I will get the urge to delete everyone’s contact information, delete my social media accounts and hide in my room. This leads to hurt feelings and missed opportunities. I have learned over the years that instead of turning everything off, I simply take a break and then restart when I feel better. This has saved me from ruining many projects and relationships due to my urge to isolate.

One interesting symptom I experience is under-eating. When I am depressed or manic, making a meal seems so time-consuming and requires so much effort. I will often eat “depression meals,” which are simple eat-while-in-bed meals such as a sandwich or pieces of cheese.

When I am manic, I often experience the symptom of focusing on goal-oriented activity. This can be anything from cleaning my house to writing or baking. I will become obsessed with a task and devote my time and energy to this task until I am worn and broken. If I am writing, I will not stop to sleep or rest. If I am cleaning, I will spend all day rushing around the house finding new things to clean and arrange. I can sometimes be found rearranging the pantry at 3 a.m. or coming up with a new groundbreaking business plan that I then abandon a week later. Because of the sudden end of mania, many of these goal-oriented activities go unfinished or are thrown away once the depression episode starts.

Pressured speech is another symptom I experience frequently. Often, while manic, I will become so chatty that I will hold multiple text conversations at once while talking to my family and anyone else who is willing to listen to my rambling. With pressured speech, I feel like I have to talk because the thoughts in my head are so frequent. I often talk so quickly that I will leave thoughts behind as I jump to new thoughts mid-sentence. Usually when I have pressured speech, I am talking about a new project or opportunity. At this time, my new obsession has completely taken over and it is all I can think about or talk about.

Bipolar disorder is more than just being sad or excited. The numerous symptoms I experience impact my daily life and influence how I think, act and interact with the world around me.  These “other” symptoms of bipolar disorder are often left out of the conversation, and they need to be talked and written about more. Perhaps if people understood the complexity of bipolar disorder, they would become more understanding and compassionate to those of us living with it.

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