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20 Pictures That Show the Different Ways Bipolar Disorder Manifests

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Often, people who don’t understand bipolar disorder see the duality of the condition — and not much else. Mania. Depression. Up. Down. Happy. Sad. Those who live with it, though, understand it’s so much more than that. There are so many different things that go into living with bipolar, and everyone who experiences it is different. While some people feel mania gives them bursts of creativity, others stay up all night anxious and irritable, just waiting for it to pass. Depression, also, affects everyone differently, and it’s important we treat everyone with bipolar disorder like the individuals they are.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

We wanted to collect some visual representations of all the different ways bipolar disorder manifests, so we reached out to our bipolar disorder community.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1.Bipolar depression: I stayed in bed all day when this picture was taken. Self-care: My emotional support dog, laptop and music.” — Kristy D.

A woman lying in bed with her dog

2.This is a picture of me playing on the McDonald’s slides during a manic episode. I’m almost child-like in this state of excessive energy that I really cannot contain.” — Thando T.

A woman on a slide

3. “It represents bipolar disorder to me for a couple reasons. First, this photo was taken on my wedding day. The vest and tie are a vibrant red, but I am divorced due to my mental health issues, so the color has been removed. Secondly, my face is split, speaking of the duality of my mentality, and while one face looks forward at the viewer the other face is turned, as if walking away from the viewer, which speaks of my own constant internal battle.” — A.S. Minor

4.I drink a lot during manic episodes because alcohol is a depressant and it brings me down. I feel a little less ‘out of control’ with it in my system. It also helps me get sleep.” — Summer F.

A woman drinking through a straw

5. “For me, bipolar disorder can sometimes fuel my creativity. I find that when I am hypomanic, I have many creative ideas for pieces of art — either paintings or drawings. For example, this one of the Mad Hatter done in pencil. It sums up just how passionate, creative and driven I can really be.” — Caoimhe M.

Drawing of the mad hatter

6.My highs don’t manifest as stereotypical bipolar mania, with boundless energy and confidence. They are not being able to sleep for a week straight, having so much restless energy that I feel like I’m vibrating, panic attacks, and like my picture, my mind going so fast that I feel as if I’m in a constant blur. I took this during a manic episode to communicate to my friends how I was feeling.” — Shannon D.

7. The aftermath of me crying uncontrollably for a while. Not the greatest photo… not the nicest side either to bipolar. Hate crying. Especially over trivial things.” — Laura A.

selfie of a woman with short hair and glasses

8. Sneakers I bought impulsively during a hypomanic episode that I definitely can’t afford. (They are cute though.) — Emily G.

sneakers will Hello Kitty on them

9.This is 4 a.m. This is my service dog, who fell asleep taking care of my night anxiety and keeping me in one place during my mania. I have to work in five hours in this picture.” — Carolyn M.

A woman and her dog

10. The disorder manifests in my art. I believed I got this vision from God when I was hypomanic.” — Zoe S.


11. It represents compulsive spending. When I’m manic or depressed, I buy things I need, but don’t have money for. Like my car. I needed it, but didn’t necessarily need to buy more lights — or the siren/PA system I bought and installed…” — Amanda P.

Police car

12. “I made this a while back, and it was supposed to have an element of humor — literal poles/bipolar. But in retrospect it looks more like a prison, or a frame through which I’m seen. It’s both though — you need some humor to get through being bipolar, and it is a lens through which you’re forced to see life.” — Spence H.

A photo of a man, self-portrait

13. “Had not slept in over two days while working full-time in this picture.” — Casey D.

14. This was me after I went to go see a performance of ‘Aladdin.’ It was a Sunday night, I hadn’t slept since Thursday morning. I was in the middle of rewriting a major assignment piece from scratch. I had an extension on it because my amazing human of a lecturer saw something shift in my mood. The reason I was starting the whole assignment from scratch on the Saturday morning was because I had an epiphany where all of the work I had done was ‘wrong’ and I needed to link all of the theories together in a completely new way… it was completely not the point of the assignment (though my tutor said it was an interesting perspective) and as a result I got a fairly average grade. Pretty much sums up what happens when uni and mania mix. There’s at least 50 photos like this from that night on my phone…” — Barbara W.

15. I feel like the only comparison to mania, for me, is drowning. The thoughts that race become so overwhelming, I feel like my brain is holding me underwater. My brain is telling me that it requires its own pair of lungs to let the racing thoughts that keep me awake for weeks be exhaled, for a chance to filter the messy noise into a calmer sound. But my brain doesn’t have any lungs or a place for my mania to become something calmer. I just have to wait until the few months of madness are over, and the memories become a blur…  I drown, and drown, and drown. And when I start to breathe again, the air isn’t pure enough to breathe properly. The air is now filled with a depression so deep that I cannot drag myself out of bed — the air I breathe becomes filled with self-hatred, and fear, and misery, pain, hopelessness and despair. I drown in so many ways, with this disorder. (Picture is of Benedict Cumberbatch portraying Patrick Melrose, in ‘Patrick Melrose.”) —  Sarah B.

Screenshot from Patrick Melrose

16. “Deciding to do stuff like piercing my nose with a hook at 4 a.m.” — Casey D.

17. “I feel this selfie represents insomnia. At the moment I took this picture, I’d been awake for almost 36 hours. This bout of of insomnia has been driven by depression.” — Gabe H.

Gabe Howard

18. “I am exhausted. It’s clear on my face. All moms are exhausted, I know and respect this. But when you add the bipolar layer into the mix, you are in a constant battle with your own mind. People underestimate the physical impact this disorder has. It’s exhausting…” — Shelley A.

A mom and her son

19. “Times of hypomania where I get decent looking (makeup, straighten hair, brush teeth) for certain boys to come around… I certainly sit in the depressed boat more often than not. I don’t even usually do my makeup for work!” — Lisa M.

selfie of a woman20. “I shaved my head once because I was manic. I wanted to dye it blonde but it didn’t work. And my hair was so dead from dyeing it and bleaching it so many times, I was like, ‘hey screw it, let’s just shave it off and start fresh!’ I hated myself for it. Was and still am full of regret. The nice thing about hair, though, is that it grows.” — Haley W.

Woman with a shaved head

Can you relate?

Originally published: September 4, 2018
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