Can Bipolar Be More Than Mood Swings?

Marissa Newby

Sometimes the stigma that mental health disorders can carry is heavier than the weight of carrying the disorder.

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Hypomania — The Great Productivity Ally

When you think about bipolar you most likely think of moodiness, maybe even mania. But have you ever really considered the real comedy potential of all the purchases you made to redecorate your house in an insomnia-fueled Pinterest spree?

Before the reckless sex drive and hasty decisions phase of full-blown mania or, for some of us, our natural state that doesn’t ever get to mania, there is the goldmine of hypomania. Hypomania can be an absolute delight. Focus is sharp, tasks are easy to come by and easy to knock out. The energy is great. Often we are just moving out of a depression. Hooray hypomania!

The den of misery you might have moused away into a fetid nest of internalized suffering while you were depressed is due for an overhaul. Hypomania can manifest itself in spring-cleaning mode, but spring-cleaning mode after a double shot of espresso, emotionally. All the things that were neglected while you were depressed are handled in double time. The grout gets scrubbed in the shower where you cried every day hiding from your family members. The laundry is underway. The dishes from a month ago have been thrown in the trash and are thus rendered clean and, bonus, you get to buy new dishes.

You are a cleaning machine. A well-oiled, highly driven, hyper-focused actual scrub brush, free of pain and self-doubt. The clouds have moved away and the sun is out. Today’s the day! You have time to listen to friends, catch up on your favorite social media, spend time with your significant other when you are not in sad porcupine mode. The real takeaway here, though, is you might want to consider balance. You can’t work yourself to pieces, although you will likely try, while you try to make amends with the things you couldn’t remember or didn’t have the energy to do in other mood states.

Empathy Can Be A Struggle You Don’t Have to Endure

A maverick of emotional changes, people with bipolar disorder can often be innately aware of emotional changes in themselves and not so innately aware of emotions in others. A study in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences showed that those with bipolar disorder struggle with cognitive and affective empathy.

Often failing to read body language, facial expressions, and emotional cues, the study’s participants indicated they sometimes struggled to read the room. The upside? This daily challenge might manifest as a tendency to avoid emotionally driven and intimately tense situations with others. This can aid in avoiding confrontation or drive the need to work harder on identifying emotions in others and listening. Those with bipolar can often be wonderful listeners, though they may miss the initial shift in mood or have trouble observing the room.

Give us at least a little credit, though, and if we miss what might be wrong with you, take it as an opportunity to talk. Chances are we have no idea what we might be feeling either and the conversation won’t be bogged down in compartmentalizing emotions the way that boring neurotypical conversations might be.

You Might Be Pre-Disposed to Creativity

Once the drive to live returns to your body, you could very well be amongst the creative echelon of bipolar greats. Biographical information issues with historical artists, writers, and musicians aside, being bipolar might very well mean you are pre-disposed, at least to some degree, to a highly creative drive.

A study in Karger indicates that those with bipolar and their first-degree relatives have a higher incidence of being “open to experience” and creative interpretations of their experiences. That might sound like bipolar folks are open to outside suggestions, but that isn’t the case. Instead, we are often labeled as "original". Those with bipolar “tend toward divergent thinking, the cognitive ability of associational network activation and creative ideation, and an overinclusive cognitive style, which involves remote associations and may facilitate originality”. The possibilities for interesting associations are endless really, a ripe wonderland of creative influx can take off in the bipolar mind.

Acutely Aware of Overall Health

People with bipolar disorder can often be hyper-aware of their overall health. Knowing that someday a mood may come that will make it difficult to eat healthily or exercise can force you to consider your overall health and how it is linked to the physical body. Bipolar disorder can be associated with cluster symptomologies such as eating disorders, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, and other very physical ailments.

The brain and body are inexorably linked. Bipolar individuals may choose to focus on their health, ensuring their diet is well managed and that they have healthy routines. Self-care should be paramount ensuring proper diet, sleep and exercise are key in maintaining a healthy mind and a consistent mood.

The beauty of bipolar disorder is that it can drive personal growth and introspection, it can lead to breakthroughs with self-taught balance. Sometimes it comes from internalizing a lot of emotional baggage, but oddly enough carrying that baggage can make you stronger, when you flex the parts of your brain that need the most muscle, it can have a very real positive physical outcome and vice versa.

Bipolar disorder is often depicted as this burdensome, mad genius, semi-permanent state of Jekyll and Hyde style disposition. Realistically, living with bipolar means that every day is a challenge to be greater, to be more balanced, to channel those emotional states for the positive, to use the energy for good, and to influence others to do the same. The challenge can be the stigma rather than the symptoms.

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Marissa, a graduate safety practitioner and paramedic, has been writing and editing fiction and non-fiction work for 15 years. She delivers researched and sourced news concerning world events, public health, public safety and emergency management.

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