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Cover Story: Free From My Psychotic Fall

One woman's bipolar story, from the trenches to the hope

By C.A. MacConnell · January 17th, 2007 · Cover Story
  Bipolar disorder: From the trenches to the hope
C. Matthew Hamby

Bipolar disorder: From the trenches to the hope

As a small child, underneath the hair-like branches of a willow tree, I sometimes wrote poetry about horses or unrequited love. Other times, broken glass and death.

Around age 9, terrified of my scribbling, I tore it to shreds, burying the words deep in the garbage. In later years I starved myself, obsessively rode horses, got straight As, drank and had one-night stands, trying more cover-ups, grasping at coping mechanisms. If I could just stop the thoughts.

Unaware that I was living with a devastating illness, I assumed that everyone had constant suicidal thoughts. The star actress in an internal show of suffering, I told no one.

It's one thing to read a list of symptoms. It's quite another experience to live through each one. And I have.

I'm not exaggerating, on drugs or looking for attention, although I've been accused of these things and more. I have bipolar disorder, a brain disorder also known as manic depression.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic, lifelong illness that affects 2.3 million Americans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Often running in families, the disease is as real and deadly as cancer. Episodes can and do occur without any trigger.

There is no cure. The final symptom is suicide.

Usually when someone is diagnosed with a chronic illness, outsiders show love and concern. Yet when mental illness hits, even loved ones leave, gossip or -- the one I've experienced the most -- say it doesn't exist.

I've lost numerous boyfriends, friends, acquaintances and jobs due to misunderstanding and stigma.

Most mentally ill people I've met are above-average smart, highly creative, hard-working, strong, sensitive, loving and extremely successful. Many are geniuses.

When sick, I've felt and done unfathomable things. I've hurt people. Mostly, I've hurt myself.

But there's something else: With outside support, I've learned I can get and stay better.

At one time I was adamantly anti-medication. Then I learned the hard way that medication is essential to my treatment, just as a diabetes patient needs insulin.

I'm not a medical expert. This is my true, naked experience, and it's not remotely pretty.

I share this for all those suffering from brain disorders and the families and friends who need to know that someone else is living and coping with this disease. Here is my story, the symptoms and recovery, from the gut.

Crowds in my mind
First symptoms: high achievement and substance abuse. In 1997, I was in graduate school in Virginia for creative writing. On full scholarship, my GPA was 3.95. I wrote volumes of stories, poetry and several novels.

The year was full of writing awards and publications, and I never missed class. I could whip out 30 solid pages of fiction in one night, no problem.

I was also drinking myself to death. My roommate and I hosted extreme parties. Mornings, we woke with strange men, strange women, strange bruises, the floor carpeted with bottles.

By December the days went like this: Crawl to class, write, drink, puke, pass out, maybe piss the bed. Sometimes I ate.

Many artists died that way. So would I. Romantic.

When I wasn't drinking at school, I drank with my band. One winter night we played a seedy Southern bar, and, after I sang, something happened.

I didn't see burning bushes or prophets, but I did notice a strange light feeling between my eyes. The next morning, Dec. 6, 1997, I called for help, and I found it. I haven't had a drink or drug since that day.

Withdrawal. Immediately, overall paranoia and torture. Maybe I had the shakes, but I didn't notice because I was too busy repeatedly checking door locks, convinced that someone was coming to kill me. I had wild tantrums, howled, raged and felt the shock of a newly sober mind, one waking from a long, dark sleep tunnel.

Then I dropped significant weight, at first due to missing alcohol calories. But at a year sober, when the physical withdrawal should've been long gone, I passed out in the school gym, hitting my head on the scale.

I thought my skin might shed, blow away. I thought it was my fault. So I saw a nutritionist and followed directions. At 24 years old, I weighed each ounce of food, carrying measuring cups with me everywhere.

I trudged on. Fighting dizziness, I applied for adjunct teaching positions. A college in Salem, Va. hired me to teach writing. My students excelled, but I was a disappearing professor. After one semester, they let me go.

Thoughts increased to speedy, anxious confusion. Crowds shouted inside my mind, and I couldn't decipher which voice to follow. I couldn't stop writing, painting, playing music. I couldn't stop moving -- period.

Speaking of which, I stopped having periods.

Unemployed, I spent hundreds of dollars on art supplies. One night I broke into my friend's house, took a shower and left. Another day I painted a mural on her wall.

I started working at a health food store, trying the nutrition route. I tried aromatherapy, light therapy, therapeutic dance, raw foods, vitamins, herbs, veganism, vegetarianism, cranial sacral therapy, massage and reflexology.

Overcome mentally and fading physically, I wondered why, doing all the right things -- staying sober, eating organic -- I felt worse. Unaware that I was treating the symptoms rather than the whole disease, I found no remedy. I got fired.

Codes and signs wouldn't leave me alone. (Clinical term: "ideas of reference.") I couldn't take a drink without thinking the arch of pouring water meant something.

I made literary connections as far back as grade school on a one-way, hellish word train. Deep inside, twisted between other voices, a little girl screamed, "Help me!"

This small voice spiraled, waning. But I couldn't bring myself to speak it. Relentlessly, I tried to appear sane. Faking it was exhausting, but I couldn't sleep. Then I lost the tired feeling altogether.

Panic attacks, obsessions. The world vibrated. My heart beat erratically, light hurt my eyes and senses intensified, particularly my hearing. The universe pulsed around me -- big, loud and out of control. A distorted circus. A mad cartoon.

I was a bad, bad girl. Guilt-ridden, isolating, I dove into Native American spirituality, fixating on Thunderbirds, the Sky God.

I saw visions of Thunderbirds on streets, billboards and inside televisions. I threw my TV in the dumpster. Then I focused on Thunderbird cars. Driving as far as Baltimore, I followed Thunderbirds, assuming the cars were leading me to remedies.

My friends thought I loved road trips. I didn't tell them that God talked to me directly through the cars. God had a muffled voice.

Grandiose thinking, psychosis. In notebooks, I madly scribbled plans for huge projects and visionary institutions. C.A., The Great Spiritual Leader, drew diagrams, sharing them with anyone around. People thought it was cute.

Then billboards became messages from God. Road signs, newspaper headlines and finally all letters turned evil. Vowels laughed. I hit my head with fists, subtly jerk-walking down the street. I tried hard to hold myself together.

Many assumed I was merely an eccentric artist, but I was scared stiff and felt stiff, talking randomly, jumping from subject to subject with little pause for breath. I had to remind myself to blink.

Letters swarmed inside my head like flies. It was all some sick joke. God was a joke.

I hated God. God hated me. I hated me. I had to stop breathing.

One friend caught on, suggesting a psychiatrist. Against my beliefs, I went only because I had no other options.

Misdiagnosing me, my first doctor prescribed anti-depressants alone, which made me exceedingly worse. Later I learned that when anti-depressants are prescribed without an additional mood-stabilizing medication, if the individual is bipolar the mania typically gets worse, as was the case with me. This reaction can be a sure indication that a patient suffers from bipolar disorder rather than clinical depression.

Around May 1999, I hit bottom. Alone in my apartment, I thought I was having a heart attack. My chest, the whole world painfully beat at me.

I called 9-1-1. Soon a huge hand covered my face with an oxygen mask. Uniformed people placed me on a stretcher, delivering me to my first psychiatric ward.

There another doctor diagnosed me with a psychotic disorder and anorexia. They tried more medications. Still a stubborn, anti-meds hippie, I balked at treatment; but as thoughts worsened I choked and swallowed pills, disgusted. Nothing put a dent in my otherworldly mood.

I thought about guns. When I got out, I'd check out my friend's gun collection. Then check out.

When I thought about it, I felt calm. But a month later I ended up back in the same psych ward in Virginia. That second stay, a legally blind doctor diagnosed me with bipolar disorder.

Shock treatments and meds
Someone called my parents. They had no idea how bad I was until they saw me, so thin and petrified that my eyes sank into my skull. Mom, Dad and Stepmom rented a U-Haul, carting me back to Cincinnati.

By the time we arrived home, I'd swung completely the other direction, falling into a comatose-type depression. I hated music, writing, life. All I felt was sinking despair and weighted, tender muscles. I could barely move.

Dad found me a new doctor. Trying medicine after medicine, I endured countless side effects but no relief. Even when people talked directly to me, I pictured myself hanging, lifeless. I wished for a slashed throat.

Living with Mom, I slept with her in bed. The family had me on 24-hour suicide watch.

I could barely talk or walk. Reading was impossible. Watching TV or movies was unbearable, too much information for my overcrowded brain.

I envisioned my body falling from the Big Mac Bridge. Several times I eluded Mom, stole the car and drove there. Pulling over once, I almost had the guts.

Then Mom went on vacation. Dad had me under watch at his house, but I sneaked out. Driving to Mom's, I found the spare key to her SUV, went in the garage, turned on the motor and breathed in carbon monoxide.

Waiting, I messed with the radio. Couldn't find a good song. Groggy, I was pissed. It was taking too long.

The next thing I remember: another oxygen mask. My body was strapped down on a stretcher in the emergency room. They transported me to the psych unit. It was August 1999. I was locked up over my 25th birthday.

My depression was cavernous. The other patients were just as sick or sicker. In a walking coma, I had a million thoughts, but I couldn't communicate.

All I felt, physically and mentally, was pain. Inside and all around me, despair. Enduring more side effects, not one medicine worked. I wanted to turn into vapor, be sucked from existence by a strong wind.

Since no medicines were working, the doctors suggested electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also known as shock treatments. I was horrified at the idea, but I had no choice.

I was so depressed that even my speech was a slurred effort. I had to consciously order my arms and legs to work. OK, put foot down. I want to die. It hurts. Shuffle. Help me. It hurts.

In my head, I talked back to the relentless thoughts. Shut up. You are not real. I deserve real. I deserve real love. Then I heard this: C.A., we got you. You're not getting out, ever. Die. An evil tape recorder with no stop button.

Wheeled through hospital corridors, I watched the lights flash above me. I removed my jewelry. Tubes were everywhere. The doctor was soap opera handsome. I remember thinking, I wish I could write so I could describe him ... then they put me out.

I had 12 or 13 ECT treatments on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. Some inpatient, some outpatient. I forced myself into a cocoon state, blocking it out.

Mom, Dad or Grandma would drop me off and pick me up. Then I would go to one of their houses, where I was monitored. They say that ECTs affect the memory, but I clearly remember feeling fragile and freezing.

My ECT treatments weren't like the barbaric scenes portrayed in old movies or the ignorant, fear-causing torture represented in Halloween festivals, haunted houses and mazes. In reality, during the ECTs I was under anesthesia. I felt no pain before, after or during. The doctors and nurses were professional and respectful.

What made it disturbing wasn't the actual process but the stigma attached to the treatment itself. I went into it expecting horror because of preconceived notions that society has about ECTs. If the stigma weren't present, it would've felt like medical treatment without fear or shame, as it should've been. Most people don't think the treatment exists, but ECTs are commonly used right here and now.

My depression was so low, medicine couldn't touch it. Without ECTs, I would not be here.

Finally, my brain functioned enough so that meds could begin working. After the treatments and another series of meds, I was slightly better. That is, I had suicidal thoughts only three-fourths of the day.

Mere weeks later I got hired at a coffee shop and moved into an apartment in Mount Lookout against my parents' wishes. Sick or not, I was still as headstrong as a mistreated horse.

Recovery was so slow it was barely recognizable. At work, while making mochas, I thought about slicing my veins with the box cutter in the break room. It'd be easy. That was the process.

Thoughts didn't disappear. They haunted me.

It took a year before I could walk and talk fluidly again. I practiced forming words at work. I practiced taking showers. I took pills, gained weight, saw the doctor. Barely, I stayed with the living.

On the side, I started working with horses, a passion of my youth. It was sloppy, but I showed up, fighting medication side effects. Over the years I've experienced night sweats, day sweats, weight gain/loss, water retention, sun sensitivity, shaking, frequent urination, skin rashes, nausea, dizziness, incessant thirst, dry mouth, increased/decreased sexuality, constipation, stomach aches, headaches, backaches, restlessness, insomnia, fatigue and, the most bizarre, lactation.

Finding the right medication was grueling. Most meds didn't take effect for three weeks. Many took much longer. So I experienced no relief mentally, plus added physical problems from side effects.

To make it more complex, the regimen was unique to the individual. One anti-psychotic med that worked for a friend caused a severe, traumatic reaction in me. One mood stabilizer made the world appear cartoonish. I've had allergic reactions, intense paranoia and other experiences that made starting a new medicine a terrifying mystery.

I endured trying so many different medications I can't remember. It took at least two years before I was stable on three meds that remotely worked. My brain was balanced with the combination of an anti-depressant, a mood stabilizer and an anti-psychotic.

Even then, from summer to fall, dosage changes. If work was more physical, meds were altered, and on and on. (I've omitted medication brand names. Treatment is so individual, and I don't want to influence anyone by using particular names out of sensitivity to individuals who might be in treatment.)

Take an antibiotic, feel better. With a brain disorder, take pills and have no idea. Many times I got worse.

Doctors made decisions based on feedback, but the powerlessness and uncertainty made it a scary guessing game. I felt like a lab rat. All that said, with persistence meds definitely worked. Finally finding ones to match my brain chemistry, I enjoyed several years of productive, mental stability.

Beginning with childlike scribbling, I relearned how to write. God was present again, the all-loving kind. Life was steady.

Except close friends and family, no one knew about my disease, but I lived with post-traumatic stress -- flashbacks of hospital lights, patients and scenes and the constant worry that the illness would come back and seize me, destroying the life I'd worked so hard to recreate. Fear hung thick, a humid reminder, but after years of mental soundness, I thought the illness had vanished.

'A thought tornado'
In 2004, I dropped weight. At the time, I had a demanding physical job riding show horses, so I brushed it off as over-activity. Here and there, when I looked at graffiti or license plates, I heard messages.

I told the doctor. We worked through it.

My boss had been a supportive employer, flexible and sensitive. When he retired, I slimmed down more and got a new boss. More riding, more, more, more.

Unable to keep up the pace, one day, after four consecutive happy years of thriving at this farm, I picked up my saddle and left. That night my students called me, crying and confused. I sat on the couch, listening to the phone ring. It was so loud.

The illness crept over me slowly. I developed weird obsessions with e-mails, license plates and posters. By October 2005, something happened to my brain. Again.

Working as a store clerk, my responsibilities were few -- ringing the register, busting shoplifters. On the side, I was sending my novel to New York, trying to get published.

Constantly, I talked about New York publishing and music producers. Music and writing had always been central to my life. Nobody suspected anything. Not even me.

One day at work I sat on the ground behind the store, confused. My head turned into a thought tornado. I tried to shake it -- but when the world pulsed around me, I left. I got fired.

Then came ideas of reference, signs and codes. I received odd e-mails. New York music producers wrote me in code -- noun, verb, skip adjectives. Every third word. Anagrams. Complex letters turned into insects. The screen was alive.

I dyed my hair black. Then, self-mutilation. With a kitchen knife, I carved a lightning bolt into my arm. I got another tattoo, a Thunderbird. The pain felt good.

Two men at a coffee shop were music spies. They wanted to see how I would handle fame. My phone was tapped. FBI. Caller ID became code. I threw the cordless in the garbage.

"Lost Dog" signs morphed into notes from bands. I had to find out what they were trying to tell me, whoever "they" were.

By November nouns turned into mind piranhas. E-mail code told me I had an audition. I showered and sang, warming up my voice. I did my hair, makeup. I waited. The producers were late. An hour later, still no deal. Someone was tricking me.

The next day the computer turned into an eye socket, a black hole. No one there except an evil joker behind the screen, cackling at me because I believed the record deal was real.

My world was blurry letters, lost hope and the pain of all sound echoing, loud and piercing. All things appeared Technicolor, so bright that even while inside I squinted.

I looked in the mirror. Beyond pale, all skin was tight, tense. My black hair, dry and ratty. Swollen eyes, full-on bloodshot. My ruddy cheeks sank, dented. I was thin. No, fat. My eyes were drawn comic book style, too large for my lips.

The computer might grow legs and follow me, so I drove to the park to escape. All around, people were swinging legs and swallowing and skateboarding and wearing shades. It was blinding.

People were laughing. At me.

Fighting gerbils
Back home, I moved like a slug, smooth and slippery, hunting for sharp things. With a Swiss Army knife, I cut my wrists some, but it was too dull.

Calmly, I swallowed my medicine, every pill I could find. Then I printed out a suicide note, no errors, stretching out on the bed. My cats slept.

Then the pills hit. Like a de-toxing drunk, I shook. One arm flailed sideways. Then the other. Legs twitched in spasms. At that moment the phone rang. I crawled over, checking caller ID. I knew her. I didn't answer, but when the ringing stopped I dialed 9-1-1.

Into the phone, I slurred, "Seizure, maybe."

When the paramedics arrived, I crept around, packing well, remembering the icy hospital rooms. They shouted at me to stay still, threatening to strap me down. Kneeling down, I begged to be left alone. I pleaded, shuddering, but there were too many big people to fight.

From the ambulance, I saw crowds of wide-eyed street people gawking at me. I pulled up the hood of my sweatshirt to hide, but I couldn't stop shaking right out of it. It was so sunny it hurt.

In the ER, angry-looking nurses surrounded me, holding down my arms and legs. I screamed and blacked out.

I woke up to a breathing tube, a catheter and my raw throat was a sandy slide. When I wiped my mouth, my sleeve turned black from the charcoal they'd used to coat my insides. The stomach pumping was done. I cried because I was alive.

Alone for a full day, I repeatedly asked for a phone. Finally, I was allowed to call Mom. I scratchy-whispered, "I'm sick." She rushed to the ER, busting past the nurses to see me.

Dad was in Texas visiting my brother. They came on the next flight home. My sister drove in from Dayton. My doctor came. His eyes were bloodshot, too.

In the long, cold day and night in the ER, I began to slightly revisit the world, realizing that after six years of going to therapy and taking meds religiously there I was, full-blown psychotic anyway. And that was terrifying.

Psych wards were always on the top floors, as if even the hospital building were ashamed of its contents. And there were usually branches based on behavior, as was the case in this hospital. They wheeled me up to the western branch, the "no insurance ward" as we patients called it.

This ward was degrading, filthy, dangerous, shocking and so unbelievably heartbreaking it almost felt like a movie. But it was harshly real, and there was no happy ending inside. The first night I was too petrified to speak.

My roommate, V, mumbled vile profanities all day and night, angry at the voices in her head. Her toes were blackish green with grime and gangrene. Numerous times when I came back to the room, she'd thrown up all over it. No one rushed to clean it up.

Every few hours the nurses took us to a smoking room. Even non-smokers went, just for a scenery change. Like fighting gerbils, we were packed in, the air thick and polluted, angry sounds vibrating the walls.

I sang once, and everyone quieted, listening to the echo.

I couldn't cry. Then I could. And that's all I wanted to do. But I couldn't, unless no nurses were looking.

Afraid the man two doors down might rape me, sleep was out of the question. Like a rodent, I scurried the halls. Either that or go back to the room and V's cussing.

All night, patients had furious tantrums. One kid thought he was Jesus. Someone violent was locked in the padded room.

Mornings, we had group therapy for 10 minutes. The group leader was cold to the point of abusive, and I took it all inside, afraid they wouldn't let me out if I showed emotion.

Except one, the nurses ignored us. Treated worse than criminals, we had to beg for blankets and pillows.

Due to my parents' and doctor's persistence, after three days they released me under supervision. Living with Dad, I couldn't sleep, write or read. My muscles throbbed, as if stricken with a wicked flu.

Taking a shower went like this: OK, shampoo. Good. Open. I talked myself through every single motion.

Like a child, I was forbidden from computers, shaving, driving and being alone. When I couldn't sleep and neurotically wandered outside in the middle of the night, Dad followed.

I forced myself to write for one minute, then five, ignoring codes and signs. Letters rose up from the page, switching around, sending me secret messages.

I forced myself to read. It took months before I could finish a paragraph.

I forced myself to do yoga amidst racing confusion, intense body aches and heaviness. Literally sleepless for months, suicidal thoughts faded, replaced by this: You are fat, useless. Each second I fought my thoughts, my brain, and over time my spirit started winning.

'Reality is a gift'
It's been a year now. Slow recovery, but not as slow as the first time.

I've endured the trial and error of new medications. With the help of my powerful, loving family and persistent doctor, I've rebuilt myself one moment at a time.

People often say, "I'm depressed today" or "I'm so manic," throwing those words around as if they're everyday feelings.

Manias were more than "highs." Producers sent codes, cars became hideous creatures and the speedy panic was all inside.

My depressions weren't simply "lows." I envisioned suffocation, blood, ropes and guns. Each muscle, each bone felt like dead weight. Physically, depressions caused all-encompassing pain.

The words "manic depression" represent unbearable feelings I can barely describe, even after having been through it. I've lived these terms fully.

And I've seen it in A, the manic man who escaped day treatment to take me strawberry picking, and W, the psychotic girl who wrote me a bad check from God. I've seen it in all those hidden behind locked doors on top hospital floors, brain-trapped in anguish.

We know the truth of those words. We've been called names, dumped, abandoned, abused, fired, arrested, ignored, misdiagnosed and thrown out to rot on the streets because of a medical illness.

There are things I can never take back.

Now, looking back, my psychotic behavior seems outrageous. I walked out on jobs, mailed money to random people, sent bizarre e-mails and busted into people's lives unwanted, believing they sent me coded messages, realizing much later, aghast and ashamed, that what I'd been reading was merely spam.

At the time, I wholly believed my psychotic world; it had nothing to do with reasoning. Rather, my brain made misconnections, just as it would with an Alzheimer's patient.

After major symptoms faded, like fearing the FBI, there were still residual symptoms -- extreme anxiety and fixations. How I wished I could erase and relive those months, magically repairing my name and character.

For a long while, struck with guilt and confusion, I obsessively tried to uncover the missing pieces. How I wanted to patch the memory holes. Hey world, I wanted to scream, I'm not see-through anymore. Please come, meet me now that I am whole.

But to recover I had to wave goodbye to shame. Finally, I had to let go.

Today I experience few side effects, mainly fatigue. The symptoms haven't disappeared, but I'm able to recognize them and work through it.

I have to stay on it. Medications, therapy, sobriety, loving support, financial assistance, monitoring stress, daily yoga, groups and faith have been essential for my recovery. I despise taking meds, but I do. It's tricky.

When well, I start thinking I'm cured. Then I visit a sick friend, and it reminds me to take my meds.

When someone says the illness isn't real, it gives me ideas that could kill me. Once I heard, "Those medications are giving you a lobotomy." I hear comments like this continuously.

People wonder why bipolar patients recover, then trash their meds and relapse. Because teachers, mentors, friends, family members, employers and partners tell us to stop taking our medicine.

More roadblocks. Health insurance. Don't have any. Long story.

Everything out of pocket. I'm not alone here. Government assistance, yes, if my income is too low to cover basic needs.

To give an idea of the financial burden bipolar individuals face, one of my prescriptions costs $425 per month. I'm on three. Constantly in medical debt, we're forced to max out credit cards, try countless programs, live with parents and collect food stamps.

According to an article the June 7, 2005 Washington Post, headlined, "U.S. Leads in Mental Illness, Lags in Treatment," less than half of those in need get treated. The treatment they receive is usually inadequate.

Upon waking, most people take it for granted that the world will appear as a simple reality. For me, reality is a gift each second. I'm utterly grateful that I woke to a rich, real morning and that I slept through the night.

I do what I can. I show up, do handstands and listen to heart-wrenching music, taking in each note. I focus on the moment. I speak at universities, non-profit organizations, fire and police stations. I fight against stigma, walk for a cure. I visit the locked wards, grateful each time I can exit freely.

I beg employers to learn, see the signs and encourage treatment. I beg everyone to realize that the mentally ill are not "crazy."

We have brain disorders. With outside help, we have a shot at recovery. Without it, many fall through the cracks.

There's no real middle ground here. My friends either recover or die.

What caused my relapse? Stress? Past trauma? The doctors don't know.

Sometimes, despite fierce efforts, as with any other chronic illness, people with brain disorders simply get sick. No reason. We get sick. End of story.

I know one thing for certain: This past psychotic fall led me to share my story, release the shame and bleed it out.

See, with these traumatic experiences comes a raging strength and fight, the fight to believe that I deserve true, ridiculous love, true faith and the freedom to let my mind escape enough to dream without the fear of losing myself.

Here I am, hoping. God, I hope. And I pass on this hope.

If you know this pain, if you've been trapped inside your aching mind, if you're locked up or fresh out, still half-sane and childlike, know this: I've been there.

I know what it feels like. And if I can break free, then you, too, can come out of it.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Manic Episode

Increased energy, activity and restlessness

Excessively "high," euphoric mood

Extreme irritability

Racing thoughts, talking fast, jumping from one idea to another

Distractibility, trouble concentrating

Little sleep needed

Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers

Poor judgment

Spending sprees

Lasting period of behavior that's different from usual

Increased sexual drive

Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol and sleeping medications

Provocative, intrusive or aggressive behavior

Denial that anything is wrong

Hallucinations (hearing, seeing, sensing the presence of things that aren't actually there) and delusions (false, strongly held beliefs; for example, believing one is the U.S. President)

Depressive Episode

Lasting sad, anxious or empty mood

Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness

Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex

Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down"

Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

Restlessness, irritability

Sleeping too much or can't sleep

Change in appetite, weight loss or gain

Chronic pain or persistent bodily symptoms not caused by physical illness or injury

Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov)

For more information on BIPOLAR DISORDER, visit www.nami.org, www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov and www.nimh.nih.gov.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder


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