Living with bipolar disorder can be a roller coaster of highs and lows, with moods constantly shifting between euphoric happiness and unusually deep sadness. While occasional mood swings are common for most people, the emotional ebbs and flows experienced by bipolar sufferers can be so deep and all-encompassing that they can interfere with daily functioning.
Once known as manic depression because of extreme moods, bipolar disorder affects an estimated 4.4 percent of adults in the United States at some point in their life (National Institute of Mental Health). These manic and depressive states may continue for periods of months or even years, while in between episodes the sufferer may experience relatively stable moods.
Bipolar disorders are typically chronic conditions and require lifelong attention, with treatment aimed at managing the symptoms.
The video below illustrates how debilitating living with bipolar disorder can be:
Behind Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar is characterized by the following:
- Manic episodes
- Depressive episodes
- Mixed episodes
“When people are manic, they pursue pleasurable activities with great enthusiasm and with no regard for the consequences,” says Jennifer Payne, M.D., psychiatrist and director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “They may gamble, spend excessive amounts of money, use drugs or become promiscuous.”
Perhaps known as a “high highs,” these manic moments may include:
- Increased physical and mental activity
- Exaggerated optimism and self-confidence
- Excessive irritability, aggressive behavior
- Decreased need for sleep
- Rapid speech and thought
- Impulsivity and partaking in risk-taking behaviors such as increased sexual activity, excessive spending or binge drinking
According to Psychology Today, “People experiencing a manic episode are often described as excessively cheerful or ‘feeling on top of the world.’ Often, however, the dominant mood during a manic episode is irritability.”
As a contrast, the moments of “low lows” for the bipolar suffer may include:
- Prolonged sadness
- Changes in appetite and sleep
- Irritability, anger, and worry
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- Recurring thoughts of suicide and death
These depressive episodes will result in lower levels of communication, self-esteem, and a lack of interest in life itself. In this depressive period, the euphoria and elation are long gone and have made way for hopelessness and sadness. These feelings may reduce a person’s sex drive and ability to be affectionate and connect. Some sufferers say the depressive episodes may make it feel nearly impossible to get out of bed, eat, or answer the phone.
In the mixed episode moments, a person with bipolar disorder may exhibit symptoms of mania or hypomania and depression simultaneously. This can prove to be highly confusing or stressful for their partner, who may not know what kind of behavior or reaction to expect.
Bipolar Disorder & Romantic Relationships
Navigating the dating scene, long-term relationships, and marriage each come with their own challenges. As we learn to fully commit ourselves to another, we experience moments of unbridled joy, heartfelt devotion, coupled with periods of frustration and learning to compromise. Romantic relationships require commitment, time, and hard work, but the addition of a mental illness such as bipolar disorder can create another layer of complexity.
The typical highs and lows of bipolar disorder may affect the way an individual thinks, feels, behaves, and communicates. The very nature of bipolar disorder produces such a wide range of mood swings, which could result in unpredictability for both people in the relationship.
“It can be a day-to-day challenge knowing what to do to support your loved one without being consumed by their depression and mania, says David A. Karp, professor of sociology at Boston College. “Indeed, caring for someone who has a mental illness can be more draining than caring for someone with cancer,” he explains. “They may even feel their own identities are being buried—they are losing themselves or jeopardizing their own health.”
Given the characteristics of bipolar disorder, how does this affect a person’s love life?
In the dating phase or at the beginning of a romantic relationship, we typically want to showcase our best selves. Whether it’s wearing our finest clothing or paying extra attention to our appearance, it’s human nature to try a little harder to impress the other person. That in mind, knowing when and how to share the details of a bipolar disorder can be a struggle for some sufferers.
A woman with bipolar disorder shares her experience with dating in the video below: