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HomeFeaturesUnderstanding bipolar: A personal and clinical perspective from Durham Region

Understanding bipolar: A personal and clinical perspective from Durham Region

“Bipolar is something that I will be living with for the rest of my life,” says Amber Dickson, a Durham Region resident who is living with bipolar l.

Dickson’s experience is a microcosmic view of a condition often misunderstood and stigmatized in society.

According to National Institutes of Health bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects a person’s mood, energy, activity levels, and concentration. These unusual shifts can make everyday life tasks difficult.

Many people all around the world suffer with bipolar disorder but it is unclear how many. Statistics show a range of figures, however, many people don’t even know they suffer from bipolar and will likely go undiagnosed.

Dr. Yukiko Konomi has been a clinical psychologist since 2009. She currently works at Durham Psychologists in Ajax and works with many clients to better their mental health.

There are two main types of bipolar disorder, bipolar l and bipolar ll. Bipolar l is often defined by manic and depressive episodes that can last as long seven days.

Sometimes, if the symptoms are strong, one may need medical attention.

Manic episodes are considered as the ‘highs.’ A person may feel very elated, powerful, impulsive, euphoric and irritable. Other manic symptoms can include talking fast, racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep and feeling able to do many things with high energy.

Depressive episodes are known as the ‘lows.’ In this case, one might feel anxious, sad, slowed down and restless. They might also have trouble sleeping or sleep too much, experience a lack of interest in activities, forget things, have trouble concentrating and possibly feel a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness or suicidal thoughts.

“The shorter the cycle the more distressing it is for that person. Imagine for five minutes you’re really depressed and then next your manic and hyper,” says Dr. Konomi.

Bipolar ll is defined by depressive episodes and hypomania which is a milder version of mania.

“You may feel on top of the world but won’t necessarily be going to Las Vegas to gamble all your money,” she says.

Dr. Konomi says often times people who are hypomanic won’t seek treatment because it feels good.

Amber Dickson says bipolar is hard to describe because is different for everyone.

“For me I would say it’s a roller-coaster ride,” she says.

Medication can help balance the effects of bipolar disorder, but Dickson says it can also be one of the most challenging parts.

“Taking medication every day, all the time, even when you start feeling better…It’s a medication I have to continuously take to keep myself stable,” she says.

Many people with bipolar will stop taking their medication once they stop feeling manic or depressive symptoms. However, it can be a “difficult” thing according to Dickson who has had experience with stopping her medication.

When she is manic, she often has “out of body” experiences and a high sex drive, which she describes as challenging especially in a relationship.

“Learning my triggers before I get to that is something that has taken a long time to learn,” she says.

Some of her triggers are often stress related, but she can now feel manic episodes coming on.

Dickson also experiences depressive episodes. During these periods, accomplishing things like getting out of bed, showering and taking care of children can be very difficult.

“As a mom, that’s a guilt that I will continue to have for the rest of my life,” she says.

Dickson says that she encourages her husband to approach her if he notices any manic or depressive symptoms, so they can talk and get through it together.

Listening and not judging is key, according to Dickson.

“I can’t control some of the things that I do and I am not proud of some of the things that I have done,” she says.

There are many stigmas around bipolar disorder that can affect the person’s life and the way others view them.

“When you tell someone you have bipolar disorder, they immediately think you’re crazy,” Dickson says.

She explains the heartbreak and sadness she feels about this stigma and the fear one faces when telling people about their bipolar disorder.

“Most people wouldn’t even know I’m bipolar if I didn’t tell them I was bipolar,” she says.

There are many tools Dickson has found helpful, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), medication, support groups and therapy.

“I have friends who have bipolar disorder and not all of them are here today,” she says.

Dickson hopes that people with bipolar disorder converse with their doctors and talk to someone, whether it’s a parent, therapist or friend.

“You’re definitely not alone,” she says.