I try to think back to when I first knew something was wrong, and I needed help. The problem with bipolar is many of the symptoms can be similar to other characteristics. For example, you might start to wonder if the symptoms are related to smoking pot, lack of sleep, a bad day or week, or something else. Before I went and talked to my doctor about my symptoms, I must have been feeling them for 2-3 years prior.
Here are some common symptoms of bipolar:
- Sleep changes
- Mood changes
- Social anxiety
- Feeling sad
- Talking fast
- Concentration problems
- Poor focus
- And many others
To the naked eye, or to someone who knows nothing about bipolar, these symptoms can translate to almost anything…right? I know friends who have trouble sleeping, or are upset some days. I have a sister who talks way too fast, and others who are shy within a social gathering. Is it safe to say they are all living with bipolar?
I hope you understand what I’m getting at, and how it can be really hard to differentiate between a bad day, and bipolar. I try and go back to what I was feeling when I decided to seek help, and remember when I finally saw a pattern developing.
You see, in the early stages, I was smoking a lot of drugs, drinking, and going out considerably more than I do now. I thought much of my mental state had to do with my lifestyle, and decided to make some changes to see if that would help. Things got way too uncontrollable, and I couldn’t really function the way I wanted to. For example,
- Weight gain from depression
- Social anxiety
- Worried what others thought of me
- Elevated mood (some days)
- Several mood changes
- Lack of concentration
Now that I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar, I know how to differentiate, however, in the late 1990s, it was much harder for me to figure out what was going on. This led me to my first line of defense.
In 1998, I got sick of the way I was feeling so decided to make some lifestyle changes. At that point, I really thought being unhealthy, smoking and drinking were to blame for my constant mood swings. Again, I had never heard of bipolar so I didn’t know what direction to look in for answers. First, I started out exercising 2-3 times per week to shed weight, hoping this would help with the symptoms I was feeling. Even though I lost 10-15 pounds, I still experienced some of the harsh symptoms like social anxiety, mood swings, confusion, and some manic episodes. (didn’t know what manic was in the late 1990s). Next,
I completely cut out drugs because I felt it was doing some serious damage to my brain cells. I really believed drugs were causing me to be paranoid, which led to the other symptoms. Even though this did help with the paranoia, it did nothing for the other symptoms.
Third, confidence and motivational coaching was something recommended to me by a close friend. At that time, I relied on “1” single friend who knew what I was going through to help me focus. The books I read didn’t help, and it’s NOT because they lacked substance, but because the bipolar symptoms reduced my ability to focus. One harsh symptom I remember was poor concentration. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t focus on a conversation. I was more concerned about what the other person thought of me, or social anxiety being around others.
As a matter of fact, one of the more serious symptoms was I lacked total concentration. This meant I would forget things easily even when reading, which is why the self-confidence books didn’t help at all. In late 1999, after all the changes, I was still feeling some of the harsh symptoms like social anxiety, elevated moods, confusion, poor concentration, etc.
By June 2000, I knew I had to do something, and visited my family doctor for a professional opinion. If you’ve read my first post, you know I underwent hypnosis to see if this would help, and it didn’t so was referred to a mental health professional.
Currently, I’m on Wellbutrin and Epival (divalproex sodium) to keep my mood swings in check, and I feel great. With the ability to focus, I’m able to transform my life in the direction I want. I have a level of focus that I’m grateful for because this was one huge problem I had before. However, I’m even more grateful I can sit here, look back at my life, and put things into perspective. I can clearly remember what prompted me to go see my family doctor in the first place. I’ll admit my sleeping pattern was off, but it still is today. I’ll also admit I still talk fast, but that’s because I have so much to say to people around me.
It’s not the sleeping nor was it the talking fast that raised all the alarms. It’s the following that turned my life upside down in the late 1990’s. Let me know if you guys experienced the same thing right before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Even after my lifestyle changes, I was hoping the mood swings would stop or even stabilize, but they didn’t. I would be depressed for 3-4 days, unable to communicate, poor concentration, anxiety, lack of energy, then BOOM, be on a high for 2-3 days. During my high phase, it’s like none of the symptoms ever existed, but then I’d wake up and they’re back.
It was a vicious cycle, which was the first thing I mentioned to my psychiatrist. Alcohol and/or poor sleep would trigger an episode, or shift the cycle more quickly.
Poor Concentration –
No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t concentrate on a conversation or even my work. I was even put on Ritalin for a few weeks to see if it’ll help, but it didn’t. I would focus on crazy things like what the other person thinks about me when I would be having a conversation with them.
Social Anxiety –
Oh, man, I hated being in a social gathering because I was worried about what others thought of me. It was a combination of confidence and anxiety. I guess the real factor was the “what others thought about me”, which I connected to being paranoid. Here’s a quick definition:
“Having or showing an unreasonable feeling that people are trying to harm you, do not like you, etc. : feeling or showing paranoia”
Laziness and Fatigue –
Around this time, I must have been running 2-3 miles every day. I was eating well, and was very active, but couldn’t shake the damn tiredness. I would have headaches, and didn’t have the energy to finish anything. Thinking about work would give me a headache, even though I knew how very important a task was.
Again, this might be different for you if you’re NOT as active, however, I was very fit around this time, working out 4-5 times per week (2-3 being cardio).
Before wrapping it up, I want to mention something,
These were the symptoms that stood out during that time. Because they were dominating my life, I can pinpoint today how I was feeling during my late 20s. However,
I took a proactive step to eliminate why I had certain symptoms by making lifestyle changes. These changes delayed professional help by about 2 years. Maybe my bipolar got more serious during this time, or maybe it didn’t. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms I’ve mentioned, I would encourage you to go see your doctor before they get worse. It’s better to be safe than sorry…right?
In the late 1990s, mental awareness was NOT as prominent as it is now, and bipolar was something I had never heard about. Times are different and there is more help available now than before so it’s important to seek out help if you feel your symptoms are interfering with your daily life.
Through trial and error, I was able to determine something wasn’t quite right, however, you don’t have to make the same mistake by waiting before seeking professional opinion. I’m grateful to be stable (so far), and pray all of you don’t go through what I did during the late 1990s.
Please share your thoughts, and let’s help increase mental awareness by sharing this content on social media.