Living with bipolar disorder can be incredibly difficult. There are periods of mania in which people can feel high levels of energy or irritability. There are also periods of depression that can be debilitating and even lead to suicide. Bipolar disorder cannot be taken lightly, especially by those who experience it. Every day requires some focus on the disorder itself. It affects all aspects of a person’s life whether personally, socially or occupationally. Research has found four areas that seem to impact life with bipolar disorder the most.

LaRae LaBouffLaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby. Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.

Editor: Saad Shaheed

This research, led by Joseph Walsh of Virginia Commonwealth University, combed through 12 studies with 234 participants in which those with bipolar disorder describe the experience of living with it. Most of the interviews described four areas of life that are most affected by bipolar disorder.

Accepting the Diagnosis

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. It is lifelong and can be difficult to diagnose and to treat. Being given the diagnosis is life altering and can be frightening at times. Some people have problems receiving the news of what can feel like a prison sentence. Others initially find relief. They have answers and explanations of their behavior. Many people describe accepting their diagnosis like going through the five stages of grief-  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some people do not reach the acceptance stage. It’s common for people with bipolar disorder to deny anything is wrong.

Impacts on Relationships

Bipolar disorder can make having relationships difficult, whether with family, friends or co-workers. A person’s behavior when they are symptomatic can be problematic. People with bipolar disorder deal with feelings of anger or irritability. The disorder can also lead to erratic behavior that can strain relationships. During periods of depression, people also have a tendency to withdraw from others. Sometimes this is motivated by wanting to be left alone, but other times it can be because of severe feelings of guilt for behavior or just for having the disorder itself.

Practicing Self-care

Because bipolar disorder has such an impact on day-to-day life, it’s important for people who have it to practice self-care. Part of that self-care includes tracking symptoms. It takes knowing the disorder well to catch the nuances of behavior and motivations. Tracking symptoms can include using a journal, an app or reporting from family or friends. Knowing when to see a doctor is key. Another important aspect of self-care is for people to know their limitations, have the ability to say “no” and do what they need to do in order to keep up their mental health. This can include exercise, reading, meditation, practicing religion and learning to communicate.

Relying on social support

Everyone with bipolar disorder needs social support. Functioning is hard. Even doing the small things in life like showering or eating can be difficult. In those times it’s important to rely on others, as hard as it may be. This includes family, friends, coworkers and mental health professionals. This does require disclosing the illness to others, which can be difficult. However, having people that know what the disorder entails is key to helping manage it. When episodes come, this group of people will know how to handle the situations and get extra help if needed. This can be anything from cooking a meal to handling child care, covering a work shift or convincing the person they need hospitalization.

The bipolar disorder experience is not limited to these four areas. Life becomes an obstacle course without knowing what challenge will be next. However, there are times of reprieve and even joy. Life with bipolar disorder is still life worth living.