Bipolar Insights: What does bipolar disorder look like?

By From page B4 | April 28, 2014

Marcia Rose Democrat photo by Pat DollinsBefore we look at what bipolar disorder looks like, let’s determine what it does not look like.

Individuals with bipolar disorder do not drool, bang their heads against the wall or have a sign on their forehead that reads, “I am bipolar.” Such misconceptions need to be put to rest.

After 15 years of teaching, I am convinced that most people, including those diagnosed with the disorder, would describe bipolar disorder in terms of certain behaviors when asked this question but behaviors are different from symptoms.

When you look at an individual who has bipolar disorder, there is no way to distinguish that person from someone without the disorder. It is impossible to determine a diagnosis by examining someone’s appearance.

Because bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance originating in the frontal lobe of the brain, it is not visible to the naked eye. In the past few years, using an MRI, doctors have been able to view the brain and determine a bipolar diagnosis. However, use of an MRI for such a diagnosis in not covered by medical insurance, because it is deemed to be an elective procedure; therefore, it is a tool that frequently is not utilized.

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder which encompasses a wide range of mood swings.

On one end of the spectrum is mania which could manifest itself in the following ways:

•Increased energy and activity

•Excessively “high” euphoric mood

•Extreme irritability and restlessness

•Racing thoughts, often accompanied by rapid speech, marked by the inability to maintain a single thought or idea


•Little need for sleep

•Unrealistic belief in one’s abilities and powers

•Poor judgment

•Spending sprees

•Increased sexual drive

•Self medicating

•Provocative, intrusive, behavior

•Not realizing that anything is wrong

•Unable to concentrate

On the other end of the spectrum is depression which is often displayed in the following ways:

•Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood

•Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism

•Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness

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

•Decreased energy or a feeling of fatigue

•Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

•Restlessness or irritability

•Sleeping too much or unable to sleep

•Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or weight gain

•Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury

•Thoughts of death, suicide or suicide attempts

The result of each mood (whether mania or depression) is governed and controlled by the level of chemicals in the brain. All symptoms are chemically induced and are not situational.

The previously listed descriptions of mania and depression describe only the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Symptoms should not be confused with behaviors.

Bad behavior can be a result of abuse, dysfunction, self medicating or lack of training.

We all are confronted with bad behavior from time to time. This is not a symptom of bipolar disorder. The difference between bipolar symptoms and bad behavior is an important distinction. Those with bipolar disorder are governed by the disorder; all others have the ability to control or change their bad behavior.

Medication empowers the individual. The chemical imbalance in the brain created by the disorder keeps the individual’s life in chaos. Medication allows the disorder to be diminished allowing that person to live a balanced life.

What does bipolar disorder look like?

Without medication it looks like the symptoms listed above. With the proper combination of medication and dosage, people would not be able to identify someone with the disorder from anyone else.

There is a notable exception when someone with bipolar disorder might stand out. Creative ability and extreme intelligence are common among those with this disorder. I don’t know about you, but I would love to be noticed for that.

For more information go to Become a fan of Bipolar Insights on

There is a Newcomers Class on Sundays from  7-8:30 p.m. 681 Main St. in Placerville, room 208. Bipolar Disorder is what you have, not who you are. All are welcome and make sure to check the Website for closures.

The 2014 calendar/journal is available at
The co-founder and facilitator of Bipolar Insights, Marcia Rose, can be reached at: [email protected] Weekly classes start at 7 p.m., Sundays at Marshall Medical Health Conference Room 207/208, 681 Main St. in Placerville and on Mondays, in Room 304, Green Valley Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville. The fee is $5 per person.

Marcia Rose

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