For many with bipolar disorder, it often takes a backseat in their lives, allowing them to live more or less normal lives. For others, however, the disorder completely upends their lives, making it hard to form and sustain relationships and even hold down a steady job. The disorder comes in many shapes and sizes but living with it often comes down to the same daily struggles.
Dealing with bipolar disorder can cause extreme amounts of stress in someone’s everyday life and will often lead to drug abuse or even suicide as a way out. Coping takes extreme amounts of hard and courageous work, something that Harvard Psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Nierenberg calls “nothing short of miraculous.”
“What it's like for someone to live with bipolar disorder is that it is disruptive, that it's hard for them to know what they will be like in any given month. For some people who are not stable, and by the way, there are ways that people can get stable, but for people who are not stable, it makes it very hard to plan,” says Dr. Nierenberg. In someone like Andy Irons’ case, these cycles of stability and instability perpetuated throughout his career and life, impacting all those around him.
The uncertainty of whether a low was coming or not makes it impossible to live a normal, happy life, leading those living with it to turn to an outlet like drugs and alcohol to find a way to cope.
“For some people, it is just terrifying, and even though mania can come along with euphoria and grandiosity, for many people they're really frightened of it because of the things that they can do, and the ways they can get into trouble during those times. They frequently will regret that. So, some people are really terrified and will do whatever they have to do not to have another episode, which means taking medications that have side effects, and that are imperfect of trying to really work hard at living a good life, doing psychotherapy, of trying to do a lot of self-management. So, for many of them, it takes a great deal of effort, and again for other people, they respond extremely well to psychotherapy and to medications, and it's not so frightening to them anymore,” says Dr. Nierenberg.
If you suspect you or someone you know may be suffering from a bipolar disorder, please, contact the SAMHSA national helpline.