I live with bipolar disorder, but the majority of individuals I associate with do not. In fact, my immediate family and my wife don’t suffer from any mental illness at all.
If I expand the circle a little wider to my group of friends, about half of them live with depression, but that still makes me the only one who has experienced bipolar mania. All the people in my life are well aware of my diagnoses, and we all care about each other very much. That said, I find it frustrating when every little excitable gasp I make triggers concern that I’m about to be manic.
To help them help me, I’ve created this handy list of three warning signs that someone is experiencing bipolar mania:
1. Not sleeping is a big indicator of bipolar symptoms
It’s important to differentiate between not sleeping well and not sleeping at all. Most people will experience restless nights from time to time. The big indicator for bipolar mania is being constantly awake, very energetic, and not wanting to go to sleep.
Another way to connect lack of sleep with bipolar mania is that the person appears to not need to sleep. Even though they’ve been up for 24 hours, 36 hours, or longer, their energy level is still very high.
2. Racing thoughts present as rapid speech and a flight of ideas
If you suspect someone is experiencing bipolar mania, listen to them speak. Are they making sense? When I’m in the throes of bipolar mania, I have dozens of thoughts, ideas, and memories racing through my mind, all competing for attention. When I try to engage in conversation, all of these will run together in a jumble of words that make no sense. To me, I’m making perfect sense. But for everyone else, it’s mostly incoherent.
An exercise that is helpful to recognize a scattered mind and to possibly pick up on mania is to ask someone several questions about a variety of topics and examine their responses. Ask open-ended questions, sit back, and see if they ramble on, jump from topic to topic, or simply answer with nonsense.
3. The stereotypical bipolar excessiveness
The stereotypical analogy for bipolar mania is behaving like a rock star. If the person in front of you is not worried about consequences, doing almost anything to excess with no plan or reason, then mania could be steering the proverbial ship.
Excess comes in many forms. The examples that most people are aware of are spending sprees, sex, and alcohol and drug use. But excess comes in all shapes and sizes. Taking unnecessary risks while driving, overeating, and having unrealistic goals are common in people experiencing mania.
Pursuing a hobby without regard to how it impacts the rest of their lives is another excellent example. It’s easy, for example, to think that working out is a healthy choice. But if the person in question is skipping school or work to get in an extra few hours of exercise, it could be a warning sign.
Keep in mind that, in order to do something to excess, there will be a level of obsession that is unhealthy. Take a step back and evaluate the person’s motivations. If they can’t stop doing something for a period of time and are ignoring everything else to focus on that task, all wrapped up with a high level of energy and enthusiasm, then mania is a likely driving force.
Bipolar mania and excitement can look alike
Before you're tempted to diagnose every person in your life who has bipolar disorder with mania, remember that those of us who have experienced bipolar mania do, in fact, experience a normal range of emotions, as well. We get excited like everyone else over appropriate things.
If you suspect that bipolar mania is at play, but aren’t sure, stand back and watch for a couple of days. Mania has a way of being unmistakable after a while.