Do My Symptoms Sound Like Bipolar Disorder?

Reader’s Question

Last week my boyfriend told me he’s concerned I might have Bipolar Disorder. My sister has been voicing the same concern for awhile.

I do suffer from severe mood swings. They’re awful. One minute I’m so happy I almost want to pinch someone, or hug them as hard as I can. But within a matter of minutes something can irritate me so much it sends me into a rage. Sometimes I can control it, but very, very rarely. Other times I can disguise it.

My father died last May after a long battle with cancer. While he was alive I was put on antidepressants because I was in a pretty depressed state. I ended up quitting college and have since been on ‘disciplinary’ status at work due to my attendance. When my dad died it shattered my world. I’m obviously nowhere near over it, but I’ve learnt to cope with it pretty well. The other issue which I think is affecting my moods is an incident that happened about six months before my dad died. My half-brother (20 years older than me) and I went out for a drink and got so drunk we hardly knew our own names. I also found out at a later date that my brother was also taking cocaine. Anyway, I passed out. I woke up later to find him having sex with me, which was 150% against my will. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. I was scared and disgusted. I eventually told my two sisters. It all got a bit messy after that. My oldest sister got drunk and told my mum. We don’t see my brother anymore and I don’t have much of a relationship with my older sister now.

I love my boyfriend more than anything. But I keep doing things that hurt him, my family, and myself. I’ve had counseling, and I try to write regularly in a diary about how I’m feeling. I have no loss in appetite or sleep. In fact I want to sleep all the time, as I’m always feeling tired and run down. My sex drive is very variable. Sometimes I really, REALLY want it, and other times I can’t bear to be touched as I’m just too moody.

I took myself off the antidepressants about six months ago because at that time I was feeling really positive. I’m not sure if this was a mistake. I’m not even sure if they were good for me or not. I am going to go and see my GP, but I just wanted to hear someone else’s thoughts on my problem.

Psychologist’s Reply

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(Please read our important explanation below.)

Extreme emotional lability (intense moods shifting rapidly from one moment to the next) is often mistaken for bipolar disorder, although such lability can accompany bipolar disorder as will as other conditions (e.g., borderline personality disorder, “agitated” depressions, etc.). Many times, medication — including medications used to stabilize moods in the instance of bipolar disorder, as well as antidepressant medications — can prove helpful in moderating problematic shifts in mood. So, it would be advisable to provide your doctor with as much information as possible and to comply with recommendations for medical assistance with your mood issues.

In addition to any medical therapy, however, it would most likely be in your best interest to resume counseling with a therapist well-versed in treating individuals with multiple diagnoses and who have been through significant trauma. Many times, unresolved trauma and post-traumatic stress can mimic other problems, including personality dysfunction and mood disorders. Disturbances of mood can also co-occur with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Forming an intimate therapeutic bond and working on very sensitive issues can be a very intimidating prospect, creating some anxiety of it’s own. You might feel the urge to drop out of therapy early or to be non-compliant with recommendations. Folks who are unconsciously so anxious about tackling their core issues often have a “flight into health” in which they prematurely see no further need for therapy. But the best way to heal in the long term is to take the leap of faith necessary to make a commitment to the therapeutic process and stick with it until all the issues are resolved.

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