What I Wish More People Knew About Bipolar Disorder

Author: Matthew Palmieri


Since accepting the severity of my mood disorder, I’ve admittedly developed a sense of wanting to explain my condition to friends, family, and anyone within earshot. 

It’s likely because I’m still trying to understand it more clearly myself.

Although I believe we are getting better at understanding and accepting the features of bipolar and mental health in general, there are times I wish we knew more and could delve a little deeper.

Here are a few features I’ve found worth noting that may extend beyond a rudimentary understanding:

The Details 

There are certain, more nuanced features to the illness both for the person struggling to accept their disorder, as well as the caretakers, friends, family, and even coworkers who may not fully understand these unique characteristics required for a proper diagnosis.

Bipolar exists on a spectrum. Even if mania and depression are two signposts for the illness, there are other dynamic elements to bipolar that could illuminate our collective knowledge.

Pressured speech, flight of ideas, irritability, and grandiosity are just a few features that often accompany my manic state. Dealing with this can be like walking a tight rope, especially while working or managing creative impulses.

Choice and Treatment 

Bipolar is not something someone chooses. Although the severity of the condition can be mitigated with a holistic treatment plan, there isn’t a deliberate choice happening. Even when I’m stable, able to achieve euthymia, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is fixed. Feeling better also doesn’t necessarily mean having all the answers. It is a lifelong condition that doesn’t ever get solved.

Pursuing treatment may be a sign of maturity or leveling with bipolar, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate I know exactly how to plug all the leaks, so to speak.


As related above, medication alone does not cure the disorder. Even when I find the right balance and I’m making healthy lifestyle choices, a series of stressful circumstances can tip the scale and run the risk of an elongated bout of depression or an intense period of elevated mood.

If meds are prescribed improperly, my bipolar may increase in severity, something that I unknowingly had to learn the hard way.

Sleep also plays a huge role in bipolar management, as well as talk therapy and exercise, just to name a few strategies.

The Impulsivity

Impulsivity can have a devastating impact on my ability to achieve long term goals. Having what I consider to be a ‘normal’ life can sometimes feel impossible when I’m trying to make sense of my past behaviors I had no idea were happening. Scars can leave a residue that can pummel me into deep states of depression. When I’m in the manic fog, I do things I never would when I’m stable. My self awareness just isn’t there.

Triggers play a major role but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are 100% detectable. If I haven’t accepted the illness, I may be extremely symptomatic but not have the faintest idea about how far gone I am.

Speaking with a therapist can help me get to the bottom of my emotions and help me develop the mindfulness needed to properly categorize my feelings about myself and my life’s circumstances.

While mania may lead to bouts of creativity and a sense of accomplishment, impulsive spending and giving things away is real and can sometimes take years to recover from.

It’s an Invisible Illness

Expanding on the topic above, once I started taking my medication consistently and a treatment plan more seriously, I noticed a marked improvement in my depression, but it unfortunately lulled me into a more severe episode down the road.

Denial can play a big role in coping with bipolar and subsequent recovery.

Accepting the life-long element to the disease means I understand how much awareness and honestly can play a role.

It’s also crucial I have a support system because they can give me the honest feedback I need to better understand my shifting moods.

The Pros

There are positives to the illness. It can just be hard to see them and understand them clearly when I am in the trenches.

I know that I struggle with patience but finding a way out of a certain mood can show that I have focus, resilience and fortitude. I may go through more swings than other people, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not a better person for it.

I can be the best version of me because I take my recovery seriously and that’s a win.


There are a lot of successful people with bipolar but that doesn’t necessarily mean that depression and mania don’t have an impact on general wellness.

It’s estimated that anywhere between 40 – 60 percent of people struggling with bipolar are unemployed, with a life expectancy of 10 years less than the general population.

Even so, when I get things right, I know I can achieve, even overachieve, during those times I am stable.

Maintaining my holistic treatment plan doesn’t mean the illness goes away. It means I may be properly managing an illness, just like someone with a heart condition, diabetes, or other ailments that can fundamentally alter lifestyle choices.

I know bipolar can set me up for my best chance at being successful, just like a lot of people who simply try their best against the odds.

Patience Goes a Long Way 

The stigma is very real. There really isn’t an overwhelming amount of information about the illness, though things are slowly changing. If someone suffers from a physical illness, we may be more likely to detect the impact. But if the brain is suffering from severe mood shifts, we may be less likely to develop sympathy for ourselves or others, and self-stigmatize in the process.

Talking about what makes bipolar what it is while taking treatment seriously could lead to the breakthroughs I know I need to keep thriving.

Clearing the air about mental illness can be scary but vital for a longer and happier life.


The content of the International Bipolar Foundation blogs is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician and never disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read in any IBPF content.
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