Skip to content

    Bipolar Disorder Health Center

    Font Size

    Bipolar Disorder: Managing the Balancing Act

    Bipolar disorder symptoms include dramatic shifts in mood and the ability to function. Successful bipolar disorder treatment requires a careful course of medication, psychotherapy, and discipline to stay on track--and avoid an emotional crash
    WebMD Magazine - Feature
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Most teens spend their time discussing their latest crush with friends, studying for college admission tests, and taking driver's education. Not Robin Molliner. When the 26-year-old California native was 16, she was busy trying to talk car dealers into selling her a new ride -- even though she didn't have a dime to her name -- and staging a two-week walkout from her high school chemistry class because she wasn't "happy with the level of the teaching."

    But what seemed like normally high levels of energy and ambition were just the beginning of the full-blown mania that quickly followed.

    Recommended Related to Bipolar Disorder

    Bipolar Romantic Relationships: Dating and Marriage

    Navigating any romantic relationship -- whether it's dating or marriage -- can be a tricky endeavor. Add bipolar disorder with its roller-coaster ride of emotions into the mix, and relationships become even more challenging. When Jim McNulty, 58, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, got married in the 1970s, everything seemed fine at first. "It was an absolutely normal courtship," he recalls. "We got along well." Then the mood swings began. During his "up" or hypomanic states, he would spend huge sums...

    Read the Bipolar Romantic Relationships: Dating and Marriage article > >

    "I wanted to have sex with anything, I didn't care who or what," she recalls. "I felt like my mom was trying to hurt me, and I had feelings of being a prophet."

    At the time, "I would go from moments of being totally happy, bubbly, and having fun to moments when pain from every point in life would come exploding out and I would lose control," she says.

    The Lowdown

    As a result of these symptoms and the depression that followed, Molliner was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Affecting more than 2 million American adults, this illness brings dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function.

    Just about everyone has ups and downs from time to time, but for people like Molliner, these changes can be severe. Moods range from ecstatic or irritable to sad and hopeless -- often with extended periods of normalcy in between. Manic episodes may mean increased energy, euphoria, and an unrealistic belief in one's abilities. People with bipolar disorder may go on lavish spending sprees. They may also have hallucinations (such as hearing voices) and delusional thoughts, as Molliner did about her mother.

    Onset typically occurs in late adolescence, as it did with Molliner, or early adulthood. But some people develop symptoms later in life and still others start showing them during childhood. The illness affects children and teens differently from the way it affects adults, according to results from the Course and Outcome of Bipolar Illness in Youth (COBY) research program. The very young develop symptoms that last longer and swing more swiftly from hyperactivity and recklessness to lethargy and depression, the study showed.

    While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, most researchers say that it is the result of a chemical imbalance in certain parts of the brain. And some evidence suggests that individuals may have a genetic predisposition to the illness. More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the disorder or with unipolar major depression. True to form, Molliner has two uncles and a grandfather with the disorder.

    1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

    Today on WebMD

    lunar eclipse
    Signs of mania and depression.
    Pills on blank prescription paper
    Learn about this popular bipolar disorder medication.
    serious looking young woman
    Assess your symptoms.
    teen girl in bad mood
    How is each one different?
    Feeling Ups and Downs
    Bipolar or Schizo
    Foods to Avoid
    Man being scolded by his shadow
    lunar eclipse
    depressed man
    young women not speaking
    man talking with therapist