Living with bipolar disorder can be a challenging journey, both for those experiencing it and their loved ones. As I reflect on my own experience in having a mother who was a sufferer and the hard-won wisdom I've gained along the way, I can't help but wish I had known three essential things about bipolar disorder earlier.
- The Telltale Signs of Bipolar in the Eyes
Bipolar disorder is often referred to as a mood disorder, primarily characterized by extreme shifts in mood and energy levels. However, one of the most striking and less talked-about aspects of bipolar disorder is how it can manifest in a person's eyes.
During a manic episode, a person's eyes can seem overly bright, almost feverish. They may sparkle with a kind of intensity that is hard to ignore. This heightened shine can be captivating and magnetic, drawing people into the person's exuberant energy. Also as adrenaline takes over the eyes can become darker and look almost black.
On the flip side, during depressive episodes, the eyes lose their luster. They become dull, listless, and may carry a deep sadness that mirrors the person's inner turmoil. It's as if the eyes themselves are windows into the emotional rollercoaster that is bipolar disorder.
Recognizing these subtle changes in the eyes can be invaluable, as they can serve as early indicators of an impending mood shift. Understanding these visual cues can help both individuals with bipolar disorder and their support networks navigate the illness more effectively.
I found this article invaluable in understanding the changes in eyes.
- The Reduction in Life Expectancy
One of the sobering truths about bipolar disorder is the potential reduction in life expectancy. This reduction is primarily due to a higher risk of comorbidities, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, which often accompany the disorder. Additionally, the stress and strain that bipolar disorder can place on relationships, work, and daily life can contribute to this decreased life expectancy.
"The life expectancy for someone with bipolar disorder is approximately 67 years old. A 2021 study researched the effect of bipolar disorder on longevity and found that: risk of death is 2.6 times greater than the general population. the average life span is between 8–12 years shorter than the general population." Read more here.
I thought I had decades with my mother and was shocked when she died at 65 years of age, unexpectedly, from natural circumstances. I wish I'd known how little time I had left so that I could treasure it more.
- The Dangers of Lithium Poisoning
Lithium, a common medication prescribed to manage bipolar disorder, can be a lifeline for many. It helps stabilize mood swings and prevents manic and depressive episodes. However, what I wish I'd known earlier is the potential danger of lithium poisoning.
Lithium toxicity can occur if the medication levels in the blood become too high. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include confusion, tremors, seizures, and even coma. The risk of lithium poisoning is higher when an individual's medication dosage is not adequately monitored or when they do not adhere to their prescribed regimen. To avoid this danger, it's crucial for individuals taking lithium to have regular blood tests to monitor their medication levels.
My mother presented as suffering from bipolar and yet was taking her medication and had no stress at the time. Eventually, she was admitted into hospital and they discovered that she was suffering lithium poisoning and her doctor had not been monitoring her blood levels. By the time she was diagnosed, there had been damage to her kidneys. She was transitioned to other medication, but had to attend regular appointments to check on her kidney function. I wonder how many times in her life she might have been suffering from lithium poisoning through medical neglect and how much this contributed to her life expectancy.
I hope these insights shed light on three essential aspects of bipolar disorder that I wish I'd known sooner. Understanding the visual cues in a person's eyes, acknowledging the impact on life expectancy, and being aware of the dangers of lithium poisoning can help those living with bipolar disorder navigate their journey with greater resilience and support. Remember, knowledge is power, and by sharing our experiences, we can help others on their journey in dealing with life-long illnesses.
If you want to know more about my experiences in being raised with a mother who is a bipolar sufferer, check out my memoir.