Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison is one of the country's foremost experts on bipolar disorder. She is a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and wrote the best-selling memoir An Unquiet Mind about her personal experience suffering from the disease.
Dr. Jamison explains that the symptoms of bipolar disorder—also known as manic depression—are different for everyone. "It's a disorder of the brain that's characterized by real swings in mood—from irritability, depression, to euphoric highs," Dr. Jamison says. "It can be as in Andrea's case—hearing voices, psychosis, seeing things that aren't there—but usually, more commonly, it's just real extremes in energy."
According to Dr. Jamison, people in the manic phase probably don't need much sleep, talk very fast, and can be very intrusive and in your face. "When people are down and depressed, obviously everything else is the opposite. People very often go to the doctor because they're so tired. They aren't able to sleep or they sleep too much. They have no energy. And that's actually almost as striking as the down mood and irritable mood," she says.
Although the word bipolar seems to mean that you feel one of two extremes in emotion at either end of the spectrum, Dr. Jamison says that's not true. Someone who is bipolar can actually be in a very depressed mood and still have a manic energy level. "That's one of the reasons why it's kind of a misleading word, because there are actually states where you combine mania and depression where people are very agitated, have a very depressed mood but have a manic energy level," Dr. Jamison says. "And those are very dangerous states from a suicide and violence point of view."