Because bipolar disorder is considered a mental illness — most people focus on how mentally taxing the ups and downs of manic and depressive episodes can be. It may also be common for people to talk about the signs and symptoms, and not what it actually feels like to go through them.
But the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be just as physical as they are mental. And sometimes, the different “categories” of symptoms intertwine.
That’s why we asked our Mighty mental health community living with bipolar disorder to tell us some surprising physical symptoms of bipolar disorder they’ve experienced. Because by talking about everything that bipolar disorder entails, we can continue to deepen our understanding of it.
Here is what they had to say:
1. “Memory loss. I’ve done things during a manic episode that I don’t remember later, wondering how I got to whatever place I’m in.” — Shannon D.
2. “Akathisia. Imagine being in a lecture and becoming really antsy, and you start bouncing your leg. Now imagine being so agitated, you have to bounce or shake your entire body to try to relieve the discomfort. And not for just an hour, for multiple on end, sometimes days. It feels like I’m literally trapped in my own skin, and the only way out is to rip it open or peel it off.” — Meghan G.
3. “Not being able to sleep when in hypomania and not get enough sleep when depressed. Energy levels are erratic. Lack of appetite or starving and eating so much. Body pains and feeling like you need to burst out of your own skin.” — Jazmyne F.
4. “My energy levels shift really dramatically. When hypomanic I can stay out the whole day and fit in four different things, whereas when I’m depressed, I don’t have the energy to get out of bed at times.” — Madoka S.
5. “Clumsiness. When I’m too ‘up,’ I move too fast and drop everything, slam cabinets and doors without meaning to, I trip on the floor. When I start getting extra clumsy, I know I need to slow down or I’ll turn full on manic.” — Icie B.
6. “Mind going a million miles per hour but your body is so exhausted that you can’t move. Feels like a marathon just to lift your arms to brush you hair, if you even get that far that day.” — Kaytlynn J.
7. “My irritability physically hurts. I feel my brain painfully pulsing against my skull and my limbs get tingly and my heart randomly starts pounding faster and it’s almost like an exhaustive but constant anxiety attack when I’m in an irritable mood.” — Betsi L.
8. “I get knots in my shoulders and back due to the fact that I stay tensed up all the time. Some are the size of a golfball. I get muscle cramps as well. I really wish I could afford to have regular massages. I never feel relaxed and it affects my posture.” — Robin J.
9. “Not be able to talk. I think I’m forming full sentences when I’m experiencing the anxiety associated with my bipolar. However. people tell me it’s really just a bunch of ‘umm’s’ and forgetting what I was saying.” — Olivia W.
10. “Weird buzzing feeling I feel all over my body, and the endless butterflies in my stomach during a manic episode. It makes me feel like I could run for hours but also vomit. Plus it makes sleeping nearly impossible.” — Cassy H.
What Bipolar Disorder Mania Feels Like
11. “Being overweight. I eat too much and can’t work out when I’m depressed. And I stay up late and get super hungry when I’m manic. No good can come for me physically when I’m using all my energy fighting to stay in it mentally.” — Mallory J.
12. “Your body and your mind sort of become separate. For example, when you’re in a depressive episode and can’t get out of bed, your brain screams at you, trying to force you to get up, but your body doesn’t listen. Then, during a manic episode, your body screams at you to let it rest, but your brain’s all, ‘No. We gotta finish rearranging your room by one in the morning so we have time to finish a hardcover notebook and read two novels before the sun shows up.’” — Reinrose B.
13. “While experiencing anxiety symptoms and hypomanic phases, I tug at my hair (not to pull it out though). I also roll and flex my ankles and wrists, usually without realizing.” — Aimee C.
14. “I talk to myself out loud when I’m manic. There are so many racing thoughts and stress about certain aspects of my life that I replay how to handle situations over and over in my head so I don’t have diarrhea of the mouth inappropriately. But I’m not just thinking these situations, I’m saying them out loud: in the car, shower, etc. I catch myself and hope no one has heard me. It’s like there are so many thoughts racing they can’t help but overflow verbally too.” — Tracy S.
15. “Varying skin problems. When I’m going a million miles an hour and not sleeping, I’m filled with stress hormones and my skin takes a hit. Same with depression. When I’m leveled out, my skin clears up until the next episode.” — Kelly A.
16. “Gastrointestinal issues are common for me. I have had to have emergency gallbladder surgery and still live with issues everyday.” — Tiffany I.
17. “Blackout. When the rage sets in, I blackout and don’t remember everything I say or do. I also get headaches from the extreme anger or adrenaline rushes. I get very fatigued as well, even though I may not physically be doing anything. My brain exhausts me.” — Randi E.
18. “Tactile hallucinations — things crawling on me or people or things brushing against me that aren’t there. Not being able to keep my body still and having muscle-like spasms without the pain (akathisia), memory loss and brain fog, constantly running into or hitting things, knots, pain, and really tight muscles in my back and shoulders and neck, a stiff and sore jaw from clamping it shut and grinding my teeth, not being able to breath, auditory hallucination — usually not any specific words I can make out, more like screaming. Claustrophobia and hyperventilating during anxiety and during a manic episodes.” — Crystal T.
19. “Stuttering. Sometimes it’s so bad I can’t finish my sentence, so I just stop and say never mind and walk away — it’s easier than embarrassing myself further.” — Kiesha L.
20. “I can feel my heart pounding through my whole body. I feel like I’m traveling as fast as a humming bird while sitting completely still.” — AmberLinn G.