If any mental health condition could be categorized as a “roller coaster”, it would be bipolar disorder. Euphoric highs and crushing lows are a regular occurrence. People with bipolar don’t always know when they’ll have manic episodes, and because these episodes can be so destructive, they often fear their return. If you have bipolar, you may spend a lot of your time worrying about bipolar relapse. At Sun Behavioral Health Houston, we know how overwhelming that can be.
Bipolar disorder is manageable with things like therapy, medication, and healthy coping strategies. Because of this, it’s fairly normal to go months or even years without any mania or depressive episodes. Unfortunately, because of the nature of this disorder, they have a high likelihood of returning at one point or another. In fact, according to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, almost 90% of people with bipolar will experience a relapse in their lifetime.
Bipolar relapse is what happens when episodic mania or depression returns after a dormant period. For many, normalcy amidst bipolar disorder takes hard work and considerable effort. Bipolar relapse can be incredibly frustrating for people, and it can even cause feelings of guilt. You’ve spent so long fighting this disorder and figuring out what works and what doesn’t – only to be slammed with another episode.
You’ve done the work to ensure that you’re healthy and functioning. What did you do wrong? What could you have done differently? Could you have prevented it? Most of the time, the answer to this is a solid “no.” This is not anyone’s fault. It’s the nature of bipolar disorder, and you won’t always be able to avoid every instance of relapse.
When hit with a relapse, it’s important to remember that not all episodes are the same. You may not experience the same feelings you had last time. Just because you once experienced mania that lasted for 5 days straight doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen again. Being hit with a bipolar relapse does not mean you’re going to lose your job, your friends, or your house. There are tools you can use to ensure your safety and strength while you’re going through this.
Feeling hopeless or afraid of relapse is normal, but there are things you can do to prepare for (and sometimes even prevent) it.
Each person living with bipolar has something called a “relapse signature.” A relapse signature is a group of 4-6 signs, unique to each person, that appear before a relapse. They can usually indicate whether or not you’re about to have an episode of mania or depression. They’ll typically appear about 4 weeks before an episodic event. You may be aware of these signs already. In case you’re not, here are some of the common things that can predict a manic episode:
A relapse signature can also indicate signs of an impending depressive episode. These signs can include:
When looking for signs of a relapse, it’s important to observe your behavior – not your feelings. Feelings come and go, but behavior is measurable. If you notice that you’re sleeping less or eating more (etc.), write it down. It could be an indication of an upcoming episode. Writing things down encourages you to notice what you normally wouldn’t. Recognizing these warning signs will help you identify your unique relapse signature.
Noticing the order in which these behaviors appear is also important. For example, for some people, this is the order of their signature:
If they experience a decrease in appetite, they can say to themselves, “I haven’t been hungry lately. I need to look out for a decrease in my sex drive. This could be a sign of an impending episode.”
When you’re experiencing an episode of mania or depression, it can feel like you’re out of control. Recognizing your relapse signature allows you to take steps to minimize the episodic effects. This not only gives you an element of control, but it also prepares your family or friends for what’s coming so they can help.
Catching these early warning signs can also guide you to seek professional help before the episode begins. Seeking treatment can help you lessen the severity of the symptoms or even stave them off altogether. If you’re having trouble noticing these signs, keep a mood log, write down any change in your behaviors, or ask your friends and family to look out for your behaviors.
A relapse can still happen, even if you’ve done everything possible to stave it off. This doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong or that it’s your fault. This is the nature of bipolar disorder.
Fortunately, there are things you can do while experiencing an episode that can help. One of the most important things you can do is have a counselor or therapist you can talk to during your highs and lows. Therapy can provide powerful insights into the management of a bipolar relapse. You won’t just learn additional tips and tricks for getting through painful or uncomfortable times – you’ll have a knowledgeable person to talk you through them. This is an invaluable resource. Let’s look at some of the other things you can do during a relapse that can be helpful:
If you haven’t already, it might be time to seek treatment for your bipolar disorder. Treatment can consist of things like individual therapy, recreational therapy, group therapy, or intensive outpatient programs. Many who have bipolar also find medication helpful. Finding the right provider for your bipolar treatment program is the next step. Wherever you decide to go for treatment, it’s important to look out for a few things in your provider:
You are not alone. Sun Behavioral Health Houston is available to listen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With our expert staff and our experience with treating bipolar disorder, we’re standing by ready to address your needs. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call us today at (713) 796-2273.
What can trigger a bipolar relapse?
There are times when you’ll be able to recognize what’s triggering your relapses. High-stress situations, major life changes, or even excessive use of alcohol or other drugs can trigger a relapse. For many, relapses happen at random with no triggers.
How long does a bipolar relapse take?
Depending on the type of bipolar you’ve been diagnosed with, a manic or depressive episode can last anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks. Looking back at your episodic patterns from the past can help you determine the average length of your unique periods of mania and depression.
What causes a bipolar relapse?
There is typically no set cause for a bipolar relapse. There are things that can trigger or contribute to a relapse. It’s important to remember that experiencing a relapse does not mean you did something wrong.