Three Bipolar Disorder Symptoms No One Wants to Talk About

Last Updated: 9 Dec 2020
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The three symptoms below represent the side of bipolar disorder we all know is there but rarely want to let the public know exists.

Woman Shushing - Three Bipolar Disorder Symptoms No One Wants to Talk About


I know how important it is to protect the reputation of bipolar disorder in the general public. We don’t want people thinking we are dangerous, scary, crazy people who can’t be trusted. But I do feel we need to own up to the fact that certain mood swings DO cause the behaviors we want to sweep under the carpet. The three symptoms below represent the side of bipolar disorder we all know is there but rarely want to let the public know exists. This is only an opinion, of course, but I’m truly interested to know if you feel the same.

#1 Dangerous, Aggressive, and Violent Behavior in Bipolar Disorder

I work with parents and partners of those with bipolar disorder. In the majority of situations, people who are in a strong dysphoric manic episode can be dangerous, aggressive, and violent. Physical assault and weapons are not uncommon. Many men go to jail because of this behavior when they actually need psychiatric help. People who are mild-mannered and kind when well, both men and women, get superhuman strength along with the aggression—ripping a sink out of the wall, punching through windows, throwing chairs, and other dangerous behaviors are not uncommon.

Families and partners suffer in silence because they are scared to tell anyone about what really goes on at home.

I have violent thoughts when dysphoric mania is raging. I used to chase down cars if the driver flipped me off or made a strange face. It is not my goal to scare anyone reading this. It’s my goal that we are honest about these hidden and pushed-under-the-rug symptoms of bipolar disorder.

The solution is management. People with bipolar do not have these symptoms unless the mood swings are raging. Prevent the mood swings, and you can prevent the dangerous, aggressive, and violent behavior.

#2 Psychosis in Bipolar Disorder

I have rapid cycling bipolar II disorder, with psychotic features. I experienced undiagnosed psychotic symptoms from age 19 to 31, when I was finally diagnosed. I’ve had hallucinations and delusions all of my adult life. What scares me is that no one—and I mean no one—educated me about psychosis when I was diagnosed. It was as if the symptoms didn’t exist. When I learned the extent of my psychosis, I was appalled that I had lived with it for so long.

My symptoms were mostly visual hallucinations and paranoid delusions. I didn’t know that others didn’t have them as well! If you have bipolar I disorder, there is a 70% chance of full-on psychosis when you are in a full-blown manic episode. This psychosis can be very bizarre and mimic schizophrenia. The difference? People with bipolar disorder only have psychosis during a manic or depressed mood swing. There is no psychosis outside of depression or mania.

If a person experiences psychosis in between episodes, this is not bipolar disorder but another mental health condition. Do you or your loved ones have psychosis? If bipolar disorder is involved, psychosis could be involved as well.

#3 Cognitive Impairment in Bipolar Disorder

Many people find this scary. We already have bipolar, does this mean we have memory problems as well? Maybe. Cognitive impairment from memory lapses, forgetting appointments, being unable to remember information, and experiencing brain fog during certain episodes is common! If you have bipolar, you’ve probably felt the sluggish brain that comes with depression. If you have mania, you have probably tripped over your words, said things you didn’t mean, and had trouble thinking thoughts in order.

My cognitive symptoms visit me daily. I’m not able to remember dates and numbers, and I need help with calendars and appointments. Mine got worse after intense therapy I had for severe depression. It’s something I find distressing, but it’s easy to manage.

I want us to be open about cognitive issues. This is the only way we can get help! My cognitive symptoms tend to linger all of the time, but they get worse with mood swings. A perfect example of this: I was supposed to submit this blog by midnight. Yesterday, I reminded myself all day to submit it, but I still managed to go to sleep without sharing it on time. I have to live with these symptoms, and even though a few things slip through, I do control the majority of my minor memory problems with a good support system!

Here’s the Good News—Yes, There IS Good News!

Bipolar disorder is an episodic illness. We have all of our symptoms while in a mood swing. This means we are STABLE when we are not in a mood swing. The symptoms I list above usually go away when the illness is successfully managed. It can take regular monitoring for those of us who have daily symptoms. Others who have long breaks between mood swings may even forget the symptoms even existed. This is why we must have a management plan that can recognize the dangerous, aggressive, and violent behavior; psychosis; and cognitive impairment as soon as they begin.

I know we want to protect our reputation around this illness. We don’t want to be seen as different or “freaks.” But I ask that within our community, we get brutally honest about what really happens to those of us with the illness. It’s the ONLY way to stop the symptoms and make them stay away forever!



Originally posted January 29, 2015.

About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
967 Comments
  1. I’m 63 & have been diagnosed with CPTSD-induced bipolar 1 since age 45. I had my 1st long hospitalization in the summer of 2006, after struggling 26 days without sleep. Though I self-admitted, the nature of the delusion I was suffering was such that I was a danger to myself & my son. I didn’t dare speak of it, because I knew I’d be hospitalized at least 6 months to a year, my SSD checks would be held, I’d be unable to pay rent & lose my housing, & my then-14 yr old son would be sent to foster care, as we are DV survivors who moved across the country to start over when he was 15 months old, & have no family in the state. My inability to discuss my issues due to the fear of consequences of disclosure kept me in a bad place, & when I was released from the hospital nearly a month later, I fell into an 18-month-long profound clinical depression where I could barely function. My son couldn’t get me to do anything, & he felt emotionally abandoned. I knew we needed family therapy, but my old provider didn’t offer it, though I kept asking where I could get it. We didn’t get any help until finally last year, after I’d been seeing the same therapist nearly 4 years, we felt I was stable enough, so we began. Since COVID, we haven’t been meeting. I want to meet on Zoom, come up with a set of ground rules there, & try to work this through. I’m not sure he wants to, as I think his belief is that with therapy & meds, I’m supposed to get “all better”…so the fact that I’m not appears to be cause for him to think I’m “malingering” & wanting “too many accommodations.” He also judges me for any relationship I’m in, as I’m a narc magnet, being an empath. I have finally come to terms with WHY it’s never been safe for me to date…but he only sees that I f-ed up again…even though this last time (4 years after the last one), I never had to call on his help nor go to the hospital. He’s been my medical & financial POA since he was 20, his 1st music album is about to be released, & I think he’s terrified my other shoe is gonna drop…again. I don’t want him to have to think about it, so I’ve asked 2 of my trusted brothers to each take over the POA duties, & they are willing to do it for a period of time to let him get going without having to handle my issues. How can I help him see that I want to give him a period of freedom without him taking it as a rejection of his help?

  2. My son was concerned about my memory gaps and slip ups when I can’t remember simple words. I just finished going through a battery of tests including 6-hours with a neurophysiologist. There are three contributing factors: at 65, I am aging (duh), my bipolar disorder, and anxiety (who isn’t dealing with anxiety during 2020)? Even my therapist didn’t realize memory loss is a symptom of bipolar disorder. Thanks for reminding me I am not alone.

  3. Wow I wish I could have a one on one with u! My son is almost 31 n wasn’t really diagnosed til he went to jail for something I will not mention here. It’s been very hard as I raised him as a single mother n not really knowing wat was goin on. Mental illness is very real n has not gotten the attention it needs for so many.

    1. I’m 63 & have been diagnosed with CPTSD-induced bipolar 1 since age 45. I had my 1st long hospitalization in the summer of 2006, after struggling 26 days without sleep. Though I self-admitted, the nature of the delusion I was suffering was such that I was a danger to myself & my son. I didn’t dare speak of it, because I knew I’d be hospitalized at least 6 months to a year, my SSD checks would be held, I’d be unable to pay rent & lose my housing, & my then-14 yr old son would be sent to foster care, as we are DV survivors who moved across the country to start over when he was 15 months old, & habe no family in the state. My inability to discuss my issues due to the fear of consequences of disclosure kept me in a bad place, & when I was released from the hospital nearly a month later, I fell into an 18-month-long profound clinical depression where I could barely function. My son couldn’t get me to do anything, & he felt emotionally abandoned. I knew we needed family therapy, but my old provider didn’t offer it, though I kept asking where I could get it. We didn’t get any help until finally last year, after I’d been seeing the same therapist nearly 4 years, we felt I was stable enough, so we began. Since COVID, we haven’t been meeting. I want to meet on Zoom, come up with a set of ground rules there, & try to work this through. I’m not sure he wants to, as I think his belief is that with therapy & meds, I’m supposed to get “all better”…so the fact that I’m not appears to be cause for him to think I’m “malingering” & wanting “too many accommodations.” He also judges me for any relationship I’m in, as I’m a narc magnet, being an empath. I have finally come to terms with WHY it’s never been safe for me to date…but he only sees that I f-ed up again…even though this last time, I never had to call on his help nor go to the hospital. He’s been my medical & financial POA since he was 20, his 1st music album is about to be released, & I think he’s terrified my other shoe is gonna drop…again. I don’t want him to have to think about it, so I’ve asked 2 of my trusted brothers to each take over the POA duties, & they are willing to do it for a period of time to let him get going without having to handle my issues. How can I help him see that I want to give him a period of freedom without him taking it as a rejection of his help?

  4. Yes, my ex-husband has two of the above. The aggressive behavior and the psychosis. While married to him for 35 years, I remember his rage at the slightest thing with not just me, but our children, his employers and even his own family and the general public he felt he was slighted by. In terms of the psychosis, at first I thought his visions were a result of some spiritual gift he may have. I then realized his seeing things that were not there was a result of something else.

    I understand that bipolar is hereditary. His grandmother committed suicide, his mother was bipolar and my two children have it as well. It is not easy trying to live with those who have this illness, especially if they believe nothing is wrong with them and refuse to get help.

    1. I was afraid to have a child and possibly pass on the bipolar curse which gripped an aunt, a father, two first cousins and a niece.

      1. Very informative and sincerely honest….spot on with the description of the behaviors.
        The article was PURE validation for me.
        I love someone with Bipolar I.
        My question?
        Do they remember the horrible frightening behaviors that occur when in an ‘episode’?
        I never got an apology for any of it in the eleven years, but even ownership…..accountability? Does narcissism generally go with this disease or is that a learned behavior. I do know that PTSD and Bipolar I …do not.. make the best love match. I couldn’t fix him….I had to work on myself….and sometimes I am still very sad about it.

  5. I’m in a relationship with an amazing woman who is bipolar and at times I struggle to understand what is going on with her. I have PTSD and so understanding helps me to stay calm when things are rough for her. If I let myself be triggered by the chaos in her mind that she is having to deal with then I become part of the problem…. I’m lucky enough that she is intelligent and loving enough that she asked me to read this after we had a bad night of misunderstanding… I’m not bipolar so my ability to truly understand will always be limited in ways I can do nothing about but this article has helped us talk, helped me understand and makes me love her more because she trusts me enough to let me see. Education is important for everyone involved because you are either part of the solution or part of the problem and she is so important to me that I’m willing to step up and be a part of the solution.

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