bipolar parent

10 Signs That You Are a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

Are you a highly sensitive person (HSP)? Highly sensitive people are more deeply affected by emotions, physical sensations, and stress than non-sensitive people, because the HSPs are born with nervous systems that are more acutely attuned. About 15 to 20% of people across all ethnicities, races, and genders are HSPs. They can be introverts, extroverts, or something in between.

And they’re often misunderstood. Because only 20% of people are highly sensitive, those who aren’t just don’t get how the HSP wants to, for example, crawl in a corner and hide

sensitive by user Kamilla Oliveria
A black and white photo of a woman holding a camera in front of her face. Credit to user Kamilla Oliveria Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

after absorbing the negative emotions of someone else’s fight. Contrary to popular belief, high sensitivity isn’t overreacting to emotions. It is experiencing these emotions on a deeper, more jarring level.

But is high sensitivity bad? No, of course not. Experiencing deeper emotions and physical sensations helps the HSP be more aware of his or her surroundings and respond to other people with empathy. High sensitivity isn’t a mental illness, though those with the trait often suffer depression. The HSP is often emotionally intelligent and make great therapists, counselors, or clergy members.

So are you a highly sensitive person? Here are 10 signs to help you determine that for yourself:

1. You often suffer from emotional exhaustion due to your natural empathy for others.

As soon as an HSP walks into a room, he or she is able to pick up on personal details such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice that others may miss. Highly sensitive people aren’t necessarily empaths, but HSPs often absorb the emotions and moods from other people like an empath would. Sensitive people have high levels of empathy for other people, and are often emotionally exhausted from feeling what other people feel.

2. You startle easily.

People who are highly sensitive hate being startled, because they so often are. Their nervous systems are dialed up to 11, so if someone sneaks up on them, they jump–which is, unfortunately, the intended effect. Loud noises really get to them, too.

3. You’re picky about your clothes.

I don’t mean that HSPs are into fashion, though they easily could be. What I mean is, HSPs usually cannot stand coarse fabrics, seams in socks, or tags. These may bother other people as well, but an HSP will structure his or her wardrobe in a manner that completely avoids these irritants.

4. You’re sensitive to blood sugar drops.

Changes in blood sugars really throw HSPs for a loop. If they haven’t eaten in a while, they could end up hangry (hungry + angry) more easily than other people. One way an HSPs can take care of themselves is to pack a snack when they are out and about.

5. Stimulants/depressants aren’t good things.

With a nervous system that’s so finely-tuned, some HSPs are deeply affected by caffeine, and only need a little to feel completely ratcheted up. Similarly, some HSPs are sensitive to alcohol.

6. You abhor violence and conflict.

Conflict can be physically painful to an HSP, as can violence. Even watching animal cruelty on television is enough to make some HSPs sick to their stomachs. Highly sensitive people sometimes come down with stress headaches when confronting someone, even if the HSPs are in the right.

7. Beauty moves you.

Highly sensitive people are deeply moved by beautiful things, such as gorgeous (non-violent) movies, fine art, and stirring music. The HSP may be moved to tears when tasting a delicious, favored food, or beholding a breathtaking vista.

8. You obsess over mistakes.

Highly sensitive people tend to be conscientious. They have highly-tuned consciences and beat themselves up over mistakes, or even perceived failures. The HSP may obsess over a misspoken or cruel word he or she has said to someone else years ago. HSPs turn these problems over and over in their minds, sometimes losing sleep at night.

9. You don’t perform as well when being watched.

When an HSP performs in front of other people, he or she tends to make more mistakes than if he or she were performing alone. Pressure may cause the HSP to mess up.

10. You hide your emotions.

Some emotions are just too big or too negative to share. So goes the thinking of many an HSP. So the highly sensitive person, when dealing with overwhelming feelings, positive or negative, tends to bottle them up and try to ignore them. Most HSPs have been told that they need to “toughen up” or that they’re “too” sensitive. Non-sensitive people, especially in American society, usually aren’t comfortable expressing their emotions or having emotions be expressed. Especially the deep, staggering feelings of an HSP.

Final Thoughts

If you see yourself in this list, like I did, you are not alone, and you are not too sensitive. You are unique and may be helpful to other people due to your natural empathy. You may be overwhelmed by your emotions or day-to-day conflicts of life at times, but high sensitivity is a “normal” trait, which means the trait is not a disease or disorder. You’re just wired differently.

I wish you well.

bipolar parent

How to Shield Your Children from the Effects of Your Bipolar Disorder

A version of this post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation website.

As a parent with bipolar disorder, you might worry about the effects of your unchecked mental illness on your loved ones, especially your children. The devastating mood swings of bipolar disorder–ranging from manic “highs” to depressive “lows” and everything in between–can cause instability for your kids. One example, a 2014 study, showed teenaged children of parents with bipolar disorder are more susceptible to risky sexual behavior and emotional problems than young adults who do not have parents with bipolar disorder. As has been seen in many other cases, dysfunction in the home causes dysfunction in the child. This is equally true in cases of children with parents who suffer from mental illness, like bipolar disorder.

A picture of four cheerful kids with brown skin. Credit to user Adam Lai. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

But there is good news. You can learn how to shield your children from the effects of your psychiatric condition. How? Let’s dig in.

Treat Your Disorder Properly

One of the most effective ways to shield your children from your bipolar disorder is to treat the disease properly. Try to eat a healthy diet and work exercise into your life. Adequate sleep is another requirement to keep you healthy and keep things from spiraling out of control. Make sure you get your forty winks, and if you have trouble, talk to your doctor. Taking medication regularly and working through emotional problems through therapy will help you manage your disorder and aid you in positively impacting your kids.

If your disorder is treatment-resistant, don’t give up hope. Dyane Harwood, author of Birth of a New Brain: Healing From Postpartum Bipolar Disorder, thought she’d exhausted all of her options to treat her bipolar depression, including electroconvulsive therapy. Then her doctor prescribed a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The drug worked, and Harwood is now engaged with her children and husband, living life the way she wants to.

Get Help

Bipolar in the family needs a whole family solution. The entire household needs to learn coping skills to handle a parent’s disorder. Ask your therapist for ways to teach your partner and children to deal with the ups and downs of your bipolar disorder. If your children start showing symptoms of emotional problems, such as anxiety, phobias, or intolerance to frustration, find a child behavioral psychologist or a therapist willing to see children. Make a list of the symptoms you’ve seen in your kids, and be sure to include your family history as well.

Cultivate a Support Network

One aspect of getting help is relying on a support system of healthy adults. They can spot you when you’re feeling too up or too down. They can offer your children a more stable environment during manic or depressive episodes by taking the children to a different place, like your friends’ homes, or coming over to yours. Your kids need adults they can consistently rely on, even if you can’t provide that reliability sometimes. Try to develop that support if you don’t have it. When you are well, cultivate reciprocal friendships with other adults you can trust with your children. Easier said than done, of course, but try to be a reliable source of childcare for your parent friends, so they will pitch in when you need them.

Prepare Your Kids

Shielding your kids from bipolar disorder doesn’t mean hiding the illness from them. Preparing your children to accept what’s happening around them can be difficult, but it is worthwhile. Communication with your children is crucial when managing their understanding of bipolar disorder. You might think explaining your disease to them is wrong. There’s an instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your children, but kids are intuitive. They will know if someone in the family is suffering, even if they can’t put their finger on why. If the problem isn’t explained to them, they may assume the worst, even to the point where they think it’s their fault. Letting your children know up front what to expect if you’re suffering from a mood episode will help your kids roll with the punches. Keep the explanation simple, and be ready to revisit the conversation anytime your children have questions.

When explaining your bipolar disorder to your children, stress that this disease is not your kids’ fault. Also stress that taking care of a parent suffering from mental illness is not their job. They will probably appreciate your candor and feel more secure in their relationship with you and their place in the world. If things don’t go well, talk to your therapist for ways to help your children understand bipolar disorder and their relationship with you as a parent with a mental illness.

If your older children are concerned about developing bipolar disorder themselves, tell your preteens honestly that they are not destined to have the disease. Studies put the inheritance rate at about 30% with a single parent affected by bipolar disorder, and around 60% for both. You don’t need to quote the statistics to a younger child, but a teen might be interested. Because of the instinct to hide uncomfortable situations from your children, you might want to keep this from your children. But knowing even uncomfortable statistics, like the 30%, is better than the unknown.

Final Thoughts

When you suffer from mental illness, taking care of yourself is a tall order. Taking care of a child as a parent with bipolar disorder adds additional complications, but it’s worth it. You can shield your children from bipolar disorder in several ways. Make sure that you treat your disease with professional help. Cultivate a support system. And it’s paramount that you communicate with your children about your disorder, so they know what to expect and what their place is.

You can do this.

bipolar parent

Can Early Symptoms Predict Bipolar Disorder? Evidence Shows Differing Patterns of Risk Factors

A picture of pink pills in a bubble pill container. Credit to user Kris A. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Two patterns of antecedent or “prodromal” psychiatric symptoms may help to identify young persons at increased risk of developing bipolar disorder (BD), according to a new analysis in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry.

Early signs of BD can fall into a relatively characteristic “homotypic” pattern, consisting mainly of symptoms or other features associated with mood disorders; or a “heterotypic” pattern of other symptoms including anxiety and disruptive behavior. Environmental risk factors and exposures can also contribute to BD risk, according to the analysis by Ciro Marangoni, MD, at the Department of Mental Health, Mater Salutis Hospital, Legnato, Italy; Gianni L. Faedda, MD, Director of the Mood Disorder Center of New York, NY, and Co-Chairman of a Task Force of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders on this topic; and Professor Ross J. Baldessarini, MD, Director of the International Consortium for Bipolar & Psychotic Disorders Research of the Mailman Research Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

The authors reviewed and analyzed data from 39 studies of prodromal symptoms and risk factors for later development of BD. Their analysis focused on high-quality evidence from prospective studies in which data on early symptoms and risk factors were gathered before BD was diagnosed.

BD is commonly preceded by early depression or other symptoms of mental illness, sometimes years before BD develops, as indicated by onset of mania or hypomania. Nevertheless, the authors note that “the prodromal phase of BD remains incompletely characterized, limiting early detection of BD and delaying interventions that might limit future morbidity.”

The evidence reviewed suggested two patterns of early symptoms that “precede and predict” later BD. A homotypic pattern consisted of affective or mood-associated symptoms that are related to, but fall short of, standard diagnostic criteria for BD: for example, mood swings, relatively mild symptoms of excitement, or major depression, sometimes severe and with psychotic symptoms.
The authors note that homotypic symptoms have “low sensitivity” — that is, most young people with these mood symptoms do not later develop BD. However, this symptom pattern also had “moderate to high specificity” — homotypic symptoms do occur in many patients who go on to develop BD.

The heterotypic pattern consisted of other types of prodromal symptoms, such as early anxiety and disorders of attention or behavior. This pattern had low sensitivity and specificity: relatively few patients with such symptoms develop BD, while many young people without heterotopic symptoms do develop BD.

The study findings also associate several other factors with an increased risk of developing BD, including preterm birth, head injury, drug exposures (especially cocaine), physical or sexual abuse, and other forms of stress. However, for most of these risk factors, both sensitivity and specificity are low.

Although many elements of the reported patterns of prodromal symptoms and risk factors have been identified previously, the study increases confidence that they are related to the later occurrence of BD. The researchers note that the findings of high-quality data from prospective studies are “encouragingly similar” to those of previous retrospective and family-risk studies.

“There was evidence of a wide range of [psychiatric] symptoms, behavioral changes, and exposures with statistically significant associations with later diagnoses of BD,” the authors conclude. With further study, the patterns of prodromal symptoms and risk factors may lead to new approaches to identifying young persons who are likely to develop BD, and might benefit from early treatment. The investigators add that predictive value might be even higher with combinations of multiple risk factors, rather than single predictors.

Materials provided by Wolters Kluwer Health