Glimpsing Symptoms: Bipolar Disorder

By: Madi Chang

The first time I befriended someone with bipolar disorder, her name was Maggie and I didn’t know about her bipolar disorder until a couple days later. Our conversation looked like this:

A year later, I am still sad when I think about that conversation. What were other people’s reactions to her sharing that taught Maggie her bipolar disorder should be something to fear or that she should be someone to fear.

I’ll admit, I am a little wary of new things: a new restaurant or hairstyle or anything in between. For some people, that “new thing” is meeting someone with a mental illness, or witnessing the symptoms of mental illness. It’s natural to feel a little nervous when in an unfamiliar situation. However, it’s sad that a portion of the population let ignorance or misconceptions block growth and new friends.

For my project, I wanted to explore the symptoms of bipolar disorder, both to educate myself and all of you. Something that has helped me understand this disorder is hearing people’s stories instead of simply reading over a list of symptoms. It is easy to throw terms like depression, mania, and anger around without really knowing what they are and how they relate to bipolar disorder, so I wrote a series of poems to try and capture their meaning.



Irritable mood is among the primary diagnostic criteria for mania; the excessive energy combined with racing thoughts can quickly lead to irritability and progress to anger.

“Anger activates our body’s fight or flight response, which is the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol,” says Redford Williams, MD, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University School of Medicine, “Over time, elevated levels of stress hormones cause wear on all body systems…  and it’s a potential contributor to the development of heart disease and high blood pressure.”



Throughout this project, I put a lot of emphasis on some of the main symptoms or emotions that are a part of bipolar disorder because I wanted to understand them more. However, my takeaway is that bipolar disorder is simply a part of someone, just like depression is a part of me and general anxiety disorder is a part of my brother. The symptoms and emotions that stem from bipolar disorder are similar to those you and I experience, but more intense and cycled. That doesn’t make people with bipolar disorder scary, it makes them human.

  • Educate yourself: if you find yourself making assumptions about a person/ disorder, ask them/ research to obtain an accurate answer!  
  • Avoid: using words like crazy or bipolar or OCD or any other label unless you are referring to the actual disorder so you don’t trivialize people who actually live with them!
  • Be open: to sharing about your own struggles with a mental illness and to hearing about other’s challenges!
  • Accountability: as well as doing the things above, encourage your family or friends to do the same!


The inspiration for this project was seeing people with bipolar disorder reveal themselves and their struggle through art. Expressing oneself through art is not only cathartic and creative but it inspires others. Please leave any artwork, writing, pictures, or thoughts of any kind in this Padlet, whether it be about mental illness or something else that is a part of you. To share is to bring awareness, acceptance, and community.


This is the video that inspired this project. Also on this website, there are seven other mini-documentaries that show and discuss people with bipolar disorder and their work, family, love lives, and more!  


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  1. April 27, 2019 by rebecca urato

    Madi, this is amazing! What a creative and informative way to combine science and poetry. Your poems are creative and emotional, but also show the challenging symptoms of bipolar disorder. I think you really decreased some of the stigma surrounding the disorder through your work. Really great job, this looks amazing.

  2. April 28, 2019 by Maddie.Hatfield

    Madi- I feel like Bipolar Disorder is rarely talked or discussed so thank you for bringing attention to this topic! I really liked how you tied emotion in to bring life to the symptoms instead of just saying what the symptoms were. The information is great and I loved the infographics! A question I have for you is, what does being friends with a person with Bipolar Disorder look like from your perspective?

    • April 28, 2019 by Madi

      Thanks!! To answer your question, it isn’t that much different than any of my other friends. My friend communicates very well with me and lets me know when she is feeling low or when she’s feeling high. I have learned what things can make her upset and how to help her calm down when she’s feeling annoyed or scared. Sometime to keep in mind is that their emotions are just like yours or mine, just a but magnified. So when she’s feeling sad or excited or annoyed or anything else, I just think about how I would want someone to react to my emotions and do that for her.

  3. April 28, 2019 by Michaela Kim

    Hi Madi, thank you for such an informative project! I’ve never been close to anyone with bipolar disorder, so I feel super glad that I was able to educate myself before I met anyone with it. Also, I loved how personal this project was for you – you based your passion off of real life experiences, and I could tell that you really care about this topic! I agree with you that awareness and acceptance are such huge parts of destigmatizing mental disorders; you made it super clear in your presentation that every single person, no matter who you are, has to play a role in changing our society to be more accepting. Thanks!

  4. May 01, 2019 by Juliana.Shank

    Informative! Good job.

  5. May 01, 2019 by Crystal.Wang

    Hey Madi, it’s me! All your poems here were gorgeous and a really good way of normalizing the symptoms of bipolar disorder – it’s all just emotions, in the end. I also really liked all your tips in the conclusion for taking this message into the rest of our lives 🙂

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