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Mariah Carey reveals years-long battle with bipolar disorder: 'I lived in denial and isolation'

Mariah Carey at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party following the 89th Academy Awards at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif., Feb. 26, 2017. (Axel Koester/The New York Times)

Mariah Carey says she has been battling bipolar disorder, explaining that after years of suffering in silence, "I refuse to allow it to define me or control me."

In People magazine's April 23 issue, the 48-year-old singer-songwriter described how the mental health condition has affected her and her attempts to cope.

"For a long time I thought I had a severe sleep disorder," she said. "But it wasn't normal insomnia and I wasn't lying awake counting sheep. I was working and working and working ... I was irritable and in constant fear of letting people down. It turns out that I was experiencing a form of mania. Eventually I would just hit a wall. I guess my depressive episodes were characterized by having very low energy. I would feel so lonely and sad - even guilty that I wasn't doing what I needed to be doing for my career."

In 2001, Carey checked herself into the hospital for what her publicist called "an emotional and physical breakdown" - and was placed under psychiatric care.

The former publicist, Cindi Berger, said in a statement at the time that Carey had fallen ill after finishing filming two movies, "Glitter" and "Wise Girls," while also producing the soundtrack to "Glitter."

Carey told People that it was during a hospitalization in 2001 that she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder - which, she said, she "didn't want to believe."

"Until recently I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me," she told the magazine. "It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn't do that anymore. I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love - writing songs and making music."

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood swings, from "ups" (mania) to "downs" (depression), according to NIH's National Institute of Mental Health.

There are different types of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar I disorder can experience manic episodes lasting a week or more and often require hospitalization. Bipolar II disorder, which Carey says she has, is less severe; the "ups" are not as extreme and are referred to as "hypomanic" episodes instead of "manic" episodes, according to NIH.

According to NIH:

"People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and unusual behaviors. These distinct periods are called 'mood episodes.' Mood episodes are drastically different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person. Extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep go along with mood episodes."

Carey, a music idol and a mother to 6-year-old twins Monroe and Moroccan, said she is now managing her bipolar disorder with therapy and medication.

"I'm actually taking medication that seems to be pretty good. It's not making me feel too tired or sluggish or anything like that. Finding the proper balance is what is most important," she told People.

The artist said she is speaking out about her battle with bipolar disorder because she wants to help eliminate the stigma associated with such conditions.

"I'm just in a really good place right now, where I'm comfortable discussing my struggles with bipolar II disorder," she told People. "I'm hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me."

Carey, once dubbed "songbird supreme" by the Guinness World Records, has had 18 No. 1 hits and sold more than 200 million records, according to People.

Author information: Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post, covering national news with an emphasis on health.

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