When picturing Bipolar Disorder, what comes to mind? Is it someone going from happy to angry/sad all of a sudden, back and forth, switching from smiling to crying like those masks you saw in your drama classes?
While this does happen sometimes- typically only in extreme episodes, but I’ll explain what those are further down the article- it isn’t a very accurate depiction of what almost 1% of Americans face on a day-to-day basis.
Imagine waking up feeling like there’s a boulder weighing down on your chest, making your breaths shorter and the ability to move more difficult. The room looks darker than you would expect it to at 10:30am without any curtains blocking the Texas sun from entering through the window. Your body moves sluggishly and your coordination is screwy, like you just took a few shots of tequila straight to the dome. You forgot why you got out of bed to begin with and you almost wish you had just stayed there all day.
The kicker: you don’t understand why you feel so shitty this early in the morning before anything has even happened in your day. You fell asleep fine and didn’t have anything troubling you the night before, so it confuses you why you woke up feeling so depressed.
You walk by everyone in class or at work with a look on your face that you didn’t even know you were making, probably a confused or worrisome facial expression. Nothing seems to be going specifically wrong for you, but yet you still feel uninterested in anything going on around you.
Then, when you’ve reached your home after a seemingly endless day, all of a sudden a wave of sadness and hopelessness overcomes you. You curl into a fetal ball, start uncontrollably sobbing and crying, and start hurting on your insides to the point you begin having self-destructive thoughts.
Again, the big question comes to mind: why the hell do I feel this damn bad?
Typically, with Bipolar Disorder, the answer is simple: you have Bipolar Disorder. The whole point is that irrational, sudden, and drastic changes in mood are influenced by the chemicals in your brain more than anything going on in your life around you.
Now, for the other side of the spectrum, we have Mania, which is a bit more complex and harder to explain.
Mania: Increased energy
First, let’s paint a picture of the first aspect of mania: sharp increase in energy.
You wake up, earlier than normal without the help of an alarm clock, jump out of bed, and keep walking around your room back and forth until your brain calms down enough to figure out you have to get ready for class or work. So you shower, groom yourself, brush your teeth, get dressed, and head out the door in a frenzy, as if it was all one motion to you.
Getting to class, you are practically pacing even though you will probably be 15 minutes early regardless of how slow you walk. You sit in a chair tapping your feet and hands; anything and everything, probably biting on something, and checking your phone repeatedly even though only a few seconds have passed between each check.
You get bored pretty quickly, almost as soon as class or work starts, and find yourself daydreaming often.
After your class or shift, you head to the gym (something you rarely do) and run on a treadmill for 10 minutes before switching to free weights.
Then you hit the punching bag a few times until you’re short of breath.
Then you go on one of the machines for 3 minutes and jump back onto the treadmill.
The cycle repeats until you feel a stitch in your side or there’s a charlie horse in your leg and you think to yourself, “I should probably stop now.”
So you reach home, throw everything on your bed, put on the TV, play some music, get on your laptop and your phone, and probably pace around the room, all at the same time.
During all of this, you realize you haven’t eaten much of anything all day.
So you grab a fruit or a big bag or chips and scarf them down like you were in some sort of competitive eating contest.
Then you head to bed, trying your hardest to fall asleep. You turn off the light, lay under your blanket, and try to find a comfortable position to sleep.
But you can’t. So you toss and turn, your legs restless and kicking like you are trying to run a marathon sideways. Instead of sleeping at 11pm like you planned, you are finally able to knock out at 3:30am.
When that mania wears off the next morning, your body feels like you got beat by Mike Tyson and your head is splitting from the lack of sleep.
The moment you get out of bed, there’s something wrong or something annoying the hell out of you and you can’t figure out why yet.
It might be only getting 7 hours and 57 minutes of sleep because you woke up 3 minutes before your alarm.
Or it could have to do with the sound of the groundskeepers mowing the lawn outside your apartment while you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to do first: shower of brush your teeth.
It might be nothing at all, but you know you feel really irritated at something and that feeling isn’t going away anytime soon.
You find a good parking spot right next to the building your class is at, but 21 Pilots was playing on every radio station on your way there which soured your mood completely.
You sit next to the cute guy or girl in class you really like, yet you seem more occupied with the fact that your chair squeaks anytime you move, so you’re pissy towards everyone.
After class, you hit up Fry and play a game of pool and accidentally sink in the cue ball on the break and you lose your shit. Your friends are trying to calm you down, telling you it’s just a game, but you get even angrier and start cursing them out for “making you” scratch and lose the game.
You storm out of the bar, speed back home, and turn on the loudest music you can to piss of your roommates who might have forgotten to wash one of their dishes after eating.
No one has truly done you any wrong and even the inconveniences in your day have been so minor, in any other mindset, you wouldn’t have noticed them. Yet, today of all days, you woke up feeling unreasonably pissy and every straw seems close to breaking the proverbial camel’s back.
And then one does and you have what is referred to as a Manic Episode. In the simplest of terms, you lose control of your emotional state, your emotions have hit the peak of the upper half or the spectrum, and you’re out for blood. Slamming doors, yelling, breaking things; everything in your way needs to be hurting in some sort of way. Nothing else matters and repercussions isn’t even a word in your vocabulary at that moment.
When it finally ends, you find yourself feeling absolutely mortified at the destruction you’ve caused and the people you hurt, as if you were in another room the whole time all of this happened.
And you’re stuck trying to keep your friends from crying anymore and explaining to your roommates that you will pay to replace their dishes and the chair you broke.
Mania: Elevated Mood
This one is the simplest concepts to explain, so it won’t require much imagination to understand.
Remember the scene in (500) Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character had sex with Zooey Deschanel’s character and he walks around town the next morning happy as shit? How he’s dancing with everyone around him, smiling so big you can’t see his eyes, and a cartoon bird lands on his finger? And then, to top that all off, “You Make My Dreams” by Hall and Oates is making you start dancing on the couch while you watch it in your friend’s living room?
That’s pretty much what having Bipolar Disorder is like when you’re Manic. Mood elevates to such a high level, people look at you like you’re crazy or something for strutting around town with a big, goofy smile on your face and a large pep in your step.
Dealing with other people’s emotions doesn’t affect or even matter to you because you’re in such a good mood, so you tend to just walk away from friends crying over a bad day or neglect answering your girlfriend’s angry texts all day.
The biggest concept to pull out of this article is that Bipolar Disorder is when these things happen so often or so severe for you that it literally gets in the way of simple every day tasks like sleeping, getting out of bed, paying attention in class/work, etc.
That’s why the word “Disorder” is tacked on behind the word “Bipolar”.