I like analogies, so here’s the first one. I’m juggling balls. I’ve got three of them going, everything is fine, I’m smiling and chatting with the audience. As I swing up, I take on more balls. I have five, six, eight balls in the air, and look at me go, I’m amazing I can take even more, I’ve got this! How dare you suggest I am not on the verge of some amazing breakthrough where I will juggle 12 balls and swallow a sword?!
But then I start to drop them. First one goes, then another, and I’m frantically trying to catch them as they fall, and in my struggle to grab them before they hit the ground, I’m dropping the ones I had in my arms until I am collapsed on the floor, surrounded by the balls, crying over everything and nothing. I am a failure, and will never amount to anything, and what was I even thinking, trying to juggle those balls? 3 seems so far away now, such an insurmountable task.
Wash, rinse, repeat! /sigh
This is a graph of the mood swings in the bipolar spectrum, with ‘normal’ added in for clarity.
So M is Mania, H is Hypomania, E is Euthymia, d is Minor Depression, and D is Major Depression.
Euthymia is basically wellness. I couldn’t help but notice how similar it was to my favorite word, eudaimonia (loosely translated as human flourishing). The purple line I put on there to remind everyone that while “normal” people have ups and downs, they stay very close to the ‘wellness’ line.
As you can see, Bipolar I and II can both swing down into minor or major depressive episodes; the difference is that Bipolar II stops the upswing in hypomania, and doesn’t go up into an acute manic phase the way Bipolar I can. It only takes one (documented) full blown manic episode to be diagnosed BPI, even if you never swing that high again.
Mixed states (for me) are like taking the worst parts of each side and mashing them together. Imagine being really miserable and tired and unmotivated, but your mind is racing and it’s going to all the bad places at once. I get mixed rarely, and as such I handle those periods poorly.
It’s estimated that 1-2% of the population is on the bipolar spectrum. Think about it. That’s actually a lot of people, some of whom are probably wandering through life, never knowing that something can be done to alleviate the worst of the symptoms. And those who do know… well, most of them are going to hide it. That’s what we do.
If it helps, try to remember that as you age, the periods of euthymia should get longer as the swings happen less often, and the swings should become less extreme.
Lastly, this is a fantastic piece the BBC has put out there with bits from Stephen Frye to Professor Richard Morriss to Carrie Fisher. It is a worthwhile read, and as such I have saved a PDF here [ bipolar-bbc ] in case they ever take it down. I don’t trust the Wayback Machine to help me find it.