so here is to you all my friends and fellow warriors, bipolars or not.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
by Marcia Purse
A Layperson's Definition of Manic Depression
One textbook definition describes bipolar disorder as: "a major affective disorder in which an individual alternates between states of deep depression and extreme elation." This is misleading in that bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness - is much more complicated than just alternating between depression and elation.
The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly known as DSM-IV because it is in its fourth major edition) says, "Bipolar Disorder is characterized by the occurrence of one or more Major Depressive Episodes accompanied by at least one Manic Episode." So even if you're depressed 99 percent of the time, going through just one manic episode qualifies you for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder according to this definition - but that still leaves out a lot of what manic depression really is.
So let's put it in terms everyone can understand. Bipolar disorder is an illness that affects thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behavior ... even how a person feels physically (known clinically as psychosomatic presentations). It's probably caused by electrical and chemical elements in the brain not functioning properly (see What Causes Bipolar Disorder? for more information), and is usually found in people whose families have a history of one or more mental illnesses. (While we're at it, let's be clear about something: a "mental illness" is one that affects the mind, not one that's all in the mind.)
Most often, a person with manic-depression experiences moods that shift from high to low and back again in varying degrees of severity. The two poles of bipolar disorder are mania and depression. This is the least complicated form of the illness.
Depression might be identified by:
Refusing to get out of bed for days on end
Sleeping much more than usual
Being tired all the time but unable to sleep
Having bouts of uncontrollable crying
Becoming entirely uninterested in things you once enjoyed
Paying no attention to daily responsibilities
Feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless for a sustained period of time
Becoming unable to make simple decisions
Wanting to die
Mania might include:
Feeling like you can do anything, even something unsafe or illegal
Needing very little sleep, yet never feeling tired
Dressing flamboyantly, spending money extravagantly, living recklessly
Having increased sexual desires, perhaps even indulging in risky sexual behaviors
Experiencing hallucinations or delusions
Feeling filled with energy
Some people think that they are just "over their depression" when they become manic, and don't realize this exaggerated state is part of the illness - part of bipolar disorder. A person who has depression and mania is said to have Bipolar I.
In addition to Bipolar Disorder I, the American system of diagnosing this disorder also includes Bipolar Disorder II, which involves symptoms of hypomania instead of full-blown mania.
Hypomania - a less extreme form of manic episode - could include:
Having utter confidence in yourself
Being able to focus well on projects
Feeling extra creative or innovative
Being able to brush off problems that would paralyze you during depression
Feeling "on top of the world" but without going over the top.
Hypomania does not include hallucinations or delusions, but a hypomanic person still might exhibit some reckless or inappropriate behavior. A person who has moods of depression and hypomania is said to have Bipolar II.
Below we've linked to in-depth articles that list the symptoms of both mania and depression, which we encourage you to read if you want more detailed information on these symptoms of bipolar disorder. We've also linked to an article on the causes of bipolar disorder and some other important information.
This is the simplest definition we can offer to answer the question, "What is bipolar disorder?" The next article in Bipolar Basics is Complex Features of Bipolar Disorder, where we look at some of the complexities that this difficult condition can include.