Alright....it's been a crazy week, so I'm going to jump right back into this!
"Bipolar" is somewhat misleading. Most people think of two poles-depressed and happy-since happy is the opposite to depressed. However, mania is not happy; far from it. Other than medication questions, I probably get asked this question the most, "What does manic mean?" I'm going to do my best to explain it to you.
Most people know what depressed means-everyone has natural ups and downs, and everyone experiences deaths and breakups. But the devastation of chronic depression is awful. It is easy to see when someone is suffering from depression-loss of appetite, lack of motivation, loss of interest in activities that were once interesting or enjoyable, feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness, social withdrawal, unusual restlessness or irritability and at the worst, suicide attempts. However, with mania, is it much more difficult to see it manifesting-often patients themselves don't realize the symptoms until they are well into the throws of it. A good definition of mania is:
“Mania-An abnormally elevated mood state characterized by such symptoms as inappropriate elation, increased irritability, severe insomnia, grandiose notions, increased speed and/or volume of speech, disconnected and racing thoughts, increased sexual desire, markedly increased energy and activity level, poor judgment, and inappropriate social behaviour.”-Medicinenet.com)
To the "outside world", mania often looks like happiness. Often a Bipolar patient coming out of a depressive state will go into a manic state, and simply think they are back to "normal". Or they will even realize that they are manic, but don't want to acknowledge it, because they feel something like happiness, after feeling sorrow for so long. And at first it does feel similar to happiness.
For the few weeks (sometimes months, depending on the patient), everything looks brighter. Things are finally going your way. Even that lady that at your work that used to scowl at you everyday smiles at you. You have increased sensations. Sex feels amazing-and you want it constantly. Food tastes so good; you can't believe you didn't want to eat it when you were depressed. You have so much energy! For the first time in.....who knows how long...you are getting everything done! And more! You are able to multitask. Everyone comments on how happy you look; how you are glowing; you are so witty and have so much to say. Life seems perfect.
Then a month or so later....you haven't slept in those few weeks. You are becoming constantly irritated and frustrated. Everything enrages you-the person that cut you off, the woman talking too loudly on her cell phone. All that energy is making you jittery and feeling like you are bouncing off the walls. You are making decisions that make sense to you but no one else. You are alienating yourself. No one is listening to your evermore fabulous and grandiose ideas. There are so many ideas and voices inside your head; you don't know where to start to make sense of them. What you thought was "multitasking" was really just doing many things at once, badly. People have stopped saying you look "glowing" and instead are telling you to rest and take a break. You are snapping at people constantly; always arguing.
And that's how it continues on....a constant war inside your head. Voices battling non-stop, with no break to sleep or rest. The voices tell you to cheat on your spouse, jump off a cliff, run down the street with naked. All judgment is impaired. After months of mania, patients often attempt suicide, lose jobs, break up families, enter a psychosis, or any number of horrible things. Mania is derived from the Greek word for madness; and manic patients are often treated as such. By the time they get to a hospital they are usually delirious and completely out of touch with reality. Unfortunately, learning when a manic phase is coming on is something that takes a lot of time, working with both yourself and the illness.
Although I have experienced suicidal lows, my illness tends to keep me "up" into the manic category. I have learned over the years what my "triggers" are, and what to watch out for when my moods start to shift (change in sleep patterns, change in eating habits, and sexual appetite. And then I get in to see my doctor immediately. While depression is unspeakably horrible, it only affects me, my hubby and my immediate family. Mania affects everyone I come into contact with. It can make me lose my job, lose my friends, and completely destroy my life. It has already caused me do things in my teens that were totally out of character, and I never want it to have that control over me again. My Mom has also experienced the difficulty of controlling mania-it takes over your entire life. So it's IMPERATIVE that patients learn their triggers and symptoms so that they are able to take control of their illness and learn how to stay healthy.
I hope that helped! :)