I'm not going to give you a number-by-number medical analysis
of Bipolar Mood Disorder, because I am not expert in the field
. I am sixteen and it would be pretentious of me to consider myself an expert on anything. I am going to give you an account based on my experiences living with Bipolar since early adolescence
I have been diagnosed with Cyclothymia, rapid-cycling bipolar, which can mean very little time between mood swings - say, a few hours, compared to 'classic' bipolar, in which manic and depressed episodes can last weeks. Being afflicted with this mental disorder, i would liken it to an unstoppable roller coaster, as I'm sure other people suffering it might as well.
Being 'manic' in the old days would lead people to believe you to be posessed by devils, and sometimes it does feel like you are. It's also called a 'high' because that is what you feel. Beyond high, somewhat euphoric. People in this state lose insight into what is really happening and refuse treatment because mania feels good to them. Delusions of some higher worth can set in, eg. believing you were sent by a deity to save the human race. I've never witnessed/experienced this though, although one of my bipolar friends was once utterly convinced she could win medals in every olympic event. People also become dramatically impulsive; Selling everything they own and moving to another state, losing all their money in the process, doesn't seem such a bad idea when you're manic.
Unfortuneatly, mania can bring with it a PMS-like instability. Raging tantrums. Breaking stuff. Snapping at people aggressively is all to easy and sometimes you are unaware of just quite how loud you're yelling. When someone merely tries to engage conversation with you, your reflexaction is to snarl some incensed retort.
In the same way as the word 'manic' is an understatement to those who have really experienced it, as is depression. Hitting a depression pit is the most ungodly feeling of hopelessness, and you feel like you'll never get out. Your emotions basically flatline. You're empty. Nothing feels good. Nothing satisfies anymore. To simply feel alive again, some bipolar sufferers self-harm, or cut themselves until they bleed. It is believed, psychologically, this brings pain to the outside, and makes it visible. Physically, injuring oneself releases endorphins, the brain's equivalent of a painkiller, making the self-harmer feel better. You may think this is stupid, hurting oneself to feel better, but the physical pain is not what one cares about, it's the chronic pyschological pain that runs much deeper, and requires an outlet.
Keeping a depressed bipolar away from sharp objects is hopeless, because we're a resourceful lot. I've seen people cut themselves with plastic spoons.
That same friend who was going to win every olympic event comes in again here; they died from liver failure not a short while later. The cause, a monstrous overdose on the very medication meant to help her, depakote (epillim, valproate, valproic acid); also used in the treatment for epileptic seizures.
I've noticed the higher someone is while manic, the harder they fall. The way Hollywood and other media has painted Manic Depression, it seems like a fun ride, with crazy, yet entertaining, people. Don't listen to Girl Interrupted. This imbalance of brain chemicals has a lot of broken lives to account for.
Mood swings - angry, loving, bitter, depressed, euphoric - are the hallmark symptom, but also occur frequently in many other mental disorders; often making it hard to diagnose, especially from schizophrenia, with which it also shares delusions of grandeur, paranoia, anxiety, and in some cases, psychosis; hallucinations and bizzare delusions (believing things like your mind is being controlled by an outside force- these beliefs cannot be influenced by culture or religion to be delusional). It is believed that manic depressives are more likely to commit violent crimes, but this is probably more influenced by personality disorders such as Antisocial Personality Disorder occuring alongside Manic Depression.
Because I'm Not Qualified To Know Anything, my opinion doesn't count, but my personal beliefs on bipolar are a lack of control over the hormones serotonin and dopamine, which control the moods, in the brain. The brain tries to make up for too many or too little of these chemicals, but somewhere the wiring is wrong, and it overcompensates, leading on a vicious cycle of updownupdownupdownupdown. Many manic depressives may also abuse drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines, further damaging this delicate process, as drugs intefere very much with the amount of serotonin and dopamine produced, and can damage the receptors of the chemicals.
It is a tragic consequence that those unable to be stabilised with medication may turn to suicide as a way out. When you're on a roller coaster that never stops, sometimes the only way out is to jump.