So, what is the difference between Mania and Depression in bipolar disorder? I’m glad you asked (even though you didn’t) because I want to educate you on this.
1. Energy levels. When someone is depressed they literally sleep more because they are TIRED. Not mentally, but PHYSICALLY SLEEPY. This is a PHYSICAL issue, not a method of hiding from depression. When depressed I cannot drag myself out of bed until I’ve had at LEAST 10 hours of sleep. My movements are physically slower, and that alone is a sure sign that I am heading into depression.
Conversely, when manic a person has seemingly LIMITLESS energy. We can’t get to sleep. We can’t stay asleep. When I’m manic I sleep five hours per night MAX. My movements are quick and decisive. I need to expend physical energy.
2. Concentration and brain function is strongly affected. When I am depressed I am easily confused. I have to work extremely hard at grasping simple concepts. Nothing makes sense, and I feel like I am in a fog.
Mania allows me to understand EVERYTHING with lightning speed and clarity. I come up with novel ideas and solutions to problems that no one else has considered.
3. Decision making is strongly affected. My mood dictates my core feeling about any given decision. When I am depressed I feel completely incapable of being decisive. When weighing options, no single option seems preferable to any others. I see only the worst case scenario in every option, and I am prone to making those decisions based on external factors. I’m far more likely to make a decision based on the needs of the other person in the situation.
When I am manic I am decisive, but my judgement is poor. I make my decisions based on idealism, foreseeing the best case scenario every time. I am keenly aware of my own needs and desires and am more likely to consider them in the equation. I also take more risks. I’m naturally a more cautious person, but when I’m manic I consider consequences less seriously.
4. When I’m depressed, EVERYTHING MAKES ME CRY. Commercials, posts about homeless people, and the sadness of people that I love all make me even more depressed. I consider everyone else’s feelings over my own and to try to avoid that just makes me even more depressed. My empathy is on overdrive. Also, something that is exceptionally annoying to everyone around me happens. Everything that has ever made me sad comes to mind and makes me cry. To others, it seems like I’m actively LOOKING for things to be sad about. In reality my brain literally inundates me with things that make me sad. It is beyond my control, and no amount of positive thinking will change it. When I am depressed I am also prone to self pity, which is extraordinarily unattractive.
When I am manic, the feelings of others are less relevant. I try to consider them, but my words and actions come so much more quickly that I don’t have the time to weigh them and their effects on others. I don’t even foresee or UNDERSTAND the responses to my words and actions. When people are upset by the things that I say and do I am very confused. I have far less empathy than I do when I am depressed or even “level”.
5. Confidence. When I am depressed I am convinced that I am worthless; That my family and friends would be far better off without me in their lives, and they are just too nice to tell me how much of a burden I am. I am very vulnerable to suicidal ideation. That part is rare, but it happens. Fortunately I have this very vocal secondary voice that has always warned me that THIS IS A RED FLAG!!!!! I have always gotten help immediately when this happens. Not everyone has that voice though, and I think that it is mainly a result of growing up with my mother’s frequent struggles with suicidal thoughts.
When I am manic I feel like I actually enhance the lives of those around me. That I am strong and capable, an asset to society, and that I am helpful to the people that I care about. Unfortunately this is ALSO on overdrive. I get cocky. I feel superior. It is EXTREMELY unattractive.
Then there is the “Mixed State”, which I’ve touched on before, but this post is already a virtual book, so I’ll talk about that in depth another day.
This is all very exhausting and, in spite of struggling with it all for literally 28 years now, I still don’t always recognize the symptoms at the onset of a mood change. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s a constant struggle. Also, because I am “rapid cycling” (as opposed to those whose moods last for months at a time) my moods, along with aaaalll of these symptoms, can make the complete cycle from depression to mania and then to “level” several times in one day. USUALLY the change will happen once every 24 hours, but sometimes it’s several times in one day and sometimes a mood will last for a week before it “flips” to the other.
“Level” is the “goal”, although I don’t really think that it technically qualifies as a goal because (other than finding the proper medication/s) there is very little effort that can change these things. Some things that help include getting the proper amount of sleep (I sleep exactly 8 hours EVERY night), maintaining a tight schedule for taking my medications, tracking my moods, and being very self aware in terms of subtle mood shifts. Hyper-analytical, really. But NONE of these things, even when all executed perfectly, guarantees “level”.
How does this all affect me when I AM “level”? The answer is: A LOT. I wonder which of these people is the real “me”. Am I empathetic and compassionate, or is the REAL me callous? Am I strong and capable, or am I a fraud who plays strong and capable on TV? Do I cry easily, or am I emotionless and cold? My answer, when I can see clearly (but not TOO clearly haha) is that I am an amalgam of these things. I am more prone to tears than the average person. I am kind and compassionate, with a tendency to put the needs of others ahead of my own. I still shortchange myself in terms of confidence, but I’m improving. I am strong, capable, and resilient. I am interesting, intelligent, and worthy of love and attention. I do not have all of the answers to life’s problems, but I give good advice (although I rarely see how my OWN life would benefit from the same advice). I am a good problem solver, and thinking outside of the box is my specialty. I also struggle with confidence in my decision making skills, because I know that any decision that I make when level is likely to be changed when my mood plummets or elevates. I have to continually remind myself of the decisions that I’ve made and that I was level when I made them.
“Level” has been coming more frequently in the past couple of years, thanks to an excellent doctor who truly listens to me and my symptoms (literally a first for me) and he is extremely intuitive in the tweaking of my medications (truly, he has an incredible gift). I also attribute my level periods to my diet. Cutting sugar out of my life has given me clarity that I have never had in my life. It was hard at first, but I don’t miss it often believe it or not. Drinking more water helps, which makes sense when you consider how much of the human brain is comprised of water and how much the proper electrical impulses in your brain rely on. Keeping a journal (in addition to my mood tracking app) helps me to see my thought processes more clearly at each stage as well.