Understanding That Bipolar Is Far More Than Just Mood Swings

Bipolar Isn’t Just Ups and Downs

Bipolar Isn’t Just Ups and Downs“We’re all a bit ‘up and down.’”

Everybody’s moods go through ups and downs, and there are many factors linked to this. Our genetic makeup, diet, exercise routine, sleep pattern, stress, trauma – in fact, there are so many that it’s easier to simply say ‘life.’ We can all feel upset, angry, happy, elated and low, and typing any of those words into a thesaurus, you’ll find even more.

But we’re talking about everyday emotions here.

The serious psychiatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder is not simply ‘up and down.’ It angers me when I hear people respond to the diagnosis with, “Well we’re all a bit up and down.”

My normally non-judgmental disposition departs and I think: “Go away, get a diagnosis and then you’ll understand what bipolar disorder is. I can assure you, you won’t think it’s simply ‘up and down’ after that.”

Understanding Bipolar

There are different types of bipolar, including I, II, cyclothymia and rapid cycling, but I don’t want this article to become clinical in terms of explaining diagnoses. I want to give real insight into living it.

The old term for bipolar was manic depression and in my eyes it was self-explanatory to its symptoms. Bipolar feels a little more subjective, but in my opinion there is no name to describe something so indescribable.

The description needs this full sentence: “Bipolar is a very serious mental health illness, affecting your mood, feelings, behaviour and ultimately, your life.”


I always think of a line to represent a person’s stable mood. Shallow up and down curves are expected in general life, with noticeable peaks at particularly happy or stressful times. To visually show bipolar I would draw a shallow curve, deep curve, peak, spike, straight, scribble, cross and strike with different coloured pens to express the unique, personal, versatile, disruptive, destructive, unpredictable and at times difficult to manage life-long condition.

No Two People Have the Same Experience

No person that shares a bipolar diagnosis can share exactly the same symptoms and experiences at any one time.

Don’t get me wrong, there will of course be consistencies. For example, someone in depression will mostly feel low, unmotivated, and emotional with possible suicidal thoughts, and someone manic will mostly feel high, energized, agitated and creative with possible psychotic thoughts – but that is only the basics.

Next page: no two people have the same experience.

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