From the entry in Wikipedia:
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder (historically known as manic–depressive disorder or manic depression) is a psychiatric diagnosis for a mood disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience episodes of a frenzied state known as mania (or hypomania), typically alternating with episodes of depression.
At the lower levels of mania, such as hypomania, individuals appear energetic and excitable and may in fact be highly productive. At a higher level, individuals begin to behave erratically and impulsively, often making poor decisions due to unrealistic ideas about the future, and may have great difficulty with sleep. At the highest level, individuals can experience very distorted beliefs about the world known as psychosis. Individuals who experience manic episodes also commonly experience depressive episodes; some experience a mixed state in which features of both mania and depression are present at the same time. Manic and depressive episodes typically last from a few days to several months and can be interspersed by periods of “normal” mood.
Current research suggests that about 4% of people experience some of the characteristic symptoms at some point in their life. Prevalence is similar in men and women and, broadly, across different cultures and ethnic groups. Genetic factors contribute substantially to the likelihood of developing bipolar disorder, and environmental factors are also implicated. Bipolar disorder is often treated with mood stabilizing medications and psychotherapy. In serious cases, in which there is a risk of harm to oneself or others, involuntary commitment may be used. These cases generally involve severe manic episodes with dangerous behavior or depressive episodes with suicidal ideation. There are widespread problems with social stigma,stereotypes, and prejudice against individuals with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder exhibiting psychotic symptoms can sometimes be misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia.
The current term bipolar disorder is of fairly recent origin and refers to the cycling between high and low episodes (poles). The term “manic–depressive illness” or psychosis was coined by German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin in the late nineteenth century, originally referring to all kinds of mood disorder. German psychiatrist Karl Leonhard split the classification in 1957, employing the terms unipolar disorder (major depressive disorder) and bipolar disorder.
So, this is the ‘standard’ sort of definition of Bipolar Disorder.
So let’s take a look at a single, ordinary day in the life of a person (me) experiencing bipolar disorder.
Imagine, if you will, waking up in the morning from a couple of hour’s worth of sleep at best, and the very first thing you think about is the helplessness and worthlessness of your situation and your life.
And you rage. You swear like a sailor. You curse yourself and everyone else; you put your feet down on the floor and you can’t believe your bad luck that you didn’t die in your sleep. Not only that, but it’s your damn fault that you’re still alive. You can’t lie back down because you’re agitated to the point of madness. You can’t get up because you’re simply unable to face the world in this condition. You can’t get out of the house because no one should see you like this and you sure as hell don’t want to see anyone else.
So you’re trapped — on the inside, from the outside — and you’re frozen to the spot, screaming at everyone and yourself inside your head. You want to do something and you don’t want to, either. You are for all intents and purposes already dead; you’re dead to yourself.
When you finally move off of the bed, you don’t have direction. I mean exactly that; you have no will or ability to function. Imagine that it takes every ounce of energy just to attend to your toilet, to make coffee or breakfast. And god forbid you should have someone that’s trying to urge you on, or make things easier, or ask how you’re doing. You’re liable to either not answer them or just tell them to shut the hell up and what do you know about it, anyway.
You put together something, anything, whatever. You don’t care what it is. You don’t want questions, you don’t want to think, you just want to stop the horrible hamster wheel that’s spinning and spinning in your head with all the nasty thoughts and feelings. Anything that gets in the way is in for a fight – or a flight.
You heard it right – fight or flight. Imagine that your brain won’t let your body shut that response off. You swim in nasty stress-related chemicals that your body is pumping out in amazing quantities. Everything feels ugly as a result. You want to run away, get away, but you can’t do it because you carry that horrid response inside you. You are stuck in neutral with the engine revving out of control.
Now, picture that happening to you every single morning without fail. Each and every morning. You get to the point where your response is self-reproducing; you create it constantly and everything builds and builds to the point of complete and utter exhaustion, the physical failure of your body’s necessary processes until you can’t hear or see anything but self-induced wreckage.
Well, isn’t that wonderful? Can you see what kind of hell that is? And that’s before you’ve even finished a crap and a cup of coffee.
Now, most people would say WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING?, like yelling about it is going to help. Or maybe they’d say GET OUT OF BED AND DO SOMETHING! or WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS?
It’s okay. They have no idea how this disorder works, and in their minds these questions and responses are completely correct and believe me, they want to let you know it. To them, the pain is viewed externally and quite frankly, even if they wanted to help, they are impotent to do so because you can’t hear them through the pain. And they have no idea how to help you at all because they don’t know anything about your experiences and have never looked at available information about the disorder. Even if they did, they still may not understand the sheer violence that you are doing to yourself internally and therefore cannot comprehend it. And that isn’t necessarily their fault; not everyone can believe or accept the changes that are happening to you.
And all this has happened over and over and over and over. In your mind there’s no end to the pain. That’s how suicide becomes an actual, real and recognizable option for someone that is tortured in this way. Just like hunger, just like thirst, the wish for release from this pain is palpable and real. If you don’t eat, you die. If you don’t drink, you die. And if you can’t escape from such severe trauma and pain — you die. Just as surely as if you drive an ice-pick into your head, the stress will eat away at your health and begin causing peripheral damage.
For me, it is inflammation of the body. Diabetes, muscular pain, gout, weight gain, sleep disorders, eating disorders, disorder after disorder. Heart disease is something to greatly fear, not to mention lost limbs, blindness, constant physical pain and the compounded emotional wreckage that inevitably comes from harboring those fears.
Okay. We’re almost done with breakfast.
Now take into consideration not only the actual bipolar disorder but every peripheral complication heightened by being immobilized and you have what in professional terms is called a runaway train wreck.
Oh wait. I forgot something very important.
No one knows what’s going on because in your immobilized state you cannot express the problem with any clarity to anyone that might help. In fact, maybe you don’t even think you need help — you’d rather just be done with it.
And this is the point where, if you don’t get help, that’s just what’s going to happen.