I wanted to answer this question, not with the tidy clinical synopses, but with more expressive quotes from bipolar authors and celebrities.
Here’s the earliest one by a long stretch:
Melancholia is the beginning and a part of mania . . . . The development of a mania is really a worsening of the disease (melancholia) rather than a change into another disease.
– Aretaeus of Cappadoccia c. 30-90 AD
And back to the 21st century:
I have had manic-depressive illness, also known as bipolar disorder, since I was 18 years old. It is an illness that ensures that those who have it will experience a frightening, chaotic and emotional ride. It is not a gentle or easy disease.
– Kay Redfield Jamison
Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it, an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide.
– Kay Redfield Jamison
Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed.
– Mason Cooley
I just felt as though I would never be happy again, and as if I had fallen into a big black hole.
– Brooke Shields
The lows were absolutely horrible. It was like falling into a manhole and not being able to lift the lid and climb out.
– Linda Hamilton
Bipolar illness, manic depression, manic depressive illness, manic-depressive psychosis. That’s a nice way of saying you will feel so high that no street drug can compete and you will feel so low that you wish you had been hit by a Mack truck instead.
― Christine F. Anderson, Forever Different: A Memoir of One Woman’s Journey Living with Bipolar Disorder
Every now and then I hear voices in my head, but not very clear. I can’t understand what they are saying. It’s a mental illness. I have been diagnosed as a manic depressive.”
Not only do I think mania is different for different people, but it’s been different for me at different times in my life. Too Bright To Hear Too Loud To See is actually a line from the book and that acid-trippy exaggerated sense of color and sound is what happened to me at the beginning of a manic episode during the time I was writing the book. Things would get so loud and so bright that I would confuse one sense for the other. I could literally hear clouds of bus exhaust. I couldn’t go on the subway or into a store because I could hear everyone talking all at once and all the music playing on everyone’s iPods. It was a subtle form of psychosis.
At other times, during mixed states, which are a horrible combination of mania superimposed on depression, I’ve felt like I want to rip my own skin off. There’s a horrible agitation and restlessness to it—like your flesh is going to fly off your bones. And thinking clearly becomes impossible. Even the simplest two-step task—because you think all you have to do is get from A to B. But when a thousand thoughts come hurtling through the space between A and B the ground beneath you just sort of gives way. Sometimes it can feel like you’re just hanging by your fingernails. It’s scary as hell.
– Juliann Garey
I have a type of bipolar that swings up and down all day long. There are significant mood swings within a day, within a week, within a month. I go through at least four major episodes a year. That’s really the definition of bipolar rapid cycle. But I have ultra-rapid, so I have tiny little episodes all day long.
– Marya Hornbacher
Maybe there’s a galaxy with a planet that’s just a little more tilted, with a sun that shines just a little bit darker, and that’s where I’m supposed to be, where it somehow makes sense to feel this broken.
– Amy Reed, Crazy
Bipolar robs you of that which is you. It can take from you the very core of your being and replace it with something that is completely opposite of who and what you truly are. Because my bipolar went untreated for so long, I spent many years looking in the mirror and seeing a person I did not recognize or understand. Not only did bipolar rob me of my sanity, but it robbed me of my ability to see beyond the space it dictated me to look. I no longer could tell reality from fantasy, and I walked in a world no longer my own.
– Alyssa Reyans, Letters from a Bipolar Mother
Mental illness is a very powerful thing. If it is with you it is probably going to be there until the day you die. I am trying so hard to break mine, but it is not easy. It is my toughest fight ever.
– Frank Bruno
The point about manic depression or bipolar disorder, as it’s now more commonly called, is that it’s about mood swings. So, you have an elevated mood. When people think of manic depression, they only hear the word depression. They think one’s a depressive. The point is, one’s a manic-depressive.”
– Stephen Fry
I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day. It’s like being a diabetic.
– Carrie Fisher