Everybody experiences ups and downs in their general mood. We are not people on a consistent plateau of happiness; more often it's perhaps like looking out on the Lake District. Overall it seems to be appealing and manageable with some darker valleys and sweeping hills. The wider picture is one of reasonable consistency and can be traversed with relative ease.
Having a mood disorder shifts this paradigm and has to include the foothills of the Alps and sometime the Himalayas. The bell curve of emotional experience is deeper and wider and more inconsistent. And when ill, my emotional antenna is incredibly sensitive and overloaded. Medication, strategies and self care help me to gently ease my mood flux into a more narrow channel, and trying to recognise when the moods are expanding and leaking out into unmanageability is a skill in itself. And again, as it is mostly internal and cerebral, communicating the shifts is complicated. You don't want to worry anybody by alerting them to your shifting frame of mind, but in the same breath you need to let on that things might not be OK. Over the years I have had to understand what is a dip and what is a slippery slope to madness. One way of explaining it is using the analogy of a radio. When well and feeling like ordinary folk, radio 2 is on quietly in the background. Sometimes certain songs or articles of news grab your attention more than others, but generally, it's benign. It isn't distracting and doesn't interfere with your daily functioning. When ill, someone turns the volume up to maximum. Your moods crash in on you like repeated swells, they are almost suffocating and get in the way of doing anything sensible. You also react to people more violently than you normally would as you are experiencing reality in a magnified way.
When Manic, all my boundaries and mood containers disappear. It's like a flood, rampaging over the flats with no regard for person or property. Lots of unbridled thoughts and emotions. It's funny as the urban myth about mania is that you feel ecstatic, euphoric, creative and wonderful. In my limited experience, this isn't actually the full picture. I do get some of that, but that is usually when ascending to the peak of Everest. Coming down the other side is usually all agitation, anger, grandiosity, paranoia, fear, confusion, aggression, despair and then finally a feeling of mental collapse when your brain actually stops running and leaves you feeling like someone put a bullet through your brain. Scrambled eggs head. Also throughout these periods, those thought and feelings I have are not coherent. They are scattered and almost out of order. My brain shatters into a million pieces.
So I have to take mood inventory most days. Living with bipolar is all about balance and measuring yourself on your own scale of manageability. I have had to learn what is within the normal scale of thoughts and feelings and what for me is stepping outside of that. If I am stepping outside of that, how long should I leave it? Will it contract back to the norm, and if it doesn't at what point should I speak to someone, seek help, panic? Also, there are normal mood dips in relation to external circumstances. If something kicks off with the kids at school, feeling angry and upset is a normal reaction. It will probably hang around for a few days. That's what normal people do. I do tend to feel it in a more magnified way as I am super sensitive, but it does pass. I think there was a part of me that hoped one day I wouldn't feel anything uncomfortable and that equalled wellness. That is far from true. I will never be a spiritual guru in a state of near Nirvana. Thankfully I have gained insight during my journey and it helps me to survive the roller coaster. This is also an ongoing work of self, as every new situation presents an opportunity for learning and growth. Things move and change constantly.
So if I seem a little confused, or tell you you that I find this current situation really hard, remember that I am am working hard to keep up with you. I am probably flicking through my book of tips to figure out what I could be doing to make things a little less troubling or tricky. I will catch up eventually if you have the time to wait.