We use 'bipolar disorder' throughout this book, but it's important to recognise that the term covers a range of symptoms which may be experienced differently by different people. Reflecting this, people are often given a more specific diagnosis such as bipolar I (type one bipolar disorder), bipolar II (type two), rapid cycling, or cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia).
We will look at these labels in more detail later but in simple terms bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a disorder of the brain which manifests as abnormal levels of mood and energy.
Everyone experiences life's ups and downs, and it can be difficult to draw clear lines between the extremes of the 'normal' range and mild or early stages of a bipolar episode. It may not be obvious to others but someone with bipolar disorder needs to constantly monitor where they are against a shifting landscape characterised by regions of relative stability, depression and mania.
In addition to prescribed medication and therapies it takes considerable awareness, focus and energy to remain vigilant in this way, but bipolar episodes, whether of depression or mania, are by definition severely debilitating and may threaten life itself.
Gum on My Shoe: One Step at a Time with My Bipolar Best Friend
Chapter 2 ("The Way of Illness")