Mood Waves: Mania to Depression or Depression to Mania?

We use the image of “surfing” your moods to describe the experience of bipolar’s ups and downs, but we don’t mean this to imply that the mood waves of bipolar are chaotic and completely unpredictable.

On the contrary, people who keep a careful log of their moods over time find clear patterns to their ups and downs.  However, these patterns are different from person to person.

For some, depression slowly ramps down, at first you may not even be aware of being on a downswing.  Then, after some time in the depressive phase, a rapid shift occurs and you find yourself in a manic or hypomanic phase.

For others, the opposite is true:  mania slowly builds to a crescendo, which is followed by a “crash” into depression.  The two types are called MDI: mania, depression, interval and DMI: depression, mania, interval.  Knowing which pattern you are on can help you prepare for what’s coming, and gives your doctor clues about the kind of treatment that will work better for you.

People with DMI, or a long, slow depression need to think about ways to manage depression: get outside morning light on your face; use every opportunity to move around a bit and gain increments of energy; do something you enjoy.

People with MDI, or a slow buildup to mania, need to place more attention on managing the mania, especially in the early stages.  Ask a partner or trusted friend to help you watch for warning signs; make sure you get enough sleep; try mindfulness exercises and the like.

From this brief discussion, it should be obvious that mood charting is very important for managing bipolar.  It’s difficult to remember how we were feeling from day to day, and a brief note about the “waves” can help to make a chart that will have long-term usefulness for navigating them.  An old-fashioned wall calendar works fine for mood charting, or you may want to try some of the newer cell phone apps on the market.

Know yourself, as always, is the most important advice for managing moods (and life in general).  Having a clear picture of your own personal pattern of mood shifts gives you a tool for predicting, mitigating, and surviving them as they come and go.