There are two different classifications of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. What many people get wrong about the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II is in assuming that they are two points on a spectrum, with Bipolar I being the more serious diagnosis while Bipolar II is less severe. The reality is a bit more complicated than that.
Bipolar I is characterized primarily by mania, which may include periods of psychosis, delusions of grandeur, hallucinations, hyper-sexuality, and impulsive spending. Bipolar II on the other hand is characterized primarily by depression with episodes of hypomania, a less-severe form of mania that may include racing thoughts, sleeplessness, forced speech, impulsivity, irritability, and over-inflated self-confidence. While individuals with Bipolar II have not experienced full-blown mania, they tend to spend significantly more time in a depressive state and are considered to be more at risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors than those with Bipolar I or unipolar depression.
There are also these fun things called “mixed states,” wherein you simultaneously experience symptoms of depression and hympomania/mania. Trying to explain this to someone who has never experienced it is like trying to explain color to a blind person.
The best way that I have found to put it into words is to say that it feels like I am vibrating out of my skin; I read something recently that described it as “exploding in slow motion,” which is also pretty accurate. These episodes are often physicallyuncomfortable and/or painful, can last for hours or days at a time, and at their worst are completely debilitating.
Finally, living with bipolar disorder does not mean you never experience periods of stability. Between episodes of hypomania/mania and depression, there can be spans of days, weeks, or even months where you experience no significant symptoms — which feels fuckin’ fantastic.