Bipolar is more of a mood disorder than a disease, and relates more to personality impairment than an all out mental illness. Extremes of energy levels dictate whether the victim will be high in the clouds with euphoria or down in the trenches with such depressed states of mine, getting out of bed is a major achievement. It is mostly thought of as a inherited condition and genes have been located that show distinctive areas of probable bipolar connections.
Since this condition is, in essence, a personality disorder, it is hard to accurately diagnose a true bipolar illness from the normal ups and downs of living. Everyone has levels of high and low energy and some measure of elation and depression. The difference is that normal human beings, if these exist - and many astute, cognitively reasoning bipolar victims believe they don't - how can these be distinguished from the abnormal mood conditions?
They can't be distinguished by the average onlooker. But there are differences as any one of its victims will tell you. The average person with its day to day mood swing pendulum that does not vary to the degree that it does in a true bipolar episode, is likewise either slightly up or slightly down, depending on their thinking, or on their energy levels. In nearly the same way as the victim acts normally in-between episodes.
Notice the word nearly, because even though a sufferer has had a reprieve, he is still living with the altered mood mechanism that may not take much to throw the chemical switch out of kilter. If they have learned their lessons well and are cognitively able to understand their illness, they can clearly distinguish between the relative normalcy between the have's and have nots - those with the affliction and those not. They are on their guards not to allow themselves to become overwhelmed by too much of this, or too much of that.
Their mood swings do not quietly dissipate soon after the triggering mechanism is turned off, but continues on. An illustration: A normal person is invited out to a party, goes, and has a good time, wishes they could continue on with the gaiety and elevated excitement, but as their energy level diminish, maybe or maybe not enhanced or decreased by their alcohol consumption, they become tired, go home and go to sleep.
A bi-polar person, on the other hand will be having a wonderful time, will be the last one to leave, will go home but will still in high energy and will stay awake until the wee hours of the morning. They will be turned on to excitement and fun and it will be hard to turn off. This may have been the catalyst for full blown mania which days or weeks late may culminate in a street fight and an arrest and jail incarceration. Which probably will end up in a hospital admittance until the phase is over. That won't happen until an equal amount of down time, the depressed half of the Manic-Depression is over.
This, when seen in that light, is clearly nothing more than a normal mood pattern having gone haywire. What went wrong to cause this aberration? That is what scientist are trying to find out. It is the reason for the search for appropriate genes that will shed light on why this happens, and what triggering mechanisms, or what abnormal pairing of genes cause this. One day, hopefully, scientists will be able to find answers.
The whole process of diagnosing, differentiating from other almost like conditions, deciding who is or who isn't bi-polar, is complicated. Trying to wade through all the information is confusing. One online site Mental Help, is an enormously advantageous site. That take each facet of the disease and explain in understandable details how it is relative to the diagnosis.
Why is it so hard to diagnose? This is this author's belief, one who has experience the disease first hand, and who has observed it both as a nurse and as a patient: It is hard to diagnose because it changes its face in each person it comes in contact with. The excess energy released works on the weaknesses, excesses, chemistry, hormones, of each individual person, and therefore it is hard to pin down. Where one mildly bi-polar victim will be charming and erudite, another may be aggravating and terribly out of control. It is clearly a misunderstood disease and is one that needs a great deal of clarification.