Manic Depression Cycles

I’ve heard that there are manic depression cycles.  How long are the cycles? Or does that depend on the person?  Is someone who is bipolar out of the cycle for any amount of time?

The information you heard is correct. We do go through cycles.  HOWEVER, it is also true that the length of the cycle and severity of the cycle does vary for each individual. When I try to describe what it feels like to have bipolar disorder, I usually compare it to being on a roller coaster. Depending on the type of bipolar that you have, that determines how high the highs will be, or how tall the top of the hill is on the roller coaster. If you are what is called a “rapid-cycler” then that describes  how fast the highs and lows come, or how fast you are going up and down the hills of the roller coaster.

If you are diagnosed with Bipolar I, then part of your cycle is mania. That is the tip of the roller coaster hill. You can experience euphoria, a decreased need for sleep, and overall sense of that roller coaster running full speed ahead. Now, there is no telling how long the roller coaster will be running that way, and it doesn’t always happen the same way every time for each individual.  Sometimes it can last a few hours, a few days, a few weeks…  There are things that can help control how long that will last, but not completely prevent it. Taking your medication and following your doctors order on things like sleep patterns, stress levels, exercise, and diet can help the episodes duration.

If you are diagnosed Bipolar II, the tip of that roller coaster hill isn’t quite as high as the one on the Bipolar I coaster.  I am Bipolar II, so I experience what is called hypomania. It’s not quite full blown mania, but we still run at a very fast speed and can do well on little sleep, but one of the things we don’t experience is the euphoria that someone with Bipolar I experiences. The duration of our hypomania is just like it is with mania, unknown duration but following doctors orders and taking medication can help reduce the time.

What happens when the mania or hypomania decide they are finished?  Well, the roller coaster usually teeters just a little bit at the top of that hill and then goes zooming down, usually to rock bottom, which is the depression part of the cycle.  The roller coaster sort of creeps along when its down there, almost mimicking the way we feel when we arrive and linger down there.  Again, how long we stay in that state or in that part of the cycle is an unknown, but just like mania, this can be helped by taking our medication as prescribed, using our support system to help give that roller coaster a jump start, and using coping mechanisms along with other suggestions from the doctors like diet and exercise.

Once we get the coaster jump started, it’s inevitable that there will be another climb back up to the top of that roller coaster hill, the only unknown is how fast will it get there?  Will it crawl up there or go shooting up there?  Will it get to a certain point and just hang out there for awhile before it continues on its way up?  It could very well do that.  The cycle never changes, just the duration and frequency.

I am not only Bipolar II, but also a rapid cycler.  My roller coaster goes up and down so quickly and so many times in just an 8 hour period, it almost began to impact my work.  I would cycle up and down about 4-6 times through the 8 hour work day. I discussed this with my doctor and with a medication adjustment, it’s not nearly as frequent anymore.

As far as your question regarding someone with bipolar ever being out of the cycle,  I would have to say that in my opinion, we are never truly out of the cycle. Having bipolar disorder is physiological and so our brain will always be like that. HOWEVER, that does not mean that someone with bipolar will not stay at a constant level for a long period of time.  I have had times where I have gone several months without sailing to the top of the hill, some have gone years.  It a truly a matter of how well you take care of yourself, take your medication, use your support system, and maintain yourself with healthy patterns. Those can all help in the length and intensity of the cycle.  Usually, those with bipolar can detect certain things that are triggers for them and begin to understand how to either avoid the triggers or how to deal with the trigger so that if a cycle does being, they can try to minimize it.

While it does seem scary to think that this cycle is going to happen for the rest of my life, I know that after 2 hospitalizations, one 6 month outpatient hospitalization and continued care by my psychiatrist, I have been given the tools to identify triggers and avoid them as much as possible as well as how to maintain myself day to day to minimize the amount of ups and downs I do experience. By doing that, I am able to work a full time job, I am able to have the honor and privilege to write for this site and I am able to go about my day, tackling projects and running errands like any other person. I have been at the point where I couldn’t even leave my house though, which is why I know how important all of the things I have learned are to my ability to live each day as I do.

While this invisible illness will never go away, it CAN be tamed and the roller coaster doesn’t have to be so fast and so “hilly.”  I hope this helped you understand the cycles we go through.  If you have more questions, please feel free to submit additional ones!

17 thoughts on “Manic Depression Cycles

  1. There are many points in the post which are very true. The greatest truth is the statement that all of us with bipolar disorder are different. All persons are different; even we who are inflicted with bipolar do follow that rule of life.
    I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 many years ago. That was close to thirty three years ago.
    As someone with bipolar 1 I cycled from massive manic master pieces to deep dark depression. My cycle always started with hypo-mania, then to a manic phase followed by depression. Thereafter I experienced periods of depression. Initially this depression would last many months. When I recovered from this I would remain “normal” for several years.
    Unlike many people with bipolar the periods between episodes continued to get longer. In fact my last bipolar episode was back in 1997. Since then I have managed my manic depressive disorder. This has given me back control of my life.
    I still take medication and receive treatment but I remain in control of my life. I am no longer afraid of bipolar.

  2. How do you know when to tell a new love interest about your diagnosis? And how do you control the small things that seem to put you into a cycle? it’s so frustrating!

  3. After reading a lot of material about mental illnesses for a long period of time, one jumped out of the screen in terms of personal experience: Bipolar II. The highs, hypomania, the lows, major depression, and the cycling nature of them simply made my whole life make more sense. I knew this wasn’t a case of reading, therefore I might trick myself into thinking I have it, because reading the information, and recalling the feelings which matched the symptoms listed made perfect sense. I just need to know if others, as I do, experience the different stages in lengthy durations (up to, a minimum of 2-3 months, and maximum 6-7 months), with the hypomania and major depression’s symptoms intact with each stage. I read many articles that show rapid cycling in terms of hours, days, and possibly weeks, but with me, each mood lasts for much longer (months) before they switch on to the next (be it to hypomania or major depression).

  4. I am in my early fifties. I have had Bipolar disorder for a long time, since adolescence. I’ve been diagnosed as a rapid cycler and it is a diagnosis that certainly fits my experience. However, recently it was necessary for me to write out my job and school history and in doing that I saw something else. Every two to three years I became basically non-functional. It was a bit of a shock to discover that all the things I attributed to me being irresponsible or selfish occurred with such strong regularity. I’ve experienced the ups and downs of the rapid cycler from a matter of days to two or three months. This other pattern seems more like two years between non-functional states. All of the times were times of deep depression, as well as I can recall. My queston is: is it possible to have two cycles working somewhat independently?

    I think I may have been managing fairly one cycle and got laid low by the other. In later years I came to except that I’d fall apart after I started a new job or went back to school after a couple of years. Seeing it written out there before me showed me how long it has been going on. Now, I’m curious what is going on with this. Does anyone know what I mean?

  5. I have been talking with a guy who told me he’s manic… when we first started talking he wrote everyday, then he got REALLY sexual on the, phone… then his work life got busy and stressful… and the writing tapered off (the sexuality did too) with some being excited and warm… and some being not cold… but different…. is this typical of a bipolar person? I had a close friend who was… but her cycle was different and she didn’t take her meds (he does) we have both been upfront about the things that challenge us in life… so I’m trying to figure out if he’s just kind of a jerk, or if it’s part of being bipolar… in which case I believe the roller coaster is worth it as, I truly think he’s a good person. Also, I’m very sexual, if this is part of a bipolar cycle… should I hold back my sexuality to not feed into that part of it??? I REALLY care about this person… so ANY insight would help tremendously… and I pray he doesn’t look at this site!!! He’d know it was us right away…
    thank you

  6. I just saw the date on this site… if it’s dead, but someone with insight sees my post… ANY help would be great.
    thank you

  7. Very depressed every 3 months then really well for 3 months been on lots of ads which only kept me well for a short time cant seem to get answers even from mental health team. Help!

  8. I am so sorry you have not been able to find any success with your current mental health team. Finding the right therapy, the right medication combo, the right doctors, and correct diagnosis is truly one big huge puzzle that has a different solution for every individual. For some, they switch pDocs or therapists, some rely on stays in their closest mental health facility, others self medicate and try to do things their way which ultimately is never the answer. If your mental health team is not listening to you when you are asking for help or are not paying attention when you describe your symptoms, then it might be time to try and find a new mental health team. I know it can be hard to switch doctors after you have been with them for quite some time or you feel they know you so well and don’t want to go through the process of starting over with someone new, but if they are not helping you with either coping skills, medication, or different therapy methods, then a change might be in order. I hope this helps a little bit.


  9. Thank you for replying I have an appoint with mental health team this month and I think they want to try lithium im willing to try anything if it helps but it is scary thanks again

  10. I was on lithium for almost 8 years and it worked really well for me. I know that it all depends on each person individually, but for some it had worked very well, and I was fortunate to be one. All you can do is try. It can’t hurt right? Keep us posted on how things turn out! Best of luck to you 💕

  11. Thanks again Christi do you think such cycles could be bipolar I so aggitated and depressed for 3 months and then extremely happy for 3 months although I don’t do anything over silly not that I think is silly although I feel extremely happy and cant talk to anyone. I can’t even make a conversation at the moment and don’t want to talk to anyone I can’t face people at all x

  12. Can I also ask that is it normal to feel so low that I can’t do anything not open post not online shopping nothing I just cant bring myself to do anything but feel realky guilty about it. If I try to do things I do them wrong and cannot concentrate. I don’t even was to leave the house or answer the phone. Making a phone call is hard work. Im so fed up with these feelings

  13. I’ve only discovered my husband had no polar mania, but now I understand why for years now he in a day HATES me wants divorce, and then disappears off the planet , blocked my calls, and leaves me with all bills, doesn’t talk to kids either, I just thought he like do many other men just decided he wanted out… But it always happened years between do I never put it together, well now it happened 1 yr ago exactly, I hate you we’re done,blocks my calls, loses job spends our bank account on clothes, ear buds, last year 8 weeks he called me I’m so sorry love you we fixed all the damaged caused. But I do notice he loved me bought me roses February 29 sent I live you text March 6…March 7 I was he’s worst enemy, tried to get me thrown out of apt. By cops, tried to get restraining order, then had now been missing from mine and my daughters life for 2 months, I make minimum wage he makes 42.00 an hour well he did, before he list job… MY QUESTION IS could his recovery and normal Joe (my great husband) return just as quickly as he disappeared, it was a day, I swear , I love you, I Hate you seriously hate, or does it take more time to realize you’ve made a mistake or your not thinking correctly, last year he told me he was afraid of zombie vampires, of course by then he knew how crazy that was, he thought it was his cholesterol medicine, nope it’s this. Bi polar mania. But if he switched from good to bad in hours couldn’t he switch from bad to good in hours? I’m praying he can. Yes? Seems reasonable.. If reason factores in at all… Before we lose everything Thanks Catolee Riedel

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