One Mind’s Map

As I’ve learned to hold awareness through the mood swings of my illness, I’ve discovered different layers or states within the broad categories of mania and depression. I’ve tried to map those states as they seem to hold different kinds of energy and different potential.

This is difficult, because once I’m out of a certain state I forget what I’ve learned there.  Also, the powerful emotional component changes and buffets me, so that I’m never sure if I’m being aware or delusional.

All I can do is try.

This will be a work in progress with updates as I’m able to record my observations.

Is this important information?  I have no idea.  Will it help me manage my illness any better?  Also, no clue.  Perhaps the process is the destination.

∞ ∞ ∞

•General Observations

I have also been diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The symptoms blur, and I started getting help pulling them apart in 2016.

The level of effort required to peel the Self or Consciousness off the thought/desire is different with each state.

Emotional Pain triggers early survival patterns—compulsive eating, compulsive spending, hyper-sexuality as comfort (depression) or energetic outlet (mania), oblivion obtained through excessive TV or reading.

Many episodes are Mixed States with the symptoms of Depression mixed with agitation, anger, and hyper-sensitivity.

Sleep often acts as a border between states and can trigger a shift up or down.

An energetic shock is often needed to break the thought loops and to create space for awareness.  Examples:  An emergency that requires immediate logical problem solving.  Sudden use of left brain skills.


•Thought Markers

Lower Level:  In artistic work, ideas appear fully formed, the next step in a project is revealed like an onion.  One idea leads to the next, the next, the next.  Thinking starts to become scattered.

Mid Level:  Too much energy, can’t stay focused, jump from idea to idea, project to project without finishing.  Obsessive.  All-or-Nothing thinking.  Sexual fantasizing.

Higher Level:  Mind latches onto a thought/plan and executes without considering hazards, repercussions, consequences to the exclusion of everything else.  Mind attaches to events, creates “meaning,” and speeds up.  Obsessive sexual fantasizing.

•Emotional Markers

Lower Level:  General well-being, cheerful, feelings of abundance and gratitude, friendly and supportive.

Mid Level:  Giddy or anxious.  Feelings of being out of control or spinning.

Higher Level:  Instant gratification, sexually charged.  Ecstatic.  Agitated.  Explosive anger.

•Physical Markers

Lower Level:  Wake up early with plans, ideas.  Body feels strong.  Energy to do chores, finish a project, start a new project.

Mid Level:  Insomnia, but not tired.  Overactive bowels, acne break-outs.

Higher Level:  Obsessive activity can lead to physical strain.  “Too busy” for hygiene.  Nervous, acidic stomach.  Loss of appetite and little interest in food.

•Behavioral Markers

Lower Level:  Sneaky, “white lies,” skirting responsibility.  Can create a gap between desire and want, can delay gratification with a minimum of effort.  Witty language, quick wit, glib, loud.  A tendency to “share” too much, explain my “process” in great detail.

Mid Level:  Grandiosity.  Delaying gratification becomes difficult.  Life of the party.  Compulsive behaviors rise—eating, spending, sex.

Higher Level:  So caught up in exciting or compelling ideas that awareness of physical self and surroundings disappears.  Results in driving too fast, running into furniture, etc.  Bolts from stress or pain.  No gap between desire and want.  Purging or massive give-aways of belongings.  Fixates on linear, mathematical tasks like lists, graphs, charts.  Risky sexual activity.

•Energetic Markers

Energy is expansive, hot, frenetic.

•Management Attempts

Lower Level:  Exercise, daily routine, thought monitoring and reframing, journaling, healthy distractions (writing, art, reading, moderate TV), call friends.  Stay on task and finish projects.

Mid Level:  Able to use all the above, but with much more difficulty.  Lapses in routine develop.  Delusion clouds judgment about healthy distraction.

Higher Level: Distraction, report to Buddy to monitor safety and finances, call therapist.  Need a written list as tools are forgotten or substituted with delusional activities.  Attempt healthy distraction—making collage templates, create a geneology for a story, cleaning (as long as nothing gets thrown out), additional exercise, listen to calming music, gardening or yard work, make art, sewing/embroidery/quilting.

Calm and Steady Mind or “Normal”

Thought Markers

No compulsion or obsession.  Solutions materialize effortlessly.  Thinking is quiet and simple.  Thoughts are full, round, with beginnings and endings.  Dreaming comes from expansive energy, not a sense of lack or wanting.  Practical problem-solving.

•Emotional Markers

Identified by what’s NOT there.  No worry. No doubt or fear.  No push/pull. Moments of quiet joy.  Feelings of gratitude.  Irritations, fears and worries rise and fall without attachment or disengaging from them is relatively easy.  Greater ability to not take things personally.

•Physical Markers

No hypersensitivity to sound, smells or visual stimulus.  Fewer body aches and pain.  Energy to start and complete tasks and projects.   Energy for physical activity.

•Behavioral Markers

Social ease, humor and wit.   Able to listen to others and hear them.


Symptoms or fragments of symptoms that seem to linger outside a recognizable episode of either Mania or Depression.  Is this a separate state of the illness?  Are these symptoms part of a new “norm” for a bipolar brain?

Sleep Disturbances:  Falling asleep late in the afternoon or early in the evening and sleeping 5-7 hours.  Waking up refreshed in the middle of the night.  Sleeping through the night after a nap during the day.

Body Pain:  Stiffness and pain in joints and muscles, especially neck, hip and fingers.

Sundown Anxiety:  Anxiety starts in the late afternoon and evening.  Mild forms are eased by distraction.  More intense anxiety can be eased by spending the evening with others.

•Weather-Related Symptoms

Low Barometric Pressure:  Fatigue, sluggish thinking, poor concentration; joint pain, muscle aches, headache.


•Thought Markers

Higher Level:  Denial of symptoms.  Resistance.  Formation of desire/wanting is the trigger for awareness.  Escape through fantasy.  Can recognize negative thoughts as the illness, challenge them and replace with more accurate thoughts.  Thinking is sluggish bumbling, hard to focus, forgetful, easily confused, can easily misunderstand what’s said.

Mid Level: All-or-Nothing Thinking.  Wanting arises in the form of loneliness and a poverty mindset.  Increased escape through fantasy, scenarios of savior-type relationships.  Can see negative thoughts as the illness, but cannot shift them.  Can see the grasping at the false thoughts. “This will pass.”  On the way down = have some time to get ready.  On the way up = relief, hope.  Able to relax, accept and wait.

Lower Level:  Desire obscures awareness.  Identification with thoughts.  Thoughts are Truth. “What’s the use?”  Stupor, unable to focus, unable to concentrate, misinterpret others’ motivations, communications.  Perceptions become twisted and clogged.  Thoughts of death or wanting to die.

•Emotional Markers

Higher Level: Uneasiness, prickly irritation, twitchy.  Worry, doubt, drop in self-confidence.  Anger, resentment.  Wake up irritated and get more so throughout the day.  Eating compulsion present, but can be set aside with effort.

Mid Level: Can float on the water between waves of despair and hopelessness.  Gentle sadness, melancholy that carries a sweetness.  A spot of humor or  joy can break through the negative emotions through distraction.  Gaps in the negative emotions provide space for awareness and keeps them from being overwhelming.  Gaps provide relief, but can also be painful when the despair folds back over the hole as a feeling that something important is “lost.”

Lower Level: Sense of drowning, frantic flailing, desperation.  Powerlessness.  Longing for a Savior.  Despair and hopelessness thicken, stick and hang off the mind = impermeable.  Worthlessness.  Living is pointless.

•Physical Markers

Higher Level: Hypersensitivity to noise, odors, visual stimulation.  Photo sensitivity.  Crowds, loud parties, loud music, perfume, cooking odors, chemical odors can trigger anxiety or deeper depression.  Fatigue.  Increased joint pain.

Mid Level: Can fall asleep sitting up.  Specific hollow ache in the stomach.  Heavy arms and legs. Can still come back to the sensations of the body.

Lower Level:  Flat affect.  Colors lose brightness, monochrome.  Separate from sensation—can’t feel the sun, can’t take it in.  Weeping.  Exhausted and want to sleep all the time.   Constant neck and hip pain.  Joints stiff and painful.  Can’t feel stomach unless painfully full.

•Behavioral Markers

Higher Level: Drop in motivation.  Routine becomes difficult.  Ability to receive comfort.  Sneaky and sly.  Able to use tools.

Mid Level: Shun friends, screen phone calls and don’t pick up.  Will bolt from stress or pain.  Still able to use tools.

Lower Level: Inertia, very difficult to act or get out of the house.  Unable to engage with others.  Scared to be alone.  Able to use only the most fundamental tools.

•Energetic Markers

Higher Level:  Constriction.  Resistance.

Mid Level:  Sense of the compression from the lower level loosening and smoothing.  Can only feel this when coming up from a lower level.  The depression feels more like a dead weight than an all-encompassing sensation.

Lower Level: Sense of compression, being squeezed, clothes feel too tight.  Contraction.

•Management Attempts

Higher Level:  Exercise, daily routine, thought monitoring and reframing, journaling, healthy distractions (writing, art, reading, moderate TV), call friends.

Mid Level:  Able to use all the above, but with much more difficulty.  Lapses in routine develop.  Can focus on the activity of distraction.  Can use self-talk to motivate and push for healthy action.

Lower Level: Distraction in 15 minute intervals used for oblivion.  Able to use only the most fundamental tools.  Awareness reduced to identifying the distorted thoughts and emotions as illness, not personality.  Identification with emotional state clouds judgment and fosters delusion.  Need a written list as tools are forgotten.  Attempt healthy distraction—chores, errands, rest, report to Buddy, go to a Safe House, acknowledge thoughts of death and report to Buddy, talk to therapist.

Rapid Cycling/Mixed States

Light-Speed Rapid Cycling.  The fastest I’ve cycled is three full swings of mania and depression in one day.

Shot-Gun Blast.  A form of rapid cycling with sudden onset of an intense mixed state that lasts for several hours, then either snaps into straight depression or mania, or drains into a fairly stable state.  Can leave a “hangover” of fatigue, body pain and slow, muddled thinking that can last for days.

24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sherry
    May 28, 2011 @ 09:47:38

    I can’t think of a better person to do this work. I have always thought of you as brilliant/gifted in many areas, writing and journaling among them. You also have a sensitivity that is above and beyond most and I wonder if that isn’t why you understand or search for meaning on spiritual planes outside the parameters of the usual thinking. It is said that there is a very fine line between gifted and crazy – perhaps you have to be a little crazy to be so gifted.???


    • Sandy Sue
      May 29, 2011 @ 01:00:50

      How in the world did I end up with such a loving, supportive sister? You are one of the greatest gifts in my life. Thank you for always being my cheerleader.


  2. Nerissa
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 20:56:00

    my dad is bipolar, i grew up observing the effects but never really understanding this disease, thank you for shedding light.


    • Sandy Sue
      Sep 01, 2011 @ 21:28:56

      Honestly, I’m so glad I never had children. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to have a bipolar parent. Bless you, and thanks for visiting.


  3. docrob50
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 21:50:55

    When I was 14ish I fell in love. Her name was Paula and her mother was bi-polar. This was the 60’s and Bi-Polar mood disorder’s had not been so named. Paula’s mom was brilliant, assertive, and psychotic. It was difficult to handle that situation. But Paula and her sisters all turned out just fine and eventually her mom got proper medication and most of all compassion and understanding.

    I have a question for Sandy Sue: these gaps you speak of in some of your markers,
    can you rest in that space? Curious because a dear friend buddhist teacher often tells me to explore the gaps between thoughts – between mind-state shifts, between grasping and pushing away……thanks


    • Sandy Sue
      Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:26:43

      Such a great question. I had to really ponder it. The answer, for me, would be no, the gaps are not a place to rest. They are a place where I can *sometimes* become self-aware and observe what’s going on. These gaps are the places where I can actually do the Work instead of being completely taken over by the illness. I think I understand the gaps you’re referring to, though, as part of meditation practice. And I agree that those are restful oasis spots!


  4. mizroket
    Jan 30, 2012 @ 18:55:46

    I like reading your blog, it makes me feel that I am not alone. I was diagnosed with seasonal depression few years ago (even though I have had it since I was 12). I was also tested for adhd and the conclusion was that I am on borders concerning manic depression, bipolar dis. and so on…. They all want me to use pills but stubborn me refuses that, so I fight this on my own… And reading blogs like yours makes life a little easier… 🙂


    • Sandy Sue
      Jan 30, 2012 @ 19:23:58

      It always helps to have companions on the journey. Managing without meds is *hard*. Have you ever heard of Dialectic Behavioral Therapy? If you can find a therapist who will use that approach, stick with him/her. It’s all about learning to observe our thoughts and not get overwhelmed by them or the emotions they produce. Valuable!


  5. docrob50
    Jan 30, 2012 @ 22:20:01

    man errr woman i mean. got a notification regarding this post of yours and just re-read it. Are you still doing a map of your mind? To me your level of awareness or is it mindfulness is astounding!


    • Sandy Sue
      Jan 31, 2012 @ 06:07:31

      I haven’t had much more to note for awhile. The Work I’m doing now all comes out of the levels where awareness and adaptation are possible. I think (and this is my story) that as I continue to be aware, my capacity for awareness and consciousness grows.


  6. rachelmiller1511
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 15:17:46

    This is really interesting and I can identify with many of the levels you’ve described.

    The “falling asleep sitting up” observation is a good sign for me to watch out for when I’m getting depressed. I often fall asleep on the bus on the way to work when I’m getting low again.


    • Sandy Sue
      Mar 05, 2012 @ 15:34:41

      I know how sometimes we just want to forget everything, shove it all under the bed. But, I’ve found that the more I can watch, the more I can see my symptoms, the more control I have over my reactions to this illness. It helps me.


  7. My Ox is a Moron
    May 03, 2012 @ 14:17:41

    Sandy, as a severly bipolar individual I feel your pain. I have taken the time to map out the ups and downs of my own struggles and have found many of the same markers that you have on your map. Especially the fantasy escapes and the difficulty coping on either end of the spectrum. Understanding the signs of impending shifts goes a long way in coping. It takes courage and strength to do this but your life will be so much better.


  8. bravingbipolar
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 07:31:41

    I love this post. What valuable information for you, and for readers! I have felt everything you documented. I am only 3 months into my diagnosis, and while it runs in my family/I know it exists/I know I AM bipolar, I still feel like a piece of me is trying to deny it…hindering my forgiveness to myself for having affairs. When I was reading your symptoms, it was one of the clear moments when I said to myself “omg. I am bipolar.” Even though I know this. Im sure you understand. So thank you, I need more moments like that to help push through this denial that I am denying. BPD, you tricky bastard…


    • Sandy Sue
      Jul 14, 2012 @ 07:42:39

      I’m so glad this was helpful. Mapping like this helps me stay detached from my thinking and symptoms. When the compulsive behaviors rise, or I hate everyone, or I have a million GREAT ideas, I can recognize that all that is the illness, not me.


  9. mrfrancisbaraaniv
    Feb 03, 2013 @ 06:10:47

    WHAT A GREAT POST. I read The Da Vinci method, and it actually cemented my belief that bipolar people have this All-Or-Nothing attitude towards things. I even used the exact words, even before I read the book, when I told my friends and family that I can be so obsessive-compulsive sometimes, so anal when it comes to my writing, research, and thought processes. I am not sure when it happens, or on what level of mood I’m in because I still couldn’t quite figure out just yet as I haven’t mapped out my mood swings and their corresponding and consequent energy, emotional, physical, and intellectual markers. I would like to chronicle my experiences like you did, though. I suspect it would take a lot of patience, impartiality, and astronomical amount of objective perception on one’s part? You truly are gifted. You have a way with words, and I would be honored if you would grant me an interview soon so I can share it on my blog. Also, can you please follow me. You are the only person I have asked to follow me. I don’t know why. I guess it has something to do with the fact that you’re such a talented and gifted writer and chronicler, and you have this uncanny ability to connect with people through your writing. And yes, this is the generous and good bipolar twin talking. Haha. Cheers!

    P.S. What mood do you think were you in when you wrote this? =)


    • Sandy Sue
      Feb 03, 2013 @ 06:56:57

      Francis, thanks so much for all the kindness. I worked on the Map over a long period of time. Whenever I could recognize a symptom or condition, I tried to note it. Whenever I returned to a particular state and could observe it. I still add to it now that I’m more aware of my mixed state symptoms.

      Email me whenever you want to and we’ll chat. My email address is in my profile.

      And, following you would be a privilege.


      • mrfrancisbaraaniv
        Feb 03, 2013 @ 07:35:34

        Thank you so much, Sandy. I shall email you soon–maybe tomorrow or the day after. I’ll prepare the interview questions first. I’m a big fan now. Cheers! =)

  10. rachelmiller1511
    Mar 15, 2013 @ 06:17:15

    Wow- can’t believe I’ve never seen this before -it’s brilliant, so detailed & original. Love it!


  11. ephemeral gecko
    Feb 10, 2015 @ 11:48:05

    So eloquently described. Can relate to a lot of this. Tfs x


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