May someone remind me who am I exactly ? (except, of course, a strange and lonely little manI just opened a new tab in my browser and was going to type in the term “bipolar journals,” but I only got as far as “bipolar j.” The suggestion I was given was “bipolar jokes.” I wasn’t sure what to do with that. Is it funny? Should I be offended? What kind of jokes does one tell about having bipolar disorder or knowing someone with bipolar disorder? The results were pretty much what you’d expect. A list of how many different ways can we talk about something flipping from minute to minute. “I hate being bipolar! It’s awesome!” The only times I tend to take offense at someone joking about mental illness, or generally anything, is when it’s disrespectful. Other than that, whatever. Humans are funny, and we should be able to laugh about it. So what about the bipolar jokes?

It turns out, I wasn’t offended. I was disappointed. If you’re going to laugh at my illness, you need to be more clever.

Okay, there was actually one I found that made me laugh a lot because I absolutely related to it. “You know you’re bipolar when last night you understood the secrets to the universe and this morning you are contemplating whether the jam goes on top of the peanut butter or under it.” Now, I have never had to contemplate how jam and peanut butter are spatially related. I have strict rules for such things. (Peanut butter on the right. Jam on the left. Jam bread is put on top of peanut butter bread.) However, I know what it means to feel like life your life is in order. You have clarity, goals and the means to reach those goals. Then, something changes and you have no idea what is happening and cannot focus on anything. It rarely happens as quickly as the general population thinks. It’s rarely a minute-by-minute thing. Even “rapid cycling” bipolar disorder takes days or weeks to shift.

That’s really why I was disappointed with most of the jokes I found. Real humor takes the quintessence of a subject and extrapolates it into something relatable. Basically, it’s funny because it’s true. Cheap bipolar jokes aren’t funny because they just don’t get down into the nitty-gritty of what it means to have bipolar disorder.

So what is the truth? It’s fairly close to what you think it might be. When we’re depressed, we just don’t respond as much to things we would normally find funny.  Who does? Even people without BPD will glare at something they would normally find funny when in a bad mood.

Depression stunts all kinds of positive emotions, not just humor. Love, joy, happiness. All of these get stunted. It’s like there’s a wall between the part of your brain that behaves how you want it to, and what actually comes out. Think of the last time you were nervous about meeting someone and wanted to come off as a hilarious genius but ended up with verbal diarrhea. That’s about how it is. We want to be amused and happy and loving. We just can’t.

On the other side of the spectrum from depression is mania, or hypomania for BPDII. (You saw this coming, didn’t you?) In a manic/hypomanic episode, funny isn’t a problem.  Well, it’s not a problem to find things funny. I don’t know if you, personally, are funny. If you’re in a manic episode, chances are you may think so. In mania, we’re more of ourselves, except we’re exaggerated versions of ourselves as opposed to the stunted version we get with depression. With mania, we’re more fun, more creative, generally happier, but extremism in either direction rarely leads to good things. It’s easy to get out of touch with reality when you feel this way, and you eventually come back down.

Knowing where you are in your cycle is essential. It may be obvious at times, but at others it may be harder to tell. There’s a reason BPD is a “spectrum” disorder. Bipolar just describes the extremes. There are many points in between. Tracking those points can help you predict where you’re cycle is headed.

One thing I learned recently is that compassion is a good mid-point predictor. When we’re depressed, we’re bad at compassion. When we’re manic, we’re bad at compassion. When we’re at our baseline, that’s when it’s easiest. So, if you’ve been experiencing mania and you start to come back down to where compassion is highest, you can prepare yourself for a potential depressive state. The opposite works as well. This is one reason why having a support system is vital. Not only do you have others there to provide support to you, but you can, in turn, provide support. You can gauge your cycle and prepare yourself for the short-term. You can inform your therapist and doctor(s) to make sure you’re doing what you can to balance out.

In the meantime, keep smiling and laughing. Even if you’re in a depressive cycle and not feeling it, you really can lift your mood just by making yourself smile or laugh. In the meantime, here’s another one for you:

Never be ashamed of your mood swings. I mean, who doesn’t love swings?