My family has a history of bipolar disorder and I am slightly manic depressive myself (Manic Depression is a milder form of bi-polar disorder but same smell) I have several friends who are manic depressive and/or bipolar, and I spent 6 years in college studying psych trying to figure out WTF was wrong with me and learning how to deal with it. I found that 90% of the folks studying Psych are trying to figure out wtf is wrong with them
Fortunately I have such a mild case that I can tell when it is the depression coming on and seclude myself away from people when I am not fit for public consumption. I have never considered suicide, and I have not gotten in trouble. Depending on how severe it is for you, you may need medication to regulate the mood swings. Lithium isn't fun but it does smooth out the hills and valleys and it is effective for BP/MD. The fucked up part is that being manic is FUN it's like being high all the time. You feel on top of the world, you are stronger, more energetic, prettier, more fun to be around, than you can possibly imagine. Everyone loves you and you love everyone. Lithium does take that away, but it also takes away the lows, the times when nothing is right, everyone hates you, you just can't be happy about anything, so it is a trade off. I try to stay on that upswing as much as possible and make allowances for the down times. I know when I am manic and I make sure that I watch what I do and try to remain logical and not go off a deep end.
The key to Bi-polar and/or manic depression is the manic phase, if you have a manic phase then you could be BP/MD. If you don't have the manic phase and you just have the depressive phase then you are just normal and have realized that the world is one fucked up place and we are all gonna die.... just kidding,
no it means that you may have one of the MANY depressive disorders and the treatments are different. BP/MD can be treated fairly well with meds and has a fairly decent prognosis as long as the person stays on their meds.
Do you find yourself so happy that nothing can bring you down? During these times do you often go without sleep? . Sometimes for days at a time? You might be very talkative and gregarious during these times. Do you find yourself going on shopping spree's that you logically know you can't afford, but just don't care because you think you will find someway to take care of it? Things are looking up after all.... right? During these times do you get into trouble, neglect responsibility, go on benders, make really stupid mistakes that effect your life long term?
Then there are those other times. The bills catch up with you, you are sooo stupid for doing X when you were manic and now there is just nothing you can do to fix it, there is no way out, you feel so hopeless that nothing can save you or bring you back up again. Suicidal tendencies are not out of the realm of possibility. No one understands, no one can calm you. You just want to stay in bed, sometimes for days at a time. You have no motivation and you are apathetic to everything around you. The slightest thing will piss you off to no end and you find yourself alienating friends and family.
If you can say yes to any of the above then you might consider speaking to a psychologist/psychiatrist for therapy and or medication. BP/MD is nothing to forget about. It is serious. Most important for you to know that is is largely due to chemical imbalances in your brain and not something that you can consciously control. You are NOT a failure, you are not ugly or stupid or worthless or anything you tell yourself. Remember that those chemical imbalances will effect your outlook and your behavior but it can be controlled through perseverance and constant conscious effort. If you are lucky and have a milder case, then you can learn to spot the warning signs. You will still have the ups and downs, but if you recognize those emotions and behavior patterns and make allowances for it. If you do need meds then LISTEN to what the doctor tells you. I know that when you are up who needs meds right, you are better now, you don't need any crutches, you can and want to stand on your own. But take the damned meds anyway, Being manic is fun, but it leads to destructive behavior sometimes, and stuff you know you shouldn't do any way. It's easy to take meds when you are down, anything to relieve the pressure, ease the stress, dull that anger and hatred inside you, but you still need to take your meds when you are up too.
I hope this helps. Like I said I was lucky I don't have to take meds and I have been able to harness a lot of the mania in productive ways and ease the depression with conscious effort, but I know many including close family who aren't as lucky and who undergo therapy and have to be ever vigilant for signs of mood swings lest they do themselves harm in one way or another.
PM me if you feel like you can and want to share, I may not be of much help, but I might can tell you about some of the things I have found to help me.