Mental Health Month: Bipolar – the Manic Side

Depression and the depressed side of bipolar get a lot of attention, in the media and in society. Many people know someone that has battled depression at some point in their lives.

Most people don’t know anything about the manic side. They are told that it is the “up” side of bipolar, the creative side. And it is.

But it is also can be just as destructive as the depressed side.

Symptoms of mania include three or more of the following (when not caused by drugs):

  • inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  • decreased need for sleep (such as feeling rested after only 3-4 hours of sleep)
  • more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
  • flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
  • distractibility (attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
  • increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation.
  • excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (such as unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)
Full mania can also lead to psychosis and hallucinations. Hypomania (“little” mania) of the bipolar II has all the same symptoms, but lack psychosis and supposedly aren’t severe enough to interfere with daily life.
A couple of years ago, on another internet forum, someone postulated that he would simply love to have bipolar instead of unipolar depression, because at least then there is an upside.
We had quite the argument where I was trying to explain that “upside” really wasn’t. I don’t know if I was successful. 
It seems as though an increase in “goal-directed activity” should be a good thing, and it can be, to a point. The creative people with bipolar tend to create in this state. But, there’s a passage in An Unquiet Mind where Kay Redfield Jamison describes mania:

“There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one’s marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friends’ faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against– you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.” 

photo from Unprofound.com
This is what my thoughts feel like at times –
going by so fast I can’t capture one –
blurs out everything

When I look back at certain periods of my life, I can clearly see now that I was manic then.

In particular, my promiscuity screams loud and clear about being hypomanic. I know I lost a couple of good guys because of it, but for the most part, I didn’t see my one night stands as people. I assumed that men were always out for sex and I took advantage of that. Having to explain to a perfectly nice guy that you really were only using him for sex is not the most fun thing in the world. So I started sleeping with guys I didn’t like. Now, how fucked up is THAT? I haven’t dated at all since my diagnoses in Dec. 1999, so I’m certainly over that. 😛

But some other symptoms. . .

In 1991, I received about $4000 worth of back pay. It was the most money I’ve ever had at one time, and I almost couldn’t wrap my brain around having that much. In the next few weeks, I managed to spend $7000. I know SOME of what I spent it on: a stereo, a small tv, VCR, some CDs, some clothes, rented a car, luggage. Other than that? Not a clue. And now I was in debt, having written bad checks to the Exchange and to the US Government. It lead to me losing a prime assignment in the military.

While I’ve never spent to that extent again, I do sometimes still. . .  lose track of how much I’ve spent. I have bought some “fun” things (books, yarn, etc) before paying bills. When I’m thinking clearly, I don’t do that; I can budget damn well. But at times, my judgment is off.

Talking. Gods, the talking.

Recently, C told me that one of the parents at TKD commented that I tell everybody everything (i.e. too much) about my life.

The thing is, I know I do it. I know people don’t want to hear this shit. But I can’t STOP. If I’m feeling social, I talk and talk and talk and talk. I take over conversations. I get the “teacher voice” and sound like an authority on everything. Hell, I think I AM an authority on everything.

And I can hear myself doing it.

And I can’t stop.

I talk so fast people don’t understand what I’m saying. I have been somewhat successful in consciously slowing down my speech at times, but if I don’t concentrate very hard, I lose that. And LOUD. My voice will carry across a room.

That may seem like a small thing, talking too much. But it can be socially devastating. Who wants to be around the loudmouth that takes over all the conversations and/or makes them all about her? Who wants to be around the parent who does that?

I’m not like that all the time, but when I’m not, social interactions are . . .  difficult. For one thing, I’m embarrassed about how I act when hypo-manic. I’ve become more and more withdrawn over the years.

There was a day last week where I was awake for approximately 41 hours. I dozed for about 10-15 minutes at a time at various times, but never really reached sleep. And it took medication to get me to sleep even after that. By the time I took the meds, I could not concentrate on anything for more than 2-3 minutes. I felt. .  . floaty, disconnected from my body, light-headed. Luckily, I have medication to do this (with my doctor’s knowledge and blessing). If I was still unaware that this is a danger sign or didn’t have the medication, it could have lead to some bad stuff.

Oh, my home would probably be a little cleaner, and maybe I would have a few more things written, but one thing about mania that I think doesn’t get enough press is irritability.

I have a very short fuse when manic. C is good about pointing out to me, “Why are you shouting at me?” when I don’t even realize I’m shouting. I can be very grumpy while at the same time feeling free enough to do whatever the hell I please.

It’s a love/hate relationship with the mania. I *do* get more accomplished. I do start things when in this phase. I get a lot of great ideas. This is also the time when I say, “Fuck it!” and take chances, do new things, go places I’ve never been and so on.

It can be fun. But it can also be just as destructive as the depressive side.

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Posted in Mental Health

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