Although there are two ‘types’ of bipolar – bipolar I, marked by delusions and psychosis in the manic phase, and bipolar II, in depressive episodes are punctuated by milder hypomania – it seems that most of us have entirely different experiences within those two spheres.
For me mania, or rather what’s classed as hypomania, didn’t ever seem to be much of a problem. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to recognise that periods or snappishness and irritability, my rather famous spendy episodes or the times that I get mad obsessed with something are indicative of of mania, rather than being, as I had assumed, judging them to be ‘negative’ as opposed to the ‘positive’ of mania, linked to my depression.
Now you’d think that I’d have known better but ever since diagnosis I’ve wistfully looked forward to a nice little bout of mania. I’ve busied myself reading
wikipedia medical research, imagining myself with this fabulous ‘increased productivity’ dreaming of this ‘decreased need for sleep’ and making grand plans for the day that the Manic Fairy finally visits; Redecorate! Earn a million! Clean the stove! Be the best parent EVER! Save the world…
Imagine my extremely predictable disappointment when I finally got my manic.
No amount of research prepares you for mania. In all of my reading I’d focused on the positive side – I’d feel happy – and ignored the rest. But once I’d realised that I was in a manic phase (it was my husband’s diplomatic silence in answer to the query ‘am I talking too much?’) all the bad stuff crawled on out of the woodwork and all my vain hopes for an amazing rest from the depression were dashed.
Here’s the thing. Increased productivity is great if one can be productive one project at a time. Instead I found myself writing thirty words, getting distracted and doing some online shopping, writing another ten words, then typing an email, going for an aimless walk around the house, another fifty words…I never focused on a single thing for long enough to make use of it.
This wild brain spin made me feel horribly out of control, which was the most unsettling thing about this, my first true hypomanic episode. I’m lucky in that my episodes are comparatively mild and I’m able to keep myself from growing too grandiose or following through on too many silly plans and ideas, in fact I think the knowledge of my condition has helped me to keep myself on the straight and narrow – I’ve a strong feeling that bipolar could be to blame for an awful lot of my bad choices of the past (it’s as good an excuse as any right?).
The real surprise however was how much mania hurts. I’ve spoken to many people over the years who, like me, imagined a great ecstasy high and I wish I could go back and put them straight now.
I imagine it’s the tension. Whatever it is the longer my mania went on the more pain I found myself in – my jaw and teeth were sore and aching from the grinding and clenching, my spine and shoulders were stiff, even my thighs burned from the almost constant shaking of my legs. Ecstasy high’s about right…but with none of the good bits.
It’s amazing, in a way, that I can still be learning new things about this condition, something that I suppose I’ve had all my life, and it’s sort of scary that I can still be surprised, despite experience and research, by what bipolar can throw at me. As much as possible I try to treat anything related to my illness as a lesson because, surprisingly enough, there’s usually something to be learnt from it. In this case: be very bloody careful what you wish for. And keep a stash of chewing gum just in case.