Isn’t Mania Fun?

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.

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A Good Friend is Cheaper Than Therapy

I originally posted this on http://hoola-la.posterous.com  …

I read something this morning: ‘Bipolar people tend to say sorry a lot’.

It’s very true, I tend to apologise often, usually for things that are out of my control or weren’t my fault in the first place. I’m learning that not everything is my fault – it’s something that all bipolar people, or those with any depressive illness could do with learning but it just isn’t that easy when that frayed electrical connection in your brain is telling you that you just can’t get it right.

Being in a relationship, any kind of relationship, with a bipolar person is difficult, but I’ve been lucky enough to hang on to some amazing amigos; incredibly strong people who have stuck by me from way before my diagnosis, when there was no medical reason for my being a poor excuse for a friend. Those people know who they are and they continue to provide the most incredible support. I only hope that I’m now as good to them as they continue to be to me. I think I am – bipolar folk are kinda keen sometimes.

On the other hand I have made endless fleeting friendships, ones which fizzle out as quickly as they begin. The way these friendships end is hard, really hard. I can’t speak for others in my situation but I think I tend to shed more friends, more quickly than your average non-crazy. See, for most folk picking up the phone to say hi is an easy thing, as is walking in to a pub full of enthusiasm, sitting down and starting a conversation with somebody you know and love. Not so for somebody in a depressive cycle – talking to somebody you care about is harder than talking to a stranger – what they think matters, and you, well, in those moments you’re not good enough.

And a manic cycle? Those are the most misunderstood. Those times when I’m grumpy and snappish or the times that I’m making inappropriate comments and offending you? That’s all part of the mania. That’s the bit that’s hardest for the friends, the bit when the person you know isn’t the person you know, or when the person you thought you knew arrogantly thinks they know you too well, know that you’re judging them, talking about them behind their back, that something you’ve said meant far more than it did.

Mania. It all goes a bit Cyd

These are the times I lose friends, during those manic cycles. And I’m what they call Rapid Cycling, so it happens a lot.

Good friends though, the ones worth hanging on to like the life rafts, perhaps don’t even realise they are are the ones who ride the storm with you. Some read about bipolar, or they ask questions – they try to understand and it makes them more forgiving. Others will step back and let you ride it out yourself, they’re the ones that you know are there waiting in the wings to make things better, who know you well enough to know when your actions, your behaviour, is not ‘you’.

That’s not to say that bipolar is an excuse for being kind of a bitch. It really isn’t. I’ll still say sorry when I’m wrong, of course I will. And my bipolar doesn’t excuse every bad decision, mean comment or just plain horrid thing that I might do. But at the same time I’m not going to apologise for you, the friend who only wants to be a friend when the weather’s fair (is this weather analogy getting too much? I think it probably is).

I’ve noticed that those of us with depressive disorders tend to attract a certain type of person, for whom the term schadenfreude was obviously coined. Those are the worst ‘friends’ for a bipolar person to have, the ones for whom your problems make theirs seem less so. They’re the difficult ones though, the ones you convince yourself are the good, because they’re there during the bad times, sympathising and tutting in agreement, reporting back to other friends about your bad state of mind (perhaps with a glimmer of pride at being the one able to do so). You know what I’m getting at here…

Please understand that I’m not pointing the finger, I describe these people, these non-friends, without anybody in particular in mind. I’m well aware of the old ‘point one finger and three point back at you’ adage.

The friends I’ve lost I do feel sad for, I miss some of them terribly – indeed a few recent losses have been particularly hard, having the increased self-awareness that comes with diagnosis and still not understanding the way in which one can be dropped quite cruelly with no explanation (in this regard losing friendships is so much harder than being dumped don’t you think? At least the end of a relationship proper demands a certain degree of closure). However, the pain left behind by the lost friends is tempered by the knowledge that they weren’t good enough; that they didn’t take the time to understand, didn’t have the capacity to forgive or didn’t have the patience to press pause while I cycled in the wrong direction. It was them, it wasn’t me, that was ultimately not enough of a friend.

If you’re somebody I know, reading this now, you deserve a medal, possibly several. If you’re a stranger and you have a friend with bipolar (I can’t think why else you might be here) my only advice is to remember that while times are often bad, the good times are better because, in our own little way, those of us with bipolar are always trying, one way or another, to say we’re sorry.