Bipolar Blog 6: Manic Symptoms- Non-Stop Pervasive Flow of Ideas and Unfinished Projects.
Yes, Halloween Fans, the title was meant to be lengthy and read as one garbled mess. I could, of course, have continued with the words; charismatic, dynamo, obscene creativity and unrealistic ideas. The question is are the ideas of the ‘North’ manic state unrealistic? The answer is unclear. The manic stage is triggered by anxiety based excessive energy. This is not the same anxiety that leads to depression, no this anxiety is quite different. Remember how I explained that anxiety and stress create motivation which in turn drives ambition. Stress, at some level, protects from danger and encourages vocation. The manic stage is largely triggered by the growth of this form of anxiety and rolls into an abundance of energy, motivation develops and projects are started. Unlike other people, bipolar survivors recognise neither boundaries nor limitations when in the manic stage. There are no bounds, the world is firmly at the feet of the survivor. Does this mean that the survivor is over-estimating their own abilities? Not necessarily! During the hypomanic stage clear ideas form for moving life forward. At the same time those ideas are catapulted into the emotional world of the survivor and the two mix to create insightful and unreal projects. It may not have escaped the reader’s notice that numerous superstars have bipolar diagnoses. This is no coincidence, creative intelligence and bipolar are intricately connected due to the energy and rollercoaster of emotions. The superstars will often seem unstoppable, album after album, book after book, painting after painting, you get the point. Then, quite suddenly the tabloids will be screaming headlines like ‘Star has Meltdown.’
The meltdown is burn out, mind and body can only be pushed so far before rest is required, further when mixed with the cascade of emotions the mind reaches boiling point and cannot cope. But, let us back track for a while. Let’s focus on the perceived and actual abilities of the survivor and the build-up. Hypomania may begin after a depressive stage or during a period of equilibrium. The survivor may see these periods as time wasted and feel a deep-seated need to make up for lost time. The basis of the anxiety has formed and the energy begins to build. The bipolar mind, heaped with emotion and conflict, knows exactly how to produce a work of art so profound that audiences will be baffled. This combined with the sudden urge to make life meaningful and make up for loss time leads to not one idea, but a flurry of ideas and ways forward. Bipolar survivors tend to be quite clever, perhaps due to empathy or perhaps because intelligence is a form of madness, take it as you will. The plans begin, the survivor develops the ideas and starts to turn the ideas into something real. From my own perspective, my early ideas were all geared towards learning and I started registering for degrees. not one degree, no way! Anyone can do that, so that is not a challenge; a manic survivor loves to prove themselves by meeting a challenge. I now have, I believe, over 100 professional qualifications and 20 higher education qualifications. I say, ‘I believe’ as the certificates are all in two large portfolios.
It seems then that anything is possible to a survivor and this largely refutes the existence of the symptom, ‘delusions of grandiose.’ About five years ago, a few years post-diagnosis, I was allocated a mental health worker. It was for a short period, probably to meet some medical guideline or another. The mental health worker was quite bemused by my claims and called a consultant psychologist from Dublin to meet with me. All he knew was my diagnosis, he had never met me before. So, I spent three hours being interviewed by this stranger. During that interview he asked about my professional qualifications and life. I explained that I had completed the aforesaid portfolio of qualifications and listed a number of other positive aspects my life from travel to extreme sports. It never occurred to me that he would base his entire summary diagnosis on his total disbelief of everything that I had said. The mental health worker made an appointment and explained that I had been judged (and I say ‘judged’ because this is a very poor example of evidence based practice and the overall analysis was sloppy as I will explain) as having ‘delusions of grandiose’ and a propensity to compulsively lie.
After some thought I asked the mental health worker what I had lied about, and she said I was disillusioned in my academic abilities and experiences. So, I allowed her to view my photograph collections and portfolios. After examining said documents the mental health worker stated that we were ‘back to stage one.’ I think that was the closest I could ever get to an admission of general incompetence. She closed my case shortly after, which was quite apt as my qualifications trumped hers. I guess I sound arrogant, well I’m not, maybe I am a bit, but this has been earned. My hypomanic and manic episodes allowed my mind to compartmentalise my projects and domestic life so much so that I was able to work extraordinarily quickly through projects that would take most people many years. The ideas and projects were, therefore, within my reach. I would like to explain how and why this works, why bipolar survivors have these capabilities, but it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint. I suspect survivors have a different viewpoint to other people. Let me explain, a student starts university and imagines three years of work and study. I cannot speak for all survivors, but that is not how I interpreted those years. instead I envisaged the number of essays to write, time taken and additional learning for exams for each module. Rather than simply seeing the whole picture, I saw the sum of the parts. Survivors also have more energy and require less sleep because of that energy. This in turn triggers the sub-symptoms of insomnia and at times irritability.
I talked about spring cleaning as a method for controlling the depressive symptoms, and again this is compartmentalising and can serve to the survivors advantage in managing and preventing the other symptoms. Another factor to take into consideration is the advanced empathy that underlies bipolar. I remember my English teacher at school saying that I had an amazing ability in the study of literature. I read ‘Of Mice and Men’ one night and wrote the related essay in one lesson the next day and got a straight ‘A.’ Why? because I knew exactly how the characters felt and what thoughts the author had implied. I didn’t require secondary sources to tell me what was happening, the same was true of film studies. I took A-level film as a private candidate and achieved an ‘A’ with no real effort or study. Interestingly, my son achieved the same grade in his GCSE at the age of 12. Is this arrogance or delusions? No, I am proud of what I have done, but I did it. If it’s true then it is not a delusion. This is what is possible during manic episodes and it is fine until hypomania flips into all out mania.
Imagine, if you will, the cartoon character ‘The Tasmanian Devil,’ picture him whirling through the trees and bouncing like ‘Tigger’ that is an image of mania. The flurry of thoughts becomes a constant race of ideas. Projects start popping up everywhere, the survivor develops a sort of amusing charm, becoming life and soul of the party, and yes the peak of the North loves to party. This is the point at which real delusions may set in, the survivor overreaches and assumes that plans have already been achieved. the joy of life is all consuming and rules go by the wayside, after all what are rules but man-made constructs? At this juncture the survivor is extremely vulnerable to exploitation simply because the thoughts are so encompassing that everything else dims and the dangers around them disappear, they are invincible. It is often during this stage that hospitalisation takes place. From an onlookers viewpoint the survivor has lost contact with reality. Anti-depressants can fuel such episodes, therefore it is imperative that any survivor on anti-depressants also takes a mood stabiliser. The most common stabilisers are; Sodium Valporate, Lamictal and Topamax. Again, they all have side-effects, but the side-effects must be weighed against the risks of full blown mania. During one full blown bout, many years ago, I decided that the local policeman might like to drag race me around the one-way system. I thought wrong; this venture did not end well and I was dignosed thereafter.
At present I have a number of projects going, but they are managed well. I also have the necessary support structures in place. These support structures are better than medication, they provide the voice of reason; two wholly trustworthy people close to me who can advise me when to stop and relax. I stress once again that loved ones provide the greatest therapy, especially when they have taken time to fully understand the condition. There is a huge risk of sinking into a regret-based depression following a full blown manic episode and this too has to be managed and monitored. Once in a state of depression projects go out of the window, and this is why unfinished projects are characteristic of bipolar.
So, before I sign off, I guess the point of this entry has been to demonstrate that hypomanic states can be productive when managed correctly. The trick is to project manage as opposed to flipping into full blown mania and then hitting rock bottom with a depressive episode. As soon as ‘Tigger’ meets with ‘The Tasmanian Devil’ it is time to stop, think and gain social and medical support.
Love to all