My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘mania’

Bipolars, Rollercoasters, and Sex

The rollercoaster is the most common metaphor for bipolar disorder. But is it really the best one?

Wooden RollercoasterAfter all, a rollercoaster has long, abrupt downward swoops, and anticipatory highs. (At least the ones I’m familiar with. I won’t go on the ones that turn you completely upside-down.) But rollercoaster highs crank slowly, grindingly up. Mania isn’t like that. Boom! You’re suddenly at the top.

Nor are rollercoaster lows like the lows of depression. If they were, the downward slide would not be the exhilharating, thrilling part of the ride, and would not immediately be followed by another high. Instead the rollercoaster would plod along through a lengthy trough, or maybe a tunnel (though not of love), with no idea of when the next up would come.

Perhaps a seesaw is a better metaphor. Its ups and downs are quick, and you can stay stuck in either position for an undetermined length of time. And a seesaw is all about balance.

But no. A seesaw requires a second person to operate correctly, and that is certainly not the experience of a bipolar person. Our brain chemistry alone is enough to get us going up and down.

A pogo stick? The spring gets squashed and then rebounds. But it’s a rhythmic bounce, not one that you don’t see coming until you’re in it. (If then.)

The basic problem with most of the usual metaphors is that they involve fun at some level. Bipolar is not fun. Oh, the mania my be enjoyable – for a time. But the gut-wrenching drop does not make you go whee!

So how about a soufflé? It can rise or fall, and you never quite know which it’s going to do.

Or a computer? It can open up the world, but is going to crash sometime, inevitably when you most need it to work.

I suppose we could split it up. Mania is a fountain and depression is a ditch. Depression is a b&w rabbit-ear TV and mania is cable with 1000 channels. Mania is a battery and depression is a dead battery.

The root of the problem is that no metaphor can adequately explain bipolar disorder. Even Spoon Theory, useful as it is, explains only the effects, not how the disorder itself works and feels. A metaphor may capture one half of the experience – the ups or the downs – but not the reality of both.

If it’s not possible to explain bipolar disorder with a metaphor, why do we so often try to? Because, really, only people with bipolar know what it is like, and the experience even differs from person to person. A psychologist or psychiatrist may understand the mechanisms and the biochemistry and the complications and the medications. But she or he is essentially watching from the outside.

My husband didn’t really “get” depression until he fell into depression himself that lasted a couple of weeks. “Now,” I said, “try to imagine that feeling lasting for months.” He couldn’t, but at least he was closer to understanding.

My mother-in-law, who doesn’t “believe in” mental illness, now has a clue too, since she experienced a profound reactive depression.

Neither of them really “gets” mania.

Maybe the best metaphor is that bipolar disorder is like sex. You can’t adequately explain it to someone who’s never had it. And even when you’ve had either sex or bipolar disorder, you only know what it’s like for you. You can generalize your experience and share commonalities, but basically, every case of bipolar is something a person goes through alone, or maybe alone together, as Jenny Lawson says.

Bipolar disorder.

It is what it is.

The Pluses and Minuses of Highs and Lows

Low polygonal shape mountain background with clouds.

Bipolar disorder comes with highs and lows – mania and depression, for those who still call it manic-depressive illness. Bipolar 2 comes with plenty of depression (trust me on this), but mania that doesn’t reach the heights of regular mania. Hence the term “hypomania” – low mania. Like “hypoglycemia” – low blood sugar. (Actually, low blood sugar can affect the bipolar person’s – or anyone’s – moods, but that’s a story for another time.)

So. Mania. Mania comes with pluses – exuberance, euphoria, ambition, confidence, and other good feelings. It also comes with minuses – risk-taking behaviors that can ruin relationships, careers, finances, lives.

Hypomania, however, is usually not so extreme. Sometimes you don’t even realize that you have hypomania at all, because it comes out sideways, as anxiety. This is what happened to me, and is the reason it took me so long to get the proper diagnosis of bipolar type 2.

Recently I have been exploring the realm of hypomania, and I’m here to report that, similar to regular mania, hypomania has its attractions and its drawbacks. And they are intertwined.

On the plus side, I have more energy – more spoons to spend. I can go longer between naps. I have now gotten out of bed, dressed, and out of the house for three days in a row. I can concentrate longer on the books I’m reading and spend more time with my husband and do some actual paying work.

On the minus side, I pay for that energy. It’s like borrowing spoons – you can’t keep doing it. Sooner or later the spoons have to be replaced. Right before my most recent spurt of energy, I had a need for a nap that turned into a mega-nap – almost six hours. I woke up just in time to get ready for bed. Then I slept at least ten hours more – maybe 12. It’s impossible to schedule these things, but I have left tomorrow open just in case my body and brain decide that’s payback day for the three days of activity.

Another plus is that my creative juices are flowing. I’m working ahead on blog posts because I know at the end of the month I have a huge commitment that will keep me from writing something for that Sunday. I’ve also taken steps to spiff up my posts with visuals. And I’ve been thinking that I ought to write some fiction.

However, there’s a however. The last time I had a creative spurt I almost talked myself into starting two new blogs, for a total of four. I have plenty on my plate already, what with these blogs and paying work and trying to find an agent for my book and getting ready for a writer’s conference. This is no time to start a big new project that could easily devour my time and my ability to do the things I already need and want to do. But I do now have a computer file set aside for notes and ideas that flit through my busy brain. Call that file “Later.”

And let’s not forget anxiety. It’s hard to find the pluses there, except that anxiety, if properly harnessed, helps me prepare. I suppose it sounds better if I call it anticipation instead of anxiety. Anticipating my upcoming dental work spurred me into putting together the financing for it. Anticipating the writers’ workshop allows me to prep for all the details – wardrobe, business cards, directions, strategies to cope with exhaustion – that would make my nerves fray even more at the last minute.

I assume I needn’t discuss the minuses of anxiety. Let’s just say that for me, they include regrettable and appalling physical symptoms that no one wants to hear about.

Any way you look at it, the dental procedures are going to be a low and the workshop a high. I can already predict some of the difficulties that will accompany the workshop boost. It’s harder to think of pluses related to the dental work. Except that I really need it done, and with luck it will (eventually) improve my looks, my breath, my health, my pain level, and my self-esteem. At least that’s what I’m telling myself now.

Bipolar disorder is often compared to a seesaw (or teeter-totter, if you prefer) or a swing set or a roller coaster – for some reason, usually as a form of amusement that involves ups and downs. The amusement is debatable and fleeting. But the ups and downs are with us always. Better to learn to ride this beast rather than let it ride us.

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