Manic phases are potentially the most dangerous part of Bipolar Disorder. Depression only tries to kill you- Mania tries to convince you that you are better off than normal people. For some reason, I have found it to be considerably easier to explain Depression than Mania to people with no mood disorders. Despair is something that most people have had at least peripheral experience with, but only the truly blessed have felt the rapture and assurance that an unfettered Manic phase gives without having a chemical imbalance or the use of mood-altering drugs, and even drugs don't demonstrate the unbelievable frustration of a Manic person that has nowhere to put all that energy.
My mind to me a kingdom is,
Such present joys therein I find,
That it excels all other bliss.
Sir Edward Dyer
Believe me! The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest
enjoyment from life is to live dangerously!
There are two basic moods for someone who is having a full-blown Manic phase: Enthusiasm and Aggravation. The especially fun part is that which one is present can change in a split second. Imagine a combination of all the worst stereotypes about women on their period or having PMS and someone who has cabin fever from not having gone outside in about six months, and you've got a good start o what this can be like.
The mood that is addictive is the Enthusiasm. Especially if you've been depressed for a few months, it is incredibly attractive to suddenly have all the energy in the world, motivation, either no need to sleep or eat or food tastes better than anything you've ever had and your dreams are lovely... you feel as though you should be entitled to some of the productivity you lost during the depression. It feels healthy. Unfortunately, it's anything but. Your perceptions of what can reasonably be achieved, of what are reasonable plans, are completely off. Some people go so far as to develop psychoses of the "I can fly" variety, but it is much more common to simply make very bad decisions in daily life. Buying sprees are textbook examples- I am certain that a lot of people with BD groaned in recognition at the old Opus cartoon when he ordered a few thousand Turnip Twaddlers. My personal record is a two-week road trip on half an hour's notice that cleaned out my entire $7,000 savings. Overambitious plans are the other textbook case, but there's an interesting side note to that- some people really can achieve amazing things when you're Manic. A lot of people feel less need to eat and almost no fatigue for days when they are Manic, so they enjoy correspondingly more efficient working conditions. On the other hand, you don't really stop needing to eat or sleep, so there's a crash waiting in the wings, and all that energy can cause the people around you not to notice when your plans have entered Never-Never Land. People who are manic are supremely confident in their abilities- how could anything go wrong when they are feeling this good?
The mood that makes it easiest to tell a Manic phase from a simply really good day is the Aggravation. Someone who is in the Enthusiastic mode and finds him- or herself stymied can instantly change into an Aggravated Manic phase, which is a sight to see. Preferably from at least thirty paces and behind a wall. Remember all that energy? It now focuses itself on something, not always the cause of the aggravation, and begins to vent in a potentially very violent manner. Picture an adult having the yelling, screaming, punching, kicking temper tantrum of a four-year old. Or worse, staying sickly sweet and proceeding to threaten or torment people in the vicinity, with none of the moral compunctions they would normally have about such acts because those safeguards have turned off for the duration. This is the mood that usually ends up making relatives and other loved ones fear for their own lives rather than the person with the diagnosis. I have, thankfully, only had two incidents of this during full-blown Manic phases, and that was plenty. In my case, the feeling consisted of such incredible frustration that I was crying and punching walls, having the urge to run screaming through the streets... you get the idea. As unnerving as that image is, imagine the obstacle being removed and the instant switch back to Enthusiastic. The people I really feel sorry for are the ones for whom this is the default mood of their Manic phases.
No matter which mood you're in, the ability to stay still is pretty much gone. Some people can focus on tasks, some can't. I have not found anyone who is able to simply sit and do nothing during a Manic phase. If you've ever met a child with severe ADD, it's a similar effect. Holding still is a flat impossibility. Even if you're doing something that is using your entire conscious attention, any parts of your body that are not involved in that task are fidgeting- legs bounce, hands tap tables, something.
Hypomanic phases are less intense versions of Manic phases, and are much harder to tell from normal moods. You have a lot of energy, are very happy, everything feels good, and so on. When something goes wrong, you tend to overreact, but not with such force as you would in a full Manic phase. Many people with juvenile-onset BD have a hard time when they learn that this is not their normal stage, myself included. This stage feels normal if you've been mood swinging all your life.
There is a feeling of power that goes with a Manic phase that is very hard to describe- that is what I chose the quotes on this page to reflect. The problem in description is that it is not reasonable, so the analogous experiences are not common. It shares aspects with certain forms of megalomania, but that's another mental disorder. It is very similar to the effects of several mood elevating drugs, but use of those is illegal without a prescription, so that doesn't help me in describing the feeling to most people. So, I think I will go for just the adults. I would tell you to close your eyes, but then you wouldn't be able to read this. If you can get someone else to read it to you, close your eyes- it works better. Imagine the way you feel immediately after you've had an orgasm. I don't mean after you're done having sex, I mean a second after the climax is over. You feel incredibly good, but the pleasure's not done coming yet, so you haven't gone floppy yet. Okay, store that feeling. Now imagine some achievement in your life that you were very pleased with- a speech that you worked hard on and did a great job on, or something you built or made that came out really well. Imagine the feeling of knowing that you can do that, that you really are that cool. Store that one, too. Last one- imagine the best compliment you ever got, the one that made you feel absolutely wonderful about yourself, really appreciated and worthwhile. Then add all those feelings together- the just post-orgasm feeling, the feeling of achievement, and the feeling of value, all at once. A bit heady, isn't it?
Now try to imagine feeling that way for days, weeks, or even months without the feeling getting any less intense. You feel like a god, as though nothing is beyond your grasp, after feeling like you've been in hell during your depressive phases, and there's a psychiatrist telling you that he can cure you, but that feeling is part of the illness, and you have to give it up. People lose their souls to drug dealers to have that feeling. We have to take drugs to be rid of it.
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