Sometimes mania, in the mental illness known as bipolar disorder, is romanticized because of some manic sufferers’ tendency to experience mental elation. Mania, however, is often also accompanied by irritability, which can perhaps be a weak word for severe anger or tirades. As curious as this may sound, some people with bipolar disorder even experience periods of mania that include symptoms of depression. This could be a combination of extreme energy levels, with hopelessness and/or agitation, or any of many different combinations of manic and depressive symptoms.
Elated mania is not just romanticized by non-sufferers. People who’ve experienced elated mania often romanticize it themselves. After all, THEY really know exactly what it’s like. This fact tends to make certain bipolar sufferers less prone to medication compliance. As cocaine addicts yearn for their cocaine highs despite the risks or past ramifications, some people with bipolar disorder yearn for their manic highs. Why?
Do you remember the feeling you experienced when you were utterly and blissfully in early love, and felt equally loved in return? Have you ever had a day when you felt you were powerless to stop, and succeeding at everything you tried, well beyond the normal? Can you recall your greatest sexual orgasm of all time? One that lasted for what seemed like hours, and was repeated several times in a single day? Well, that’s a little bit of what elated mania can feel like. The difference is that sometimes the elation in bipolar mania becomes other worldly, excessive to the situation, and/or may even cause delusions of grandeur and bring on hallucinations of the most marvelous types one could hardly imagine in a stable sober state.
Elated mania usually comes on slowly. “Wow! I look absolutely beautiful today! And so do you, and you, and you…The sun is touching me with sweetness beyond belief. The flowers are singing alluring songs written just for me. Everyone I pass smiles at me and says hello because I glow like sunshine through diamonds. Those that know me laugh at everything I say. I’m so witty! I hear them tell me that I’m as clever and creative as William Shakespeare, and that my walk is like the dance of Ana Pavlova. I’m maybe even more clever and graceful than them.”
Elated mania can almost make my face hurt with an extreme Cheshire cat smile, but it’s a wonderful pain. Sometimes it triggers loud guttural laughing at others (or even more often oneself) and the laughing turns into a laughing jag that doesn’t stop for what seems like hours. People stare, but the manic person doesn’t care!
Mania makes us love almost everything remotely positive in our path. Sometimes even things we’d normally find boring or dislike. “I am becoming enamored with the fascinating artwork formed by the cracks in the sidewalk. They are telling me a story of my future rise to ultimate success…That blouse is beautiful, I must have it! I’d look great in that Porsche, I must drive it! A tattoo of a dove on each breast would be fantastic! They’d be in love, for sure! I’d love to have 10 dozen mixed colored roses. I will put them in vases throughout my house. I want to dance, dance, dance through the wee hours of the morning with the songs of Led Zeppelin causing vibrations through my body and my house.”
“Now I’m so extremely hungry. Where can I get some chocolate cake? I know this 24 hour diner in the next town.” I get in my car and I just can’t wait. My foot pushes on the accelerator harder and harder as the music pounds. I see myself going 120 mph. That’s 10 mph for every month of the year. “Funny! LOL!” I’m lucky and don’t get caught in this whirlwind of speed. I enter the diner like a queen followed by her subjects. I announce boldly to the staff that “I have arrived, and I am here for cake! Two pieces, please! A cup of coffee, some whipped cream, a cup of tea, and some hot chocolate, too.”
The experience above might not have even reached psychotic, but I guess it would be fairly far along the manic road to cause many rolling eyes, extreme laughter, or perhaps even fear, depending on the witness. Not everyone with bipolar disorder has such extreme mania, but even the lesser elated mania (hypomania) is well beyond the normal experience of heightened happiness, and noticeable. It is intoxicating enough to make it hard to want to stop. Why would you ever want it to stop? Perhaps (perhaps) only if some little troll of insight whispers into your ear “I’m here, and you’re getting sick, my friend. Come home and take your medicine. Call your doctor, or I will. I’m taking your keys away from you. Don’t leave the house.”
“Shoo! Get off my shoulder you little scum! I’m busy and there’s no place for you!”
But the troll keeps nagging, and if the troll gets frustrated enough he can call in the big boys and take you where you don’t want to go.
“Do I have enough time to run away? Run away! Run away! Way far away!”
Time speeds by fast. Before you know it you’ve come to a complete stop at a brick wall. Do I remember where I’ve been? Or do I wonder how I got here? In any case, I’m not feeling so good anymore. There is perhaps only evidence of the experience I’ve been through, some of which may be quite regrettable.
The days of reckoning have come. You pay the price. And yet, would you believe you might be willing to go down that road again? I mentioned earlier that you may even seek the on ramp back. It would seem ridiculous to almost anyone, but you.
Just like an addict must sometimes find their bottom to want sobriety, sometimes a person with bipolar disorder must lose enough to get them to accept treatment. The sad part is, while the addict only becomes high again if they again take the drug, the person with bipolar disorder may have episodes arise even with treatment. It can be a big struggle not just to be compliant with treatment, but to find the right treatment that lasts. Medications often need to change. Dosages need to go up. Lifestyles need to be carefully adjusted. Sometimes you also need a little luck.
I took a short walk the other day and looked down at the side walk. The cracks were irregular, but didn’t speak to me, but the sun was nice and warm, and I was glad that my feet were firmly on the ground. I walked on a bit, and then walked home. Dinner came and I took my medications. I slept well, and then swung my feet off the bed to the floor. Everything around me felt safe and pleasant. I gave a small smile and said “Today I’m OK.”