What do you know about mania?
Everyone knows depression is bad. But does this mean mania is good because it supposedly sits at the opposite end of the bipolar spectrum?
Mania is often painted as the cartoonish counterpoint to depression. Perpetually bright, happy, and fun. But it is not fun. It is the character in a horror movie who starts out friendly but then morphs into someone with sinister, glowing eyes.
Mania assaults your senses.
If mania had a colour it would be a flashing, headachy neon yellow. If it had a smell it would reek of nostril singing cheap perfume.
Mania sounds like a machine gun in your head. But instead of bullets it fires words out of your mouth at a speed only you can keep up with. The urgency to get the swirling contents of your head out into the world (because it feels like the world will end if you don’t) is so intense you bull doze people with your words.
This symptom is called pressured speech and it can make trying to have a conversation with someone gripped by mania feel like attempting conversation with a caffeinated horse race caller mid race.
Time speeds up, but only for you. So, it feels as though everyone else moves in slow motion. Sometimes you think they are doing it just to test your patience. The irritation you feel when people look puzzled, as though you are not making sense, makes you want to slap them for their slow stupidity.
The pathological irritability of mania is borne of the frustration you’d feel if you were covered in mosquito bites, but your fingernails had turned into feathers.
Mania often rides in on a chariot of insomnia. I am reminded of mania every time I hear this Bruce Springsteen lyric:
‘At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head’
Except there is no waking because there is no sleep. None.
Or maybe an hour or two a night if you are loaded up with enough antipsychotics and benzodiazepines to render the average brain comatose. The insomnia fuels the mania. The mania causes the insomnia. It is speed on speed on speed on speed.
If left untreated mania is racing towards the beauty of sunset but failing to see the cliff on the way. And it will reach a tipping point. For me mania is the drawing back of water before the tsunami of psychosis hits and obliterates my landscape.
Untreated mania carries collateral damage in its hand luggage.
It disinhibits you. It makes you tell strangers things you’d normally cringe at. Combined with pathological irritability it makes you hurt people you love unnecessarily with truths normally cushioned by tact.
Hypersexuality, one of mania’s many possible symptoms, can leave you vulnerable to STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and sexual abuse. Mania changes your judgement and gobbles up your impulse control. It can leave you with unwanted tattoos and drowning in debt.
It can leave you dead, not necessarily because you want to die (although you are sixty times more likely to die by suicide than everyone else) but because you will take risks with your life you normally wouldn’t.
Mania reduces your concentration span and memory. It will turn you into a toddler with Alzheimer’s. You are likely to lose your job if you go to work manic.
Mania can convince you to march up and down a city footpath, gesticulating wildly, and ranting. It can turn you into the person no one wants to make eye contact with, even though you are the most visible person there.
Mania’s less virulent sibling is hypomania. It can elevate your mood and even increase your productivity IF you know how to harness it. It is more commonly a feature of Bipolar 2 Disorder than Bipolar 1 Disorder. If it occurs in Bipolar 1 Disorder, it is usually a precursor to mania. You might get a window of hypomania to achieve great things quickly, but if you don’t have the finely tuned insight to recognise it for what it is it can escalate into full blown mania and psychosis.
Everyone’s pattern is different.
My acceleration into mania tends to be so rapid I race past the window of hypomania. I don’t have time to wave at it, let alone dwell in it. When mania sweeps into my brain I page my psychiatrist and sprint into hospital to try and avert the horror of psychosis.
These severe, invasive symptoms of a serious illness traumatise me every time they take hold. It takes months to rehabilitate from losing control of my thoughts and actions.
And because of that, I flinch every time someone implies mania must be fun.
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