Mania is not your punchline
Mania is a misunderstood symptom of bipolar disorder that comes with its unique challenges and, as I’ve experienced, is as serious as severe depression. Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme lows and extreme highs. Lows result in depression, with a low mood and feeling constantly lethargic. It can lead to suicidal thoughts, planning and possibly acting on them. The highs result in mania or hypomania that can lead to impulsive, reckless behaviour, having boundless energy and confidence. A manic episode often makes me a bit odd. And not in a fun, cute “oh, you’re so kooky/eccentric” way. No. More in the form of concerned faces and looks of confusion and comments that boil down to, “what the hell is wrong with you?!” My words and actions can be jarring to the people that know me well, as my attitude and opinions are exaggerated as if I’m acting like a caricature of myself. This manic version of myself — some people in my life have poked fun at it. Friends I trusted, I’d later realise, had made me the butt of their jokes. Humour has helped me understand bipolar disorder and come to terms with some unusual behaviour when I’ve been ill, but I need to be in on the joke. Today is World Bipolar Day, so the perfect day to set the record straight on the symptom of mania! I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2012 and I’ve been writing about my experiences ever since. Education is key in combating stigma and discrimination, so I’m passionate about myth-busting when it comes to misunderstood aspects of bipolar disorder. My book ‘Living at the Speed of Light’ is all about navigating life with bipolar disorder and explores how to talk to people and educate them about this condition. What is mania like to experience? First, let’s get this straight — mania is not a personality change. It doesn’t make the person unrecognisable, but it does make you impulsive, more oppositional and defiant, quicker to anger and full of ideas and passion. For me, I’ll feel intense frustration with everyone. Opinions and ‘lightbulb moments’ constantly flow out of me as I talk at such a fast pace I stumble over my words, or entire sentences come out as gibberish. Of course, the person I’m talking to has trouble following my train of thought, and they become overwhelmed with the barrage of information I’m presenting them with.
There’s no denying that when I’m manic, I come across as strange. I’ll make the ultimate inside jokes — that only I understand and laugh as I tell them. But there’s more to mania than seemingly never-ending energy and acting like the life of the party twenty-four hours a day. It twists into something else. I’ll feel paranoid, believing everyone is watching me. I’ve confronted strangers on the street, shouting across the road as they walk in the opposite direction. I’ve yelled at people in their cars stuck in traffic as they’ve glanced in my direction.
When I’m manic, I’m vulnerable too
That confidence you see from someone who is hypomanic or manic? If you peel away that layer, you’ll find an intensely vulnerable, extremely poorly individual underneath.
Although that confidence has helped me achieve ambitions in the past, it’s also put me in some precarious situations. As much as I’ve had the confidence to pursue new relationships or nail a job interview, that belief has led me to believe I’m always the most intelligent person in the room — alienating friends and colleagues. It becomes self-destructive and, in the long run, has destroyed relationships, cost me work and harmed my career.
People have seen it as an opportunity to take advantage of me in various ways.
An ex knew something was wrong, but they would take advantage of how blasé I’d become about money. They’d hint about designer items they’d been eyeing or trips they wished they could go on. So, I would buy them everything they wanted and more. When I was no longer manic and faced with the reality of a mountain of debt I now had, I was devastated at how someone I’d loved and trusted had manipulated me at my most vulnerable.
Hypersexuality has meant I’ve put myself in dangerous situations. I’ve gone home with strangers on nights out and walked home alone at three in the morning, without a thought for the consequences. When I’m in a manic episode, I’m not capable of making decisions that keep me safe. My impulses have taken over, so I need people in my life that understand and recognise that I’m unwell and can help keep me safe.
When I’m manic, I become obsessive. Obsessions range from problems at work to business and creative ideas to exercise. They appear out of nowhere, and I’m unaware of how irrational I have become. There will be someone in my life who annoys me, frustrates me, or I simply have taken a dislike to, that my world will then revolve around. The obsession begins without my noticing but has as much subtlety as a sledgehammer to those around me. The obsession will last for months, and there have been two or three noticeable incidents of this in my life.
It’s not just people I become obsessed with; I will feel the need to exercise every day. It will be an incessant need, to the point where my world turns grey, and I can hardly stand. After exercising at the gym, I once drove home, my vision blurry. I managed the journey home, where I took a shower. As I stepped out, everything went black, and I passed out onto the floor.
This obsessive behaviour finds its way into all aspects of my life. I won’t be able to stop thinking about a new business idea I’ve had and will convince myself it will work and be determined to leave my job. I’ll either be obsessed with eating and won’t be able to stop thinking about food, or will dive into a diet or healthy eating plan that isn’t healthy for me in the slightest. I’ll become obsessed that my relationship will fail or that my partner will be in a dreadful accident and I’ll be left alone. When mania hits, these obsessions inevitably follow. They wreak havoc with my day-to-day life and affect my relationships, health, and job.
Laughing at someone going through a manic episode is cruel. Someone with bipolar disorder doesn’t deserve friends gossiping about their behaviour. They don’t deserve to be the anecdote at a party when someone wants to show off how they’ve ‘gone off the deep end.’ Mania can be challenging to understand, but treating someone who is obviously unwell with empathy and compassion should never be difficult.
Header image by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash