Mania is the key defining characteristic of Bipolar Disorder that makes it so very special and unique from all the other disorders out there, so it’s not shocking that I get asked to describe what it feels like quite often.
Just the other day a well-meaning girlfriend – I say that without smarm – asked me about my most recent bout of mania as we were happily strolling down Ventura Boulevard.
“It’s like being really hyper, right?”
“Ummm, not quite.”
Then something odd happened; I was struck silent. I couldn’t find adequate – or really any – words to explain what once my heaven and now my hell “feels like.” Not that it’s easy to describe feelings anyway, but I really don’t enjoy being stumped.
Of course fifteen seconds after we hugged goodbye, my broken brain came up with a mazillion answers. Thanks again for that, brain, I thought we were finally playing for the same team.
I think Michael Sembello, (with his songwriting partner Dennis Matkosky), encapsulated mania best in their masterpiece, “Maniac,” made famous by the gem of the 1983 cinema, Flashdance.
“It can cut you like a knife / If the gift becomes the fire / On a wire between will and what will be / She's a maniac, maniac on the floor / And she's dancing like she's never danced before / On the ice-build iron sanity is a place most never see / It's a hard warm place of mystery, touch it, but can't hold it.”
These lyrics really sum it up, but…
a. I’d have to memorize it.
b. I’m quite sure my recital of the lyrics to “Maniac” from Flashdance would cause my girlfriend to promptly and briskly walk in the opposite direction from me. My friends accept that I’m weird, but this is asking far too much of even them.
c. If GF doesn’t run away, then I’d have to pull out a can of Grad School Courtney all over her, explaining in depth each line and the significance therein.
d. I’m pretty lazy; see (a) and (c).
Let’s start at the root. The Great Google Monster tells me that man·ic/?manik/ is an adjective meaning: “Showing wild and apparently deranged excitement and energy: ‘manic enthusiasm.’” While this is a perfectly apt definition, it does what every infant writer does – tells not shows. I mean, does this explain how I feel in a manic episode? Does it explain why I end up in bed next to my best friend’s boyfriend after maxing all of my credit cards on Weepuls in a bleary-eyed daze?
I think not. Which leads me to…
Let’s return to Flashdance, shall we? "Maniac" plays during a montage, yes, a montage (BEST THING EVER! – breathe, breathe…) as Alex, played by the ever-luminous Jennifer Beals, rehearses alone in her (wait for it…) converted warehouse house. Just thinking about this scene makes me surge with manic energy. I wish I were kidding.
In the immortal words of Trey Parker, “We’re gonna need a montage.”
Really awesome music plays super loud as we fade in:
-- Courtney totally rules doing her cheerleading routine at practice.
-- Courtney at home (in her mansion) blows out 16 candles on her birthday cake, surrounded by 50 of her closest super-cute and slightly jealous friends.
-- Courtney walks outside to find a – shocking! – brand new cherry-red ’91 Honda CRX si with sports seats AND a sunroof parked in the driveway with a big bow on the hood.
-- Courtney gets out of her cherry-ass-ride in slow motion, one-super-hot-leg at a time, and then walks to class perfectly in her cherry-red high heels, top-of-the-line Kenwood stereo pullout in hand.
-- Courtney gets her Final Exam back, yeah, she got an A++. She’s so awesome that the teacher had to invent a whole new curve just because of her radness. The class nerd glares at her, totally jealous of her sweet brain.
-- Courtney makes the best speech ever at graduation. And like we needed to tell you that she’s totally Valedictorian.
-- Courtney totally scams with her man who looks like a hotter (how is that possible!) version of Jared Leto in My So-Called Life.
-- Courtney walks briskly and importantly down a busy metropolitan street with a briefcase in hand wearing a perfect Chanel suit, checking her Rolex watch. Oh no, she’s going to be late!
-- Courtney sits in bed in her super high-rise apartment, typing the final pages of her newest best seller and turns off her Tiffany lamp, no clapper installed because she’s that classy.
Of course, the montage is only in my head. I’m really doing lines of crank in my beige 1981 Mustang listening to my Kenny Rogers 8 track – the only other one I have is Patsy Cline – with some toothless guy named Keith, but as I get higher and higher, I get more and more… let’s call it optimistic. Okay, delusional. But I FEEL like the girl in the montage and I’m playing it out in my head and life is really good you see and if I can just do one more line everything will come together and I’ll have the answer to the universe or at least how to get as much crank out of this creepy guy without having to actually have sex with him, or something like that.
And then reality hits. The high climaxes but instead of coming down it keeps going up and up, until I’m chasing Keith down in my ’81 beige Mustang with factory 8 track player because he… well I don’t really remember but it doesn’t matter because I’m f#@king mad and Keith must be punished!
Eventually I pass out hugging myself and twitching in the fetal position somewhere and it’s all really sad and anticlimactic.
Well, that was depressing.
See, every maniac ends up on the floor. Of course, Mr. Sembello was referring to a dance floor and an energetic woman rather than an actual maniac on the floor, but the description truly sums up BPD for me.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Sembello originally wrote “Maniac” after seeing the 1980 horror film, Maniac, about a serial killer on a killing spree in NYC.
The original chorus was much less eloquent:
“He's a maniac / Maniac that's for sure / He will kill your cat and nail him to the door.”
Perhaps Answer #2 was actually the best choice.