I consider mania to be the forgotten orphan of the two poles of bipolar disorder – with depression being the most discussed. Depression gets all the attention, all the talk, all the focus and mania is left out in the cold. On the International Bipolar Foundation’s (IBPF) website, the IBPF’s bloggers have written 77 articles about depression and only 15 about mania.
The disparity makes sense. Depression is not a pleasant mental disposition to experience. It is life and energy draining. Furthermore, depression can interfere with daily routines and activities. Mania, however, can be just as disruptive and destructive.
I have mixed feelings about my own manic episodes that I’ve experienced over the years. I’ve been manic four times since 2007 and every episode has resulted in my hospitalization. As a result of the mania, I’ve spent a total of 40+ days hospitalized. At this point, I consider myself an expert on my mania.
My manic episodes haven’t all been negative experiences. For instance, when I am manic I feel incredibly smart, much smarter than usual; the grandiosity has me feeling like I’m the smartest person in the room. Additionally, while manic, I am incredibly productive and creative. It was during a manic episode that I started blogging about my experiences with bipolar disorder and even managed to get published on a few different outlets. I also started writing a memoir about my experiences shortly after a manic episode. I devised three business plans: one for an all boys’ school, another for a life coaching company, and a social justice curriculum consulting company. I made a beautiful collage during an art therapy session that I had professionally framed. And beyond the productivity and the creativity, the hypersexuality can be fun too (if it can be managed responsibly and safely).
Conversely, mania has been a destructive force in my life. I ruined an 18+ year friendship by posting mean and hurtful things to social media about my friend and her family. I have been irritable and short with family and friends. The shopping sprees have left me tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. In fact, last year, while manic, I followed through on two of the business plans. I created websites and even incorporated the businesses with the government. When the dust settled, I had spent about $8,500 on two businesses that I have not done anything with.
So yes, mania can be fun and exciting and the rush of it is incredible. And truthfully, I miss the energy sometimes. However, I can see the wake of its destruction when I think about the ruined friendship and the credit card debt. Then the mania doesn’t seem as desirable.
While my depressions have not necessarily been extraordinarily easy to deal with, manic episodes have always caused more damage in my life than any of my depressive bouts. I’ve never been hospitalized for my depressions, but I have for every mania. Additionally, although I’m not operating optimally, depression does not interfere with my completion of daily responsibilities, whereas mania throws a major wrench in my life. Manic episodes make me extremely productive, but impulsive and scatterbrained.
Over the years I’ve come to accept the pitfalls and glories of my disorder. What I’ve learned to be true for me is that bipolar disorder is both a gift and a curse and as a result, I no longer say that I “suffer from bipolar disorder.” Instead, I say that I “live with bipolar disorder.” Sometimes I am living functionally and sometimes not. All in all, I have made peace with the good, the bad, and the ugly.