The question of what mania is like is one that may be answered in at least two ways. There is the issue of what it is like for the sufferer, or the maniac to use a rather unpleasant term, and there is what it is like for those who are related to or intimately connected with the sufferer. Incidentally, as a brief aside, maniac is one of those words that is so deeply ingrained in our discourse that it demonstrates how we as a society view afflictions of the mind and those who suffer with them. It is a word that means a sufferer of mania. Nowadays most would concede that it is an exclusively negative term and one which bears the connotations of violent conduct, unpredictable rage and generally deranged and insane behaviour. Words such as imbecile, idiot and moron were all similar clinical terms describing various degrees of mental retardation and all are now unanimously pejorative, just as maniac,mania and manic all are. The word paranoiac is another such term but that does not have the same connotation. Paranoia is not desirable but one would never use it as a broad spectrum insult in the same way, however that would seem to me because paranoia is insular and often leaves no outward markers of its presence and affectation. In short there is a rule regarding illnesses of the brain that are manifestly visible with clear symptoms. If you lose your mind then you lose a whole lot more with it. One’s job, one’s dignity, one’s place in society, even one’s life are all considered acceptable losses. By that I mean that if I were to tell you about someone from whom all of those things had been taken then the moment I suggested that he or she possessed a mental illness or affliction then there would be immediate hand-wringing and shrugging of the shoulders as though such collateral damage were inevitable and ought to be accepted as a part of life. This must change, however that sort of thing is not the subject of this post.
I intend to discuss mania from a first person perspective. It seems rather foolish to me to attempt to portray the travails of those living with a sufferer rather than as the one suffering themselves although there is some overlap. Anyone who was been through a manic episode knows the heartbreak of crawling through the wreckage of their behaviour, attempting to make amends and correct some of the crazy – quite literally – things that they did. Therein lies the first characteristic of mania. It is episodic. It comes and goes and during episodes it can and will vary in its intensity. At the beginning of an episode life is great. Euphoria is prevalent and a person trapped within this phase of an episode is usually inspired, productive, fun, energetic and able to function to a high degree of productivity and usefulness. This is why those with bipolar disorder are often drawn to creative professions. Creativity demands energy of often epic proportions. I know that to most normal people the act of writing, painting or composing may seem cerebral and restful but I can assure you that both my firsthand experience and the testimony of others reveals it to be anything but. The mental drain upon me as a writer during such times is extraordinary and that is why mania helps. Ideas flow plentifully and it almost seems as though one is working to the specifications of a commission from the Gods of Mount Olympus. These phases can be among the most exhilarating times of a person’s life.
But then the worm starts to turn. One starts to become irritable, difficult to work with and be around and extremely unpredictable. Imagine the world’s most annoying morning person over the course of a year and distil that energy into a concentrated burst of energy. This is where perception matters so much. However it may look to others, here is how it looks to me. I am on a roll, bouncing around the room ready to create something so stunning in its creative genius and so remarkable in its manifestation that I need to stay awake for several days. I find suddenly that people are staring at me, their incredulity towards me matched by my incredulity at what they find so incredulous. Can they not see what is going on here? I am on the brink of creating the next great work of fiction and they are staring at me as though I am the crazy one! I become annoyed at them and their stupid, dull minds that are incapable of keeping up with the flow of energy that is pulsing through me wildly and powerfully. I begin to exhibit signs of annoyance and wilful disrespect to those who are not like me and do not have the insight that I have. People cease to spend time with me, thinking it impossible to keep up and at some point I find myself furiously producing either writing, photography or music. I remember an occasion where I produced a whole album of instrumental progressive rock music in a single day. A single day! I remember writing an entire book in a week, some sixty thousand words. I remember once being so desperate to fall asleep at night that I cycled around a hundred and fifty miles in two days. I was simply so needy of normal routine as I felt my mood rising into mania that I tried the only medication that I could think of that was free of charge to wear myself out.
It did not work.
Soon arguments break out as people try and fail to live with the inaccessible speed and pressure at which I operate. I talk so fast and assimilate ideas with a rapidity that, were I able to control it would be a great asset to me. I argue relentlessly in defence of my great ideas and unassailable genius. Do they not see? Can they not comprehend what is about to happen? I record musical ideas and leave them half finished because the next one arrives so fast that I know that I will forget it if I do not produce a recording immediately. I start writing story after story for the same reason, desperate to hold on to the ideas before they fly away as quickly as they arrived.
And then comes the crash. I start to read what I have written and I often think it is genuinely great work, something of which I may be immensely proud . Unfortunately I leave it half completed, often for months on end. The mania has subsided and the energy it brought to me is no more. The mood starts to sink and I head towards the other pole, depression. But that is the subject of another post.