Mania is like a whirlwind romance with someone who is no good for you. At first everything seems wonderful. You giggle, you make plans, you forget to eat because it just feels that good. It’s a sudden ego boost. Before you know what has happened you have eased into it, you have fallen in love with it, you have committed to the high. And once you reach that certain point, you can’t turn back, not without a fight anyway.
I read recently that one of the tell tale signs of mania is a complete denial that anything is wrong (when it is obvious to others around you that there is). I was irate when the doctor told me that she thought I may be experiencing a manic episode. I think part of the problem is the name of it. I mean manic? Really? I was so against the term ‘mania’ when I was in hospital that the nursing staff used to refer to my highs as ‘productivity’ instead. When I was depressed I was incapacitated. When I was ‘productive’ I had ideas, felt creative, completed tasks, and generally just got things done.
And how, I tended to think, is that a bad thing? How is it unhealthy to be productive? How can something that feels good possibly be an illness?
Retrospectively I realise now that I have experienced manic episodes in the past. But of course then I had no idea what they were, and I welcomed them. Now, occasionally I feel a slight twinge of mania wash over me. I feel the euphoria, or the confidence. I become engrossed in a project to the point of obsession. Or I just plain become ‘productive’. In that moment when I realise the rise in my mood I need to make a decision. I can sink into it, encourage the euphoria, and ride the wave. Or I can attempt to stop it. Remove myself from any risky situations. Calm myself down.
But you have to understand, refusing that mania is like refusing a drink when you are on the cusp of intoxication. Are you going to get drunk tonight? Or are you going to stay sober?
But like many drunken experiences the aftermath of a manic episode often involves embarrassment and regret. And like intoxication, once you reach a certain point it is very difficult to remain in control. Mania, despite its allure, has a dark side.
In hospital I was protected from any kind of physical injury during my manic episode. But even so, I did walk out in front of a car, and was found standing on top of window sills. I was also largely protected from any kind of later humiliation. The staff who dealt with me were accustomed to mania, and my euphoric and antagonistic behaviour was really just another days work for them. Steven was the one who bore the brunt of my mood, and I know that if I were to continue the way I had been our relationship would begin to suffer. There is only so much patience a man can have.
But in the past, where I wasn’t protected by the hospital, my mood placed me in potentially dangerous situations, and hurt the people around me. For me, the euphoria, the creativity, the ideas and the confidence is just not worth that risk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still happy, I’m still content, and I still allow myself to be so. The manic euphoria is distinctly different from everyday happiness and pleasure, and I’m able to recognise the difference.
So a few weeks ago, when I finished my shopping only to realise I had been singing out loud as I pushed my trolley, instead of giving into the euphoria I went home to bed instead. Then I completed the most mundane everday tasks you can think of. Cleaning the house. Doing the washing. And that night, when Steven and I sat down to watch TV together without fighting over my mood, it was worth it.
I’m sure there will be times where I am unable (or unwilling) to harness my moods in the way I have been recently. The memories of hospitalisation are still fresh in my head, and perhaps in a year or ten years those memories will fade. But I hope I always remember the trade off, the dark side. The dark side of the mood.