Suffering from bipolar 1 for most of my adult life, I’ve endured the odd manic high. To me, it’s like stepping aboard a Saturn V rocket. One minute you’re finally popping out of depression, the next you’re heading for the stars. The chemicals in my brain have rearranged themselves transforming me from a teary-eyed, mild-mannered Clark Kent to the Man of Steel.
When I go high I go high for months. I jump from bed at 3 or 4am each day feeling fresh as a daisy. By the time the rest of Australia is considering getting up, I’ve completed a day’s work. I exercise as if I’m an Olympic athlete and see myself as part Brad Pitt, part George Clooney and part Albert Einstein. Those close to me also see aslarge part Wanker but to me I am perfect.
I am madly happy with life and simply can’t understand why my family isn’t too? I write a book in a matter of months. It’s brilliant and will make me incredibly wealthy and famous. Actually it’s crap and costs me a small fortune but for the moment I am a genius!
But as months go on I sense that things may not be as rosy as I’d thought. My manuscript is gathering enough rejection letters to wallpaper Buckingham Palace. The once indestructible Einstein-Pitt-Clooney clone I once saw in my mirror is cracking to reveal a chubby, grey-haired 58-year old man. A small shiver of dread runs up my spine whenever I spot my wife with a sharp knife and even my trusted dog has turned on me as he pees on my slippers.
Finally, as I complete yet another orbit of the earth something deeply disturbing happens: my rocket’s engines cough, splutter, then fall deadly quiet. The nose dips and the next thing I’m hurtling towards earth at break-neck speed. My brain’s chemicals have rearranged themselves yet again transforming me from the Man of Steel into the man of quivering jelly. I plough through the roof of my house landing perfectly on my bed ready to begin a long, dark bout of depression.
As far as I can see, the manic high is portrayed as the rock and roll of mental illness. Great artists, writers, actors, politicians and musicians are held up as proof of the creative power of the bipolar high. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vincent Van Gogh, Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Carey, Michelle Bridges, Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns and Robin Williams are just some of the people trotted out as successful bipolar people whom, it would seem, have harnessed their mentally ill energy for success. Bullshit!
The implication is that these people may not have reached the heights they have without their highs. For me, even though I may feel more creative when I’m high, I’m actually far better and far more productive when I am ‘straight’.
For all its supposed glamour, the bipolar high is actually characterised by:
- Feelings of great happiness or extreme irritability
- Unrealistic expectations and beliefs
- Feeling energetic even though you’re getting little sleep
- Rapid speech and racing thoughts
- Impulsive, reckless behaviour
- Hyper activity
- Financial stupidity
The moral is, if you are diagnosed with bipolar, do everything you can to avoid the highs as you would the lows. They may initially feel good but the more you have the more likely you are to act stupidly and stretch relationships to breaking point. It’s your brain giving you a license to ruin yourself financially and emotionally while ripping your reputation to rags.
If you’ve ever been so drunk you’ve woken up with your undies on backwards and a terrible feeling you’ve done something horrid but have no idea what, you’ll have the tiniest of understanding of what it’s like returning from a manic episode.
Take my word – nothing beats normality.
This week’s link is a recommendation for an amazing book written by Patty Duke, now 69, who gained fame in the 1960’s as a child actor, winning an Oscar at 16. Unfortunately for Patty, as her career blossomed as an adult so did her bipolar. If you want to save a few bucks it may be in your local library.