5) Some thoughts and reflections (Description of my bipolar experience, first posted November 2014)

Now I’ve described the 3 states that we bipolars transition through (probably in more detail than you wanted, LOL) I find I’ve still got loads to say. I used to write, a lot, and I haven’t done for ages, and maybe taking the time to get all this out will help to calm and empty my brain, so I’m going to put it all out there. Sorry there’s so much, for those of you who don’t like to read a lot, and those of you who have much busier lives than mine, but some of this might be important, for helping you to know how to deal with me, or any other crazy people you might come across, or even in your own lives.

Firstly, I came up with an analogy that I like to think describes the 3 states pretty well.

MANIA is like driving a supercar, maybe even a hypercar, a Bugatti Veyron. An unbelievable thrill, amazing power and control – smooth, effortless, perfect. Until at 200mph, heading into rush hour traffic, you realise the brakes don’t work.

HYPOMANIA is like driving that same supercar, but trying to drive it through a waist-deep lake of porridge. The engine revving like crazy, but all that power just making the wheels spin and get nowhere. Normal people drive their normal cars around the edge of the lake, but you had to plough right in and try to save time. And anyone who approaches to help just gets splattered with porridge from your spinning wheels.

DEPRESSION is like trying to walk through the lake of porridge. Wearing a suit of armour and with your ankles manacled together. And dragging a supercar behind you. Utterly exhausted and with no hope of reaching the other side, you just want to sit down and let it close over your head.

(Why porridge and not mud? I don’t know. I like porridge.)

I’m finding it hard to relax tonight. Physically I’m really twitchy, maybe with 3 days off work I just haven’t used enough energy. So I should probably be on the exercise bike now not the laptop, but I’d still be writing this in my head if I was, so it’s probably quicker to just write it now.

Apparently bipolar disorder, as well as some other mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia, is often associated with a high IQ, and huge creative capabilities. Many famous painters, writers, inventors, actors and comedians have been bipolar, and there is little doubt that the manic period is what fuels their creativity and productivity, or that either the mental instability, or the depression, is what drives so many of them to either suicide or drug or alcohol dependency. I used to write a lot, and I can see now that I had huge surges in which I would write vast amounts, and other periods where it calmed down or dried up altogether. And for quite a lot of years I drank too much too often, and although I never quite reached the full dependency stage I think I came perilously close to it for a while. I never let it stop me working, but any time I wasn’t working I’d be drinking. I didn’t write then, I just drank. And I have no idea why, but maybe it was a way to relax. Ironically, it was the first course of anti-depressants (which didn’t cure my depression, and could have caused major problems as I was undiagnosed bipolar) which did cure my incipient alcoholism – they reacted badly with alcohol, and basically made me throw up if I had more than one drink. After six months of that, I didn’t have any desire to drink, and I’ve never gone back to leaning on it like I did then.

But the link with high intelligence is interesting, at least to me. I once had an IQ of 160, when I joined Mensa, over 15 years ago. I doubt I’d score that highly now – even though your IQ is supposed to be a fixed thing, my brain is so scattered and unfocused now that I know I’d do badly on a test. I hope that if my medication can calm my mind down it would still be able to perform like it used to, but it’s not certain. Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol into your system. This stuff is necessary in survival situations, and some medical conditions, but bad for you when produced long-term by chronic stress or other disorders. It contributes to, among other things, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and it can suppress your immune system leaving you more vulnerable to infections or even cancers. It also attacks your brain cells, leading to reduced capacity for learning, and for recalling short term memories. At the moment on a bad day I feel like I can hardly take in any information, or remember enough to hold a normal conversation. But on a good day I can read 4 books at once, or at least skim-read them, and take in nearly everything. That was pretty much how I got through college, LOL. I hope my brain (and body for that matter!) hasn’t been irreparably damaged by this illness, but at least getting treatment now should help to prevent further damage.

One thing I read recently suggested that in evolutionary terms, our kind of illness may have survived and been passed on for a reason. As a species we needed the big brains, and we also needed the big thinkers, the visionaries and inventors and dreamers, in order to progress from being cavemen to being farmers. After thousands of years of cave-dwelling, the first ones to start thinking ‘outside the cave’ – to imagine fencing in animals and crops rather than roaming and hunting in search of them, and even building artificial caves to live in where you want to be, rather than where you happen to find a cave – they must have been crazy people. And they’d have needed manic energy and stamina and persuasiveness, and whatever the Stone Age equivalent of gift-of-the-gab was, to get whole tribes to follow them and put their zany ideas into practice. And it’s only because their ideas worked, and their descendants survived, that we modern humans have the brains we have, faulty wiring and all. We have huge capabilities but huge flaws too. That’s what makes us human, I suppose.

So in some ways being bipolar can be seen as a gift. Some aspects of it are better than others, obviously. (Although some writers have even suggested that experiencing depression can make us more empathetic, deeper thinkers, better human beings. Maybe so.) It might sound crazy (ha ha), but I don’t truly want to totally lose my capacity for the manic highs – not the euphoria, really, but the energy, the productivity, the sheer joy of work and exercise and thought. No one who hasn’t transitioned from being lethargic, heavy, clumsy, timid and socially inept to the amazing state of being physically and mentally able to do whatever you put your mind to, and confident enough to try anything, can possibly understand what it means. But there’s a very very high price to pay for that capacity, and for me it’s not the threat of depression, or even the moments of insanity, but the hypomanic tension that’s infecting my whole life. I’m praying that the medication can slow down my brain just enough for it to function properly, without losing the creative spark and imagination that makes me me.

Mental illness is a strange thing, not only because it can’t be seen like a physical illness, but because it affects WHO YOU ARE.

This is a quote from a website called PsychCentral.com:

“The standard propaganda about bipolar is that it is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, a physical condition not unlike diabetes. For the purposes of gaining acceptance in society, most people with bipolar seem to go along with this blatant half-truth.
True, a chemical storm is raging in the brain, but the analogy to the one taking place in the diabetic’s pancreas is totally misleading. Unlike diabetes and other physical diseases, bipolar defines who we are, from the way we perceive colors and listen to music to how we taste our food. We don’t have bipolar. We are bipolar, for both better and worse.”

And I’ve been bipolar for so long that I have no idea who I’ll be if I’m ‘cured’ of it. I’ll probably be easier to live with, but will I still be me?

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