My Brother's Perfect Metaphor for Bipolar Disorder Mania

Imagine your brain is a file cabinet and all your thoughts and memories are filed neatly away in file folders. Most of the time, everything is orderly and easily accessible. (It may be an oversimplification of the human brain, but it is just a metaphor.) Now, imagine that all at once, because of some “trigger” or maybe for no reason at all, those neat files are flung into disarray and chaos.

Suddenly, you have no control over which file is immediately in front of you and they are coming at you faster than those chocolates down the conveyor belt in that classic “I Love Lucy” episode. In addition to having to capture each passing file, you are convinced every file is deeply significant and must be connected in a meaningful way to all the other files. It is overwhelming, to say the least. It is so overwhelming that you can’t (or don’t want to) sleep; it’s so overwhelming that you might forget to eat. At some point, you might begin explaining the files and their significance to the people around you. In your mind, it all makes sense but to others, all they hear is rapid, seemingly endless “word salads.” For me, that is a manic episode.

What is so great about this metaphor is what it reveals about my brother. It shows me that he “gets it” and that he truly understands how I can, through no fault of my own, lose complete control of my own brain. His description is surprisingly accurate for someone having never experienced it. What I appreciate most of all is how, when he came up with it, he was completely without judgment. I have shared this analogy many times with my bipolar support group and with people who are unfamiliar with the manic side of bipolar disorder. I don’t know if I have always credited my brother with the idea, but I definitely will from now on. Any relative who can accurately describe what it’s like to walk a mile in a pair of manic shoes deserves a little recognition. So thanks for the metaphor, Mike Chapman.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s brother.

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