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10 Things Only People Who've Been Manic Will Understand

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Mania isn’t often well-understood by the average person. It is frequently romanticized as a fun, exciting, creative experience — one that is voluntary. In reality, when you’re manic it can be hard to observe your own behavior accurately. It’s hard to explain what this feels like or how it can lead to behaviors and decisions that may not make sense. People who experience mania can be particularly hard on themselves and look for signs they are experiencing elevated moods where none exist.

Everyone experiences mania differently, but there are some experiences many people who have been manic can likely relate to. Here are some of them: 

1. Sleep is a complicated issue.

You really, really need to sleep. Until you don’t. People around you likely don’t understand that when you stop going to bed early it can mean your body has stopped regulating its sleep cycle appropriately — a decent indicator of an elevated mood for a lot of people with bipolar. Because most people don’t perceive elevated mood as a problem, it can be seen as evidence you don’t need sleep when you do end up hypomanic. Your body and brain will take this and run with it. Sometimes literally.

2. People constantly ask if you’ve taken your medication.

“Did you take your meds?”

Medication is not a panacea. Assuming that I didn’t take my medication or need my medication every time I get excited, upset, frustrated, happy or express any other energetic engagement is pretty unhelpful. As someone who has had several bouts of both mania and hypomania, I can say there has been more than one occasion where I have been asked if I have taken my meds. Or I am told I am getting too excited and then asked if I am feeling alright. Then, of course, if I express frustration, it’s seen as an indicator of mood disorder symptoms. When you have something that can be as visible and public as mania, it can really intrude on your life.

3. You have more bank accounts than you can count on one hand.

Impulsivity tends to be a more common trait of bipolar and is heightened during mania. This is why a lot of people who have manic and hypomanic periods tend to have financial difficulties in some way. It is also why many people who have had mania utilize every possible “life hack” they can think of to trick themselves into saving money. For me, this means I have a huge number of savings accounts and automatically pull from my main account each month to some of them. Some accounts are harder to “get at” than others, requiring several steps to transfer or withdraw money. 

Mania also can make odd things seem like great ideas and challenges seem like stimulating puzzles to be solved. I have on occasion ended up with numerous empty savings accounts, several of which are somehow overdrawn, and a large collection of novelty socks. It seemed like a good idea at the time. 

4. You experience a lot of self-doubt.

After a couple of particularly unstable years, I finally started to feel like I had a good grasp on what I needed to do to manage my mood and my needs.

I kept having a nagging feeling though: 

“When is it going to happen next?”

It would be a particularly beautiful day. I’d catch myself smiling at the sun, then wonder if I needed to be more careful about my feelings and my behaviors. Was I smiling too much? Was this a sign that everything was about to go to shit? For a while I was on constant alert — several times an elevated mood had caught me by surprise. It wasn’t until I was trying to explain to a friend the cosmic connection between my name and their newborn’s that I realized something was probably off.

It took a long time before I could understand that I was just feeling things. Like most people do. 

5. People have assumed you’re on street drugs.

I’ve gotten so invested in a sudden, exciting idea, I needed to call someone and tell them right at that moment. Sometimes that moment just happens to be before sunrise, and the someone is a person I haven’t spoken to in a year. Later on they would tell me they thought I had been “high.” I had been — sort of. They had meant “high on drugs,” though. 

6. You experience a sense of loss over and over. 

After I’ve sorted myself out after a manic or hypomanic period, I feel out of place for a bit. I know I am myself, but I still feel as if I am missing a part of me. I didn’t write down all the ideas I had — at least in a way I can now understand them — so they are lost. What I can retrieve from my period of mania doesn’t make sense to me and I can’t piece anything together correctly. There are no instructions from the me who was manic addressed to the me that isn’t. I feel like I’ve lost something incredibly important, but I don’t even know what it is. I’ve experienced this repeatedly and it is unique each time.

7. Sometimes you scare yourself.

I think this is where accurate messaging can get lost about mania. Mania is seen as this advantage by a lot of people: productivity, creativity, fearlessness, charm and wit, attractiveness. There is not a lot of focus on the feelings that come with “too much of a good thing” or the aftermath. It can be exhilarating, much like a roller coaster. But also like a roller coaster, it can be frightening and overwhelming if it goes too fast or you don’t know when the ride will stop. Instead of thinking quickly and efficiently, thoughts can come too fast and even feel too succinct. There is pressure to get things done, to communicate swiftly, to move on to the next thing. Emphasis is on production and you are the factory working overtime. You can injure yourself and not notice until the next day because your sense of pain may be reduced.

8. If someone knows your name and you don’t recognize them, panic sets in.

Both manic and depressive episodes can do a number on memory and cognition. In the most extreme states, it can be hard to recall exactly who we met, what we did and where we went. While manic we may give into impulses which are not characteristic of our true selves, and then not remember the details or the people involved until reminded of them. This can seem like an ambush and create anxiety in social situations after a while.

9. You overdo things. A lot.

Whoever said, “All things in moderation…” has never been manic.

The person who tacked on “…even moderation” to the end of the phrase may have been. Mania can have an affect on executive functioning and specifically resource planning. That is: you don’t really understand how much you have, how much you need or how much you will use. This can tie into spending money, buying your friends (or anyone else) dinner or understanding how many washcloths you really need to buy on sale. The entire stock may be too many, but don’t tell that to my manic self. She’s got plans. 

10. You have been a complete asshole for unexplained reasons.

There are reasons though. Mania is not always a good or positive “up.” Sometimes it starts off immediately with anxiety and agitation. In these circumstances, there is nothing arguably “good” about mania. You feel angry and uncomfortable and restless and internally distressed. Eventually everything is frustrating you and it’s very hard to state, very clearly, that everyone sucks. The carpet sucks for feeling weird and the bus driver sucks for saying hello to you and the receptionist sucks for not saying hello and you also suck for thinking everyone sucks and telling them they suck. And you don’t get it and that sucks.

The difference between this and depression is that during agitated mania you actively want to let everyone know they suck. The world angers you and it is vital they understand. Also you have all the energy to tell the world this. That it sucks.

If you’ve experienced mania, what would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo by Arian Darvishi on Unsplash

Originally published: November 12, 2019
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