The High and the Hangover Effect

I am one of those seemingly lucky individuals who experiences the effects of Bipolar Disorder. I’ve talked about this at least a few times in the past, but my fleeting memory tells me it’s been a while. So maybe I can help a few people out by discussing it again.

The first thing you need to understand is, it wasn’t originally called Manic Depression for the cool song title potential (Thanks, Jimi). The old appellation sort of says what it is right on the tin. That’s what makes the new name a little more specific, but a little less helpful, and certainly not as poetic.

So how does it work? Well, in many cases, it operates like a ferris wheel. Sometimes up, sometimes down, and sometimes somewhere in the middle. These cycles take days or even months to play out. In my case, it’s a little trickier, because I’m inside of a special car on that ferris wheel that also rotates in tight little circles of micro ups and downs, sometimes cycling through good and bad moods in the matter of a few hours. I liken it to the old spirograph drawing toys we had as kids (google it), but some of you youngsters would probably understand it better if I said it’s like a fractal pattern, with tinier cycles inside bigger ones as we drill down to the core. And at that core? Probably a solid lump of anxious frustration, really. But that’s probably just me.

So, what does it feel like to live inside this peculiar cycle? Well, for starters, have you ever heard people tell you that your mood has a lot to do with your outlook? Well, it kinda works in reverse, too. Your outlook doesn’t always define your mood, but it can modify the way you process the information coming to you through your five senses (or however many it is if you buy into psychic phenomenon and such). What seems like an insurmountable problem one way can be seen as an irresistible challenge looked at in another light, and your mood defines that experience. They go in tandem, like twin stars rotating and swirling around one another. I honestly don’t know if ‘normal’ people (if they even exist) experience that, but I do know that, in my case, changing my mood isn’t as easy as changing my mind; although, when you consider how calcified many of us get about certain ideas, changing your mind can be a daunting task, too, but that’s an aside.

The reason I mention changing your mood is, it’s the bedrock of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or at least, what I understand of it, because I’ve never really been through a course of CBT, owing to the relative success I’ve had with antipsychotic medication. Medication isn’t always as effective as you would hope in this day and age, and the haphazard way these drugs are often devised isn’t reassuring. However, I find that, if I forego or forget (or run out of) medication for a day or two, I wind up getting very emotional and highly reactive for a day or two, and it can be somewhat liberating in the short term, but over all, it reduces my ability to be truly productive and effective. Couple that with the detail that I’m married to a woman who suffers from major depressive disorder, and what you get is a life of trying to maintain a relative equilibrium so as not to aggravate my partner and send her into a torpor of depression.

The thing about changing moods is, it isn’t as easy to achieve when you’re in the spiral of a depressive turn. All teh well-wishing and encouragement to just think your way out of it with the power of positive thinking is more infuriating than it is helpful, I’m afraid. Incidentally, it’s not easy to settle down when you’re in the grip of a manic episode, either. Reason kind of takes a vacation on either end of the spectrum, I find. Not a total vacation, as I AM capable of resisting the urge to do truly reckless, risky behaviour like spending money at the casino or investment in risky stock options, and I don’t’ indulge in unprotected sex with numerous random partners, although I do confess to having frequent flights of fancy involving people I meet, thinking how fun it might be to have a brief fling with them, as of old. Marriage saves me from some of these things, but only insofar as I don’t want to upset Dawn unduly. So I moderate my extremes, and try to stay medicated.

But the truth is, it’s not always easy to tell what mood I’m in, because it changes so frequently with me, and while I’m fairly cognizant of my mental state a fair bit of the time, moodswings creep up on me sometimes, and I just don’t notice until I’m in the middle of a silly activity (or just want to stay in bed a lot) and notice that I’m not being particularly thoughtful.

There are so many more things I could and probably should say about Bipolar Disorder, and I probably will. I think it’s most important to remember that moods are transitory, and the state of usefulness of a bipolar sufferer is not as consistent as our society demands. In the years before I sought therapy, my weeks and months swam by in a haze of fits of productivity followed by months of lying fallow and staying out of sight. In a marriage, that option isn’t practical.

– Moods are transitory, and yet, not as malleable as self help coaches like us to believe.
– Moods define outlook, and vice versa… unless you’re clinically insane, in which case, all bets are off.
– Moods can take weeks, if not months, to work through, unless you are (also) a rapid cycler, in which case, that gets compounded by moods that change on an hourly basis, and in complete defiance of outer stimuli that help to define most folks moods.
– Reckless behaviour is exciting, but the consequences are often more than most people can deal with, so it’s better to moderate these urges as best as possible, and avoid train wrecks.
– Take your meds. Or if you aren’t medicating, please, be cognizant of your attitudes and surroundings, because you run the risk of erratic behaviour without even realizing how you’re scaring the people around you.

Thank you for reading.


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