03/11/2013 05:30 EDT | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Dealing With My Manic Highs

double face mask
double face mask

I wrote about depression and concurrent disorders a few weeks ago. We are hearing more about bipolar disorder. Silver Linings Playbook portrayed the life of a family living with it.

When I was first diagnosed with recurrent chronic depression I also took a little test. Seven questions. It seems I was one check mark away from a diagnosis of bipolar disorder! There is a history of bipolar disorder in my family (my father) so it wouldn't have been a shock. I have experienced manic moments. I just wasn't aware all those years ago that what I was experiencing was mania. Recognizing moods makes life so much easier.

I recently went through a manic high. Haven't had one for a long time. My teeter-totter ride tends to land on depression. When I am manic I become light-headed, giddy. I feel like champagne bubbles exploding at the top of the glass. I talk faster and I don't edit. Some might ask what's different about this. But those who know me well do notice a more frenetic pace.

I am aware of my mania. I watch myself going higher and higher and I feel my moorings slipping, like a hot air balloon almost ready to go and the ropes give way too soon and the occupants lose their balance. I feel myself slip away into a different place. I never do anything outrageous. I thank my meds that I rely on to keep me falling deeply into the abyss also keep me from losing myself, from disappearing.

I sometimes get frightened by the highs. They can be beautiful when I feel that I am surrounded by meadows of happiness. But there are times when I fear that I will fly so high that I won't come back. I am fortunate that I do not teeter to the other side right after a manic high. I usually come in for a comfortable landing.

While I have lots of thoughts when I am manic, I don't have any great thoughts. It is in the depressions that I come to know myself better. As long as I am just teetering on the edge, and do not fall deeply into the abyss I find myself thinking more and more about meaning, purpose. I talk to God a lot more, too.

There is comfort in shared experiences. I read An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. She is Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and one of the leaders on manic-depressive illness. What makes this story special is that it is her story, her memoir about manic depression-bipolar disorder. I am enclosing two of her stories about her memories of flying high.


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From An Unquiet Mind:

Story One

There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you're high it's tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced is irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence and euphoria pervade one's marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humour and absorption on friends' faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against-you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind.

Story Two

The countless hypomanias, and the mania, itself all have brought into my life a different level of sensing and feeling and thinking. Even when I have been most psychotic-delusional, hallucinating, frenzied -- I have been aware of finding new corners in my mind and heart. Some of those corners were incredible and beautiful and took my breath away and made me feel as though I could die right then and the images would sustain me. Some of them were grotesque and ugly and I never wanted to know they were there or to see them again. But always, there were those new corners and-when feeling my normal self, beholden for that self to medicine and love-I cannot imagine becoming jaded to life because I know of those limitless views.

The most important lesson to learn is that you can live with bi-polar disorder, you can live well. You can succeed at your chosen profession. It is also important to learn from those who walk before you. Do not fear.