I was sitting in a doctor’s office sometime after college. I was there getting my knee checked out. He was going over my medical history and the topic of my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder came up. He asked me to define the mania I had in the past. I explained to him that mania is not only the thought of crazy things and, perhaps evil and/or altruistic things, but it is solidified when one starts acting on those types of thoughts. After completing my off the cuff definition, the doctor pulled a med student into the room and asked if I could repeat what I had just told him. So I did. The med student seemed relieved to hear that definition, as if I had cleared up a little bit of confusion. That doctor’s visit was sometime in my early 20’s. Since then, I have had a couple more serious bouts with mania and have spent plenty of time flirting and delving into the feeling state of hypomania. Would I change the answer I gave back then? Only a little bit. Mania can become defined, diagnosed, and noticed when a person starts to act on all their crazy ideas, but also when a person starts believing the crazy ideas that are in their head to be true.
Everybody thinks crazy things. If I had a dollar for everybody I explained mania to that, afterwards, told me they think they’re a little bit bipolar as well, or at least they think they are, I’d have a bunch of dollars. Perhaps, I am giving bad definitions of my manic episodes, which could entirely be the case, but my personal definition of manic depression is constantly floating and gets more precise as I continue to dive deeper into a greater understanding of myself. More importantly, people can easily relate to mania. A little paranoia mixed in with rapid unconnected thoughts; a thought cycle where you just can’t really put your own ideas together that well. Mix in some grandiosity or thinking that you are meant for a greater purpose and you have established the building blocks of mania or maybe to a lesser extent hypomania. Either way, the groundwork for mania is there, but, trust me, you’re still far away from an actual episode. Why? Are you acting on those thoughts? Better yet, do you start truly believing those rapid cycling ideas in your head, or can you shake them off pretty quickly knowing that they’re just not true. Therein lies the biggest discrepancy.
On the same train of thought, but a little bit of a different topic... people will always tell you that in every joke there is a little bit of truth. People think there is a little bit of truth to their connection to my definition of mania, and therefore, there is a little inkling of truth that they can see themselves as being a wee bit bipolar. I don’t believe any of that shit. Take the jokes in South Park, for instance. I laugh at that stuff all the time. The thing is, the creators of that show put out some pretty horrific concepts to laugh at. Things that I laugh at and consider jokes that I simply don’t believe there to be a grain or sliver of truth in what they are saying. Sometimes it just happens to be funny -- maybe even funny because it is so untrue. I feel the same way with bipolar disorder. Just because you can see yourself a little bit manic at times and then, correspondingly, a little bit depressed at times does not make it the case that you are a little bit bipolar. The episodes people with bipolar go through are extreme enough to be life changing and potentially life threatening. Normal people have ups and downs; this doesn’t mean they are comparable to the psychosis one can have with a manic break or the hopelessness one can be consumed by with a depressive episode.
It’s great when people empathize with you or a person who is bipolar because we truly go through some serious tough stretches (weeks, months, and even years). However, it’s better not to act as though you wear the same shoes. There is a big difference with how you think vs. how you feel (feel meaning what you perceive to be real). As a person without Bipolar or any mental illness, your thoughts can be scattered all over the place; same as a person with bipolar. At the end of the day, how these thoughts manifest and shape your feelings are what can ultimately separate whether or not you actually have a mental illness. Your feeling state is affected by how you collect, organize, and arrange the thoughts that can be all over the place. People with bipolar, or at least me anyway, can get trapped and lost in the thoughts we have, and our feelings can become hopelessly scattered. So much so, that I have even created alternate realities as I have slipped far into psychosis. I can get so lost in where my thoughts take my emotions based on a belief that these thoughts are more real than what is taking place in the actual world. Generally speaking, a person without a mental illness, or at least without Bipolar Disorder, can collect their outlandish train of thought and maintain order to adhere to reality at all times.