During the onset of a mania it feels like having in your hand a mixture of liquid gold, love and luck. It feels like it could take you anywhere, to the infinite possibilities of your wildest dreams. Everything is beauuutiful, even the every day things; they are imbued with cataclysmic significance; every light is green for me; every song written for me; everything that occurs is the perfect coincidence – all lined up especially for me, the most insightful, intelligent, powerful being on earth. Rainbows appear, stars shine brighter. The world speaks to me.
The euphoria is the most intense feeling I could ever imagine; it is unmistakably “bipolar” in nature, because no “normal” state could ever rival the deep, deep, extraordinary, almost painful level of joy and excitement I feel. I have limitless energy springing from nowhere, and am a million times more productive and I’m at my most creative. I can clean the whole flat, complete study or work at lightning speed, paint a modern masterpiece and run a marathon all in one day (almost). I feel invincible, like I could tackle anything and win a thousand times over. I have an endless amount of confidence, and strike up conversations with complete strangers. It’s magical.
But then I start spending money. Lots of money. On anything and everything. Things or clothes or shoes or furniture for myself, and unnecessary random and incredibly generous gifts for others. I do things like buy three lots of identical £100 shoes in three different colours, just because I “need” them all, or buying £50 cushions here there and everywhere just because I like the feel of them. I get a thrill from it. It’s exhilarating and it fuels the fire of mania. I can’t stop. I am out of control. I spend more money than I have and create financial havoc. I lose friends and damage relationships through reckless, unreasonable and unthinking behaviour. I party and drink excessively and dangerously. And when I say excessively I mean to the point where I wake up in a strange bed in a strange house choking on my own vomit, or to where I’m falling in and out of consciousness lying on my mother’s kitchen floor with her screaming down the phone to 999 that I’m not breathing.
Despite what I said, the beginning of the end really starts at the very beginning. One of the first things I notice – even before the mania begins – is that sleep goes out of the window – I can stay awake for days, weeks at a time. I’m not exaggerating. I start talking very very fast, my thoughts are racing. I’m smooth, I’m eloquent, I’m clever, I’m witty and cool, or so I feel. But destruction is a hidden thread that weaves it’s way through the entire mania.
And then the mania reaches its peak. When I’m so high there’s no reasoning with me. I get delusions of grandeur. Sometimes I tip into psychosis, where I am out of touch with reality, for example believing that I am chosen to understand complex systems of government or mind control. Either way, when I start to come down, it’s impossibly disappointing. I develop a great sense of dysphoria. Then come the real blues. Crying for weeks. Unable to get out of bed. Total exhaustion sets in. All those sleepless nights catch up with me and my body feels like lead. This usually leads to a full on depressive episode, which can last for months.
But what causes mania? For me personally, major stress and lack of decent sleep play a big role. If I am experiencing a particularly stressful time, or a particularly stressful life event occurs, it’s likely I’ll head for mania. But nobody exactly knows what causes mania. We know it can be treated by drugs that work on certain neurotransmitters, so maybe faulty neurotransmitters are to blame. We also know that certain chemical imbalances in the brain, particularly dopamine and serotonin imbalances, can cause problems with affect (mood) too. Bipolar generally is thought to stem from a combination of childhood trauma, stressful life events, brain chemistry, and genetic inheritance.
So how is a mania treated? Well, if left untreated, a mania can last for several months. But I take the mood stabiliser Lithium every day to keep my mood level. If I am experiencing a mania the dose of that will probably be increased for a short period of time. Increasing the dose of any antipsychotic drugs I take is also helpful in normalising my thought processes and my beliefs or paranoia, and if applicable any voices I’m currently hearing. Usually I feel some resistance to these medication increases because I enjoy the feeling of mania too much, even once it has become destructive. However,
I am generally an advocate for medication when I’m not manic (and always with hindsight when I have been manic).