ts now been five months since I experienced six weeks of hypo-hyper mania with the usual pattern of reduced need for sleep, high energy levels, rapid thinking, heightened emotionality and sensory awareness and of coarse the big bogey of psychosis, in the form of grandiose delusional thoughts.
This is the first time in thirty one years that my ‘condition’ has not followed the classic manic-depression cycle, and in contemplating the reason for this I am led to a complex of conclusions that reflect the underlying reality of our innately systemic existence.
‘In plain English please!’ I hear you sigh.
Well this was the second time I have gone through the experience of mania voluntarily, that is to say I have allowed the experience to unfold, after daring to believe it is not an illness or a disease.
This was the first time though that I have not sort help from the medical profession and the first time I have not flogged myself into a depressive state, with shameful thinking after the mania. For the first time I am finding far less intrusion of the kind of shameful memories that used to make me feel like finding the proverbial hole to bury myself in.
I also feel less helpless this time around after a delusional period, accepting that this is my journey and that I am in a period of my life when I can afford to allow my experience to unfold, to manage the experience my way. I’m lucky though, I admit, I don’t have commitments to others that I need to fulfill these days. I can take my time to digest and make sense of the manic period, without the stress of work a day life, and perhaps the absence of external stress is an important factor.
Another factor is that I am not living alone this time around, as I was following the manic episode in 2007, I am in a new full time relationship with someone who has no knowledge of my so called ‘condition,’ this is because she hardly speaks English and I don’t speak enough of her language to explain to her.
‘What’s a language barrier got to do with manic-depression,’ you ask.
In this relationship I have been forced to limit rationalizations and go back to primary communication, eye contact, touch, gestures, a more physical form of expression that is helping me to feel the sensations of my body, like I have never done before. It literally forces me to regulate emotional expression with a felt sense rather than a thought sense, allowing me more ‘in the moment’ awareness of myself and the other person.
"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation" _Plato
Perhaps we discover more about ourselves this way too?
Also there are a variety of ‘sensation exercises’ that I practice, in an effort to change my sense of self from one that had its locus in the head to one that is as much body sensation based as thought based. Every morning when I wake I spend ten minutes doing deep breath work to oxygenate my blood steam, bringing a wider sensory awareness for example.
Another factor is the determined pursuit of knowledge and a slowly growing self awareness that has been ongoing for the last eight years, including formal training in counseling and reading up on as many of the therapies and theories as I could. The sojourn into self education led me towards the latest concepts in brain/body neurobiology in an effort to understand what goes on inside me to produce observable behaviors, symptoms.
Neurobiology has led me into a growing awareness of the sensations produced by my nervous system, which cannot be separated from the brain in the observable symptoms of manic-depression. The systemic nature of brain/body interactions through the autonomic nervous system in particular is complicated, which is why its easier to think of mania or depression as a chemical imbalance solely within the brain.
A four year effort to understand the machinations of my complex brain, nervous system interaction has also led me to conclude that ‘trauma’ and the evolutionary nature of the autonomic (animal) nervous system underpins the manic-depressive reactive states, and that mania is an attempt to ‘exit’ the traumatic conditioning of the nervous system.
Has knowledge, experience and current circumstances contrived to prevent a descent into depression, so characteristic of the classic manic-depressive cycle, or am I some how managing to hold myself above the inevitable crash. Only time will tell of coarse and as always I’m open to persuasion, yet as each passing week brings a different pattern to my thirty one year journey, I’m am optimistic that something inside has shifted.
There is so much more to say about my experience in the last four years, how I documented the manic episode in 2007 by journaling and how the 2010 episode was acted out through internet posts like this one, leaving a digital record of my state of mind that has been useful to reflect on.
Other people have suggested that bipolar thrives on shame and perhaps the biggest difference in my current experience is a palpable absence of that feeling, this time around?