First off, they changed the term. For anyone with a touch of silver in their hair, it used to be called Manic-Depressive and back then, it wasn’t such a big deal. Now the term is Bipolar and, to be honest, it sounds like one of the settings on my refrigerator. “Pam, I have the fridge set at 34 and the freezer set at zero but…” “Just push the Bi-Polar button!” “The what? Oh, okay…”
Like many syndromes that occur in our brains, this one occurs across an entire spectrum. I have friends and relatives, for instance, who’ll have a glass of wine at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that’s about it. I also have friends and relatives for whom a bottle of Johnny Walker Black might as well be a pound of heroine. And there are a thousand shades of alcoholism in between. From my own personal experience, I strongly suspect that some people just have genetic predispositions to a variety of things. If you’re curious, you can take the Bipolar Quiz below and rank yourself though like a lot of quizzes and tests on the internet this one is a slightly blunt instrument in my opinion. Judge for yourself
The Bipolar Quiz: https://join.moodmatters.org/?
It should be obvious by the fact that I’m writing about this syndrome that I have a personal interest in the topic. Yup, c’est moi. I have bouts of depression though I also have bouts in which, even for me, I feel really “On,” really creative. For me, those bouts, when they occur, are more well-defined than for most. I suppose you could call me a manic-depressive lite.
Much like the feeling of getting a flu, I can feel it coming. It goes something like this: My throat literally gets a lump in it. I feel lousy and then everything seems to dim, not literally but close to it. Colors seem greyer. People seem…a bit farther away, as if I were peering at them though the wrong end of a weak telescope. Sounds are muted, but then the nasty kicker is this. There comes this over-riding feeling of, “What’s the Point?” At the time, this reality is so clear and powerful…and sooo logical that I almost feel like I’m having a brief bout of truly experiencing the true reality.
My mind conjugates this way: “Henry, you’re in your 60s. You’ve done most of whatever it is you’re supposed to have done. You’re gettin’ older, gnarlier, stupider….and in a handful of years you are either residing in a ceramic jar or pushing up daisies, as they say. (This isn’t meant to bring up religious questions about an after life. I’m addressing this life because that’s the only one I’m sure of.) These are hard realities to refute, but I’m pretty sure that this dark perspective isn’t the most desirable one. Even from a hedonistic perspective, there’s still a bunch of chapters to come. Might as well play it out to the end and see how everything turns out. But that’s not how I feel at the time, when everything looks dim… To be fair, however, there is a balancing side to this equation:
The Fun, Productive Manic Part: Fortunately, in the term, Manic-Depressive or the refrigerator version, Bipolar, there is a duality of emotion. And in a way it is like that Formula One race car where there’s a small turbo- boost switch on the dashboard. Rotate that switch to the right and you suddenly have gobs of extra power. You can pass that F-1 car ahead of you before you get to the chicane. The cost? Massive expenditure of gasoline and…the engine might blow-up…both mitigating factors to winning a race. But is it worth it??????? Yeah, sometimes it is. Sometimes you can win that race, write that chapter, come up with some new idea. It’s up to each of us to determine cost versus payback.
The Truly Dark End of the Scale:
For about 20 years, we had a small gallery in New Hope, Pa. Little towns are often like small families. Everyone knows everyone. Some people are great for the long haul, others you want to close your door and pull down the blinds. One gal, charming and vivacious with a beautiful little shop underwent a sudden and complete change of personality. Let’s call her Sandra. In the space of a week, Sandra went from charming to way over the top. Voice louder, much more forthright, opinionated. She showed up at her shop with a brand new Jaguar, said she’d won the lottery. Then another Jag was delivered…and another. Things got weird and then things got worse. By the end of the week, the manic had flipped to depressive and Sandra, who had a pathological fear of drowning, quietly walked into the Delaware River. The town went right to shock. What you and I can take away from this is, there are, indeed, degrees in most everything. But when things truly get weird, don’t wait to call for some professional help.
All the World’s a Stage: It’s a monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. It begins:
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances. and one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first the infant…
For a manic-depressive (henceforth, MD) it just may be a whole lot truer than for some other folks. The reason is this: That little turbo-charge booster on the dashboard, the one that pours on the power? the creativity? I can’t consciously turn it on or even turn it off. It works independently…all by its lonesome. Pam and I can do something as mundane as go food shopping at Wegmans. In the course of shopping we run into three or four or five friends we know and suddenly it kicks on. It’s not disingenuous. It’s not a put-on. It’s not bullshit. But it is definitely some kind of performance…and afterwards it’s exhausting. We’ll load the groceries in the car, plop down in the seats and I’ll say, “Man, I feel like I need a nap.” Yeah, for us, and for some others the world, really is a stage. I’m absolutely certain that a whole slew of people reading this will say, “What the hell are you talking about? Just wake up, have a cup of coffee and be who you are. It’s easy.” …..For you, it may be easy. For some of us…it ain’t. It isn’t even something we choose to do.
Returning to the plus side of the equation of MD or BI- Polar. It is BI, by the way. You pay the price, but you get something in return. Virtually everything my little peanut brain has conjured-up in the way of inventions is either now in existence, or I’ve
patented it, or we’re working on it. These little “gems” aren’t something I sit down and plan out. You can’t plan out something that previously didn’t exist. They just plop down from out of nowhere, like an apple hitting me on the head. It’s a bi-product of the BI-Polar. You pay. That’s for sure. But you do get to play a bit, too.
Handling it: The bad news is, there isn’t any magic bullet that works all the time. For me, very often something rich in calcium seems to help. I’ll get into that “what’s the point of it all mood?” and Pamela will go into the fridge, scoop out a big dish of ice cream and plop it down in front of me with the instructions: “Eat it.” Very often I will counter with a truism: “Pamela, my peace of mind can’t always be solved with a dish of ice cream. I’m more complex than that.” But then she’ll shove the dish a little closer. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it helps quite a bit. Sometimes it doesn’t do squat. When I really get into a blue mood, it often resembles being in a bad mood, though they’re different. When I’m down I just want to crawl away into a dark corner and sleep it off. And that actually works, too…sometimes. And sometimes, it just takes time.
Spotting It: A few weeks ago, we stopped by the health food store to pick up some lithium which I’ve been experimenting with. I was in one of my gregarious moods, and after having tracked down the lithium, I then went on to ask the gal if they had any dilithium... This won’t make any sense to you whatsoever if you haven’t watched the Star Trek series. Dilithium crystals were the actual power source of the Starship Enterprise. Dilithium crystals run out….no warp drive. We got into some fast-paced funny bantering, but when we got back in the car I saw an odd expression on Pam’s face. I asked, “what?” She said, “nothing.” This ping-ponged back and forth a few times and then she said, “Just before you go down……you go waaay up.” We both knew what she was talking about. And it was true.
Observations: Though I’m not a scientist, I notice that, at least for me, it seems to be an emotional energy management problem. I have a finite amount of emotional energy. The way I’m set up, I sometimes drain it down to absolute zero. When I’m depleted…I’m down far enough that it takes time. The only interesting side observation is I do know that there’s something that will counter it.
Emergencies. If a bear were to wander onto our property and suddenly one of our dogs was in danger, the dark veil would vanish instantly. I’m guessing it’s the adrenaline. Something kicks in and I’m sprinting out the door to get rid of the bear…save my pups. When I come back, the depression is gone. I think it’s something to do with a certain kind of energy or lack thereof.
Well, there you have it.
I have given advice to many a patients who have hidden their “problem” from family and friends via various mechanisms/excuses. The condition involves an imbalance/shortage of lithium .
If I told you that you had a shortage of
Vit. B, you would think nothing of taking a supplement. Same thing here…you need lithium. Big deal!
Best thing you can do is have your doctor order a lithium level. You see where you are at and you supplement with the needed prescription amt of lithium . You get periodic blood tests to see that you are at a therapeutic level. No need to suffer .
Your true friends love the guy you are
and the rest who don’t understand, well, you don’t need them.
Sorry, but the RPh in me just jumps out. Not anything I can control.
Thanks for the advice. Didn’t know there was a test for one’s lithium level.
This is fantastic. Plain, crystal-clear talk, from a real person. You explain it so well. I’ve known my diagnosis for more than 20 years, and yet I still appreciate the validation. Keep writing; keep sharing; I’ll be sharing this with the public I come in contact with. And definitely with friends & family, who will also appreciate it.
Like a whole lot of syndromes, maladies, and diseases, there’s a lot of misinformation. Remember back in the 50s when Reefer Madness came out? A whole generation thought that someone would take a puff on a joint and turn into a mass murderer. In point of fact, you just don’t see people toking up and going beserk. Now, go to a Texas bar, get stinkin’ drunk and then mouth off a bit and you’re looking for some trouble.
It seems most artists have a form of MD. I’m glad you have found some understanding or acceptance of it.
I curious about the lithium. My MS has been increasing in limited mobility. A couple of years ago I went to Steamboat Springs, Colorado found this great spot with several cool to hot pools. After maybe a couple of hours of soaking, it was time to go. I almost leapt out, feeling almost froggy. Reading about this place, it is a lithium spring. When home, I went to my vitamin shop and ordered some lithium. With MS, and my current handicapped condition, I’ll try most anything.
Interesting theory…artists being blessed/cursed (blurssed?) with a touch of MD. I really don’t like to generalize, but personal experience with artist and writer friends supports your theory.
And if you do a little biographical sleuthing, most of the composers, writers, sculptors, musicians seem to have an emotional pendulum that swings a bit farther out in both directions. In short, you get those “highs” but later on Mother Nature sends you her bill.
Thank you for this. Good luck w/your struggles/balancing.And hooray for Pamela and bowls of ice cream.
I have manic-ish episodes but i find that they are typically an avoidance strategy — avoiding what “ought” to be done. which I’m doing right now.
Back to work.
I’m getting a surprising number of responses from people who seem to have some aspect of this malady. It’s a broad spectrum.
This is me all over. Bi-P sucks as well as M-D. I have both and it sucks. Fred W.
Hi hear you, Fred.
For what it’s worth, what I’m seeing from the responses is that a whole lot of people have this affliction…to some extent. Once again, it occurs over a whole spectrum, from light to devastating.
This one was easy. I admire your candor. You are M-D….so? You are still my friend. It explains why you can write faster than I can read. You write at 78 I read at 33 1/3. Many incredibly talented artists in history have been M-D. It probably was responsible for their talents.
Not sure where the candor comes from but it’s always been there, though not always with pleasing results. I’m very glad for your friendship. You can tell a lot about a person by whom they call friends, as well as whom they call enemies. I think Lincoln said something about that. Because you mentioned it, I feel compelled to yet again be candid. The writing only looks fast. In a nutshell, I’ll be walking with Pam. I’ll get quiet and she knows part of my brain is composing. Later, an hour, or sometimes a day later, something hatches out on the screen more or less fully-formed. But then….the polishing begins. Fortunately or unfortunately, every time I change or edit something, the computer makes a notation. I’ll usually go 75-100 changes…edits before it escapes into cyberspace. Not all that speedy….. It just looks that way.