Category: Bipolar disorder

Mania and The Shining

Jack’s madness

I know exactly how Jack Nicholson felt in The Shining.  As he descends into madness, his primitive, base impulses become unleashed.  Whether he wishes this to occur or not is irrelevant.  His unraveling happens without his consent.  As we watch, we know that insanity is his destiny, no matter what.  There is no off switch for this.

Picture of Jack Nicholson in the Shining depicting madness

My mania

Bipolar mania and hypomania kidnap the brain.  I never knew it was coming but when I was in the middle of it, no amount of will or wishing or prayer could stop the inevitable from happening.  I was on fire, taken over by a flood of neurotransmitters that transported me to places I hadn’t asked to go.  When my brain was hijacked in this way, I had thoughts I’d never have in my right mind and was propelled into actions that my sane self would never do.  I became a super surfer, careening along the surface of a tidal wave moving at terrible speed. My sleep was disrupted but I didn’t care because I had boundless energy.  I was overly chatty with strangers and mistakenly believed that I could write novels and plays.  I spent money recklessly and I was the smartest guy in the room.  

It was like being taken against my will to a place I no longer knew.  Jack didn’t ask for his downward spiral and I never asked for my upward ones.  His course was a one way ticket downward but bipolar disorder has cyclical escalations with repeated episodes of insanity interspersed with periods of normalcy.

This might sound like it’s a lot of fun but it wasn’t.  During these times, I was irritable, agitated, anxious and argumentative.  Each time one of my elevated periods burned out, my awareness of how I had behaved and the degree to which I had lost my mind were laid bare and lead to crushing guilt.  Eventually, hypomania brought me to my knees.  

My turning point

After years of worsening mood cycles, I was finally standing in front of the bathroom door, like Jack, with an axe, unable to hold back my primal urges. My visceral id was intent on propelling me through that door no matter what. Unfortunately for me, what lay on the other side was a lot worse than a frightened Shelly Duvall. In my elevated state, I was catapulted forward and suddenly my life was at risk. It was this traumatic event that finally forced me into psychiatric care. I realized that I was either going to put down that axe and get treatment or I was going to destroy all that I held dear. There could be no more fractured doors in my future. There could be no more Mania and The Shining.

I am at my best

When Jack does begin to break through the bathroom door, he maniacally peers through the hole he just created. At that moment, he was at his worst and now years later and well treated, I am at my best. We all have primitive beasts inside but mine have been tucked away for years. The only shining I now see ahead of me are the bright lights of all the healthy days yet to come.

Do you have a story of mania? I’d like to hear from you

Bipolar identity: Jekyll or Hyde

Before i was mood stabilized

Before I was stabilized on medications for bipolar disorder, I was very confused about my identity. I was a “moody” guy with good days and bad ones, had periods where I was productive and other times, not so much. I had episodes when I expressed a lot of energy and other times, I felt dragged down. But everyone was like this, I told myself. I was just a moody guy. I didn’t question it. After all, why ask whether it’s dark out at night or light during the day? It just is.

Picture of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the 1931 Movie

When I finally admitted that I had bipolar disorder and was mood stabilized, I saw my true identity on the inside as even keeled but that I had neurotransmitters that kidnapped my genuine self, pushing me downward into an abyss or hoisting me up to irrational highs. It was a relief to know that I was, at my core, “normal” like Dr. Jekyll but it was awful to know that I could be transformed into the deranged Mr. Hyde whenever my “sickness” expressed itself.

The medications

The experience of having one’s true personhood abducted by their brain is common in those who have bipolar disorder. Our neuro-chemicals cause us to question who we really are. Just as bad, though, the medications we take add to our identity-confusion. Over the years, many of my patients with bipolar disorder have told me that the pharmacopoeia I was prescribing was robbing them of themselves. The pills were causing them to be less fun-loving and their true creative self; their lives weren’t as rich and vital as they were without treatment. Despite my best intentions to help them, I was a perpetrator of their distress. I understood them. I had walked their walk.

Humans must have a clear sense of who we are, defined by our values, ethics, core beliefs and behaviors. Having such clarity anchors us in our world. We can’t have satisfying relationships or meaningful vocations when we don’t know who we are. It’s simply impossible to have a shifting sense of self and live a stable, happy life.

Mood stability

After years of mood stability, I was finally certain about the difference between medication side effects and the genuine, authentic me. I felt good: bipolar was a healthy aspect of my identity. I was fully integrated with a solid sense of self and this provided me with a comfort that I never had experienced before. Perhaps in the future I will have a hypomanic or depressive episode and Mr. Hyde will reappear. When I become stable after that period ends, though, I will know that I am neither Dr. Jekyll nor Hr. Hyde. I am both. I am now a doctor living well who happens to have a mental health condition. It’s as simple as that. Full acceptance of all aspects of my authentic self allows me to have inner peace. I am now whole.

Are you Jekyll, Hyde, neither, both?