Jay Griffiths asks if bipolar is really an illness (as does anyone who’s got it). Illness is a condition that impairs normal functioning. “But in the foothills of mania, normal functioning is enhanced,” she writes.
-Sarah Wilson, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful
Recently, I met an older woman who is in the depths of bipolar depression. She was telling me how her depression takes the life out of her, making it feel impossible to get out of the house some days… or even out of bed. She even labeled it as her form of “hibernation.” At the worst times, she literally goes for days without eating rather than managing the trip to the grocery store. On the other end, however, she views mania as not problematic whatsoever. “See those flowers in the front yard? I planted all of those at night while manic! I get so much done!”
The strange thing about bipolar disorder is one that is also dangerous: many people do not have an accurate view of their illness.
It is easy to see how depression (which makes people feel terrible) is viewed as an illness by the patient; however, mania (which can have a euphoric high and feature excessive energy) may feel like the exact OPPOSITE of something commonly labeled as an illness. No wonder Kanye called bipolar disorder his superpower…
Let me tell you this: mania IS harmful.
This isn’t just because “what goes up must come down.”
In my own personal experience, mania deprived me of many things,
including the ability to function (i.e. study for exams),
think logically (too many thoughts),
communicate effectively (pressured speech which overwhelms others),
appetite (dropped to an anorexic BMI without even realizing it),
sleep (2-3 hours max per night),
and restraint (impulsive actions, excessive dating, splurges/shopping).
Money may seem limitless and unrealistic business ventures may seem totally doable, leading to troubling career and personal financial consequences. It wore out my body physically as well. Mania can even alter your reality (psychosis) and lower your self-awareness. An episode can suddenly shift from euphoric to one with mixed features, making suicidality a top concern as well.
It is good to catch hypomania or mania early since having bipolar episodes increases the chance of even more episodes (depressive and manic) in the future.
Yes, the euphoric high of mania can feel great, especially fresh out of the despair of depression, but do not be deceived.
Mania is a nightmare dressed like a daydream, and it is capable of destroying your life in ways that will leave you quite likely heartbroken, physically worn out, financially drained, unemployed, and quite alone.