As I mentioned in my previous post, manic depression has both ups and downs. The severity, prevalence and duration vary from one individual to another, but they do have a lot in common. The "down" phases are the more obvious - depression. Even someone who has never heard of psychology or depression can recognize (and has probably seen) signs of depression in other individuals. But what about the "up" phases?
They are most commonly referred to as mania and are usually seen as the opposite of depression. To the lay person mania can really seem as the antonym of depression and most probably wouldn't even recognize it as a condition that needs to be treated. Why is that? Well, for starters, in a manic phase a person appears very lively, outgoing, creative and optimistic. They seem to be always smiling, entertaining others, planing to do one thing or another - just the kind of person you would need to get you out of a depressive spell. However, mania can be much more potent and destructive than it may appear at first glance.
For starters, the very name might give you a clue to its all-encompassing power. A person in a manic phase has so much energy and vigor that they might loose all control over their life. The spark of creativity turns ablaze, so they start working on several projects at once and never come round to finishing any of them. They tend to run on very little or no sleep at all until they collapse. They are not known to listen to reason and telling them to slow down will probably do as much good as pissing on napalm. Furthermore, even though the person might seem overtly optimistic, that needn't be true. In fact, mania is more likely to cause violent mood swing than an overall feeling of happiness. Anger, anxiety, rage, vengefulness, disgust - all of these (and quite a few more) can combine into an unpleasant and explosive cocktail which is then seen by others as a form of "batshit crazy".
To give you an idea of what a manic phase looks like, here is what I did for Christmas this year:
My boyfriend and I went home to see our parents who live in another part of the country. To get there, we had to take several means of public transportation for a total of 6 hours. Now, as you can probably imagine, 6 hours of public transportation is not the most pleasant experience and can leave one very much drained and tired, so I decided to stay at home for the night and do all of the cleaning, cooking, baking, decorating etc. tomorrow (it was still a few days to Christmas and I usually help my mother with the holiday chores because she can't manage on her own). The next morning I got up early and the manic phase kicked in. I spent the next week doing everything there was to be done, from helping my father bring in the tree, to baking cookies, visiting relatives and last-minute shopping. In addition, I spent most of the evenings getting drunk and high, staying up until the early hours of the morning. The next day I would get up early and start all over again. The first sign of trouble appeared when I got sick from the smell of cookie dough on Christmas Eve. I haven't eaten or slept properly in several days and have spent so much time making cookies and cakes that my stomach couldn't take it any more. That, however, did not slow me down. The next week of my life was just as frantic and, by the time New Years Eve came around, I was exhausted and my family had had enough of me. Also, I went through so much beer and pot that I might have set a frat-house record if anyone bothered to count.
Fortunately for me, I never experience full blown mania and only get "mini" episodes which tend to last no longer than a week or two (hypomania as opposed to full blown mania). So, as the New Year celebration approached, I slowed down and was able to pick up my normal life-rhythm again. I slept for 10 to 12 hours for the next few days, recovered my strength and assessed which of the newly bought sweaters was actually wearable (turns out its 50%).