Manic Depression is a complex condition with a lot of misinformation and controversy surrounding it. So, to clear things up, here is an account from a manic depressive of what it’s like to live with the emotional disorder.
For me, the first recognisable difference between a depressive episode and a manic episode is that depression feels isolating, lonely whereas mania feels connected and with love. As high as one rises, the other will fall as far.
But living with manic depression (also known as Bipolar Disorder) is a lot harder than just recognising what mood you’re in. Every day is hell, whether you’re depressed or manic, it’s difficult to control, your feelings betray you into acting in all sorts of ways, and the inconsistency with which you view yourself is really rather problematic. Motivation to do anything is particularly low, because depression prevents you from wanting to and mania makes you only pursue things with immediate effects.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, manic depressives, like myself, find they can work far better as artists. The constant ebb and flow of mood can compliment creativity. In periods of mania, manic depressives can create and imagine at a prolific rate. Feeling such a wide and varying range of emotions provides a context for any art, and with such a rich emotional experience, manic depressives are more likely to create art that really resonates with people.
Mania’s not always good though as in milder cases (of hypomania, Bipolar II) it can cause a rash amount of confidence that can lead to risky or self-destructive behaviour and compelling others to do the same or in more severe cases (of Bipolar I) can lead to complete delusions and even hallucinations.
Furthermore, once a manic episode is over it can feel rather like a comedown from amphetamines. You feel exhausted, burned out, humiliated and eventually you become as depressed as you were manic.
Depressive episodes are debilitating. Simple tasks seem insurmountable, you feel completely alone, useless, even a hindrance. But you don’t feel specifically sad; more just empty, out of control. It takes so much energy to convince yourself to even get out of bed, because everything feels meaningless. Thoughts of suicide are less about avoiding something, but more breaking the monotony. Everything feels so overwhelming that one small act of self-sacrifice can seem worth it; never having to do anything again. Self-loathing, guilt, anger will all subside, and you can be left empty, incomplete, but no longer with any particularly negative emotion.
Of course, thinking like that is just as deluded as manic thinking, and for me I can bring myself round and begin to ascend from depression before I feel completely bereft of hope. However, the depressive side of manic depression can be very damaging to one’s social life, as most people don’t understand how to deal with it.
People are scared by what they don’t know, and if they’ve not experienced severe depression, the idea that someone they know considers suicide on a daily basis is terrifying. So a lot of manic depressives feel they have to hide themselves, or risk losing friendships.
Depression also entails pushing people away, when really you need them most. A lot of folks stop trying to communicate after a few attempts, as they think you don’t like them; they don’t realise how isolating depression is. Most people are then also alarmed by manic episodes, as you seem, drunk or on drugs and out of character. A lot of people (who don’t realise I’m a manic depressive) describe me as being overly changeable and feel like they can’t get to know me properly. Sadly, they’re unwittingly trying the wrong way, and often I’m in no fit state to let them in either.
Often depression can manifest in physical symptoms as well; exhaustion, nausea, frayed nerves, aches, feeling very cold or stiflingly hot. I’ve noticed that when I get colds or infections, it’s usually following a depressive episode. It’s difficult to try and get people to make exceptions for it as they would a physical malady though. If you break your leg, you wouldn’t be expected to come in to work, but in can be just as impossible to work during a depressive or manic episode as well. If you try and convince people then they likely either label you as a nutcase or assume that you’re being lazy or entitled.
I’ve taken mood stabilising medication in the past as well, but I found them to be singularly unhelpful. Most had side effects that completely incapacitated me, and those that didn’t made me feel empty, though not necessarily depressed, but even so, I still had no motivation to do anything with my life.
I’ve found that the best remedies for manic depression are, at least for me, music, which helps me to focus my emotions and observe them from an outside perspective and meditation for a similar reason that I can clear my head somewhat and again examine my emotions from a removed disinterested point. Having a good community of friends will also help you to normalise your mood.
This article isn’t particularly well structured, but it’s a deliberate choice, as manic depression can scatter your thoughts and make it very difficult to take a holistic view of anything.