Mania, for those who do not know, is not just an elevated mood, nor is it necessarily a “good” or “high” feeling. Mania goes beyond any reasonable happy feeling, to a place that causes major distress and impairs yur ability to function. Here are some symptoms (though it can vary widely between patients):
• Extreme, grandiose self-esteem; a perceived connection with God; belief in God-like powers.
• Extreme elation or irritability.
• Spending or gambling sprees, drug use, dramatic increase in sexual behavior.
• A rapid stream of ideas thought to be brilliant.
• Not sleeping or sleeping very little.
What Does Mania Feel Like?
Depending on whether your mania is great elation or great irritability, it can either be perceived as pleasant or unpleasant or even somewhere in between. In my case, I am somewhere in between. There have been many, many times where my experience of mania has been very pleasant even while it has caused my life some distress. My manic energy is typically channeled into a binge writing fest (where I must say I have produced some wacky prose) or cleaning marathons, that while scrubbing the kitchen floor at 3 a.m. might legitimately be ridiculous, my house turns out spotless. On the flip side, I have gone on spending sprees (nothing crazy huge but definitely way past my means), I’ve decided that my pantry door made a lovely canvas and painted flowers on it, I’ve gone outside in the winter with snow on the ground in my night gown and one my girls fairy wands and tossed glitter around because I was convinced I was a snow sprite of some kind. I’m truly glad there was no Twitter or YouTube at the time because I’m pretty sure someone would have plastered a video of me for the world to see. I can also have bouts of extreme irritability in the midst of my mania so that the oddest things trigger my anger. It’s like everything is magnified and I can’t not see it.
Many times, as part of this mania, I hear voices. I tend to have auditory hallucinations during both depressive bouts and manic bouts, however, they will speak different things. During mania the voices support my extreme, grandiose self-esteem. I will be the first one to tell you that this is never good and is actually very dangerous. When I was younger it was more difficult to filter out the voices, meaning I believed they were the voices of some higher power, where as now, I feel like I am cognizant that these voices are my mental illness and so I try to ignore what they say. Just because I am aware doesn’t mean it’s less hard. It simply means that I feel like I have some defense. When I was a teen-ager I got into a lot of trouble over the voices, and not being able to distinguish what was real and what wasn’t. Add to that a fear that if I told my parents about the voices I was going to end up in an asylum, and I was well into adulthood before I got help for those voices.
In either case, mania is very dangerous because the person experiencing it at the time feels like it all makes sense. Even if it does not to anyone else around them or is plain risky behavior, the person believes they are right. Sometimes, it is up to those around the person to intervene and it may require emergency medical intervention. When the manic episode passes, the person typically can see that what they were doing was unrealistic or dangerous- but it is almost impossible to see this during the mania.
Mania, for me, has run the gamut of emotion. There are episodes where I’ve felt on top of the world. Untouchable. Near to a superhero. But with it there was always the kernel of knowledge that at any moment, all those incredibly good feelings could be sucked away, leaving me in the kind of despair and sadness that has you tip toeing a very narrow edge of sanity. Sometimes the mania makes you feel you took a head long leap down the rabbit hole. The world looks like a Salvador Dalí painting and every time you reach out to touch it, things warp and twist. It can be incredibly frightening and incredibly exhilarating at the same time, which is what makes it so very dangerous. I think people always worry about the depression part of bipolar, and rightly so, but I think more attention should be given to the dangers of mania.