Bipolar Brain Part 2: Liar Liar Pants On Fire
As I wrote in my previous post, when I am seriously manic it feels as though I’ve reached the absolute heights of ecstasy, at least to begin with. But mania takes an incredibly heavy toll on my system, starting with the fact that when I finally plummet back down to earth, the contrast between my non-adrenaline fueled life and my mania-driven existence seems excruciating and unbearable. It happens so abruptly that it’s like slamming on the brakes when you’re going a million miles an hour around a track; you skid, you spin out, your brakes lock up, you strip all your gears, and you smash into all the other cars around you and then explode in a giant (metaphorical) fireball.
Plus, it leaves you with a hell of an emotional hangover.
It reminds me of the scene in “Top Gun” when Tom Cruise’s and Anthony Edwards’ characters have just buzzed the control tower in their really expensive military aircraft, and while they’re getting chewed out by their commanding officer he tells Tom Cruise, “Son, your ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash.” But in this case my maverick check-writer is my mind, and when it comes time to pay up there’s nothing left in my energetic, emotional, or physical bank. So I’m hungover and overdrawn.
Then, as if that weren’t enough to cope with, when I’m in this raw and vulnerable place my old buddies, All-or-Nothing Thinking, Grandiose Thinking, and “I Am Special” Thinking rush in and spin a story that makes me feel even worse. Because, if you remember, they are giant hairy lying sacks of lies.
“Oh, it’s so hard to come back into this physical body,” they moan, “when before I was able to roam the entire mental universe unencumbered and free”. But here’s the thing: no matter how dissociated I might have been during my manic state, at no time was I ever just a free-floating brain, detached from my physical self. So whatever amazingly brilliant thinking I thought I did, I did it while I was in my body; it’s not true that being in my body prevents me from exercising my brain in stimulating ways.
It’s true that sometimes the downward part of this cycle is physically hard, but that’s usually because I haven’t been eating much or sleeping well or exercising or doing all the things I need to do to take care of myself. Plus, it’s hard to come down from the extended high of running adrenaline through my system. Even though it completely trashes my body, it’s so tempting to try and amp myself up again just to get another hit. I’m definitely an emotional and intellectual adrenaline junkie.
But “Special” Thinking continues, undeterred. “Oh, poor me. No one can understand my agony. My mind was exploding with brilliance, and now I’m down here in the mud with all of these peons who will never reach the mental heights that I’ve achieved.”
It’s trying to seduce me yet again, to tempt me into believing that I am somehow more than just “a mere mortal” like everyone else. That not only are my highs higher, but my lows are lower, my feelings more intense, and my suffering greater than anyone else can possibly imagine. (I did mention that my besetting sin is Pride, did I not?)
It’s true that my brain does struggle when my emotions are cycling down instead of up. There is a big difference between thoughts thought at manic speed and thoughts thought at regular speed, and it’s hard to transition between the two. But regular-speed thoughts are not boring, colorless, depressing, dull, and blah as my brain would like me to believe; they just feel different because they’re coming from a calmer, less edgy place.
Bipolar Disorder can be really overwhelming because the feelings are so intense, and my mind is constantly telling me that whatever I’m feeling is the only thing that’s true-no matter if that “truth” changes from moment to moment. Just riding out the mood swings is exhausting in and of itself, but on top of that there is all the work of remembering that I constantly need to challenge this thinking. I need to ask myself repeatedly, “Is what my brain is telling me now true? Can I absolutely know it’s true? What is actually happening here in this moment? And what am I telling myself that means about me?
I’ve finally gotten to the place where, at least most of the time, I want to feel good and have stable moods (as much as I am able) more than I want to ride this emotional roller coaster, and if I really want to feel better then this is the work I have to do. It’s not glamorous, it’s not easy, and it doesn’t just happen. But I get up every day and do it anyway, over and over again-and I do a damn good job of it too. So yay me. And yay all of us who struggle with this condition.
May we be well. May we be happy. May we be free from suffering. May we be blessed.
And so it is. Amen.