“It’s been manic at work.”
“I’m so depressed about my break up.”
Words such as manic and depression are commonplace, and yet manic depression, otherwise known as Bipolar Disorder affects between 1 and 3% of the population and yet all too often we think of it as the preserve of the famous wildly creative likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Stephen Fry and Catherine Zeta Jones. The reality is something less glamorous and more dangerous.
“There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one’s marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friends’ faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against– you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind.”
Bipolar disorder is characterised by manic highs where sleep isn’t needed and thoughts fly at speed, you feel like queen of the world, money is spent like water and euphoria makes you reckless. Just as the money begins to run out and exhaustion starts to creep in, the depression takes a hold.
It’s a serious mental illness, but early treatment and management can enable people to live full lives, able to use the creativeness which is often related to mania whilst managing the often destructive nature of depressions. What’s needed, however is understanding of the condition, of how regular food, good sleep and managed medication can make the best of life touched by bipolar disorder.
It shows us, most profoundly that beauty can come from the darkest places. The raging stars of mania can pierce a dark night with creative expression the likes of which are seen in sufferers from Ernest Hemingway to McFly’s Tom Fletcher (extreme examples I realise!) Indeed, so linked are creativity and bipolar that World Bipolar Day is celebrated on Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday!
The narrative of beauty from pain in all its many forms is writ large throughout human history, and no more so than in the Easter story, a miracle sparking grace and love seen first through human tears.
And that narrative is seen poignantly in the lives of thousands of men and women with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder can wreak chaos and pain, but it can also leave a legacy of beauty in people’s lives if we let it.