I think one of the most overlooked elements of bipolar disorder is the distinct possibility of mania addiction.
I mentioned this notion very breifly in passing in the post 10 of the Most Common Reasons People Stop Taking Medication because I can’t even begin to quantify how many times I’ve heard these three words from a person with bipolar disorder:
“I miss mania.”
First, I just want to note that addiction can happen with anything. No really, anything that gives us that surge of good feelings can be something we can become addicted to. Anything from a gambling payout to sex to food, let alone any substance that makes us feel good or even just better.
Now, imagine that you are someone capable of getting a high without ingesting anything, without smoking anything, but just by waking up one morning it is there. Perhaps your body feels light and your motion feels effortless, your heart is pumping and you feel excited (even for no apparent reason), and you can’t quit smiling. You feel happy to take on the day, excited to do social things, and you seem to be seeing everything around you for the first time.
For a long time I believed mania addiction was something limited to hypomania, the sort of phenomenon I just described above. It is considered the low-level version of mania, and isn’t usually outrageous enough to cause damage to one’s life. Not only does it feel great, but it is often something that is fairly sustainable for long periods of time in our society. A little extra pep and energy in the workplace is often praised (rather than a herald for concern) so hypomania is something that can be channeled into the workplace very easily.
True mania, a much more intense phenomenon, is usually the area where people begin to make big, life-altering decisions that they might begin to regret later. Selling all possessions, spending their 401k, or moving to China at the drop of a hat. True mania can also be accompanied by psychosis (for some, not all) which can include delusions, hallucinations, and an overall loss of reality. Despite how terrifying a lot of the symptoms are of true mania, there are definitely people who respect this state when it occurs in them.
I have heard many examples of people who have had spiritually themed manic episodes, and for some these episodes have changed their lives (by self-admission). When someone believes they are in contact with a higher spiritual power (and I’m not saying they aren’t -consider peyote and how that has effected people’s spiritual lives), I don’t know why they wouldn’t want to keep having manic episodes.
So let’s consider taking it away. Mania, poof. It has now miraculously disappeared.
Like any addiction, the first thing that starts creeping in is withdrawal.
For most with bipolar disorder, we may have to tolerate some unfortunate and overwhelming lows, but we also have periods that are up -which many consider to be only fair.
(I just want to note quickly that not all people with bipolar disorder experience fun highs. The experience varies from person to person, and sometimes this “fun” experience is replaced with a very excruciating “not-fun” experience where the energy of the high is combined with anger or depression. People who experience this are usually less inclined to feel upset about giving up mania in general, but again, it varies from person to person.)
In my own experience I have noticed that most of the medications I have tried have very viciously ripped away those “up” moments without having any luck with them taking away any of the “downs”. In that sense, I think mania (in the liberal meaning) is the first to go for many people, and the frustration comes from feeling a constant depression, dull depression, or numbness without any of that exciting manic payoff.
This is where the words usually come out.
“I miss mania.”
And as the desperation for those good feelings escalates, it can feel easy to justify, say, dropping a medication or two. Or all.
“I never feel creative anymore, I don’t have any energy, I haven’t wanted to hang out with my friends, my work is slipping, nothing is as easy as it used to be.”
And boy can it be difficult to learn to do tasks the difficult way when we’ve been doing them all effortlessly before.
I think this is one of the reasons it is so important that researchers are beginning to consider what positive aspects bipolar disorder has. How many people would be in favor of eradicating the depression if we could leave in a pinch of hypomania? Most, I’d venture to guess, if it could just be limited to a pinch.
Why anyone would stop taking the medications given to them is one of the things I would wager is most misunderstood by the general population, and I think people are more confused when something like bipolar disorder (rather serious, right?) is something people are defending as having benefits.
I hope I can shine just a tiny bit of light on this using what I’ve heard from others and experienced myself, and though I’m not a doctor, if this has described what you’re experiencing right now I’d suggest talking with your doctor before doing anything drastic. Out of anyone, they usually do understand the situation and should be able to help you work through it by making a change.