For over 30 years now, the shrinks and even some of my psychotherapists have been telling me that my “up” moods are “mania” and my “down” moods are “depression” – both equally toxic and pathological, both “symptoms” of a “disease” that they called “bipolar disorder”. When they put that name on me, they thought they had mastered something – had proven themselves experts, even though they had no idea what caused it or how it worked, had accomplished nothing except to invent some words to label behaviors but add no understanding to them.
What they had really accomplished was to wreak powerful damage on me by giving me a label, a diagnosis – a pathological lens through which to look at myself, my emotions, my behaviors. I had never quite realized how truly damaged I was until they pointed it out to me. I had to get over the idea of trusting myself, my feelings – because I actually had a disease that I certainly had no idea how to “manage” or “treat”, much less cure. No more relying on my natural process of emotional release to heal what hurt me – extreme emotions were certainly signs of mania or depression. No, now the Holy Grail became not aliveness, but “mood stability” – and they backed that up by giving me anti-seizure medications that they thought maybe made my brain more stable (as in, maybe, stuck or frozen or anesthetized or paralyzed).
I on-and-off fought the toxicity of calling myself “manic” or “depressed” by coining my own terms for those states. At least I don’t remember getting these terms from anybody else – but they are so intuitively obvious that I gotta believe other people have been using them.
My “up” state became not “mania” but expansion. I get big – I fill the available space. I feel in contact with everybody and all of life. I am happy. I like myself. I feel the full breadth of emotions – not worrying about whether any of these feelings are “healthy” or “functional” or “appropriate”. Somewhere along the way, someone had told me that feelings aren’t good or bad – they just are. But if you are not deciding what’s right or wrong, good or bad, healthy or pathological, what kind of an expert are you?
My “down” state became not the pathological world of “depression”, but the simply painful world of contraction. Sometimes an awful lot of pain, but maybe it doesn’t mean anything beyond contracted pain – maybe it is not a symptom of some underlying disease. Maybe we don’t have to invent some story about it at all – maybe it just is. Most psychiatrists were never trained in research, but my psychologist’s research training wants to coach me to “stay with the data – don’t stray far from the data”.
This contraction can actually be extremely painful. It can feel like every cell is in a vice. It may feel like every movement intensifies the pain. In this state, I want only to be unconscious – to get really still and hope that I will either (preferably) go back to sleep or get so quiet that I feel nothing.
Ah, there’s an aspiration – to feel nothing. And the more I stay in bed trying to get quiet, the more dense and contracted my body becomes – the more the life essence gets squeezed out of me, until sometimes it seems like there is nothing left in life but unremitting pain, and I become preoccupied with how to end the pain, even if that requires also ending the life.
No one ever said “Don’t collapse into the dense, contracted, stiff, frozen, numb world of the uninspired body (body-minus-spirit) – that way is death. Come back to Life – come back to the world of Spirit. Move. Push through the pain to the aliveness on the other side. Don’t go back to bed – you will only anesthetize yourself. The longer you sleep, the more encased in death you become.”
I tend to wake up almost exactly every two hours, needing to pee. At my first two-hour increment, getting out of bed is painful. I have to push myself to walk to the bathroom – walking is a struggle. But if I choose to get up and get busy at this point, it’s not too hard to push through the pain and get to my computer, writing happily. If, after 2-4 hours, I am falling asleep again, I return to bed for a couple of hours before starting the day.
At the four-hour point, I have sunk farther into the pain-body and everything is harder. My old fearful voice says “Go back to bed. Get real quiet. Get under the radar. You can get up at the 6-hour mark.” But I know from very hard experience that at the six-hour mark the pain will have sunk in so deep that I really do tend to believe that the “depression” has come back – that all of the good feelings have actually been mania and the truth is that I am sick, basically hopelessly fucked.
At the four-hour point this morning, I wanted so desperately to go back to bed. But that voice came right up against a voice saying, “If you go back to bed now, then when you do get up you will have to go straight into your work day and you will do it from a place of pain, of unconsciousness, of fear. You will spend your whole day in a survival mode.
“Get up now! Rise! Shine, be glorious! If you need to do this first, stand under the hot shower for as long as you need. You know from many experiences now that by the time you get out of the shower you will throw on your robe and – even before shaving – go to your laptop or phone voice recorder app and start capturing all the exciting thoughts you are having. If you get up now, you will have time to dance – to cue up Amy Steinberg on Pandora, your favorite music now, let your Spirit infuse your body and fly free.
“If you give yourself some time in the world of Spirit before you go back into battle – out there in the world of performance and survival, where it is so hard to stay connected to Spirit – you will have a fighting chance to bring some Spirit, some connection, some love along with you. If you write and dance, you will have inspiration on your side and your body will not be that torporous, pain-body but a lighter, freer body that may just throw some dance moves into your day.”
So today I chose the world of Spirit over the world of pain and death. I had a lot of fun, laughed a lot, played and teased with my customers – and yes, did dance a little behind my cash register, when I heard a good song through the overhead speaker.
Are you going to call this joy, this aliveness “mania” because i didn’t have as much sleep as you think I should need? Do you think that your fearfulness is somehow supportive or helpful to me? To take this beautiful experience – so full of life and love – and give it a stigmatizing mental illness diagnosis would be so cruel, so destructive as to seem actively malicious. What are you so afraid of? Are you jealous?