Some Thoughts About Mania

ManiaDuring my recovery from overload (the result of having ignored my personal limitations), I’ve found my thoughts turning to the psychodynamics of mania. Over the last few years as my clinical and theoretical focus has shifted to the role of shame in bipolar disorder, I’ve paid less atttention to rage and the sense of entitlement — the way they can often fuel a manic episode. It’s true that I’ve written about these experiences in connection with borderline personality disorder but have neglected their role in manic-depressive illness.

Grandiose or magical thinking reflects the wish to achieve something all at once — to become wealthy or famous, or to complete a creative project without having to undertake the long hard work necessary for authentic achievement. In some cases, the underlying depression is so profound and the psychological damage from a traumatic childhood so pervasive that realistic growth is felt to be impossible — thus the magical all-at-once solution seems the only way out. Think of this as true mania, intimately connected with shame. Other people not so damaged by life, not so riddled with shame may also long to achieve things faster than may be possible in reality; they may resent the self-discipline, patience and deprivation necessary to achieve major goals. Rather than delusional, truly manic states of mind, they may try to achieve their goals through sustained bursts of activity that may last for weeks or even months. Such hypomanic states of mind may actually lead to actual achievement, but they reflect an underlying impatience and, in many cases, an angry denial of the need for a more consistent, slow-and-steady approach to accomplishment.

A familiar analogy often comes to mind in this connection. Years ago when my brother introduced me to mountain biking, he explained to me the concept of “resting uphill”: when coming to an incline, most beginning cyclists tend to behave the way children do when confronted with a hill, rising out of the saddle and pedaling even harder in order to get the hill “over with”; instead, my brother advised me, shift into your “granny gear,” continue pedaling at the same steady pace and keep your eyes on the trail directly ahead of you. Don’t worry about getting to the top. When friends come to visit here in Colorado and I take them hiking, I often give them similar advice: slow your pace on the steeper inclines and focus your gaze on the path immediately before you rather than on the summit itself. This advice applies to many types of non-athletic achievement, as well: worry less about the final goal and more about the immediate stage ahead.

When I think about my writing during the first half of this year, I see myself out of the saddle and breathlessly pedaling in my drive to conquer the hill ahead of me. Since January 1, in addition to keeping up with my various blogs, I wrote four articles for The Atlantic, produced a new video on narcissistic mothers for my YouTube channel, researched and drafted a 45-page proposal for my book on shame, as well as conceiving, writing and releasing my psychological fairy tale, Cinderella. In retrospect, I see myself in a kind of hypomanic state, driven to “conquer the hill” by refusing to respect my own limitations as well as those imposed by reality.

And what, you may ask, is the exact nature of this particular hill? Selling my book proposal to a mainstream publisher. It’s what I’ve always wanted, as many of you longtime readers probably know. All along, I have believed that with enough traffic here at After Psychotherapy, my status as a “Psychology Today blogger” and a “regular contributor to The Atlantic,” I should be able to make myself attractive enough to publishers that they will look with favor upon my proposal. They will respect how much I “bring to the table” and decide to get behind me and my writing career. While I still believe this to be an achievable goal, it may take more time, patience and hard work to achieve than I have wanted to accept. Instead of going the slow-and-steady route, I shifted into manic hyperdrive over a six-month period in order to “make it happen.”

As a result, I overtaxed myself and was stretched very very thin just at the point when life threw me some curveballs. In the last two weeks, I’ve had no choice but to slow down and rest. Not to resume work on Snow White at the Dwarf Colony, not to work every spare minute, not to get back to playing the piano. I’ve had to force myself to sleep more and relax. I’m glad to say that I’m recovering nicely. Physically, I feel much better, more rested, and taking more pleasure in this gorgeous Colorado summer. Yesterday, I was finally able to undertake my favorite hike, a moderately challenging ascent to 11+K feet, without feeling taxed by it. By the time we came home, I had a strong sense of physical well-being.

I had planned to spend some time yesterday afternoon writing. I was looking forward to it. Then I noticed I was feeling slightly grouchy with family members. Nothing intense, nothing I actually voiced; but I had to stop and wonder about the reasons. Finally, it occurred to me that I was tired, that instead of writing, I needed to take a nap. You would think such physical symptoms of fatigue would be obvious to a person schooled in self-observation, but I persistently miss these cues. I guess I should say I deliberately miss them because I don’t want to acknowledge my fatigue. When I eventually opted to take a nap instead of working, I felt angry. Without quite voicing it to myself, I wanted to get right back on that writing bicycle and start climbing to the summit!

I’m glad to say that my anger didn’t stand in the way of that nap. Today, I decided to write about a type of mania that many of you might understand. There’s a kind of anger behind my own mania: anger at my own limitations, anger at the limitations imposed by reality, and anger about the time necessary to achieve a difficult goal. To curb this mania, I’ve had to recognize my anger, respect my limitations and force myself to do what I most decidedly do not want to do — rest.

Enough writing for one day. Back to my R&R. I can always write tomorrow!

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. Thank you for this article!
    I have been in such a hypomanic state for the past few months, over-working, over-committing myself. This came just in time to remind myself that I really do have to slow down and respect my own limitation and realize that the mindset of “as long as I work hard and long enough, I will prove myself by achieving the in achievable” isn’t realistic at all.
    Thanks again.

  2. OMG. Okay, I know that that exclamation is not proper writing etiquette, however I completely related to this.

    As I read and got toward the end of your article, I was breathing a sigh of relief! Thank GOD it’s not bipolar or borderline (I have quite the tendency to pathologize myself and it irritates my therapist and nearest and dearest).
    This is SUCH a great reminder, Dr. Joe, to take the time when we need it. I feel the same kind of anger, the same kind of ‘push’ and total irritation when I NEED to slow down. I’m a writer too and I know how hard this work is. I’ve been busting butt for a year and just now it’s barely getting any notice. And that’s just on my blog, and doesn’t include my other writings along with mentoring survivors of abuse!

    You DESERVE a book deal with a great publisher. Here’s hoping you get one.


    1. Thanks, Kelli. As you know, I tend to resist the categorization of diverse experience under labels like “bipolar” or “borderline.” Mania is a spectrum experience and a great many of us who don’t fit any diagnostic category get manic from time to time.

  3. Hi Joseph, in the tropics, an afternoon siesta
    Is cultural.. Not a bad idea really. Having some
    Solitude/ rest in the early afternoon. Allows
    Some repair time, before evening activities.
    Re not finding a publisher. So you find
    A publisher, then what, you worry how many copies
    Sell? Of course, having your theories
    Validated/ shared… Can be affirming. But to stress
    On it. What’s the point, really? Many people
    Thru this blog etc have already found some help
    With their healing thru your words.

    1. Thank you for the encouragement. I do think I need to focus more on what I AM doing that has a positive impact, rather than on what I’m not (yet) able to achieve. I’ve always resisted naps but I’m getting better at it. I have to fight the feeling that sleep is such a waste of time!

  4. Like always Inspiring — Magical Thinking seems like the main hurdle in path of a lot of unsuccessful Folks — Hope you will write down more about it Later — after having due rest –Wish you great moments Ahead —

  5. Love it.

    What about setting a realistic plan with milestones, and todo lists, and tackle them down one by one… in a way that you keep thee top of the hill on your sight, but you’re still satiating the need to get something done, get something over with, by tackling the smaller tasks that build the whole?

    I have the same anger-fueled mania. I go in bursts. Start with a lot of energy, that starts diminishing when Im getting to the top – then I have to force myself on that top and the extra polishing needed there that usually takes 80% of the time when I have about 20% of the energy left. But if I decide to stop and go for another hill, I suddenly get a bust of energy for that fresh new start. Kind of self sabbotaging myself? so I’ve learned to stay on track and use the bursts to complete shorter tasks, and never switch projects until I got the hill done. And been learning to accept the ride and be less angry about it.

    By the way. The anger serves a purpose. It makes for tunnel vision, gives you extra focus, adrenaline, awareness, etc. But it’s too taxing and it’s a nest for other bad behaviors…

    So, anyway. To-do lists and long term goals and realistic plans and sustained effort. Plus meditation and enjoyment of the cotidiane…. that’s a start. Im still impatient, but the system makes it manageable.

    Do you have tips, hows to’s, insight on how to work towards the top of the hill, and doing it happy, filled of love and enjoyment – without resorting to these angry-impatient-maniac bursts?

    1. Im thinking that the problem here is that the anger is fueled by the nature of the goal.

      In your case, getting published by a mainstream publisher, in my case getting my music into the world. The goal is not just doing the work and getting it done, but getting the rewards and recognition. The work, even when I love doing it, it’s more of an obstacle than it’s a reward on it’s own.

      So all the work done towards the top of the hill is just a bunch of work done without getting validation nor rewards – when what I really want is validation and rewards. Makes me feel scarce and void. The anger fills that void. Or the anger is the response for not having what I want.

      1. We don’t write books or music in a void; we write them for an audience. I know there are people who feel that the act of creation should be enough in itself, but I don’t understand that. We want to connect with our audience, to feel they understand and appreciate the work we do. That’s not narcissism; it’s part of creative expression. So yes, I’m with you — anger is the response for not having what I want.

        1. Dr. Joe,

          This is a very honest statement. I tend to get caught up in the idea that writing for an audience is somewhat narcissistic, but I do have to say that I love what I do too and I do know that words can heal and I do know, that for some, my words do on my blog, just as yours do here and what’s wrong for feeling good about knowing you helped someone heal?
          Maybe I’m not ‘out there’ in my community giving back in some physical present way (I’m disabled), but I do believe that even online, you can touch people and that just one answer can change their lives. I’m reading your blog now, as part of my own personal recovery. I understand the value of the written word and feeling good (and angry) about it.

          1. Thanks, Kelli. I agree about the power of the written word. I also think we have to make room for healthy narcissism — wanting to be acknowledged by one’s community or audience for the work one does. Not all narcissism is pathological.

    2. I wish I had those tips, but I think you’ve given some good advice. To-do lists, long-term goals, realistic plans and sustained effort. I think it also helps to focus on my love of writing — and interactions such as this one — that make the journey rewarding. While the destination is truly important to me, the journey is pretty damn enjoyable, too. I need to remember that.

  6. I really empathize with this, possibly many people do! I’m glad you’re taking a physical break but hope you can give yourself a mental/ psychological break too: it still seems to me that you have quite a harsh perception of yourself. It’s normal to want to reach your goal as fast as you can, to overwork sometimes, to overdo it…just accept that you will do this sometimes because you’re an enthusiastic and quite ambitious person.

  7. I recently felt a sudden burst of pressure to ‘get it done’ when it came to planning my wedding. Generally, I like to move at a slower pace and resist the temptation to jump into a hypo manic mode. However, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure from various sources- friends and family members asking questions about the details of the wedding made me feel like I had to have answers; I wanted to keep the peace between the two merging families and be the strong leader in order to prevent drama from entering the process; and I also felt that if I did not ‘make things happen’ quickly, other more fast-acting parties (parents), well-intentioned but unattuned to my pacing needs, would take over. I was miserable throughout this period with the burden of having to make decisions quickly and prepare for marriage ‘all at once’. Not to mention simultaneously managing my workload as a psych doctoral student. In the nine months since the wedding, I have been trying to move forward, become healthier and understand what happened.

    A question I have for you- what happens/happened with your relationships (spouse, professional colleagues) during this ‘hypomanic’ period?


    1. Part of what adds to the pressure (and sometimes my anger) is feeling the responsibility to tend to my relationships and make sure I’m not neglecting them. It’s the reason why I get up at 5 a.m.: the only way I have found to get done what I want to get done, without eating into “family time” is to get up early and give myself a couple more hours in the morning. I don’t feel as if I’m neglecting my relationships, but I do often feel very tired by the time I get to them.

  8. Hello Joseph,

    Just a few thoughts on your article…
    I can understand your passion for writing, but for me life is a constant search for balance.
    As my humble website is called, “emotional stability”, this is not only reached by self observation and understanding who we are, it is, as you yourself state, an awareness of one´s own limitations. Having said that, there is also the relationship with our family, the need for day dreaming , “feeding” our hobbies, resting and, why not, practicing meditation. When we become too indulged in “selfish” activities, you forget and lose touch with the real world around you. Spreading ourselves too thin wears us down in the end.
    Your online friend from Seville, Spain.

    1. Magdalena — of courrse I agree with what you’re saying, and I will try to let it sink it more deeply. I suspect that for me, this will always be a challenge. Thanks!

  9. This post is actually comforting to me. It just makes sense. When I was in college I decided the thing to do was to take on leadership roles everywhere so I could to be ‘important’. I ended up president of a large student organisation, and various other things, and then found I hated all the pressure. What was I doing? Joe’s article irons things out for me…it was the impatience to be great at something without the investment of diligence required.

    I suffered trauma as a young child, then bipolar, both of which can never be 100% healed. I’ve got to live with that reality, and it really makes me enraged. I want my full potential back please, but have been robbed of perhaps 30% of it. The hypomanic method of bursts of energy hasn’t worked. I have had to lower (‘re-adjust’) my life goals. Years of therapy have gone towards accepting this, and yet I still feel ‘I hate my life’. But I am determined that by achieving in an ‘inch by inch’ manner — ‘the trail immediately in front of me’ — that there is a path through it. It hurts, it probably will always hurt, but it is what I have to do. That is, to develop the patience and gratitude to love what life has brought me — and one day, to die in peace.

    1. Boy do I relate to what you’re saying. It is living with the anger and trying to achieve acceptance that can be so challenging, with that ideal always in the background causing trouble!

    2. Go Dawn….. think how diffferent you options and your insight would be if you had not done all the hard work that is already behind you. Very impressive.

  10. Thank you for this piece. I am a psychologist in Australia. I am the same as you in this respect and notice how much I yawn and yawn when I sit on my children’s beds at night to read to them, my body finally able to give me some overt signs of how it really feels; what it really wants, which is rest. Stillness. To revitalise.

    Go slow to go fast Jo 🙂

  11. I was just in time to learn about myself from you in a reading I thought had nothing to do with me. Ususally I “bike” through life as you indicated is healthy and productive, but without even noticing I have been out of my seat and totally lost sight of the fact the no self care is the reason I feel so old at the moment. Plain as the nose on my face now that you point out how easily we decieve ourselves with noble efforts to maintain self respect. We love acomplishment and acheivment and forget about the mundane less celebrated….. maintainence. So sorry for the use of the word but…crazy.

  12. So glad you are taking time to rest. Thank you for writing this I enjoyed reading a new post from you and it’s a really interesting insight Joe. You’ve touched on many ‘issues’ I am currently musing… basic needs, goals, perfectionism, self-doubt, fear of failure, productivity etc

    It’s great to read that someone with a secure understanding of himself and deep self-awareness also thinks like and behaves like this at times.

    I often feel like my basic human needs get in the way of life or maybe life gets in the way of my needs being fulfilled? I have been known to joke about how inconvenient it is that we need to eat, sleep and s**t – ‘how much more productive could we be if we didn’t have to waste time on the toilet!’ That sort of thing.

    It’s about self-care isn’t it? I guess I am still processing your post and considering the issues I am currently dwelling on but for me it comes down to caring enough about my SELF that all other goals and aims that are external should not be more important than keeping my SELF well.

    I also love your analogy of peddling uphill. Sounds like how I have been responding to therapy – wanting to be ‘fixed’ already. Why am I not better already? These things take time and I need to step a little slower along that road I think, really soak it up and concentrate on the small lessons I am learning rather than wanted to reach the end – if the end isn’t actually a complete illusion.

    1. I often feel the same way, that basic human needs “get in the way of life” — I know it’s not a healthy way to think and I have to keep reminding myself that self-care ENABLES me to achieve what I want, rather than posing an obstacle.

      1. Completely agree. In the short time I have been incorporating mindfulness meditation into each day I have noticed a big difference in how I feel and what I am able to achieve.

        Then there’s the time I waste just thinking! Not doing or meditating but over-thinking. A lot of time wasted.

  13. “Selling my book proposal to a mainstream publisher” – has become your ring-burden.

    I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

    1. I know that quote very well, though I never thought to apply it to myself. But it is so apt as a description for what happens when you pursue “omnipotence” .. or in this case, mania. BTW, I am a huge Tolkien fan and have read LOTR at least eight times since I first encountered it 45 years ago.

  14. Hi J, Thanks for the great advise from your brother; I’ll share it w/ proper reference. I’d like to have the productive aspects of hypo-manic cycles, but not @ the expense of crashing depressions. And I’m irritable enough without adding to that un-pleasance. So I’ll just have to muddle along best I can.
    I enjoy taking a trance/?nap most days. Enjoy your re-balancing!

  15. I get this. Wish I didn’t, but I do. I am currently reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn in which he makes a pretty compelling case for not only being MINDful – but BODYful as well. Trouble is, it means paying attention to your body and respecting your limits – as an ongoing daily practice. Can’t I just read the book and grasp it cerebrally, “get it” and move on? Apparently not. I’m in the process now of trying to decide whether a commitment to a daily meditation practice is simply One More Thing that will take me away from other Important Things – or may actually be a lifeline that keeps me connected to my body and myself. And yes, I think I do already know the answer to that … Wouldn’t it be great to be as satisfied with needed times of inner stillness and rest as it is to be caught-up in moments of creative effort? I’d like to cultivate both, but I admit to being more immediately drawn to activity. It is worth asking myself why that is, and why I am so loathe to pay attention to the warning signs. Thank you for offering your own honest reflections on your experience and giving me plenty more to think about. Glad you are still writing.

    1. “One More Thing that will take me away from other Important Things” — now I can definitely relate to that. It’s the way I look at naps, too — what a waste of time! Think of all the Important Things I could do instead of resting!

  16. Joseph,

    I have read several of your posts. They are enlightening and rejuvenating. I have begun reading them as a morning routine before I go to work, assuming you post something new. As a professional psychologist relatively new to the field (I have been working for almost a year now after graduation), I am very interested in hearing about your clinical insights.

    I also read your posts because of your transparency. Your openness and willingness to explore your own dynamics is inspiring. I am particularly touched by your ability to name, express, and describe what so many of us, myself included, keep hidden.

    On an unrelated note, I am curious about how these posts have impacted your work, especially the development of the transference. How frequently do you hear echoes of unconscious/conscious responses to what you write in your sessions? Of course, I don’t know what you are like in session, but I imagine as a psychodynamic psychotherapist you are more towards the end of relative anonymity than not. If that is the case, it is intriguing to think about how your revelations may (or may not) impact your clinical work; and how you manage this (if needed) in your sessions.

    One of my prior psychodynamically-oriented clinical supervisors told me that he has become more self-disclosing, and comfortable doing so, than he ever was in the past. I wonder about how this propensity changes as one becomes more secure in oneself as a therapist, more knowledgeable about oneself, the dynamics of other people, and the change process, and more comfortable dealing with however the client responds. Your posts add another element in the mix and I am interested in hearing about any effects it has had on your work. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.


    1. Hi Sean. Like your supervisor, I’ve become much more comfortable with self-disclosure over the years, but only when I think that disclosing will help my clients. I don’t talk about myself just to be talking. I’ve also come to believe that when the therapist and the client can meet in a place of shared shame — that is, when they can both be real people struggling with their difficulties, and not an “ill” client and a post-therapy analyst who no longer struggles — it can be healing.

      As for the transference, all of my clients read my blog now and I find it doesn’t make a huge difference. But then, my view of the transference isn’t the Freudian view — that my clients are mis-perceiving me, as if I were some other historical figure from their past. Interpreting transference for me often means looking at the very real nature of my relationship to my clients and the ways they react to needing my help. Dependence in therapy is inevitable if it’s going to work, and a lot of the psychological growth occurs through “analyzing” the defenses used to avoid neediness. That kind of transference seems to develop regardless of what my clients read about me online.

      That’s my view in a nutshell. Thanks for your kind comments.

      1. ‘…when they can both be real people struggling with their difficulties, and not an “ill” client and a post-therapy analyst who no longer struggles — it can be healing.’

        Beautifully put. This is the power of authentic relationship in psychotherapy, where the real and profound work actually takes place. It can be absolutely life-changing.

  17. Dr Burgo,
    I’m currently a student and am majoring in substance abuse treatment. This is my first post and would like to comment on an observation. I notice some common threads regarding your posts; namely, that you are very frank about your life. This honesty is quite refreshing in a time where everyone seems superficial and the interests of most people seem to be so pety and parochial. Hearing someone discuss their feelings is like catching a glimpse of something very special and rare. We all have an image to portray and maintaining this image seems like the self centered-ness of an adolescent. Everyone is busy pursuing their own subjective hedonistic pleasures and when we allow another person to peer into our true selves, it seems rare. To me, these rare moments of truth are fascinating.
    I’ve often wondered while reading your posts why you seem to have a sense of urgency in pursuing and completing your goals. I’m not sure of your age, but would guess that you’re in middle adulthood. Do you see your goals yet attained and feel a sense of urgency because of an arbitrary dead line placed by yourself? By now, I should have done this or that. Depending on age, you have X amount of time to succeed and still enjoy the fruits of your labor. Like in Levinson’s mid- life transition, where some guys notice their body aging and their goals have yet to be met. Some of us are hit by the realization that we have a finite number of days left to accomplish our goals and the goal seems ever more pressing. Some men want muscle cars and a younger mate, perhaps some of us want to feel accomplished before we die. Someone such as yourself has accomplished much more than the average person ever will accomplish, but perhaps among colleagues your accomplishments feel merely trivial. Among people such as myself, your accomplishments are remarkable, but among people of distinction, maybe the difference is relatively small. Perhaps a relentless drive to succeed will make someone more accomplished and more distinguished among peers, but will happiness be the end product, perhaps? We all wish to be esteemed by our peers; but in the sum total equation of how we will regard our lives from our death beds, what will we regret? Will we wish that we had prioritized our time differently, or wish we had set aside more quality time for those we love? I’m not sure. I do know that accomplishment in life is one the higher pleasures one can attain, and the thought that wisdom imparted to others can be a way of impacting others in a positive way, thusly leaving your mark and not feeling regret for lack of accomplishment at the end of life.

    1. Craig, I’m 58 and very much feeling my age — not so much physically but as a fact of life, time passing by. As a father, I spent many many years putting my writing aside in order to pursue a career and raise a family; now, with the kids entering adulthood and “time running out,” I feel that I want writing to be my priority. I’ve been writing since I was 10 and have always had a profound admiration for exceptional thinkers, or students of human nature who write good prose. I like to see myself as one of them.

      Thanks for your astute observations.

      1. An astrologer would say you are experiencing your second Saturn return at the age of 58. Saturn is the Taskmaster; the Chronocrater….

        If I could be bothered, I would name my blog afterastrology *vbg*

  18. Just wanted to add, too, I have a “survivor” (severe child abuse) friend “in real life” (off the internet). He says that his number one strategy for healing and surviving – and he has had years and years of useful therapy, specialist therapies, made many life changes etc – is an afternoon nap each day. I think he has a good point, I’ve heard we are “made” to nap after lunch and it seems that sleep at that time of day is extra-beneficial. This friend of mine is highly creative and he attributes his successful creativity as well as his survival to his lunchtime naps, which he insists upon to his family and employers! I’ve thought it would be funny to ask the boss for a lunch-time nap, but really, it is not asking a lot, is it? You can stay an hour later to work to make up for the time you take out to sleep.

      1. I had a flatmate once (a “Goth” – don’t know if you have them in the US, but just so as you have the mental image – all black, lacey clothes, multiple piercings, black/white make-up). She was a lovely French woman and otherwise very flexible, but she insisted on following a special sleep pattern which was along the lines of: sleep two hours, awake three hours, sleep two hours, awake three hours…day and night. She worked as a research student at the local uni so tailored her working day around these naps and would socialize online or go out for walks during her night-time awake periods. She had read that this was the most healthy rhythm of sleep and had been doing it for a couple of years already when I knew her.

        I thought she was “weird” but maybe that says more about me than her! I guess we all need to be open-minded about our/others’ sleep needs!!

  19. I recognise a sense of having to achieve, of having to ‘overcome’. A warped work ethic rooted in anger and desperation.

    For me, it goes like this, endlessly:

    a) I will be more not less than I could have been – despite everything!
    b) One day [life will be better/ I will get the recognition I deserve/ I will be understood/heard/accepted]
    c) The wounds will have then healed and I will then be ‘over it’
    d) Just watch how I work relentlessly to get [c]…

    So I work manically, subconsciously demanding the appropriate reward, imagining myself to be limitless and indestructible…And inevitably I learn I am not, which is literally depressing.

    It’s a flawed model.

    It recognises reward and effort as perfectly matched and equal. My effort rules suppose I can write the reward rules too, which is clearly not the case. If you want the recognition of others, you have to put up with Other People’s Random Rules. All that good work I did? Who cares. Not fair – anger.

    We can only enviously imagine ‘what could have been’ since life cannot be reset like a stopwatch. Plus life isn’t ‘fair’ to anyone: there’s a lot of luck involved, both good and bad. Accepting that I am powerless over the nature and timing of my arrival and departure on this Earth is probably hardest for me. Not fair – more anger.

    ‘If I work like hell, it stands to reason I will overcome my limitations.’ I think your description of basic shame (which is what this is) tells me I need to be more compassionate about my inabilities: why I’m ‘less than rounded’. I’m impatient: I just can’t put it all back, correct it all immediately since I need to learn how to, and that takes time. I fear most likely never will be Normal, and that stinks. Whatever happens I can never retrieve the ‘lost years’. Not fair – and I am furious.

    1. Boy do I relate to what you’ve written. That pretty well describes my own experience. I think this demand for “fairness” that we feel leads to so much darned trouble.

  20. A couple of quotes on doing . First and foremost : “Life is to do, to do without, and to leave for the hereafter.” (author unknown)
    “I refuse to sell my days”.- Kahil Gibran
    “Work is love made visible”.- Eileen Caddy.

    Now, is writing work or play?

    Keep writing, Burgo!

  21. I have experienced true mania twice in my life, both times at age 21, and both times hospitalized.
    There were no weeks of onset. Both episodes were rapid onset — two or three days. People can describe and define Bipolar One mania, but I find their insights to be not unlike someone trying to describe sex to someone who’s never experienced it. Not to say it is sexual, but it is only limited by the mind and intelligence of the person having it. Mania is an unforgettable world, but nowhere to for the healthy mind.

  22. Real Bipolar One mania is a life experience like no other. It is the defining characteristic that sets it apart from Bipolar Two. Anything less described is not genuine. BP One mania is a mental illness badge of honor — oddly earned and bestowed.

    1. I approved your later comment before I read this one (that’s the way WordPress presents me with comments — in reverse chronological order). Now I understand (even if I don’t entirely agree).

  23. It seems creative energy is wily and needs to fuel itself, like a fusion reaction, not easily harnessed, resistant to titration, even greedy and addictive. Sorry, but you’re inspired, good luck. Here are some quotes –
    • Genius is essentially creative; it bears the stamp of the individual who possesses it. (Anne Louise Germaine de Stael)
    • Talent is what you possess; genius is what possesses you. (Malcolm Cowley)
    • Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm. (Benjamin Disraeli)
    • Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius. (Mozart)
    • To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in private heart is true for all men – that is genius. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  24. Sorry, to get in the way of your self-defined and correct “life.” My comment about Bipolar Mania was valid for me, not some made up justification for your ever so correct assumptions. Your site is becoming like a quilting bee, or more appropriate for “The Reader’s Digest.” How are those kids doing in college?

    1. Hi Gary , wow.. Such words of anger.
      Have to disagree.. Quilting bees usually
      Designed to make quilts..
      My experience of this site.. Is that it allows lots of discussion,
      Tangents of thought…. Affection( that a problem?).
      People trying to share and heal.

      1. Nothing worse than a bad or misunderstood analogy. It’s one thing to get hair-triggered angry over something, much worse to be a jerk.
        This is a good site. I learn a lot from it as well. Got to get back to my quilt…. humor?

  25. Oh… My… Goodness. This is me. Every word.

    Thank you for this much-needed eye-opener. I just wish I could have read this 40 years ago! Oh well, better now than never.

  26. I relate to this. Whenever I have a project on the go, I feel like 100% of my time should be devoted to it, whatever it is. I have a pattern of working tirelessly (maybe manically) until something bad happens and then I rest — or maybe, more accurately, convalesce — because I don’t have any other choice. The whole time I rest, I feel annoyed with myself, imagining how a better version of me would be able to hustle more to reach her goals. I also feel the fear that comes from being confronted by my limitations.

    It’s not really hard to trace that to my parents. They were very emotionally unhealthy and saw self-care as being a frivolous, effete consideration that strong people needn’t concern themselves with. Whenever I feel like I want to rest, there is a part of me that hears the accusing things they would say if they were here, but there’s also a part of me that thinks those things are right. On a fundamental level, I feel like the right kind of person — the kind of person I should be — would be able to push through anything; just keep going and get things done, no matter how hard it gets. When I can’t do that, I worry that I don’t have what it takes to survive.

    1. I really struggle against that idealization of “strength.” It can also lead to the mindset that insists “strong” people don’t need psychotherapy and can solve their own problems if they only work hard enough.

  27. I tend to have flights into mania when I date an attractive, sweet girl (ie. a girl like my mother). But then I lose myself and constantly feel like I have to entertain her and make sure she is having a good time and always worrying about her. I automatically assume the girl finds me interesting and attractive; then I get excited (hypomanic) but then later get anxious and depressed because I feel obligated/married to her.

    As I said, this especially true when I meet a girl that is similar to my mother – very sweet, open and lovely women (at least on the outside). This has ultimately come from having an insecure mother (and a father who has been unfaithful) – so as a kid I always felt a need to look after my mother and satisfy her and find it difficult to do anything that may upset her even if this meant finding my own path in life.

    This may sounds like I’m being kind to a girl I date, but the problem is I’m not being kind to myself. This process leaves me ending up deflated and depressed and I’m not even aware of it until I actually feel depressed. So as my therapist explains it to me, the mania is the fundamental problem, and not the depression. Before seeing my therapist, I wasnt even aware of my mania and thought I had a depressive illness – my therapist has taught me that I have an addiction to feeling manic! My mania is the problem, not my depression – I only get depressed because I get manic.

    Anyways, this is all new to me from my psychotherapy experiences. It’s been a slow process but there has been real change. Mania is the devil in disguise – its so luring and tempting and you dont think about the come down effects – which is the depression.

    1. Hmmm. Your therapist has a much more detailed understanding of you, of course, but I view mania as the intended “cure” for depression. This intoxicating early relationship to the new women sounds as if it’s a kind of magical escape from the underlying depression; but when reality sinks in, the depression resurfaces.

      1. I kind of agree with you Joseph. But I just think using the word depression is a bit of a too simplistic, general label whereas one can actually go deeper and more accurately describe the psychodynamics at play. This is my take on it: I think that mania is a kind of magical escape from yourself, but from a false sense of self which has been developed over the years in order to deny the experiencing your true self which has unwanted feelings and is too shameful to show or feel. So you take any opportunity to take flight into a magical scenario so that you can become elevated (manic), but if your mania is unstable (which I believe most of ours is, unless one is really unwell in which case you live in a stable mania for years or all your life), then you have a come down effect which is depression. A bit like taking drugs – what comes up, eventually comes down – but mania is a self induced ‘drug’. So I think the mania is primary, and the depression is actually secondary (or the come down effect).

        1. I agree with much of what you say, but not the end. I don’t think mania is primary; I think the experience of a damaged, shame-ridden self is at the heart of depression and mania an attempt to escape from it. Mania isn’t an attempt to escape from a false self; rather, it represents the flight into a false, magical self to escape the damage.

          1. Thanks for that Joe – I do agree with you that mania is a flight into a false (magical) self and attempt to escape from the true (shameful, damaged) self.

            From my experience, the depression is still part of this false self complex – the wearing off of the euphoric feelings of mania. We could be arguing on semantics here, but I understand depression to be a feeling of despair when you think nothing can be done, and for me these feelings only came about after the mania wore off – because I used to believe that feeling manic was the magical fix (if only!!).

            For me the depression was an anhedonic, detached like state where I felt so numb that I just didn’t want to be alive – but as I say, all this was part living in the false self complex.

            Since I started to get in touch with and experience my true damaged self (which has only come after spending 3 times a week for a few years in psychotherapy), both the mania and depression have subsided.

            Experiencing the true self, is difficult, painful but I don’t consider it depression. To the contrary.

    2. This is classic ‘pedestalisation’ of women. You should seriously stop framing women as ‘sweet lovely women’, and as vulnerable anxious petals, because either they aren’t, or they won’t thank you for making them out to be angels. In addition most women *don’t* expect either marriage or even long term commitments in relationships, so you need to check that out with her at some point. Some women today are just as keen for casual relationships as men. This isn’t the 1950s.

      Also you could try dating women who aren’t classically ‘sweet’ or come across as more ‘raunchy’, to reframe the presupposition that they are anxious petals looking for a strong stable man who will protect them from any change in the wind direction.

      As far as mania being the prime directive I would agree with Joe, and disagree with your therapist (although obviously I don’t know you so this is going on minimum data, and my own experiences of lifelong depression and dating women). My intuition is that your biggest fear and self-limiting belief is in harming a girl you date, on the basis that in taking on the role of a man, you assume that you will behave like your father and cause harm unless you are really, really careful. This is far from a sign of the grandiosity and narcissism of pure mania, but rather excessive concern (other pity/empathy) and underlying lack of confidence in internalising an unstable male role model.

      Reframing would involve both the points above (seeing that women aren’t vulnerable petals) and a more root and branch reappraisal of how you think you might be causing harm, along with the thoughts, images, bodily expression, physiology and emotions that arise when you go into a depression, so you can change them. Also complimenting your therapy with greater mindfulness/sensory acuity of how you’re reacting in the ‘field’ (i.e while you are dating).

      Ok this may be way way off the mark, so apologies if it is, but its still better than keeping my light under a bushel.

  28. Thanks Joseph and everyone else who has participated thus far in this conversation.

    Alyboy, hold your focus on mania as the problem. That you only get depressed because you get manic. This has research backing in the findings of Sheri L Johnson at Berkeley.

    I find the four patterns she has unpacked particularly relevant to my experience of mania as the problem:

    [Over]Reactivity to success
    Confidence based on mood, not abilities
    Very Ambitious goals
    Goal pacing
    The rhythm for me is off kilter, with long periods of steady emotions as I toil away at a goal, a rush of excitement as I near completion, some small or large success, feeling on top of the world because of this success, then increased work on reaching or extending the goal (with less and less awareness or care for lurking danger signs), some sabotage (something breaks or “accidental” self-harm), a crash in accomplishment and emotion, anger, frustration, and grief at the loss of all that work and achievement.

    Recover from grief alone and with support and professional help if necessary.

    Start the whole process over again. [No! STOP, I want to get off this roller-coaster.]

    Right now, through study and reflection, I’m testing ways to experience small successes without feeling like I’d just won the Gold Medal. Part of me whispers that I’m asking a lot, but that’s the mania-addiction talking. I say, “Get thee Behind me Mania!”

    Lynx in Seattle

  29. Mania for me has been desperation not to fail. A survival mechanism to not go to shame. If I am triggered by a need to perform and do not have the energy, it becomes a burst of adreniline to survive and do the task because unless I work and achieve I will fall into a black pit of despair and a walking hollow I’ve lost my mind dissconnect state. A terrified need to push so that others can’t see my weakness or fear of not being able to function perfectly ot please others by means of the performance I perceive them to expect. Mania is a defense I use when I feel there is a danger of being exposed. A survival mechanism. At those times if I wasn’t moving fast I would be dead. I am not sure if this makes sense. Shame is a very real syptom of suicidal ideation. It is very painful. I am grateful to have Doctors and professional therapists as treatment to stay alive and be supported with understanding. I feel for the many who do not get help and do die.

  30. Hi Joe
    I would like to bring a new book to your attention. Eric Arauz is a mental health advocate and speaker who has written about his own experiences as a young disabled Navy Veteran who struggles with Bipolar 1, PTSD, substance abuse, and a history of child abuse (his father was mentally ill) in his book, “An American’s Resurrection: My Pilgrimage from Child Abuse and Mental Illness to Salvation”. This is a young (20s-30s) adult’s subjective account and is written for the lay audience with a focus on finding a path to a rewarding and stable life. I think the reader will be easily engaged and can find an empathic stance while also realizing the author’s limits. The content flows quickly and easily. The message for patients, families, friends is one of impassioned hope and inspiration.

  31. So much in this that rings true.
    I was sixty this year, after a lifetieblighted by bipolar disorder and gender dysphoria, and then cratered in the middle by a very abusive marriage. A psychiatrist of mine a long time ago described mania as the “running away of the brave” (english was not his first language, so it is not snappy). Sadly we also run away from our real achievements, I might describe my high IQ and thus everyone’s massive expectation of my precocity as a third pathology, that is to say a natural thing rendered pathalogical by the twisting of its context.
    I have got on top of my bipolar condition to a large degree by seeing mania as “the best drug” and therefre deceptive and addictive like any other. True one “gets things done” in fact in it’s extreme I will write a poem, (some have won serious prizes and praise) in a kind of songle fit with many symptoms of mild epilepsy, these days I consider that each might leave me with a legacy of brain damage, as too major manic episodes of the past. Since I have been on odern anti epileptics for the bipolar condition I have not had overwhelming mania, for ten years. I gat createive lunges, like the poems, but as part of biochemical set pieces, first thing after breakfast and strong coffe most commonly.
    I have become aware how mania, and even gender dysphoria are “adaptive” that is to say that i can see how they can confer genetic advantage, counterintuitively, in a very long past where most people reproduced anyway, despite matters of gender identity or sexual orientation, whe survival of offspring was vital. Intelligence itself is adaptive of course. But because of this caution, and the caution of “instant success” as an end in itself I have been sceptical of my gender dysphoria, I genuinely have it, I have the diagnosis from my country’s leading expert on paper, but I am aware that “it’s just a feeling”, accepting that a woman’s desire for a child, even massively felt and endorsed by evolution, is “just a feeling”. As a bipolar who has experienced very extreme mania, especially comorbid with extreme delayed onset PTSD after my “bad” first marriage, but who has benefitted form a very good long subsequent marriage (both to a woman) I can see how one part of the mind can play tricks on the other.
    The most important thing to realise is that even some evolutionary scientists can make the casual error of equating adaptive with “makes you happy”.
    Your genes don’t give a damn if you are happy, in fact in many cases (certainly mine) unhappiness can be very fecund .
    WE are, at least I am not, in my opinion a unitary being, and my marriage has as much right to be considered unitary, therefore I have for a long time sought treatment as a couple, even for the gender dysphoria. We are both bipolar, and have our own individual psychologists. Our marriage can be said to caontain more than two personas, but I am not talking about multiple personalities, where that appears as a pathology there seems to be “distributed responsibility” in other words there is a fuge from true individual responsibility, “It’s not me, it’s the other”.
    So many bipolars assess quite major achievements as “too modest”, we have to be the greatest, often to atisfy parents who themselves felt that way, also t please parents who… Yet again I can see my pathologies passed down genetically, not just by nurture, because bot the memes and the genes propagate by virtue of the misery they cause. “I must prove myself a better parent than my parents” or “Maybe moe children will love me as I nor my partner do not”.
    We have to win the battle over our delinquent genetic heritage, aggravated by the self affirming culture it passes on, we must tilt dominance within the team that makes up our selves to favour the “decider” who decides for true hapiness, not the rush of “making the summit” because, like many mountaineers we die on the way down in droves.
    We must learn the Portuguese talent of “Saudades” which to take as much comfort from the biter sweetness of that which we never quite manage, of where we never quite visit, or do, but cannot quite return to. Thus freeing us up for new and unexpected fruits.
    This is a message for myself, of course, but it would be a waste not to share it, and that sharing will be my fruit of the week maybe, like a housewife satisfied with a good meal served, hers is then gone forever exept maybe in memory, we have to learn from her. I nurture her within me. Who takes pleasure in a clean floor, that in a short time will be dirty again, and she doesn’t mind, it can be cleaned again, but not today. And she can dream of great things, but enjoy them as dreams.
    Bipolars have trouble with that simple model.
    Sorry if I have typos, my spell check is stuck in Portuguese which marks everything as an error. Distracting.
    Thankyou for hosting this dump. 😉

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