Writing and the Bipolar States of Mind
How can bipolar states of mind affect writing?
A question asked by our regular guest writer Emily Glossner Johnson.
The name bipolar disorder suggests that the disorder consists of only two “poles”, these being mania and depression. This isn’t wholly accurate. A person with bipolar disorder has as many different moods as a person without it. Mania and depression just happen to be two of the predominate states into which a person with bipolar disorder can fall. But there is a third kind of episode: the mixed episode. This kind of episode consists of elements of both mania and depression. For example, a person might feel accelerated, as with mania, but not elated. Rather, the person may feel depressed, and yet his or her thoughts may be speeding through his or her brain. A mixed episode is just that: a mixture of the symptoms that come with both manic and depressive episodes.
When I’m manic, it’s difficult to get much done, or to finish anything, because I’m speeding along, accelerated and in little control of what I’m doing or what’s going on around me. I have written with mania—thus it follows that I write more when I’m manic than otherwise. But the order and logic are lost. Like my brain, my writing is all over the place, jumping from topic to another in a random manner, expressing ideas in grandiose and inappropriate ways for the matters at hand. When manic, I feel as though I’m unstoppable. But inevitably, I crash into depression.
Believe it or not, I do write when I’m having a depressive episode. As opposed to a manic episode, I tend to be able to focus well. However, most of my focus is on the fact that I’m depressed. When I am able to write, the ideas come. But they are often very dark and I find it difficult to create lighter material. So if a project requires a more positive spin, it’s best not to attempt it while experiencing a depressive episode.
During a mixed episode, I find that anything can happen. I can either write well or not at all—it all depends on what kinds of symptoms I’m having. I might feel I can write forever, as with mania, or I feel that I can only produce the darkest of material, as with depression.
Hypomania (a lesser form of mania) is another state of mind that occurs with bipolar disorder. During episodes of hypomania, I may not be in as extreme a place as I am with mania, yet I feel as though I’m tremendously productive and creative, and I don’t need as much sleep, which is also typical of mania. I feel as though I’m accomplishing so much. Well, maybe I am, but it may be incoherent and disorganized. Unfortunately, however, sometimes what I produce in this state is good, and herein lies one of the dangers of bipolar disorder and a reason that some people go off their medication. They want to grab those moments of paramount creativity and fly with them. If they’re some kind of artist, they want the high of hypomania and the art that it can help to produce.
But I won’t go off my medication for the possibility of a few good pages. It’s not worth it and, as I said earlier, it’s dangerous. To write at our best, we people with bipolar disorder need to take good care of ourselves, and that of course includes taking the medication we’re prescribed to keep balance and harmony within our brains.