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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.

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  1. Wonderful article. it clearly explains what bipolar means in very simple terms. Thank you. It seems to me that if you are bipolar and have an artistic talent, which I think many bipolar people do, that that talent can actually be helpful in processing the stages of your disorder.
    Not being bipolar but having had years of trouble dealing with my emotions, highs and lows,coming and going for reasons I never understood until recently I find your information fascinating and actually helpful in understanding my own issues.
    Enjoying and finding writing a great outlet for my feelings, I can identify with the buzz,for lack of a better word that one can get when a person is hypo manic. I self often self medicate and if I’m careful I can find that sweet spot, much like your description of hypo mania that allows me to create. The words seem to come so easily, but only if I do not over medicate. If I allow that my self to cross that line, which happens all too often, my words fail me and anxiety takes over followed by exhaustion.
    It amazes me how the brain functions, and can malfunction.
    Thanks so much for the article. It helps me define some of my own issues.

    • Thank you so much for your reply! I’m glad that my article helped you to understand some of your own states of mind. It does seem that people with mood disorders, or just highly fluctuating moods, tend to be creative. I guess it’s one of the gifts! Thanks again for your interest.

  2. Great article, Emily! While I haven’t ever been clinically diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I can definitely identify with your experiences, especially regarding creative work.

    Over the years, getting to know my own cycles of soaring highs and crashing lows has made a difference in how I balance my health/sanity and productivity of creative work. I need just the right conditions and state of mind to be able to write something good and not become emotionally/psychological unstable at the same time.

    Getting into the creative space requires digging into the material and stirring things up just enough to write something of meaning, but not too much that I’m drowning or lost in it. It’s such a struggle, but the work and the healing that results is worth it for me.

    • Thanks for your reply, Bridget! I’m so glad you can relate to what I’ve written. It is important and good to find just the right balance, and so fulfilling to get something wonderfully creative out of it!

  3. Pingback: Am I Bipolar

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