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  • Writer's pictureMatt Gray

Manic Monday: Episode #1 - What is Mania?

Okay guys, mania is an unfortunate part of any maniac's life, gentle or not. While my medication and lifestyle regiment keep me from entering a true mania, if I don't take proper care of myself I can certainly still become hypomanic and cause myself problems socially.

Every Monday for the next little while, I'll be telling a story about my experiences with mania. There's funny stories, ridiculous stories, dangerous stories, and some absolutely shameful ones. This first Manic Monday post is going to be a little bit less interesting, because I want to explain what it all means first.

So then, what is mania??? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as follows;

Mental illness marked by periods of great excitement or euphoria, delusions, and overactivity.

I don't love that definition, but it's not inaccurate, just woefully incomplete. I'm going to explain this in my own words, and I hope that it makes it clearer for someone.

In our brains we have things called neurotransmitters. These include serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, histamine in many cases, and many more. These things modulate everything in our mind - motivation, executive functioning, joy, pleasure, confidence, and our level of physiological arousal. When we get motivated or excited to do something it happens because norepiniphrine moves into the prefrontal cortex, and the right amounts of dopamine and serotonin are being produced to get your mind moving. This is also how we modulate our brain's reward system - we feel a certain way after accomplishing something, or winning something, or buying something we wanted. Sex and intimacy can send these neurotransmitters a-buzzing too. Anger, irritation, fear, anxiety or any agitated feelings you might have are also controlled by these neurotransmitters - something happens and our brain sends the signal to release the particular chemistry we need to act on whatever happened. All day in our brains we are getting little blasts of the particular neurotransmitters that we need to function. It's our brain's "Go Juice", so when our brain doesn't have enough of these chemicals, or they're not able to absorb them they way that they should, that's clinical depression.

Mania is the opposite of depression. Mania is when, for a variety of reasons, our brain releases an absolute abundance of these neurotransmitters, and doesn't stop. Mechanically, what's happening in our brains is very similar to someone using stimulant drugs. At the lower levels, this leads to an increase of confidence, exaggerated emotional responses, and a physiological state of arousal. Let me give an example of how this can become problematic. Imagine getting a text message from a partner from the past, that is not good news for you. In most people this would cause a certain reaction. Imagine if instead your brain was acting on it's own, and your brain was already filled with the exact same neurotransmitter chemistry that a text message from the absolute love of your life would cause. Now you're texting this person that's bad for you, with your brain telling you that you're talking to the love of your life. Or let's say your brain is loaded up with the chemicals that a sure-thing investment would produce. When you see an absolute loser of an investment opportunity you're not going to realize it, because your brain is telling you that its a brilliant idea, and that all your dreams are about to come true. Anxiety chemicals can have similar effects on a person, in a much more negative way. Paranoia can set in, and the confidence in your thoughts is so strong that it's very difficult to see otherwise, as you become incredibly stubborn. This state can last for months, and in mania very little sleep is required. So not only are your thoughts impaired by the mania itself, you're also running on severe sleep deprivation that you don't even feel. Delusions and psychosis can set in before you know it, much like someone on a methamphetamine binge.

So what do we do when we can't trust our own brain? Well...what goes up, must come down. Eventually we will run our brains completely dry of neurotransmitters, and effectively now suffer from major depression. This phase can last months as well, and I know in myself personally I've always pushed everyone away on my way down. I've been completely alone every single time that I've hit this bottom, and I know that it's only because of how difficult I become to be close to in that state. This is the time that we look back on our actions and feel ashamed. One of the reasons it's so important to me to take care of myself is because I can't go through that self-loathing hatred. Eventually this depression will pass on it's own, and we will feel "normal" again. This moment is very easy to go "wow that was all pretty weird of me lol, wonder what I was thinking" because we can't even relate to that manic version of ourselves anymore. So we forget about. We feel fine right now, clearly don't need help. During depression we were too depressed to even consider getting help, and we don't realize that our chemistry is off - we usually just severely damaged our own lives, so it just feels like "earned" depression. During the mania we believed that we knew absolutely everything, we wouldn't let some "doctor" tell us something is wrong with us!

We don't tend to seek help until the losses that we have caused are so great that they follow us through all of our phases. That sucks. I think from when I was 18 to when I was 30 I ruined my life due to episodes 4 times. Luckily I was always able to maintain a high level of performance at my places of employment - that may have fluttered up to higher performance, and down to a bit lower of a performance too, but the effect on that part of my life was never great. Socially, romantic, financially though? Oh I committed suicide in those ways alright. Eventually, looking back at my reckless and self-destructive behaviours, I realized I literally would not survive many more of those episodes.

Now, I have medication that I take every single day. This medication keeps mania away, successfully so far, I have not had an actual episode in years now. I also have another medication that I am to start taking the second I feel any sleep disturbance, or any other mania symptoms. I take it for 3 or 4 days, and it kills any abnormal mood disturbance. Certain foods cause me to have more problems as well, so I try my best to keep a brain healthy diet. I meditate and examine my own emotions regularly, and this puts things into perspective for me very well. I have a regular therapist that I trust very much. These things are all just as important to long-term success as the daily medications are, and I have paid for it greatly every time that I've not taken care of myself properly. I know with absolute certainty that I would not be alive had I not seeked help.

I hope I did a good job of explaining this, if anybody has any questions, or needs clarification, please ask in the comments section, or use the Contact Me function on the website. Moving forward I will sharing some things that I've not spoken very much about. I've never experienced true delusions, or psychosis, but I do hope that I have some recollections that someone can relate to. If even one person finds some relief or validation in that, I will feel like it's been a success.

Side Note: In my own case, Mania is a cyclic part of bipolar disorder. Any human being can be pushed into a manic state, often through periods of emotional stress that their brain cannot handle it, and just starts pushing out everything it's got to make it stop. Our Borderline Personality friends have often experienced this through abuse so many times, that it has now become a conditioned response in their brain. This is heart-breaking, and not something I want to speak about too much, as I don't want to appropriate BPD - I know my knowledge on it is very incomplete. Conspiracy theorists often enter a hypomanic state when they hear a new conspiracy theory. There's a lot of things that can cause mania, I am only speaking about my own experiences here.

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