With bipolar disorder (which for years was called manic depression), depression is at one pole, and, for those with bipolar 1, mania is at the other pole. The word mania goes back to the Greek word mainesthai, which roughly translates as crazy.
Bipolar hypomania is a less intense form of mania. Before I was diagnosed and medicated as Bipolar 2, my hypomania periodically took the form of shopping, particularly shopping for costume jewelry. Every time I had a welcome illusion that I was now a new and better (happier) woman, I felt compelled to buy costume jewelry that the new, improved me would wear.
After several years of this, when I lived in Santa Fe, I moved to Santa Barbara. In preparation, I downsized my possessions. One afternoon I found myself sitting in the middle of my queen-sized bed surrounded by the jewelry I had bought in the past decade. Most of it I would never wear again, and I couldn't quite recall who I thought I was becoming when I bought it by mail from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Mania is much more intense than hypomania and may require hospitalization. During manic episodes, poor judgment can lead to terrible decisions and cost people their jobs and friends. In the extreme form, sufferers sometimes hear voices. I have never experienced extreme mania, and I've only once heard an imaginary voice. I was visiting a friend in Cazadero, California, and as I was falling asleep, I heard a deep, strong male voice: "You have a publisher."
This would have been exciting news, even from a disembodied voice, if I had written a new book that my agent had submitted to a publisher for consideration. But all the books I'd written had already been published.
Alarmed that hearing a that voice meant I was losing my mind, I asked an inarguably sane friend if she ever heard such voices, and she said yes, occasionally. So the disembodied voice speaking to me may or may not have been related to my being bipolar. In any case, it was unforgettable.
Mania is a hormonal high that may create a surge of excitement and energy that banishes sleep. Unfortunately, it may also bring denial that mania has struck. Characteristic symptoms include driving recklessly and compulsive telephone calls. On the other hand, the unusually large number of creative bipolar people suggests that mania and hypomania can nourish creativity.
Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney conveys a sense of what experiencing extreme bipolar mania is like. In he gripping story, she Cheney describes how her bipolar brain chemistry inflicted dramatic breakdowns and led to suicide attempts and hospitalization. But despite the obstacles, Cheney graduated from Vassar and became a successful entertainment lawyer in Beverly Hills. Now she is an advocate for bipolar people and bipolar causes.
Without medical intervention, mania can ruin relationships, careers, and reputations. If a client or coworker sees you in a manic phase, screaming at strangers on a street corner, nothing good is likely to come of the encounter. Luckily today, medical and psychological help are available. In a sense, this is the best time ever to be bipolar. But, of course, it is also a dandy time not to be bipolar.