I’ve always envied manic depressives. I’d rather go out like a supernova than like a black hole. A supernova, at least, creates pretty fireworks for the people who were smart enough to stay clear of the immediate blast radius. If I was going to destroy my life, I’d rather do it by action than by inaction, by too much rather than too little, by explosion rather than implosion. The end result would be the sameâdestruction, possibly non-existenceâbut I’d rather have some fun along the way. Inspire awe rather than pity. Be Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, not Voyager 1, which is about to leave the solar system and die in cold lonely interstellar space. If I were to survive, it would be a story worth telling. The time I flew to Africa on a whim and bought five flamingos, not the time I was jobless in my parents’ basement and slept eighteen hours a day. It seemed monumentally unfair to be forced to spend so much time on the one pole, and not be allowed access to the other.
It’s unfair, this desire. I know it is. I don’t know the struggles of being bipolar. The dark side of up. I can’t speak to the horrors of manic psychosis. I can’t tell you what it’s like to make a hundred new friends in ten days and then lose two hundred in twenty. I can’t tell you what it’s like when thoughts break the speed limit. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be up and down at the same time. What it’s like to reach outer space, only to fall down to Earth again, and be told that you can never go back unless you are willing to let yourself be buried on the bottom of the sea first. I don’t know these things, but I can’t help but think I’d like to find out. It is a fatalistic thought train: I can see the end, the question is just how to get there.
I’ve been intermittently dipping into Touched with Fire, which does nothing if not mythologize the connection between bipolarity and creativity. It is a book about the connection between the artistic and bipolar ‘temperaments’ written by a certified-bipolar certified-psychologist, amply illustrated by evidence which would be persuasive if I had not seen equally persuasive evidence linking the artistic temperament to autism, to ADHD, to schizophrenia, to all manner of psychopathology. Books and websites written by the suffering to convince themselves that their suffering is worth it. Filled with clinical diagnoses of people who lived before clinical diagnoses existed, performed based on material which would never warrant and could never support a diagnosis in the still living.
Kay Jamison’s thesis is more or less that periods of hypomania or mania are a lot like periods of heightened creative productivity; periods of mild depression or the periods between bouts of depression and mania are a lot like the more somber periods during which the artist edits, refines, curates, prepares, finishes or cans the frenzied output of more productive times. Plausibly, then, there is a connection here to explain the overlap. This is supported by a number of case studies of famous artists whom Jamison diagnoses as bipolar, although I must admit I zone out a bit when the subjects are artists who do not excite me. Frankly Lord Byron is not the kind of artist I give two fucks about, but I suppose he is historically important and since other people see so much in him I guess there is something to itâit’s not like my taste is in any way better than others’ or that it should in any way dictate what other people like or spend their time on, so I s’pose I can’t fault Jamison there. Regardless, this is definitely the book you should read if you’d like to be convinced that what you’re missing in life is some good old fashioned mania.
The premise of cognitive-behavioral therapy is that your thoughts shape your emotions. Bad emotions of the kind that dominate the depressive mindset are due to negative thoughts, a pessimistic worldview, and by correcting or replacing such thoughts with positive and optimistic thoughts, you can reverse the emotions as well. But to me, it has always felt like the influence is much stronger in the opposite direction. Bad emotions arise out of god knows where, but thoughts lag behind. But bad emotions wear you down. After feeling like shit for weeks or months, the feelings start to rub off on the world. The world looks like shit not because the world is shit, but because that is how you feel. You don’t feel like shit because that is how the world looks. The arrow of causality goes the other way.
As I write this, an ad appears on Tumblr. “If you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.” Yeah. No. Go fuck yourself. Go impale yourself and die in agony, fucking pop psychology slogan-making shitbags.
The brain is very good at tricking itself. As the shit-feeling starts rubbing off on the world, cynicism grows. One is apt to locate the cause of one’s shit-feeling externally. Children are starving to death every day. People are killed by oppressive regimes for wanting freedom. Women are raped and then killed because they were raped while the rapists go free. We are destroying the environment. The world economy is in shambles. All the political parties are stupid. All popular culture is stupid. We sit on our asses all day getting dumber, fatter, unfitter. Nothing exists anymore unless it has been tweeted, reblogged, liked and instragrammed. Nothing is experienced directlyâeverything is mediated. The problem is not me, it’s the world.
It’s enough to make anyone feel depressed. But the truth is that I don’t have a bleeding heart for the world. I don’t give a shit. I wish I did. I wish I were capable of being moved by the utter shittiness of the world, but in my current state I am not. I can mimic the motions of disapproval, but not the emotions. I am numb.
I’ve been depressed before. The suicidal, actively self-loathing kind. I am not, now.
Possibly the worst part of depression is the omnipresent anticipation of impending doom. The certainty in your bones that an invisible chain could break at any moment under the strain of unrelenting suffering, and thus unleash the apocalypse. And the certainty, too, that in order to prevent this apocalypse, drastic countermeasures are necessary. Remedies possibly much worse than the disease. There is the sense that either disease or cure might be suicide, but it is never clear which one is which.
That is not what it’s like right now. It is, rather, a kind of emotionally dead lethargy that came creeping from nowhere and has not let go. Things were looking up in the world. I moved to a new city, started new studies, made new friends and was doing better in life than I had been for some time. I was optimistic about the future because there was good reason to be. Then the bad feelings, or rather the numbness, set in. They weren’t bad feelings at first. I wasn’t sad. I just lost zest, I suppose you could say. The life force. Energy levels drained. I used to think depression was the most painful kind of loneliness, which it is, but it is also the loss of joy. You need not be lonely or sad to lose joy. I’m not sad or lonely. But the numbness is infecting everything, and I am withdrawing. The withdrawal, if allowed to be completed, will eventually lead to that sad and lonely place.
I try to force energy on myself. It’s not working. I don’t eat, because nothing tastes good any more. I try to bribe myself with the unhealthiest, best-tasting food I like, but it doesn’t taste good either, and then I get to feel bad for being unhealthy as well. I can’t sleep in the night, and then I sleep all day. I keep myself awake all day and all night to so that I’ll be able to sleep the next night, and then that doesn’t work either. I try to be outgoing, but sustaining an energy level above sloth-like lethargy proves impossible. I tell myself it’s the winter, the darkness. Don’t know what I’ll do if spring comes and it turns out not to be.
To distract myself, I’ve been reading about the other side. Mania. Ecstasis. Bursts of creativity. Researching the pharmacology of happiness, of alertness. Dopamine. NMDA receptors. Ampakines, amphetamines.
And writing. Writing a bunch of bullshit. One line of bull after the other. Dungheaps sure to release enough methane to heat the planet for a hundred years. As if creativity is salvation.
Should I have published this? Is it self-indulgently narcissistically petty first-world-problem-y angsty attention-seeking bullshit? Can you even heap that many adjectives on top of each other? How does this affect my “internet persona”? What happens if I delete all this? Does the problem become somehow realer if it is described on the internet? Does momentary happiness negate longstanding suffering? If tomorrow is a good day, does all of this become a lie? Must I then hope that tomorrow sucks? Are you still reading? Is this any way to end a blog post? Question marks?