Romanticizing mental illness? Sounds pretty ridiculous right?
Right. Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens everywhere. From television, to books, to media, to everyday conversations. Don’t believe me? Let me give you an example:
Mania. For those of you who are “definition people,” like me, I got you. According to Merriam Webster, mania is defined as, “excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood; specifically: the manic phase of bipolar disorder.”
Now before we go any further, let me start by saying that my diagnoses are depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. I have never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but it is possible for these two mental illnesses to overlap. Often, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are co-occurring. In other instances, an individual can have one diagnosis but share a symptom with the other, which is the case I happen to find myself in. For example:
Say the purple in between is the symptom of mania. I frequently experience 7 of the 9 symptoms associated with Borderline Personality Disorder, so most of my diagnosis puts me in the red circle. However, I also periodically experience prolonged episodes of mania, not because I have bipolar disorder, but because I share that symptom.
Mania often gets romanticized. Often, people hear things like “elevation of mood” and “mental and physical hyperactivity,” and translate it to:
- “Wow, I bet you can get so many things done!”
- “I feel like it would be nice because I would have more energy to work out!”
- “You would just be, in like, the best mood. What’s wrong with that?”
- “If I had a manic episode, I feel like I would just be so productive!”
Now, my experience with mania is nowhere near a representative of everyone’s experience with mania. I cannot speak for all individuals (or any, really) who have bipolar disorder. I don’t have it. I don’t know what their experience is. I cannot speak for all individuals who have borderline personality disorder. But, I can speak for me; and I am doing so because it’s about time we stop romanticizing it.
I have spent the past 5 days in a state of mania.
For me, I can usually tell I’m entering into a manic episode when I experience a drastic elevation in my anxiety. From Sunday to Monday, in less than 24 hours, I experienced two anxiety attacks. For those of you who have experience with anxiety attacks, you can speak to the truth of pure exhaustion that accompanies them. Perhaps you become tired, your body aches from the tension, your energy is drained… That’s step 1 for me.
Step 2 is where the mania begins to set in. I start speaking faster, but can’t follow my own train of thought. I get extremely distracted by any and everything. I go on excessive tangents, can’t find my way back to the original conversation topic, and then jump to a new one in an effort to regain concentration that I never really had in the first place. During this step, my mood is overwhelming. It’s not always consistent with my environment or circumstances.I have excessive energy, which is an aspect that tends to get the most romanticized. Often this energy is inappropriate and inopportune. For example, imagine having your energy levels elevated during a lecture period or when working. It’s not focused energy for me. It’s energy that’s telling me to run, to move, to go. Trying to sit still and focus when I’m like that is actually physically painful. I’m hyperactive both physically and mentally, which means even if I can sit still through a lecture period or when I get home, I can’t focus. I fall behind. My homework doesn’t get done. I check nothing off of my to-do list, because they all require me to focus in on something, and I just can’t do it. My brain goes about a million miles per minute faster than it usually does, and I tend to have a lot going on up there to begin with. This means I’m hypersensitive to everything. Normal behaviors of myself and others become things I over analyze. My mind will play through 21 years of existence: that one basketball game where I took a charge and knocked my head on the floor and the whole gym went silent, walking into the basement where my family met me at the door crying when my uncle passed, that one picture from that one family Christmas where I’m standing in front of everyone else looking like the shit-disturber I am, learning how to ride a purple/pink-ish bike in all camo with a Barney helmet on… You get the picture. My impulsive tendencies, which are a characteristic of many people with borderline personality disorder, rise. Go here. Buy this. Drink that. Punch that wall. Run faster. Drive father. Sleep less. Eat more…
Step 3 is when I start to recognize it. It usually happens after about a day of being manic.
Step 4 is when I begin to fight it. I never used to fight it, because I never used to have a name for it. I didn’t really think it was something to fight. Then last spring happened. My medication was interacting negatively with my system, and was increasing and amplifying my manic behavior and my impulsive tendencies. It was then that I started to feel like it was something to fight. My mania was so bad at that point that I would drive three to four hours a night just because I felt like I needed to go, and that’s only the beginning of it. I stopped sleeping, couldn’t find a healthy balance between eating too much and not eating enough… Not to mention half the other things that I try to forget happened. I was unable to take care of myself, and I was hurting other people around me with my actions. I didn’t (and still don’t) always know what to do when feeling manic; how could I expect other people to have the slightest idea? So eventually, I started to fight against it. I tried to suppress as much of it as I could when I was in public spaces. I pushed people away when they offered to help, because I didn’t want to scare them off. My body, already being tired from the excessive hyperactivity and any and all coping mechanisms used to try and get a handle on it (running, lifting, longboarding, etc…), only begins to feel even more exhausted from the tension created when trying to fight it.
Step 5, when it comes, is the crash. Mania can only be sustained for so long. For me, a week and a half is the longest sustained manic episode I have experienced. I thought I had experienced the crash for my latest manic episode last night. My body actually welcomed sleep. My mind seemed like it might be starting to slow down. Unfortunately, not all crashes are final. Occasionally, you’ll crash only to reenter into the crazy, hectic, unsustainable state you just left. An episode I thought ended flared back up at work.
Even when the crash is final, it does not always spell relief. Usually, after intense periods of manic behavior, depression is quick to follow. I feel as though my life force has been drained from me, and trying to regain it feels a little like trying to complete a quest through Middle Earth WITHOUT 12 dwarves, a wizard, Legolas, three other hobbits, and Aragorn.
So, I reject this bullshit ideology that mental illness is something to be romanticized. There is nothing about mental illness that’s fun.
Stop looking at depression and thinking, “Oh, but you get to stay in bed all day.” First of all, we live in a society that doesn’t consider mental illness a “valid” enough reason to not show up to work or school or any of your other responsibilities. There’s nothing fun about losing your appetite, your motivation, your sex drive, your drive for everything else, or your will to live.
Stop thinking anxiety is a “cool” thing to have. No individual craves anxiety attacks. Nobody gets excited about not being able to breathe, or the fact that they feel as though there is impending doom, even when their life isn’t actually in danger, or incessant shaking that won’t stop.
Stop painting eating disorders as “attractive.” Nobody with an eating disorder wants an eating disorder. Quit saying things like, “I kind of wish I had an eating disorder, because I could stand to lose some weight.” Eating disorders are not the latest fad in dieting.
Just stop. There is nothing beautiful, cool, exciting, exhilarating, fabulous, fantastic, or glorious about mental illness. It is an unwanted and unwelcomed guest. It is a demon that everyone who has a mental illness will have to learn how to live with. It is a monster that they will battle often for the entirety of their life.
So please, do us all a favor, and stop glorifying mental illness. If you have to glorify anything, glorify the strength it takes to live with one. Show respect towards those who deal with them. Work to help end the stigma associated with mental illness. Be a friend when someone is battling these demons. But, for the love of whichever deity or universal force you may worship, quit trying to paint mental illness as heroes, and start depicting them as the beasts they are.