In my first experience of euphoria, prelude to a bipolar life, I experienced an inspiration. It was exhilarating, profound, an insight that would not be possible in a normal frame of mind. I attempted without success to share this amazing revelation with others. Even my loved ones dismissed it as an example of my frame of mind that they would rather forget. One cannot blame them. If a saint walks into a prison and spreads a little happiness, he won’t be perceived as a saint, more like a ‘decent bloke.’ I am not ‘a nutcase’, but that is how people perceive you when you are in a bipolar episode. I hope this will help others who may be interested, to understand. They are missing something important.
I was 27 and had a bad case of post-natal depression. It started a few days after the traumatic birth of my first baby. Today what happened to me would be recognized as Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder, a concept unthought-of in 1963. The ghastly events replayed in my head for months afterwards and that child was 20 before I stopped feeling sick on his birthdays. Such an event pitches one into a cauldron seething with terrifying eddies. For three months I could not sleep at all without strong medication. But the part I want to tell you about today is the wonderful couple of days of euphoria that precede the hammering depression. That’s when I conceived Eileen’s Theory of Relativity.
First, the brain speeds up. You can think faster than ever before. Your brain feels like a computer. It gives one a sense of capability, potential to achieve things only longed for, considered beyond grasp, but suddenly within reach. This euphoria usually happens at a time when you are under stress, and unfortunately it‘s not acceptable to be distracted by the need to write down your thoughts, when you should be coping with the problems already on your plate (a new baby or even twins, a demanding job, a life crisis of any kind). In a subsequent episode I envisaged the plot for an absorbing psychological novel (which is still viable and a possibility on my back burner, if I live long enough). I thought as a writer before I became one.
I had a wonderful glimpse on the way up (mania is so seductive to begin with, before you realize it’s a dangerous mistress) of the relationship of everything to everything. I had discovered something insightful. It recurred each time I was in that state of mind. It doesn’t last long (a day or two before you crash) but in that window you see how Everything is Relative.
In that heightened speed one makes connections between comparative concepts that yield an understanding of Relativity. While Einstein produced E=mc ², I could understand the motives of everyone in my immediate circle and way beyond in the world, for the way they went about things. For example, I understood why my sister in law was in a feud with my Mother. I understood why she resented my Mother, and why my Mother was jealous of her, and thought both women had good reason to feel the way they did, although it produced a ridiculous strain on all concerned.
If you went to a motel after an extended stay at the Waldorf it would seem grim, but after a night in a campsite with restless revelers it would feel like the height of luxury. How does it seem to asylum seekers in refugee camps? Evading rampaging tribal rivals in Africa, or sleeping under canvas without being shelled in Syria, would feel like the Waldorf. The world is in turmoil because the Relativity balance is out of sync.
My dear friend was deeply upset with her son because he did not attend his grandmother’s funeral. I said “Don’t be upset with him. Perhaps it’s because it was too painful for him to bear. I didn’t attend my Father’s funeral for the same reason.”
This understanding rippled like water after a pebble is tossed in, encompassing why the rich and poor feel opposed, while politically left and right cannot reconcile, why nations unite against nations, why God and Man are in conflict, and so on. In every little detail there was an explanation of motive and understanding. I realized that God (for want of a better name), the unimaginable Great Overseer Divine, must have this level of understanding all the time. It is not possible for man. To think at that speed invites a breakdown of the brain, and that’s what follows, but the recurrence of euphoria perhaps six times in a long lifetime, yielded briefly the same wonderful sense of understanding that normally eludes us. Now I recognize it as a prelude to a deadly dance, and regretfully zap it with medication. That bumpy ride is not worth the disruption, depression and expense that go with it.
But I’m grateful for that insight, and it’s the reason I don’t regret being bipolar, despite the downside of depression and despair. Those roller coaster thrills make one a good deal more understanding about humanity.
Fortunately it happened often enough for me to get a good grasp on my Theory, and on few enough occasions to limit the disruption and concern it inflicted on my nearest and dearest. They still love me. It is a nuisance to go to pieces when a life event produces enough stress to provoke an attack. Some stresses make one crumble, and some, one triumphs over despite the vulnerability. I was laid low by post natal depression, by my husband’s car crash when our twins were 8 weeks old, by a son’s serious illness and by marriage break-ups resulting in two divorces. Life events that commonly trigger depression are: bereavement, divorce, moving house, redundancy and so on (too many changes in close sequence). But I survived my first divorce, moving house, my mother’s heart attack, redundancy, losing my beloved new partner to a heart attack, starting my own consultancy business with no resources but my wit and constant money worries with three children still in school, all within 18 months, and I didn’t crack. That’s because I was now in charge of my life, instead of subject to another’s unsympathetic control.
A bipolar attack has never happened to me without stress to trigger it. I’m fortunate like that. Some bipolar sufferers are constantly challenged by the chemical imbalance in the brain that produces the symptoms. I could go a decade between episodes, survive challenges fit to shake the most balanced person. I’ve developed emotional strength. You could say I’m “only a little bit bipolar, dearie”. But three times it has landed me in a mental hospital for a couple of weeks in the 60’s, the 70’s and 2002. The right pills always sorted me out, but I refused to take them once I was better, until the last time during my second divorce, convinced me to comply with medication which has improved so much. Life is easier now.
No human can sustain that racing thought process. It’s a glimpse of the divine before you crash. The mind blows a fuse. The electrician gives you pills and if you are lucky they are the right ones. It’s not always the case, but that’s a story for another time.
I’m grateful for my inspired theory of relativity. It was a gift. It wasn’t a delusion. It still makes sense after fifty years.