The Bipolar Lens

My view from the rollercoaster.

A Fool’s Gold

My Struggles with the Illicit Lure of Mania

It's politically incorrect if not downright subversive to say this in bipolar circles, as well it should be.  But come closer and I'll whisper it:  sometimes mania's not such a bad thing.  Like last week, when I had a lot of nasty paperwork to do, and my house was a shambles, and I was too tired to snap to and take charge.  What I wouldn't have given then for a quick and dirty hit of manic motivation – that sudden surge in the blood that makes you long for a project, any project, to devour.

How I would have zipped through those tedious papers!  The requisite words would have come to me unbidden, in a constant flow of inspiration.  I would be so hyper-articulate my pen would barely keep up with my mind.  True, my handwriting would be tiny and cramped and illegible, and what I was saying may not always have made perfect sense, and the words would have kept on coming and coming until I had to scream to make them stop . . . but still.  The whole mess would have been over and done with, in less time than it takes to swat a fly. 

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And the house:  how I long for just one good manic rush of housekeeping fever.  I'm a whiz then with the broom and the sponge; not a speck of malingering dirt or dust can escape my darting eyes.  I Lysol and Windex and Pledge and Febreeze until the entire place reeks of ammonia and pine.  It's heavenly, that scent:  proof positive that whatever else may be wrong with me, I am irrefutably clean. 

The rewards begin to diminish, of course, when the house is so spotless I can't find anything else to polish or dust.  That's when the Q-tips come out, so I can get to that last tiny crevice inside the microwave.  That's when I find the magnifying glass, so I can kneel down on the kitchen floor and inspect the grout between the tiles.  That's when I rip off my rubber gloves and scrub everything I've already scrubbed with raw bleach, until my knuckles are bloody. 

That's when clean begins to feel dirty.

I'll confess, there's another occasion when a touch of mania would be more than welcome:  when I have to face the mirror.  Getting dressed for any kind of event these days is a test of my emotional strength and fortitude.  At some point a couple of years ago, the face I'd come to know so well and trade on so often transmogrified into someone else:  a middle-aged woman who'd seen a shade too much of life.  Angles that I counted on to be taut and sharp have slackened; there's a fine-lined map around my once uncharted eyes.  I'm a redhead, and I used to rely on the translucence of my skin to feign innocence.  Now that my complexion has dulled somewhat, experience is written all over my face.

But if I were manic, the mirror would lie as sweetly and smoothly as a best friend.  Mania always thinks I'm hot, despite the fact that I probably haven't slept or eaten in days.  "You look so beautiful," the mirror would coo.  "You look better now than you did when you were twenty-five.  Any man would be lucky to get you."  So in lieu of my normally clean-scrubbed look, I'd lavish my eyes with thick black mascara, swipe on a vampier lipstick, a bolder blush.  I'd paint my toenails Torpedo Red, then showcase them in the cruelest pair of stilettos I own.  Jeans I'd bought two sizes ago would somehow be slithered into.  The woman in the mirror would gaze back at me with complete and absolute approbation.

I shudder to think what I must look like then, all dolled up for the kill.  I live in L.A., so I've seen my fair share of women who refuse to acknowledge their age.  It's never pretty.  Nor am I, when I look this way and act like a tigress on the prowl.  It's embarrassing, and it isn't me, except that it's wearing my face.

I know what I should do:  the next time I'm manic, I should snap a photograph of myself to remind me why mania is only a great idea in theory.  In truth, the mania I long for and romanticize is just the stuff of dreams.  And dreams evolve all too quickly into nightmares.

Terri Cheney is the author of Manic: A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar.

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