I’m in Starbucks. I know I’m hypomanic. In front of me is a man wearing a soccer uniform. It’s obvious he has just come off the pitch and is getting some after-game refreshment. I look at the back of his head and my eyes roam down his body. When I reach the back of his legs, I have the thought,
“I’m going to get down on my hands and knees and lick his calves.”
Until my diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 1995, I acted on the majority of my hypersexual mood swings without thinking. No, in the past I would not have actually licked his calves, but I would have walked up to him and said hello. I met all of my partners this way before I was diagnosed. If I liked him, I talked with him and then I slept with him. I didn’t try to control the behavior because I didn’t know it was mania and I certainly didn’t know that I was ill.
For those who are new to bipolar disorder lingo, there are two main mood swings in the illness: depression and mania. Within mania, there are two levels of mania: hypomania and full-blown mania. People with bipolar two, like myself, have depression and hypomania. People with bipolar one have depression, hypomania, and full-blown mania.
In my experience, the symptoms of mania are the same between hypomania and full-blown mania; the main difference is intensity. Hypomania can be very, very destructive and can’t be taken lightly. And just to complicate things even more, there are also two types of mania: euphoric and dysphoric.
From the beginning, I knew something wasn’t right about my sexual thoughts and behaviors starting at age 18. They seemed to come and go like a wave and I often felt out of control. While I asked for professional help year after year—“What’s wrong with me? I wasn’t raised this way? Why can’t I control my sexual behavior?”—no one had answers. And then, I would either go into a long-term relationship and calm down or I would get very depressed and have no sexual feelings at all. This cost me my first marriage to a wonderful man. A loss I regret to this day.
In the 1980s and early '90s, bipolar disorder was still called manic depression, and amazingly, the concept of bipolar two hypomania was rarely discussed.
All people with bipolar disorder experience hypomania, and yet not one health care professional ever recognized my behavior until I finally got so sick it could no longer be ignored and I was finally diagnosed.
I thought my diagnosis would take care of my sexual behavior escapades, but I was wrong. While in a relationship, I could control my sexuality in a way I was not able to do when single. When I ended a 10-year relationship in 2002, the internet was new and the idea of online dating was fresh and exciting. This created a breeding ground for my dangerous, manic hypersexuality.
The behavior I controlled for 10 years blossomed like a fungus in a petri dish and like many of my contemporaries, I went into online dating thinking I could handle the situation without making my bipolar disorder worse and without getting an STD.
Both were incorrect.
My last hypersexual manic episode involving physical contact with men ended with the cops being called. I finally accepted that my sexual behavior when manic was not something I could simply control on my own. I needed rules for myself to protect my brain and my body from the mania.
Manic hypersexuality is the strongest urge I have ever known. It surpasses need. It makes lust seem tame. It’s all-encompassing and in my case, uncontrollable. After saying to the police officer, “Sir, you are not going to believe this, but my life is not normally like an episode of COPS. I have no idea what happened here,” I knew it was time for a change. But what could I do to fix the problem? I managed my mania in other areas very well; the spending, fast-talking, aggression, and excessive creativity that used to take over my life were controlled using the ideas in my books. But the hypersexuality was too strong, even for a bipolar management expert like myself.
A Case for Celibacy
I’ve taught trigger management for bipolar disorder since the beginning of my career. But there is an opposite side to bipolar disorder I have to manage as well. These are the symptoms that simply come from the illness. They are not triggered. If I could completely prevent mania, it would naturally prevent the hypersexuality, but so far, though I have been able to reduce my mania greatly, I have not been able to end it completely. I will never stop trying, but for now, the only way I have found to stop the hypersexual behavior is to not allow it at all. This means no sex.
As drastic as it sounds, I chose celibacy as a mania management tool and it is working.
What exactly does this mean? It means no interactions online, no flirting, no casual sex, no dating without the plan for a relationship, and no giving in to the manic behaviors that lead to hypersexuality such as staying out too late with friends while having "just a few drinks." I had to teach myself self-control. It has not been easy, but it has been life-changing.
Celibacy deepened my relationships with men. It allowed me to remove myself as a sexual object and created situations where I could be myself instead of wondering if someone were single or if I were attracted to them. It freed me to better manage my mania and completely stopped my manic drinking. It greatly improved my ability to manage this rotten illness and opened me to a world unclouded by sexual thinking. When I removed even the notion of manic sex from my life, I found freedom.
Sure, I long for sex. I have no idea when I will enter the dating world again, but I do know one thing, I will remain celibate until I am in a potential relationship. My days of manic sex are over. The excitement was never worth it.
People ask me how I manage my bipolar disorder and I’m always truthful: It’s hard work every single day. I wish I had easy answers. This is a life-threatening illness when left unmanaged. And for some of us, drastic measures are needed to prevent dangerous behaviors. Celibacy has not been difficult. Instead, it protects me from my mood swings. If I want to be in a relationship that involves sex, it will happen when I am stable. I am finally liberated from the manic desire to lick the calves of men.