Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mania and the energy of the bipolar artist

The ups and downs of bipolar illness can be frequent or they can come around gradually. My illness manifests its moods over long periods of time. I’ll go for a few years stable in my moods, then all of a sudden I will have a hiccup; a period of time where I will go way up or way down quickly. Lately, and untypically I’ve had to deal with going up – way up. Although the manias I experience aren’t as high as those who have bipolar illness type 1 (mine is type two called hypomania), the difference in me is still noticeable and keenly felt.

Twice, relatively recently, I experienced temporary highs; one which I didn’t notice at first and the second which was painfully apparent. The first was a day where I walked into work feeling good. I mean, FEELING REALLY GOOD! A coworker acknowledged me as I walked past and my response was a very loud “HI!” emphasized with an over-aggrandized wave. As I walked down the hall, my arms swung in broad motions and a big smile remained plastered across my face as I thought of a myriad of things that kept me happy. At some point I became aware that I was bouncing off the walls feeling a bit too good and I thought that it was not good thing. The second temporary high hurt. And I mean that literally. It hurt to feel that good. With that mania came agitation and the need to keep in motion. I could not sit still. I rocked back and forth in my seat and flexed my knees as I pondered running up and down the stairs. As I had experienced many times over my years of this illness, an energy built up within me that I felt was only being held in by my skin, and as such I felt the need to want to rip my skin off to get it out of me. This is why I say it hurts; it’s pent-up energy that can’t go anywhere. So, what can I do? Wait it out, keep taking my meds and get someone to talk to while I go through it.

How it affects me as an artist…Well, it depends on the day. If I’m in the middle of a motivated painting spree, it’s a spark to my mind, which starts flowing with idea after idea, which appear in my head like the way popcorn pops, suddenly, frequently and ever increasing.

It has been said to me that bipolar artists go through times of great production, then times of great scarcity in their work. It is certainly true of me. Currently, I am in that ‘up’ state, not in a physical mania, but more in my mind, where the ideas are flowing freely and quickly and I can’t paint quickly enough to keep up with the ideas. This is actually good for me this time around, for I have made some goals which I aim to attain during this period. I intend to milk this energy for everything I can get out of it and produce as much artwork as I can. (I’ve recently painted 3 paintings in 3 weeks). That is one of the ways I’m learning to deal with my gradual ups and downs; by taking hold of them and using their inertia to my own ends.

If you are bipolar or know someone who is, how do you/they get through manias?

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