When I am ‘up’, everything I write is pure gold.
I am unabashedly a genius. During my last ‘up’ spell I decided, in a moment of deadly lucid seriousness, that I was one of the voices of my generation.
Hold on there tiger, I hear you saying. Your ego is out of control. Normal people, especially normal British people, have something inside that censors the way they think and speak about themselves. Modesty and humility prevail.
‘Who, me?’ is our mantra.
I have Cyclothymia. If you prefer, bipolar lite. Bipolar for people a bit too scared to use the word bipolar to describe themselves. A disorder that lets you function on the edges of normal and occasionally meander over to madness. Go on, dip your toes. The water’s warm and the writing is better than ever.
I hesitate to use the words disorder or disease because for me, living with Cyclothymia doesn’t feel like that. Sure, the lows are low. I feel like shit. I wake up and realise I have a whole bunch of hours and interactions to live through before I can, mercifully, sleep again. Sometimes to be in a depressive state is like being in a nightmarish Groundhog Day. Wake up, work, home, sleep, do it again until the funk lifts. Other times I’m playing pretend in the theatre of my life: a classic smiling depressive. Always ‘on’. Publically high-functioning. Superficially enjoying myself while simmering deep down is an echoing sadness and resentment that leads nowhere and can’t be attributed to any one cause.
But this article is not about the depressive state, I’ve covered that before. This is not a disease to me because when I’m high, when I’m ‘on’ and ‘up’ and experiencing hypomania, I am invincible. I am everything I have always wanted to be, full-time.
This is me when I’m ‘up’: brash. Giggly. Talking too fast, darting from idea to idea and laughing, too-loud, like a drain. The life and soul. Hypersexual. Intense. On ‘good form’. Wise-cracking, witty, three steps ahead. Impulsive. Exhausting.
As an author, poet and all-round creative person, hypomania is a gift: when I’m ‘up’ I eat, sleep and breathe poetry. I write. I write. I write some more. The quality is effortless, the words spitting from my brain like firecrackers and partnering up on the page like the world’s most perfect jigsaw puzzle. Hypomania is a double bonus: when I’m’up’ I write incessantly about anything and everything. Then, when my moods stabilise, I have reams of extra material. I can write about how hypomania affects me, and speculate why. I can dissect my hypomanic persona. I can wonder if I’m really a genius. The machine never stops.
Here’s a rundown of the positives of hypomania. You are super creative, determined, dedicated, high-speed. You can’t keep up with your thoughts, which is why my hypomanic poems are stream-of-consciousness: brilliant fucking ideas and images are coming so fast there’s no time for punctuation or line breaks. You don’t mediate yourself. There’s no time to pull back, observe and edit when you’re in the moment.
I try to avoid my friends when I’m hyper and writing, because I’m – at best – monosyllabic. I can’t concentrate on them, I can’t hold a conversation, not when the ideas are spilling out left, right and centre. Disturb me at your own risk – if I lose the plot I get irritable and snappy. I will not look up, I will barely register that you’ve entered my immediate environment. Afterwards, inflated by my own self-importance and smugly secure in my ability to write masterpieces, I will apologise, but only when the ideas have ceased to flow.
And what ideas they are! Ideas that seem outrageous when you are non-hyper suddenly become perfectly plausible. I start to imagine, I start to ‘what if’. This is a particular favourite game of mine when I’m hyper. I imagine, and write about, situations and consequences. I speculate. I dream. I wonder ‘what if…?’
The worst thing I ‘what if’ about is suicide. Let me just make this absolutely clear: I am not suicidal. Just because you ‘what if’ about marrying Jamie Dornan doesn’t mean you’re going to intentionally hunt him down to marry him. Same logic applies. I ‘what if’ about suicide all the time. When I’m on a train platform, inevitably. When I pass tall buildings on the commute from work. Inevitably I end up imagining my own funeral and the accolades I’d get should my genius be tragically undiscovered in my (living) lifetime. I am better than Dickinson and Plath combined, in my hypomanic fantasies. I leave them eating my dust.
Wow. I can guess what you’re thinking.
Ker-razy. Writing this, as I am, in a stable, ‘normal’, neither up nor down kind of mood, I empathise with you. I look back at my work and I think I sound crazy too. But I want you to understand what goes on in my brain when I’m fizzing away like a firework. There are no limits: reality distends and distorts. I am both God and kingmaker. I am enthused by my own potential and everything is crystal clear.
Nope, I’m not getting any kind of help. Herein lies the crux of this article: I like my Cyclothymia. I especially like my hypomania. The work I create when I’m flying is undoubtedly some of my best. Speak to creative people with Cyclothymia and many of them value their ‘up’ periods for the productivity and vision that ensues. Why would you want to be without your exaggerated, best self? It is a struggle, yes: I am moody and unpredictable, prone to crying jags and argumentativeness. I am probably insufferable.
But I am willing to live with the downsides of this, the other side to this creative euphoria. On the flipside there is unhappiness. There is also greater risk. Bipolar disorder, fully fledged, runs rife in my family tree. Two relatives have Bipolar II disorder, and there is a much greater genetic risk of me developing the same; but until my moods become an unmanageable problem, I will not medicate against it. My hypomania is as much a part of my personality as anything else, and besides, I am a genius. People just don’t know it yet.