In MAPS Session 8 we had a look at mania and some of the early warning signs of it and how to identify manic thinking styles. So much about mania is misunderstood by the general population. The depression side of things most people can relate to in some degree but mania is something else entirely. As a result I find most conversations about mania incredibly frustrating because my experience is often not captured. The way mania tends to be spoken about in the media is extreme elation, over-optimism, delusions of grandeur and extreme creativity. I often feel like mania is romanticised by people on the outer and its destructiveness to social and work relationships is underestimated. The reality is that mania is simply an extremely elevated mood state. This can manifest in stereotypical ways of spontaneity, impulsiveness and joy. Or it can appear as anger, irritability, paranoia and delusional thinking. I am one of the fortunate people who experiences the later. So I often feel underrepresented in discussions about mania where things like irritability are often side notes. So it was great to have an open discussion about mania at MAPS where I was around people who could relate.
Amongst the group one of the key things we all identified is that it can be incredibly difficult to tell when you are creeping up into mania. It can often feel quite good in the early stages. Your mind is working quicker, you’re full of ideas and you have so much energy to enact these ideas. It can be hard to tell whether you’re slipping into mania or simply feeling really inspired and determined. In addition, mania usually follows depression so any increased energy you are experiencing is often interpreted as a good sign that you are no longer depressed and not taken for the warning sign that it really is. Often by the time symptoms are clearly noticeable it is too late and you are in the swing of a fully realised mood episode. It’s never fun realising you have lost control. That’s why it is so important to get better at noticing the early warning signs.
I feel I am truly blessed at this moment to be stable. Not just because it makes my life better but because it makes me so much more capable of engaging with the MAPS material than I would have otherwise been. Being stable now for almost six months I can now recognise what my normal mood state is like and be more aware of when I am slipping out of control. As a result I have been able to define some key early warning signs for me of mania. It’s handy that most of them are behaviours too so I can make the people around me aware of them and they can let me know if they are noticing anything different in terms of these signs. For instance, I become very fidgety and struggle to sit still, I sleep less and I speak faster and louder and tend to interrupt people. I also have more energy and start making lots of unrealistic plans. My temper also begins to rise. What is interesting is how these early warning signs interact. I sleep less so I become even more cranky so that when I interrupt someone when they are speaking and they call me up on it I will snap at them. These sorts of behaviours are easily identifiable by loved ones as I am usually very courteous in conversation and receptive to social cues of when another person is speaking. So now that we have officially and formally recognised it this is the sort of thing that they can alert me too and I can then reflect if I need to go see my psychiatrist or change what I’m doing.
We also did some work on dysfunctional thinking styles that tend to categorise mania. Now anyone who has ever been manic will tell you that a lot of this information is useless once you are actually in a manic state. When you are manic it is literally impossible to sit back and reflect ‘Hmmm, perhaps I am being grandiose in my thinking?’ It’s simply not how the brain works in that state. But these strategies are important, just like early warning signs, at the beginning of the mood episode. By being able to identify unhelpful thinking styles at the early stages of a manic episode, such as hypomania, it is possible to nip the mood episode in the bud before it erupts in flames. What I found particularly interesting about this exercise was seeing how many of these thought styles also categorise depression. Though patterns like mental filter, all of nothing, mind reading, overgeneralisation and emotional reasoning are factors in both depression and mania. I found that fascinating. It seems to suggest that our brain is prone to these sorts of thinking styles but the direction of mood determines how they manifest. This gave me confidence that I can employ similar, consistent strategies across the mood spectrum and it will have a benefit, which is exciting.
Next week is family and carers day which I am exceptionally nervous for. My partner and my father will be joining me for the session. I’m worried about what my dad will say as he is very cynical about psychology and psychiatry in general so I just hope he approaches it all with an open mind. Keep you posted.