The scary line between healthy feelings of joy and terrifying symptoms of acute mania isn’t nearly as narrow as I once thought. Here’s how seeing my mood states as frogs helps me sort out my emotions, moods, and episodes.
Bipolar Mood States = Amphibians? Hear Me Out…
I love frogs. Have ever since I was a kid. Their beauty, diversity, and versatility fascinate me. And while I’m no herpetologist, I know more about frogs than the average person.
Before you check the front cover to make sure you didn’t accidentally pick up a nature magazine, let me explain: I see my mood states as amphibians. Yes, amphibians. I know it sounds ridiculous, but please try to suspend judgment, and take a leap with me as I provide a few examples.
Depression? The Indian purple frog, also known as the pignose frog. It’s ugly. Not cute—ugly, just ugly. It spends most of its life underground, emerging for only about two weeks a year. Depression to a T.
Mixed states? The hairy frog. Just as hideous as the pignose frog, this grisly masochist breaks its own bones to create cat-like claws that pierce through its toe-pads. Startling and self-destructive, it’s the perfect ranine equivalent to a mixed state.
Mania? The golden poison dart frog. Dazzling and duplicitous, this exquisite diminutive amphibian boasts a breathtaking technicolor splendor that packs a monster punch. Roughly the size of a paperclip, the golden dart frog is a captivating creature that possesses enough poison in its shimmering neon skin to take out 10 grown men. In other words, this stunningly intoxicating frog is stunningly toxic.
Mania Is My Most Terrifying Bipolar Mood State
The poison dart frog of my many mood states, mania, terrifies me more than any other side of my bipolar disorder. Granted, both depression and mania have nearly ended me. But depression never made me delusional. Depression never made me believe I could fly off a 20-story building. Depression never made me carry on complete conversations with people who didn’t exist. In short, depression spared me some dignity.
Though I’ve experienced acute mania only once, it was more than enough to scare the living daylights out of me. At the time, I was undiagnosed and had no idea what mania—let alone hypomania—was. Now, I know.
Hypomania, or mild mania, was where it all began for me, and I admit, it was exhilarating. The sun was brighter, the sky bluer, music louder, and I’m sure food would have tasted better had I managed to consume any. I stopped eating and sleeping, yet felt zero hunger or fatigue. I was happier than I had ever been … until I wasn’t.
Soon enough, hypomania morphed into acute mania. I lost the ability to read or carry on a coherent conversation; I started hallucinating; I nearly jumped off a balcony—and then I was hospitalized. It all happened within less than a week.
Fearing My Feelings & Managing My Symptoms
That was 10 years ago, but the experience stuck with me. For years, joy became inextricable from fear. I was terrified that happiness would inevitably lead to hallucinations and hospitalizations. As it turns out, that hasn’t happened. Thankfully, I can now experience joy without fearing mania.
Time, faith, therapy, and medication have all helped. With time, I’ve learned that the line between conventional euphoria and clinical mania isn’t nearly as fine as I once thought. With faith, I’ve learned to distinguish the ecstatic from the manic.
With therapy and medication, I’ve learned to identify and treat my symptoms sooner than later.
That said, telling the difference between symptoms of mania and feelings of joy isn’t always easy. As a result, I’ve also returned to some less conventional allies to help me sort illness from happiness.
Genuine Joy versus Acute Mania
Just as I see mania as a golden dart frog, I see joy as a red-eyed tree frog. Unlike dart frogs, red-eyed tree frogs are not lethal.
Tree dwellers and exceptional jumpers, they boast a festival of vibrant reds, emeralds, yellows, azures, and oranges. Even at a glance, it’s pretty much impossible to mistake a red-eyed tree frog for a golden dart frog. The latter isn’t nearly as colorful, and the former isn’t nearly as dangerous.
Ultimately, as with joy and mania, the vital distinction between the red-eyed tree frog and the golden dart frog isn’t about form, but function. While both may belong to the same species, one is disabling and lethal, while the other is harmless and delightful. By appreciating the difference with the help of my amphibious allies, I’ve finally given myself permission to be happy, to revel in rapture, to jump for joy free from fear.
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