Mental Health

Reasonable and Proportionate

Written Fall 2003

The phrase “reasonable and proportionate” has been on my mind a lot lately. Both in terms of mood and reaction. I think it is very important for me as a bipolar person. In a nutshell this is because everyone can be moody, everyone is exuberantly happy sometimes, everyone is blue sometimes; but when you are bipolar these states may have no relation to external events or may be drastically out of proportion to them.

If a normal person is moody, that usually means they tend towards gloom, or perhaps hold on to a mood longer than what is considered average. When a bipolar is moody this can mean something else entirely. I can go from bouncing off the walls to incapacitating sadness several times a day.

It is almost preposterous to compare euphoric mania to a good mood. Though I’ve never tried cocaine, I’ve had its effects described to me and I think that high might well be compared to mania. I will make a humble attempt to describe it from my own experience. When I am manic, I am practically a goddess. I am tremendously wise; I can pass out advice and judgement and it is all obvious to me and unquestionably correct. I am also irresistibly attractive: cute, sexy, gorgeous. And of course, I must dress accordingly. And oh boy am I funny! I’m witty, clever. I can’t shut up, but I’m so entertaining
that who could mind? I have enough energy for two normal people, and while I get sleepy, actually getting sleep isn’t all that important. I have plans galore! I will write a book! I will find a bluegrass band that needs a singer. I will shame Martha Stewart with my homemaking prowess! And that part of me that keeps my natural impulse towards mischeif in check is on a lunch break. It’s a great deal of fun while it’s happening, but can be embarrassing in hindsight.

Mania has another face. Its nearest equivalent for normal people is irritability. It certainly includes being irritable, but alas there is more. Too much energy for comfort and not enough focus to use the energy effectively. There is sensory overload – maybe I sense more of things, or maybe that part of my brain that knows how to sort, process and prioritize the information has gone on vacation like my self-restraint does in the happy mania. I have absolutely no patience. Oh, it’s maddening. I just feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin, and I even want to do that because it seems like it would be a relief. My very soul itches in that state.

Everyone gets “the blues” sometimes, even bipolar people. And even depression is so common that it is mistakenly diagnosed as the problem for many people who are bipolar, and it is sometimes years before the mistake is caught. I think depression is better understood than mania, so I won’t described it in detail here. Please, my readers, if you feel like you DON’T understand depression, I’ll change this paragraph and describe it a little. For now let it suffice to say that “the blues” doesn’t make people think “I want to die” all day long every day.

Above I have been defining terms, so that I can discuss what is reasonable and proportionate and what is not.

It is reasonable and proportionate to find yourself temporarily incapacitated with sadness at the death of a friend. Not so much if the friend didn’t call you back promptly. If you decide to go out on the town to celebrate getting a great promotion and maybe go a bit nutty with the drinking, that is reasonable and proportionate. Not so much if you decide to go out on the town to celebrate it being Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, etc … especially if “out” includes out of the state (of course, this could also mean you’re an alcoholic) (note, I’m making these examples up for the most part).

This concept is a reality check for me. If my moods are fluctuating, I ask myself, if they are or are not fluctuating in proportion to the events taking place in my life. Today, as I write this, they are not. However, the moods are not intense so the situation is not something I am worried about. I have also taken to using this as a yardstick for the behavior of others when they ask “is this normal?” I am hoping to teach myself this check mechanism so well that it becomes automatic – that if I find myself behaving in an unreasonable and disproportionate manner I can at least try to reign in and seek help… and in other situations I can reassure myself that what I am feeling is “normal.