The continuum of mania

June 20, 2012 | By | Reply More

At Psychology Today, psychotherapist Eric Maisel explains mania as a continuum, running from the commonly experienced racing of one’s productive mind to spinning out of control that leads many people to seek medications and therapy. His evidence that mania is often part of normalcy is as follows:

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  • Straight-A students are 4 times more likely to be “bipolar.”
  • Students who are math whizzes are 12 times more likely to be bipolar.
  • Overwhelming anecdotal evidence that “smart and creative people are often manic.”

At the outset, Maisel warns that the terms “Manic-depression” and “bipolar disorder” as so flawed as to be “useless and dangerous.”

For intelligent people on a mental quest,

[Mania] is simply a racing brain driven by a certain powerful pressure, need or impulse. Anything that gets in the way of this seemingly forward motion—a physical obstacle, another person’s viewpoint, a delay in the bus arriving—is viewed as a tremendous irritation. Hence the irritability so often associated with mania. This irritation makes perfect sense: if you must get on with it—get every wall painted red, capture that song, solve that theorem—then nothing must get in the way.

When the racing mind cannot be controlled voluntarily, the symptoms include “seemingly high spirits, heightened sexual appetite, high arousal levels, high energy levels, sweating, pacing, sleeplessness . . . hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, suspiciousness, aggression and . . . wild, self-defeating plans and schemes.” Maisel points out that intelligent people on a mental mission experience a “’must’ that is at the heart of the matter.” Then, the question is whether “you” are still in charge:

The driving impulse or “must” may not be only pain or even pain. You may be working on a novel or a scientific theory that excites you and you can’t wait to get on with it. Still, that excited pursuit, even though in pursuit of something positive and valuable, has caused your mind to move from gear to higher gear, dramatically revving up the engine that is your brain, and now that engine is whining and straining. The same dangerous dynamic is now at play: are you driving the engine or is the engine driving you?

To stay in charge, Maisel suggests the following for those whose minds race, whether they be highly intelligent, creative or some combination: “increased self-awareness and the courage to see one’s own games and tactics.” In short, Maisel is recommending mindfulness techniques as the first line of defense, in order to avoid the use of drugs that are an alternative way to do the “work of modulating [the] mind and meeting [one’s] needs.”

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Category: Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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