Being stuck in a loop that runs between the lowest and the highest of human emotions
It all started with depression. In the beginning, trapped in a state of hopelessness and despair, desperately wishing for the power to bring change and reintroduce some pleasant emotions back into this pale life. Wishing for it over and over again, but without an answer. It has been going on for as long as I can remember, years, maybe even lifetimes. Nothing I did seemed to work and life became so dark and grim that it was no longer worth living.
Then came the point where the depressive disorder transformed into a bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is perhaps more easily understandable in its other name – Manic Depression. Frankly, what it really means is that in some miraculous way, some people with depression find a secret way out. A way that leads far out of depression and takes them all the way to the other end. This other end is called Mania, and if depression is a dark dungeon, mania would be like taking a stroll on the surface of the sun.
But there’s a little condition that I feel I should fully disclose before going any further. There is no Mania without depression, and the further into it one goes, the deeper they burn. But in the beginning, there’s no way of knowing that. In the beginning, Mania seems like the long-awaited solution – a wish coming true. It is amazing, beautiful, and instant. Thinking back, it seemed like one morning I just woke up full of motivation, I could do anything, and I immediately started planning. I’m not even sure what these plans were, but they sure were amazing. The mere feeling of planning made me feel so good. My life was about to change, I had no doubt. I could finally do everything I ever wanted and nothing could ever fail.
Well, there was this tiny little obstacle… Making plans was a lot of fun, but once the plan was done and it was time to do something, the bubble would quickly burst. In an instant, everything I was running from came crashing down. My beautiful plan to make my life amazing, the plan that couldn’t fail, for some reason just didn’t work. And the second it fell apart, hopelessness, powerlessness, and despair came crashing back. Depression returned even stronger than before, anger and frustration increased tenfold and I was completely confined to the bed. But after a short period of lying motionless, it was time for a new plan.
I guess I was lucky, in my case, my episodes were quick – about 3 days up and 3 days down. Quick enough for me to notice the pattern. For others, these episodes can last years. Years of mania which take years of depression to recover from.
Do you want to know the trick? Do you wonder why it never lasts? Let me break it down for you.
In this article, I will describe in the greatest detail I can what goes on in the mind of a depressed person who discovered that there’s an easy way out. I will explain why this way can never be sustainable, and offer my own personal solution for escaping this vicious cycle.
1. Depression & Cognitive Dissonance
Whether aware of it or not, it all starts with depression. Indeed, some might not be aware of their depression at all. Not everyone knows how to classify their emotional state, and not everyone has consulted a professional therapist first. But in all cases, people use mania to avoid some kind of a disturbing reality that they can’t cope with.
So in the beginning, the person is in a state of mind which makes reality difficult to deal with. Finding themselves caught in a lose-lose situation, incapable of escaping and regaining emotional balance. A state of increased cognitive dissonance and increased levels of emotional pain that can’t seem to be relieved.
2. Intensive Repression Process
Repression is described by Freud as a low-level coping mechanism that should be avoided. To explain it simply, it is much like a lie that a person tells themselves and then forgets that it was told. Most of the psychoanalytic therapeutic method revolves around exposing repressed content and coping with it in a more mature manner. Repression is incredibly harmful to the psyche and is probably the main cause of most psychological disorders, as well as this one.
A depressed person’s main desire is to feel good, and to do that, they would repress any negative emotions without any hesitation. At a certain point, when feeling that nothing more can be done, it seems so much better to just forget it all. And once you find out that you can just tell yourself that none of this has ever happened, then why not?!
That’s how mania is formed. The beginning is really quite simple – just push away everything that doesn’t feel good. Many people, when depressed, push away unpleasant emotions. Mania is just about going a little deeper and pushing away the events, situations, and experiences which don’t feel good.
Failure – Impossible. Problems and difficulties – there aren’t any. Depression – don’t remember anything like that. Life is beautiful! Everything is always amazing and nothing bad has ever happened.
I knew this one person that would always tell me about his wonderful poly relationship with 5 different girls, and all the love they shared. The fact that none of these girls knew about this relationship didn’t seem to make a difference. Another person who would give the same answer to all questions: “It is beautiful!” Got injured, had his house broken into and all of his money stolen, but as far as he was concerned these are his presents and everything is always beautiful.
The complete rejection and repression of all negative experiences lead to the formation of a subjective concept of reality. One in which loss, disappointment, and failure simply do not exist. Convincing oneself that everything is always good, pleasant, and exciting. Resulting in the euphoric state of Mania – Grandiose plans, high levels of inconsistency, and complete disregard for reality’s limitations.
3. Exponential Growth of Dissonance
This mechanism of self-convincing does induce positive emotions, and it does it much better than any other technique, but it isn’t sustainable. The repression mechanism can’t be used for long-term because as long as it is used, reality resists it.
Repression creates cognitive dissonance – a mismatch between beliefs and experiences. This inconsistency must be solved as soon as possible. Otherwise, as all of our new experiences are interpreted by our beliefs, the inconsistency would expand through our mind. Eventually leading to a complete failure, aka breakdown.
The manic person slowly disconnects themselves from more and more aspects of reality and moves into a better and more positive place, but this place only exists inside their head. The longer they stay in this illusion, the bigger the gap between reality (objective reality) and their mental concept of reality (subjective reality) becomes.
4. Cognitive Distortion & Alternative Reality
The longer this goes on, the further away the mind drifts, and after a while, sustaining the manic state becomes too difficult. Making plans works amazingly and it is so fun and exciting, but executing them just doesn’t work. And as other people are still aware of the negative aspects of reality, communication with non-manic people becomes merely impossible. Slowly, mania leads the person to a state of complete and total isolation.
At this point, each person reacts differently. Some would easily give up on their mania and drop back into depression without much of a struggle, and these are the lucky ones. Others might dread depression so much that they would go to an extreme extent to maintain their separate reality and defend themselves from it.
To deal with the unexpected negativity that threatens to turn the tide, a mind-story is created. An alternative reality – a delusion. This alternative reality will act to assist the person to attribute the negative emotions to others around them as projections. To resist losing their illusion, they might even blame their family and closest friends for being the cause of their unfortunate situation and the source of their negative emotions. Anything that would allow them to escape depression for just a while longer would seem valid, even psychosis, and any attempts to interrupt their illusion must be conducted with extreme care.
5. The Disillusion – Returning to Depression
Falling didn’t bother me. I could fall forever and not be hurt. It’s stopping that’s the problem.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
In this state, it is no longer possible to remain positive. As walls of repression grow thicker and thicker, there’s hardly any room left for maneuvers. Eventually, this little safe container built inside the mind has become too small to live in. When every person, situation, and thought threatens to trigger one repressed emotion or another, maintaining the strictly positive state becomes impossible. Everything is now contaminated with negative emotions, but it’s impossible to repress everything.
Repressed content begins to leak out through the thick walls of repression. Slowly, it begins to come in, and there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to stop it. Eventually, it floods the psyche and fills it up with everything that it has been trying to avoid, all at once. Insecurities, jealousy, anger, sadness, sorrow, grief, guilt, and shame. They come rushing down all at once, overwhelming the conscious. Reality stops making sense, and the psyche collapses.
6. The Point of Complete Failure – Ego Death
Eventually, after another period of depression, the individual goes through what many describe as an Ego Death. The psyche becomes so disorganized that even the most basic of thoughts triggers dissonance, and emotional pain. The mind has become too fragmented to work with. Negativity is in every turn and anxiety levels go through the roof. Can’t think straight, nothing makes sense, and even the simplest of thoughts lead nowhere. This is it. The entire knowledge base has become unusable and all understanding of reality has shattered into bits.
At this point, to regain functionality, the mind must reset itself. The dysfunctional knowledge base containing all of our beliefs and understanding of the world around us must be taken offline. Self-image, acquired habits, behavioral patterns, expectations, self-expectations, and worldview, all are being flushed away. Causing the individual to become empty, hollow, and fresh.
Partial breakdown – not all breakdowns are complete failures, especially as people mature, some belief systems would be more modular and more redundant than others. A sectioned mind is capable of dropping only specific parts of perception while maintaining the functionality of the rest, causing breakdowns to become more manageable, but yet less effective.
7. Rebirth – A Fresh Start
After the breakdown, a period of clarity sweeps over. It feels like a state of constant meditation – the pain is all gone and the mind becomes quieter than ever thought possible. The individual sees the world through a child’s eyes once again, clear of any judgment or associations. All information must be gathered anew and belief systems rebuilt, hopefully, this time it would be more stable and coherent.
This process takes time and should be done with great care, but for those suffering from the bipolar disorder, this is just another opportunity to regain their manic state and overcharge themselves once again.
The main problem with manic depression is that the individual wishes to be manic. They like it, want it, and would even fight for it. Unaware of the detrimental effect repression has on them and lacking the tools to correctly rebuild their psyche, after experiencing a complete breakdown they usually continue to use the same methods as before. Repressing the entire depressive episode and ignoring everything negative that has happened to them. Without any integration period, and without coming to any conclusions, they force themselves back into another manic episode and run through the cycle once again.
Breaking the vicious cycle
In my case, the way out of this cycle was at the time of clearance. Right after the breakdown and before the next manic episode. At this point, the mind is willing and looking for new guidelines, and more healthy ones can be supplied. To break the vicious cycle, one must let go of the mania and willingly stay with the depression, resist the positive feelings rather than the negative ones, and turn the cycle upon itself.
Whatever you do, don’t try and escape your pain, but be with it.
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Of course, to reach happiness there’s still more to go, and it took me quite a few of those breakdowns, but as long as I kept on trying, it did get better. From every failure, I learned something new, and eventually, it happened. Eventually, I managed to come up with a belief system robust enough to sustain through anything reality has to throw at me. A belief system that urges me to accept both the good and the bad, which gives me the power and tools to deal with problems and successfully avoid repression.
What makes the bipolar disorder so challenging to escape is the fact that the individual must be willing to let go of their ecstasy and accept their life as imperfect, which is the last thing they are interested in. For me, knowing that this state can never last, and understanding the devastating effect of repression was the key to breaking the cycle and keeping me from going into another ecstatic episode.
Attempting to manipulate our perception of reality, our impulses, and our emotions is the cause of all suffering, pain, and anxiety. True satisfaction and happiness require us to change the objective reality, and to accomplish this, we must first accept things for what they really are. Indeed, it is a thousand times more difficult, but it’s the only sustainable solution and the only course of action worth taking.
So if you want to make something of your life, stop wasting time on making yourself believe that you’re happy, and spend more time on making yourself happy.