There was a time when I had no awareness of when I was getting manic – I just knew that I felt good, so bring it on! Over time, I have become sensitized to more and more subtle cues that I am “getting high” – and I know that it has lots of risks. Mania has some genuine gifts – as does depression – but the more ungrounded you get, the more risk of errors in judgement (spending too much money, starting unrealistic projects, etc.), interpersonal damage and the inevitable crash. So grounding is key: how to keep your feet on the ground when the adrenaline starts to surge.
There are many strategies for grounding, from sitting and walking meditation to gardening. I’ve tried lots of them, with more or less success. Some, like walking/swimming/dancing, psychotherapy and talking with my friends are just part of how I regularly operate.
But I’ve got a new one: getting sick! A couple of weeks ago, I came out of about two weeks of being down and started to come up. Day 1 of being not depressed looked pretty balanced – call it a 6 (Peaceful State) on my Mania-Depression Scale. But knowing the way my energy state tends to swing, I was watchful. Then on Day 2, two things happened: I started to tip into mania (call it a 5, “slightly expanded”) and I came down with a cold. And getting sick grounded me! It turned out to be a nasty cold, which went on for ten days, getting worse for the first seven or so. My up cycle lasted about eight of those ten days.
During those eight days, I frequently said to friends things like: “I physically feel like crap, but I’m not manic. I’m not depressed and I clearly have tipped into the up end of the continuum. My spirits are good, but I’m not speedy. All in all, getting sick has not been a bad trade-off. ”
What’s the takeaway from this? “Don’t try this at home?” My current lesson from it is: Life is always working on me. It’s trying to get me balanced. It will use whatever strategies it can to teach me how to stay grounded when I am high and how to pull myself up to the surface when I am low. I don’t want to use getting sick as a regular strategy for dealing with mania, but with a little luck I have integrated some subtle balancing capacity – or moved the needle a degree or two. I’ll keep getting opportunities to practice grounding myself and hopefully I’ll have some muscle memory of what it was like here to be not depressed, but not high.