Mania may begin
when the unconscious mind begins to find hope and fresh meaning
in a situation in which the conscious mind has become deadlocked
Assigning an exact date to the onset of a manic episode is an exercise in arbitrariness. However, with the help of a journal I kept, I can date the beginning of my expansiveness with some confidence to the evening of Saturday, December 4, 1993. Frustrated and nearly desperate from the realization that my medical practice was failing to develop, isolated and deadlocked in my personal and social life, I was feeling small, petty, and cut off from the world around me.
I was finishing a book entitled The Alchemy of Illness. Kat Duff, the author, had written beautifully about her experience of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and a sentence on page 131 arrested my attention: "It feels as though the thin strand of my life is woven back into the web of our world." That, I realized, would be more priceless than anything imaginable, to have the thin strand of my life woven back into the web of our world. The sense of personal frustration, which had been knotting my stomach and furrowing my brow, began to flow out of me and began to weave itself into a vast, invisible tapestry of human suffering and thwarted desire. And it seemed to me that this great tapestry was being rewoven, that its threads were rearranging themselves and were becoming intertwined with threads of human hope and redemption. Together they would create a design of unimaginable beauty, lovelier by far than would have come from the loom of success and mastery alone. Months, years of dead-end defeat and disappointment began to disentangle themselves from my tissues; I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and felt my body unwind.
When I could open my eyes again, I read on the next page, "It [the chain of effects] is embedded in the soul of our world, what the ancient philosophers called the anima mundi, and each of us is allotted a small portion of that larger soul to work upon in our lives, in the ongoing process of creation." This idea was not new to me, but it had previously been only an interesting notion in a book, shedding light on a distant part of humanity's past. Now I had a deep emotional response to it. I had been entrusted with a portion of this world soul, and had a sacred obligation to work on it. I wrote in my journal that being true to this idea would transform my experience of everything I did. If it were true, it would follow that there were invisible threads that connected me with every other person in the world, past, present, and future.
• Mania may begin when the unconscious mind begins to find hope and fresh meaning in a situation in which the conscious mind has become deadlocked.
• The hope of mania is that some long-standing rule of the conscious mind, which has prevented participation in and enjoyment of life, can be overturned and replaced with a principle that allows more freedom.
• Every symptom of mania has a positive intention. It does not seek to destroy anything or anyone, but to create a new way of living and experiencing the world and other people.
• The dangers of mania result from the fact that it remains opposed by shame and fear, and from its relation to the negative influences against which it is struggling. This battle, waged in the depths of the soul and manifesting on the surface as mental instability, can be alarming to behold.
• The issue of the instability of the emotional state of mania needs to be differentiated from the issue of whether it has the power to achieve its goals, which are for the good of the person it affects. Psychiatrists do their patients a disservice when they neglect this distinction and focus too much on the melodrama of the emotional state.
• Because mania is a goal-oriented process, it will tend to recur as long as its intentions are unfulfilled. It wants to create a new life for the person, and if it is frustrated or blocked in this effort, it will return with renewed intensity.
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