Never Take Advice From A Gargoyle


The dark forces driving mania also drive depression, indeed, mania and depression are like twins separated at birth and raised by different families. The more you understand them the more you are struck by similarities, not differences.

I have written much more about mania than I have about depression, but depression has consumed a far greater portion of my life. The death of my mother, which occurred when I was a grad student, triggered a long down cycle during which being and nothingness seemed almost indistinguishable from one another – it felt as if all color had been drained from the world.

During this bleak season I went on a European vacation with my brother. At one point we joined forces with a Dutch cousin and toodled through France in a borrowed car. Like good tourists we visited Paris and paid homage to the obligatory icons. Climbing the tower at Notre Dame I had an inspired idea for an ad – Gargoyle with Listerine. After huffing, puffing, and trudging round and round rickety wooden stairs we at last reached the roof and walked into bright sunlight.

Paris lay spread out at our feet like a pornographic postcard featuring men in masks and black socks held in place with garters. Standing at the edge, no railing to protect us, we gazed at the broad cobblestone square far below; remote and yet close enough so that we were able to make out individual faces. It was a lush summer day but I went dizzy and cold, sweat grew on my forehead. Abruptly I backed away; the nausea decreased.

It was nothing so simple as fear of heights, or even the proximity of death. The terror was this. If, for just one instant, my inner, irrational mind had taken control it might have moved one foot just far enough to pitch me headfirst into midnight. The faith I had in my mind’s reliability – to always act in my best interests – was incomplete. Some part of me knew this was dangerous territory.

Later, in mania, I would learn how right I was. Because, dear reader, this is precisely what happens in mania – involuntary, irrational behavior, fabulously self-destructive behavior. If there is a suicidal component to your personality, one second of losing your grip on it can be enough to lose everything.

The Myth of Self-Medication

Whisky Drinker Prefers A

As a card-carrying alcoholic bipolar bear there’s little anyone can teach me about denial. When confronted with a choice between the easy way and my way – well – do I even need to tell you which I chose? Frequently I was so defiant that – if you told me to turn left, I turned right simply to annoy you…and show you that I could. Demonstrating my will became more important than doing what was best for me. I paid dearly for this commitment to ill-considered independence.

There’s an old expression that goes – A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. There is no equivalent saying in the world of mental health but we sure could use one because acting as one’s own therapist – counselor – physician is rather like performing an emergency appendectomy on yourself while drunk. Sadly, however, the practice is common, as evidenced by the hilariously euphemistic phrase, self-medication.

In the rooms one meets so many people who have wrestled with clinical depression; alcohol abuse was their way of “self-medicating” and the results are horrific. But my most vivid introduction to the concept came as I attempted the trapeze act of managing manic highs, using pot and alcohol to hold onto that magic point of euphoria. Repeated crashes taught me that pouring booze and other drugs on mania is really pouring gasoline on a bonfire; one is in tremendously bad faith if one acts surprised when the building burns down.

To be fair, talk therapy, which is where the real action and healing can be found, is so time-consuming and expensive that insurance companies are squeezing it out of fashion. We have become overly reliant on psychotropic pharma to manage mental illness, and it is an imprecise science. Some meds are nasty, some have ugly side effects, some are not well understood, and many are expensive – even if one has coverage.

So, for the arrogant imbecile anxious to ignore the medical community’s collective wisdom, there are plenty of plausible excuses to avoid the obviously superior path of care and treatment under the supervision of a trained professional. Bipolars are absolutely famous for doing this; going off their meds when things improve and taking back their will, no matter the seriousness of their transgressions.

If you have a bipolar bear in the family complaining about side effects, it’s okay to listen seriously and sympathetically, but, it might be the first step on a road culminating in self-administered brain surgery. Remember that alcoholics are world-class liars and bipolars, especially those early to recovery, are amazingly accomplished in the art of rationalization.