Self-Knowledge • Mood
Overcoming Manic Moods
Usually without realising it, we spend a good deal of our lives in a manic state. Colloquially, the term implies frenzy and delirium, agitation and panic – but this is far from what the word should properly denote. A manic state simply refers to any mental disposition in which we feel compelled to travel fast and blindly over the surface of our emotions, in which we do not allow ourselves to feel what we are due and in which we assiduously block out a range of our more authentic feelings due to an impression of vague but powerful threat. In our manic moods, we are in flight from emotional truths that terrify and sadden us. We are running to make sure we do not meet ourselves.
As a result, solitude and silence are especially trying. We may call up a friend – we might not be bothered which one – so that we can start to talk about pretty much anything in order to prevent a certain kind of internal dialogue from breaking into consciousness. We’ll talk about their brother’s wedding in Greece, the price of sandals, the likelihood of a certain team winning a game. Or we might fix our attention on the news cycle; we’ll grip onto the latest economic data, we’ll track criminals on the run, we’ll follow celebrities through a divorce.
We tend to limit our understanding of addictive mania to drugs, pornography or alcohol. But if we redefine manic addiction as a powerful preoccupation with pretty much anything in order that it may keep us from ourselves, then the list of abusive substances and activities grows exponentially. We might be an addict of the nightly news, the football results, gossip at work or our exercise routines. It is never really the alcohol or the porn that the addict is after; it is the opportunity these elements afford them not to have to encounter excruciating thoughts inside themselves.
There are emotions that – in the intensity of their joy or loss, disappointment or envy – we cannot bring ourselves to experience directly and therefore spend enormous amounts of psychic energy exiling into the far reaches of our minds. Unfortunately, no exiled emotion can ever properly disappear. It may have been buried somewhere in the remote territories of the neocortex many decades ago, but if it has not been felt, it will find a way to make its presence known eventually. It will ensure that it emits the right amount of fear, dread, insomnia, stomach pain, back ache, impotence or depression in order that eventually, its indirect plaintive cries will have to be noted. All emotional disavowals obey an iron law of the mind: that which has not been adequately acknowledged will continue to haunt us until it has been felt, mourned and understood.
What may appease our mania is love – love broadly understood as a form of care, patience and gentle curiosity. We can’t be hounded out of our manic states. We can’t be made to feel ashamed for not feeling more than we do. We need to be held close and listened to with imagination; we should be given time and sympathised with for our hesitations. We don’t need to be ridiculed for our addictions, rather accepted for the fear and despair that is driving them.
Through the softest kind of encouragement, a semblance of courage may set in. We might every now and then dare to stop running quite so fast, we may cease to use work as a distraction, we may allow ourselves some stillness in which our thoughts can take their course.
We will grow at peace the more we can finally allow ourselves to know who we have been; the more we can feel the lives we have actually had.