What's cyclothymia? It's a mild form of the docs used to call "manic-depression," but which they re-name periodically. Cyclothymics can actually function decently well, and as such often don't know they've got it. If you cycle through highs and lows, are particularly artistic, or that describes someone you love, then read this post in full and please comment with your own experience. I'm still learning, myself.
AN INTRODUCTION TO CYCLOTHYMIA
Knowing the term "Cyclothymia" would have been very helpful to me a few years ago. This essay is plain English and, if I've done a good job, might help people who associate with a cyclothymic relate better to them, and might help a cyclothymic manage themselves better and produce better.
I'm against the "medical-ization" of life. We need medical terms, but we need to be able to explain things in plain English without labeling. Labeling, by definition, drastically simplifies.
Cyclothymia is simple at its roots, simple enough for a plain discussion without medicalization. Here's how it works for me -
1. I feel emotions stronger than most people. This is due, of course, to some electro-chemical reaction of some sort (since that's what emotions are - chemicals and electricity).
2. This allows me to do immense, crazy amounts of things (I'll give you examples in a moment).
3. It comes with some unfortunate side effects that need to be closely monitored and managed, by myself and the people who are on my team, if I'm to continue to thrive.
That's it. That's the entire unemotional, cause and effect description of what I've got. I feel intensely strong emotions, these let me do amazing things, and it comes with some yucky consequences. Everything else is descriptive detail, or a value judgment.
(As a sidenote, I think value judgments are fine, but should come after all of the facts are on the table. Certainly, value judging before getting facts ruins lives and leads to ignorant decisions.)
A DEFINITION OF TERMS
"Manic" colloquially is fine with me, I'll call myself that. It's actually "hypomania" which is "light mania" - I stay in touch with reality, and I can keep doing probabilities, causalities, things like that. When I say "manic" I really mean "hypomanic" or "manic-lite" - in touch with reality still.
"Depression" I think is basically useless as a term these days. It's been used too broadly and means too many different things. I've rather got two separate terms. "Crashed" which is when I run myself too hard and my energy is out, which is short term, and "Malaise", which is when a crash prolongs into what most people would call depression. I'll also say "crashed long term" or "stuck in a crash" interchangeably with "malaise", and I rarely if ever use the word depression (which is again stigmatized, poorly defined, medicalized, and has all other manner of problems with it).
SOME SPECULATION AS TO WHAT'S HAPPENING
I've always been curious as to why there is cyclothymia. Certainly, it's easy to understand why hypo-manic states would be adaptive. But from an evolutionary perspective, the "depressive" states don't make any sense.
Why didn't evolution nuke it? The theories I've all heard is that the depressive state lets you realistically introspect, but I don't think that the value in that is worth its very heavy cost. My new hypothesis is that it's a thermic-heat based reaction. We'll investigate that in a moment.
I should stress that I don't know for sure and might be wrong. That's what feels like it's happening, but don't take my word on this. Investigate. (Do that anyways when someone makes a claim or guess. But especially here.)
Anyways. Subjectively, it feels like I'm "running hot" when I'm manic. I can think and move a lot faster than I can normally.
For instance, i built an entire outsourced customer support system with testing, additional revenue generating, review/testimonial/referral generating, top of the line support, and staffed it in...
...well, I'll tell you in a moment. First, you need to understand that I built something worth $10,000+, saves many hours per week, generates additional revenue that covers most of its costs (might even be net-revenue-producing, not sure yet), and I staffed it with a brilliant guy with a plan for him to be promoted in 2-3 months to double the pay he started at, after he successfully recruits someone to replace him, and then he'll do marketing design/testing going forwards.
Normally, this would take multiple hours across 3+ weeks. Ask around. If you got this done in 3 weeks, to the quality I built, and had it running well with a good culture fit, good skill fit, good highly motivated staff, plan to move him up and promote him rapidly into higher value roles, had him buffing out the process book so that even if he moves on the system persists, with relevant tech and payment systems and customer support and high level objectives and everyone motivated and excited and...
Yeah, three weeks would be fantastic.
I did it across two days. It took two hours and forty minutes. Actually, I only spent 40 minutes on it myself, the other two hours were my colleague following exact word-by-word instructions I dictated. I could have done those two hours myself as well, but I thought it would be good experience for my colleague, and I was busy hiring two more full-time people for my office, as well as writing a high level sales script, while simultaneously fighting my war with Simon and Schuster and watching the Open Letter post get read by half a million people. (I estimate, anyways - much of it was off my site with repost rights... maybe I'm estimating on the high side, but it's definitely multiple hundreds of thousands so far)
After an entire day of this, I collapsed on the floor, rolled around, and cried.
I hate writing that, by the way. I feel so weak. Like, I can't let anyone who works for me know this. I have to be a rock. I can't let anyone I partner with know this. I have to be a rock. I certainly can't write about this publicly... oh well, too late! ...
But in any event, it's true. And from that crashed state, I had a hard time doing even the most basic stuff. I was struggling mightily to pack up my computer case, gather my belongings, cleaning up my office, and leave to go sleep.
I kept getting confused. I was like, "Ok, I'll pack up the computer… then I'll… shit, this place is so dirty… do we have a maid? … fuck, the serviced cleaning needs Chinese which I don't speak… ok, I've got to put a job ad up for that… should I do that on my computer? No, I'm too tired, my mind isn't working any more… okay, pack up… or should I clean up first? … fuck, why is it so dirty in here? this is disgusting…? do we have maid? maybe I should write up a secretary job description before I pack up… no, my mind is wrecked, I wouldn't write a good one… okay, so, I need to (1) pack up my computer case, (2) potentially clean or not clean the office a little, and (3) get on my coat and hat and gloves, and then (4) leave the office to (5) sleep. Okay, I can do that. Get up off the floor. Why am I still on the floor? C'mon, legs, fuck you, get up off the floor and start packing up the bag… why am I still on the floor? Damn this place is messy…"
THE THERMIC REACTION HYPOTHESIS
You can call this, "Sebastian Marshall's Thermic Reaction Hypothesis to the Evolutionary-Cyclothymic Paradox" if you like, or "The Thermic Reaction Hypothesis" for short.
This is based on my subjective experience, with a sample size of one, and some reading, and some theorizing.
I could be wrong. Don't take as gospel. This isn't gospel. It's a hypothesis, which is a fancy word for "educated guessing."
I think my brain actually starts running hotter when I get manic (ie, hypomanic - I've never gone full manic, and hope I never do - it sounds terrible). What happens is, it subjectively feels like I'm "heating up" - the thoughts start coming faster, and my "working memory" seems to greatly increase.
I can make immense amounts of connections between discreet and abstract concepts. I can take in sort of the whole gestalt of something, along with its discreet parts, and hammer it into reality fast.
I have almost no memory or recall of these moments if I don't get them written down. I'm outlining this piece of writing right now, and I'm surprised at what's above and below this in terms of details. I need the paper… if it doesn't go onto paper and into reality, it's done. I wrote a short nonfiction piece called "Visions" about subordinates, free agents, and commanders, and their role in society. It was one chapter away from finished when I ran out of gas, and now I probably can't ever finish it. I can't even remember what's in it past my little description.
With this piece, I've got the gestalt in my mind of "explain why I'm writing the post, define my terms, describe the experience in value-neutral-nonjudgmentral-way, share some example stories, write conclusion" - I can keep that in my head. The gestalt of it. The details? This? This is JUST HAPPENING, and it's FLEETING. If I wasn't typing while it was coming, it would be gone. It's like ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP BZZZZZZZZZZZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP BZZZZZZZZZZ ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP ZAP.
At the end of outlining this, I'm going to crash, and I'm either going to go swimming at the gym, or go to the whorehouse to recover (or maybe two - I know a couple nice ones near here, where I get discounts because I'm handsome and well-dressed). Then I'll come back, and I'll be surprised at what I wrote.
ZAP ZAP ZAP? What the fuck is that? Y'know? I admitted I'm going to go to the whorehouse after outlining this post, to rejuvenate me from being crashed? What the fuck is that?
.... but that's how it works.
I think there's actually a thermic reaction going on. I mean, I think I'm generating more heat and burning more calories. I think I'm actually burning at an unsafe fast pace, that homeostasis would normally prevent from happening.
The body has all sorts of self-regulation and self-protection mechanisms. I think mania is the heat getting ramped up a little bit… the body tries to stop it from happening, and sometimes succeeds. BUT, once I "cross over" into manic (I actually think of it as "crossing over" or sometimes "ascending" - I've often described it as "I'm back" when it comes back on after a crashed phase, since I identify far more strongly with my manic self than the myself the rest of the time) - anyway, I think it's actually heat going stronger.
As the heat gets cranked up, it seems to "melt" other defense and regulation systems in the body. My self-preservation instinct disappears, my shame mechanism disappears, my diplomacy disappears, my "should I say that?" disappears, and I just start flowing raw truth, raw action, fast speed. I say, "STOP BEING A BITCH I WANT TO MAKE YOU MONEY" - it's shocking! Downright shocking, I tell you. This post? The defense systems are down. I'm talking about my manic conditions, going whoring, swearing, getting into fistfights… c'mon now, lots of people do these things. But they'd never WRITE ABOUT THEM PUBLICLY. You see?
I've spent a lot of time investigating "thought cycles" and "cognitive costs" - just my own research. You see, the human brain is always doing something, and there is (probably) a maximum capacity it has. The more cognitive costs you add, the more they consume your thought cycles, and the less work you can do.
COGNITIVE COSTS CONSUME THOUGHT CYCLES.
Shame, for instance. Embarrassment. When you're shamed or embarrassed, it's consuming your electricity, your hormones, your chemicals. It's TAKING FROM YOU.
When I start heating up and going manic, those things MELT, thus freeing up MORE THOUGHT CYCLE POWER FOR BUILDING.
My self-preservation goes. I'll tear up money in the middle of a speech to make a point. (I tore up $140 USD worth of Chinese currency in 100 RMB increments the other day. The point was shocking, and helped me acquire shares in a company that should have cost $50,000 at a massive discount. So, whose crazy again? Me? If you say so!) :) :) :)
In a fight, I'll go all-out vs. everyone. Miyamoto Musashi, the samurai, said the ideal is to stop trying to save your life, and enter the borderlands between life and death.
Imagine that. In a death-match between two samurai, one is trying to stay alive, the other is trying to become one harmoniously with his katana, his body, his spirit, the grass under his feet, the sun and moon and stars, and all eternity.
By relinquishing the desire to live and self-preserve (which costs massive amounts of thought cycles), you wind up winning and destroying everything in your way.
I call high level people on the phone. I called Bridgewater and demanded (politely) to speak to Ray Dalio, so he could advise me on teaching his Principles to my book club. I looked up the cost to place an ad in Oracle magazine. I was going to have it be one black page that says that says in red block letters,
"IF YOU SEE LARRY ELLISON
PLEASE TELL HIM THAT SEBASTIAN MARSHALL WANTS TO HAVE COFFEE WITH HIM.
Alas, it was $40,000, and I don't have a spare $40k right now. But I would like to meet Larry and discuss Japanese history and Napoleon with him, and I imagine I could be useful to him and vice-versa, so I'll do it at some point. It'll be a good anecdote and good for PR even if it doesn't work, regardless.
I have some other things that support my Thermic Reaction hypothesis. I feel hot. I'm constantly opening and closing the window (and I no other obsessive qualities - just that one, I'm constantly too hot or too cold when I'm in a manic phase). I'm eating the same amount that should be weight-stabilized, but I'm losing weight.
It also would explain, evolutionarily, why the depressive part of manic-depression never disappeared. The depressive part sucks, crashing sucks, I hate it so much, and I wish I could make it go away. But I think you're literally burning from your emergency reserves, turning off many of your other core systems, and channeling all that power into your artistic or intellectual faculties. That's where the power comes from - your body and mind are burning itself up.
Other evidence for my hypothesis?
A lot of us battle illness. I've been sick disproportionately often. I'm a sample size of one, so maybe not. But Toyotomi's top strategist, Hanbei, was a cyclothymic and he oscillated between winning stunning victories for the Toyotomi forces and being a convalescent in the mountains being taken care of by his sister.
Byron, too, obviously.
Nietzsche, too, obviously.
A lot of us die young. Frequently, illness. I suspect and am very afraid that my manic-ness is destroying my immune system at times, and leads to the illness, weakness, broken bones, ripped cartilage, and the myriad of other injuries and illnesses I've endured.
The top treatment for cyclothymia is lithium. It stabilizes and destroys the manic phase, not the depressive phase. BUT, ending the mania often ends the depression.
Why? I think it's because the depression ("crashing" in my terms, "malaise" when the crashes become prolonged) is a result of the brain running too hot, destroying itself somewhat, and needing time to regenerate.
Also, anti-depressants have been surprisingly ineffective against cyclothymic depression. I think our "depression" is different fundamentally from many other people's. Most depression, I think, is a lack of some kind of happy hormone, like dopamine or serotonin or something. Ours, I think, is a brain that has burnt too much heat and has shut itself down as a final defense mechanism to prevent ourselves from dying via stroke or becoming "cooked" like someone who took too much acid.
LIKE A DAM BREAKING AND BURSTING FORTH WITH ENERGY
Maybe I'm nuts to write this post. It's the sort of thing someone should hide. And if they don't hide it, they should at least write with an, "Aww, gee, shucks guys, I got this thing going on" tone - not with a sort of nonjudgmental assessment combined with mild self-admiration.
But I'm doing it for two reasons. The first is that I want to advance the world, and I know I would have killed to have read this post a couple years ago, and it might have saved me a lot of headache. I hope it can help people understand what's going on, maybe relate to their children or students or bright young scientists better who are cyclothymic. We're powerful, powerful people if our weaknesses are mitigated and compensated for, and we're adequately cared for. (And medicating away hypomania seems asininely stupid to me - I'm making a personal value judgment, but c'mon now - I can do three lifetimes worth of work in 35 years and die young and glorious, or I can grind it out until I'm 70 and waste away. You're recommending the second course? It's just… asinine-seeming to me.)
Medicine is off the table for me. I'm functional, rational, and incredibly powerful and creative when manic. This is an adaptive trait - I make more money, have more sex, have more fun, make more friends, and am generally happier and more well-adjusted during these times. I can't do this kind of caliber of work when I'm normal. I live for this, it's the most moving thing I've got. It's mildly abrasive to the people around me, but I'm able to put in INSANELY STAR PERFORMANCE for them, so they put up with it. And I'm aware that I'm hard to deal with during these times, so I try to compensate for it and let people know how much I care about them, and how sorry I am with the erratic-ness and how I can't march to the beat.
Normal life is all the colors dimmed out, the lights turned down, a slowly grinding mill wheel turning wheat into grain, instead of trying to invent nuclear fusion. I'd rather die than have that. And I might, for the bargain, but let's see if I can do a few lifetimes worth of pull-humanity-forwards first. I might fail, but I can certainly try.
So I'm writing this to advance the world, but also to show people how they can work with me effectively. I'll point them to this. I'm a dam breaking, great torrents of energy bursting forth, doing science, statistics, logic, philosophy, experimenting, recruiting, hiring, building, training, exploring, advancing, inspiring… and then I'm a fucking mess. That's the deal.
Is it a good deal? Depends if you can handle it.
Certainly, I can't do any "one foot in front of the other" type stuff. I'm not saying I'm better than it. I'm not. Certainly, life would be easier if I could do it.
Here, let's talk about socks. That's about as unoffensive of an example as I can think of.
So, I'm wearing a pair of brand new socks right now. Yesterday I was wearing dirty socks. Occasionally I've been forced to wear dirty socks for weeks on end, and sometimes I buy lots of new socks and throw the dirty ones out, or just let them stack up.
It's disgusting. I hate it. I love cleanliness and order, and I hate dirty socks.
But stop and reflect on this.
Right now, I could be doing anything. I could be balancing my checkbook (it's not balanced), I could be filing some paperwork (that's not filed), and I could be doing laundry.
Or I could write this piece.
Is this piece any good? It's hard to say. I can't self-evaluate in the midst of writing. But I think it has the potential to be. Actually, I think it has the potential to be a pretty big deal, to give a fantastic jumping off point to everyone who deals with cyclothymia, to help science, to help humanity.
The odds of it becoming a breakthrough piece (I call them "Masterworks" - they're what I fundamentally live for) - well, it's low. But the payoff is immense. If someone had never heard of cyclothymia, and it started a discussion with them and their Mom or Dad, it might even save someone's life.
So, my socks are dirty! So fucking what! Socks? Socks? Socks? Jesus guys. They're just socks. I can always throw out dirty socks and buy new ones on the way home. I'm playing the game at a higher level than cleaning socks.
B-playing, Grinding, Soldiering, and "Responsibility"
I'm not a B-player. At any given time, I'm an A+++ (manic) or a C- (crashed) or an F (malaise).
People frequently insist that the only way to thrive in the world is to be a solid B-player, that everyone has to "earn their stripes", "grind it out", and "soldier on." You must "do what's expected of you" because "that's what responsible people do."
No. I'm sorry. I don't think they're idiots. That's maybe the correct advice for 90%+ of people.
But look. Let's say I invent and draw up a comprehensive statistical prediction system on how to identify where terrorists will strike. A prediction system with very high accuracy and no false-positives. It doesn't catch all terrorist strikes, but it catches a lot of them, and we can prepare and save lives.
I draw it up in theory, make it into a beautiful presentation, I also make schematics, and write exactly what resources we'll need to build it, and the critical risk factors that might fail to have it built, and other downsides.
I try to go present this to the president or the defense counsel or a military general.
They tell me, "Wait a second! What's your rank?"
I say, "Umm, I don't have a rank. I'm here to save lives and destroy bad things. This system is amazing. Just let me show you."
Some piss-ant little attendant says, "Hold on there, you have to be rank G3++ to get into this place. You're not even a G1. So you need to get your G1, which includes cleaning toilets and filling out paperwork."
And I say, "Umm, I can't do that. I'm not better than that, I just can't do it. I go nuts when I could be inventing but am instead cleaning toilets, and I can barely get of bed when I'm crashed. So I'll oscillate between going insane while grinding for you, and being unable to function. I'll never get to G2, let alone G3++… but fuck that, nobody should care about rank anyways. I can save lives here. I can help you win your goals. I mean, I can REALLY SAVE PEOPLE'S LIVES with this system, don't you understand?"
And they keep saying no, and I have to go clean toilets, and I'm not special.
Well, okay. Nobody is intrinsically special. But if you can produce crazily-fantastic results but only under certain conditions, then you are special. Nobody's better than anyone, everyone has different roles, different goals, different things that keep them happy and engaged. But the cyclothymic can sometimes do a decade worth of work in six months he's on, and unfortunately then wanders around jungles uselessly for a couple years. You'd be a damn fool to ask him to clean toilets when he could be trying to invent cold fusion, and you'd also be a damn fool to try to coerce him into cleaning toilets when he's crashed, since it consumes an immense amount of crashed-out-depleted willpower during those times and results in a terrible job anyways.
So, the grinding environment doesn't seem to produce good outcomes for people like me.
I'd always kept thinking that a particularly rational and humanitarian commander would eventually recognize what I can do for them, and channel me. I always wanted to be a scientist, like a chemist or a researcher or something. Somehow I got forced to take on all sorts of command roles, because everyone I encountered was incompetent except a few people, and I way too shy to try to convince the competent people to take me on (my ego strength and communication skills weren't strong enough back then; I had to learn these. I also had to self-modify the shyness away because no one took care of me and harnessed me, and deployed me intelligently to serve both of our goals).
I think most cyclothymics would have above-average intelligence - it's very probably thinking which kicks the thinking cycles into overdrive… now I have high verbal intelligence, but you could also be a very mechanically intelligent or visually intelligent cyclothymic, but then you wouldn't be able to communicate these ideas like I am, despite the fact that you feel the same way. And if you're of above-average intelligence normally, you're nuclear-fusion-overdrive-powerful when you're hypomanic. If you had wise and intelligent command, you could pull humanity into the future.
Nikolai Tesla and Howard Hughes, I think, were both cyclothymic. If you got a Tesla or a Hughes on your side, what could you do with them? Ok, the dude is going to crash the fuck out at some point, and you need to keep gently nurturing him, but he'll be grateful and build you millions or billions of wins when he's back on. He'll be a little abrasive, but it's because he's an inspired semi-mad genius. Taking care of him is not such a bad idea, is it? Hell, it's even a humanitarian thing to do, and we're really grateful when people are nice to us when we're down.
SOME GUIDES FOR DEALING WITH ME, AND CYCLOTHYMICS IN GENERAL
Take these with a grain of salt. I'm still trying to work this out. This is not gospel; please be very skeptical, test, evaluate, and refine these ideas without implementing blindly.
With that said, I think the following will all help you deal with me, or cyclothymics in general -
Understand Their Reward Mechanisms - you need to understand a cyclothymic's desired rewards and what pleases them. I like to see the things I build quickly become reality, and I like to be praised and appreciated. Almost to a sick extent actually. I feed off of it.
Normally, I'd never write this. My self-preservation and shame mechanisms are turned off right now - I'm actually intellectually consciously aware that I'm breaking social decorum and potentially damaging my social status writing this, and I don't care, because it's true. I fucking love being praised. Not in a patronizing way. But, "Sebastian, that system you built? It's fucking excellent! Man, how the hell did you do that? That's something out of Greek mythology right there."
Seriously. Do that sincerely. Hell, fake that. I love it. I love being appreciated. Maybe I'm sick. Maybe I shouldn't need appreciation so much. But I do.
I have two main reward mechanisms - help me get my creations out into the world faster, and appreciate me. It's pretty simple, really! You do those two things, I'm on your side.
People have different reward mechanisms. Some people don't like being praised, and get embarrassed. (I love it, and feed off of it… almost to an unhealthy extent, and wish I wasn't this way, and have tried to modify it, but it is what it is at this point.) But for shy people, don't praise them. Some people need more "soft gestures" of love. I don't. Just praise and help me build faster (teach me, give me resources, show me opportunities, things like that). But if someone needed soft gestures, give it to them.
Don't Anti-Communicate With Them. I appreciate intelligent, thoughtful skepticism and forcing me to flesh out my answers, but I despise emotional/identity/fear-based "Well I don't know, that doesn't seem good…" - Well, why not? Lay out a logical case. Downside? Cashflows? Brand image? Stress? Commitment? Morale? Figure out EVERYTHING that we need to control for, and I'm probably able to solve all of it. I want no faith from you. Everything should make logical sense, all risks should be understood and acceptable, etc. But then, when the math works and there's no bad consequences to failure, we've got to do it.
I despise someone saying no without explaining a logical case. Now, it could be, "Sebastian, I've got a logical reason I've got to say no, but no time to explain it, so please trust me" - you can do that sometimes.
But a logical hypomanic cyclothymic fundamentally needs logic from you. When he lays out a fantastic idea that's been consuming his thought cycles, you don't realize how much that took from him. He's bleeding for you, he's going to crash and suffer for it later, and he's well-aware of this.
In my case, I could deploy time into ANYTHING. If I give it to YOU, and you're being a jerk about using it… that's just not okay. That's one of the reasons I fell out with Simon and Scuster. I gave them my inspired time, and they pissed on it. Whoa guys. You do that repeatedly and you've got a war on your hands. With someone who is intelligent, inspired, and has no self-preservation mechanism. Who is going to win that one, do you think…?
The nature of anti-communication differs from person to person. Some visual artists can't stand their work being judged. I can. Judge my work (logically, please, and ideally in a friendly way that shows you're on my side, but that last part isn't required). But for a visual cyclothymic who can't stand judging, just let him do his own thing.
Some cyclothymics can't stand being directed. So you can say, "Hey, this is beautiful, but is it really your best work? If you say it is, okay… I don't know, I think you're a genius, but if this is your best work, then it's fine…" and let them work it out. But you can't direct some of them without a meltdown.
I know. What a pain in the ass. Do you really have to treat us so gently?
Well, we're talking about intense and crazy electro-chemical reactions. If you can nurture it right, you can help us chain manic successes together, and keep it going. And if you're a rational and humanitarian commander, you can get a lot out of people with this background. But yeah, you can't just be a dick like you would to anyone that grinds for you that's a G1. I'm not saying that because a cyclothymic is better than it - I'm just saying, in cause and effect terms, that it won't produce the most favorable outcome for you.
Keep Them Focused - I can get off-track and ramble about Japanese history or the Second Punic War or whatever. Tactfully say, "Hey! That reminds me about XYZ-thing-I-want-to-do… do you have thoughts on that?"
For a visual or mechanical cyclo, just have the stuff you need worked with laying around. Don't force it, just make it possible and tactfully make it known you've got a tough problem you can't figure out. If you've got paint and parts and schematics lying around, eventually we'll start building. We can't not build, if we're up. (And if we're crashed, we can't be forced anyways. It's like trying to force a man with no arms to shovel. Yelling at him won't get it done.)
Get them downtime AFTER the cyclothymic mania is on the wane but DON'T try to interrupt it. It NEEDS to come out, it's a dam breaking, with massive flows of energy coming forth.
Downtime needs to happen, but you need to have high awareness. Suggesting taking downtime DURING mania is a terrible idea. Almost offensive. Like spitting in your face. Like taking your most precious possession and taking a big steaming shit on it.
But we need downtime right afterwards. Don't ask me to go to the post office after I just designed a $10,000 system in 40 minutes. I can't go the post office. Don't tell me to go the post office. It might seem reasonable, but I can't do it. I need the downtime. Encourage me to take it.
Don't ask me to do stupid bullshit like wait in line at the bank. I go insane when I'm waiting in line. Anything that resembles waiting in line I can't do when I'm manic, because I have more important things to do, and can't do when I'm crashed, since I can barely get up off the floor when I'm crashed. I try to clear up all of the stupid bullshit on days that I'm normal, but those are rare and there tends to be a lot of accumulated bullshit to be handled on those days.
Get logical controls and use hard rules to keep them off self-destructive drugs, eating patterns, etc. This is hard, and deserves its own very long essay. You can read some of my writing over the last year to see all the external structure, hard rules, ethics, and principals I've built to keep me going strong even when things are screwed up.
Provision their resources intelligently. Thank God I can handle money okay, and am numbers-oriented about it. A cyclothymic that isn't really needs someone to manage their money for them. Also, food, water, socks, things like that. I'm terrible about those sorts of things. Some days I forget to eat. If I run out of water, I'll drink only orange juice which isn't healthy. Stupid stuff like that. If you're the commander and there's a cyclothymic under your command, constantly assess their resource needs, especially simple resources, and make sure they're taken care of.
THINGS THAT DON'T WORK
"Things that don't work" is probably equally valuable.
You've got to realize this - there's this crazy chemical reaction like nuclear fusion happening at times. It burns brighter than the sun. And then it's a burnt-out red giant, glowing softly in the darkness. It shows some hints of its former brilliance, but a dim, faint, glow. Someday, it will collapse in on its own gravity, before exploding outwards again, energy being neither created nor destroyed, and the pattern begins anew.
It's asininely stupid to try to get in the way of this reaction when it's happening. You can't. You'll be burnt up by it, and cause damage in the process. And when things are glowing faint, "just go get a job" isn't the answer. The thing needs to collapse in on itself, get reinvigorated, dissipate, and re-emerge.
1. Channel a cyclothymic when he's up.
2. Prevent disastrous crashes as much as possible.
3. Nurture him when he's down; he'll be back and remember it very kindly.
Coercion, shaming, hell, even concern aren't helpful.
Now, I'm all-in on verbal intelligence. I'm basically mechanically retarded, and not so hot in the visual sphere either. It makes me rather unbalanced, but good with my words and numbers.
I've also spent immense time on human communication, which is where many of my crazy stories emerge from. So I'm very sensitive to the subtext of an interaction.
Anything that assets your status over someone without being very on their side is offensive. So, "the poor guy, what he's going through…" or "just take it easy" or "you've got to be responsible" are not going to work with someone like me.
Those are, respectively, asserting superiority through pity and marginalization, asserting superiority by emphasizing a superior moral code (relaxing superior to working hard) or shaming someone into following tradition.
Don't worry about the last two paragraphs if they don't make sense. I wrote up 400 pages of notes on this two Januaries ago in Taipei, I'll release them after I've had some more wins in business, government, and leadership. They're not what I want to be known for, yet. But it's complicated stuff, that I'd need to… well, it'll take a lot to get those points across.
But here's some tactical advice -
Don't assert superiority. Be careful not to do it by accident.
Admiration will serve you better than pity. Yes, crashing sucks. I want zero sympathy, instead I want, "Wow, that was a fucking amazing building cycle. No wonder you're exhausted."
Don't try to coerce or threaten. Self-preservation is gone. I've had people threaten me recently. I love being threatened when I'm up! VIRTUOUS COMBAT! I'm reminded of a lyric by Eminem (who is almost certainly a cyclothymic, and I base a lot of my communication on his - he's brilliant at expressing and harnessing it) -
"Let go of that nine [a type of handgun]
it ain't gonna help
what good's it going to do
against a man that strangles himself?"
Fuck yeah, man, threaten to sue me. Let's have it out in court. On the off chance you win in court, I'll ruin you some other way. I HAVE ALMOST NO SELF-PRESERVATION INSTINCT WHEN MANIC. You really want to fight with me? Really? Really?
Shame? Same way. I have no shame. Appreciation and working with me to do things is going to work better. Ask how you can help, let me know how much you appreciate working with me.
Telling me "You have to do this"? No, really, I'm not sure I do. If I'm crashed, I basically can't. Like a man with no arms trying to shovel. I'm useless. System shut down. If I'm up, do you REALLY want to interrupt me trying to write a detailed, thorough, cause-and-effect description of cyclothymia with guidelines and thoughts and hypotheses in it to go wait at the post office? My dry cleaning isn't done. Whatever, I'll buy a new shirt on the way home. It's faster. This has a very small chance of being a masterwork-quality piece, helping researchers, and saving lives. A VERY small chance. I'm not delusional; it probably won't be great. But there's a CHANCE. There's ZERO CHANCE that going to the post office is going to produce a masterwork. So you can try to say, "You have to do this," but it probably won't work.
BUILDING A STRUCTURE AROUND MYSELF. OR, "HOW THE FUCK DID I WIND UP IN CHARGE?"
I've said repeatedly throughout my life that I don't want to be in charge. I don't like being charge. Sometimes I'm forced to be in charge because everyone else sucks, and that's the only way things are going to get done. But I hate it, command takes way too much out of me. I'm a really good strong second in command if a person can handle the fact that my wins come sporadically and are massive, and you have to endure some abrasiveness with it, that I might be walking out of the shower naked and working (my colleague who I've known for seven years does a double take. I say, "Oh? Well, my dick is out. Yup, that's my dick. I forgot to take clothes or a big towel into the bathroom, and so my dick is out." … and then he got over it, I dictated to him some amazing plans for statistical analysis of the effectiveness of different pieces of creative while still naked, and then I put clothes on. I do, however, have just enough sense not to do that with someone I don't have seven years of goodwill built up with. The emotional defense systems are all off, like shame and dignity and that sort of thing, but I can still run the math and logic correctly.)
But yeah, the commander can't have his dick out, and so I can't be in command for long stretches of time. I'm useless as a moral leader when crashed, and I'm erratically standing on tables and waving my arms around and giving speeches when I'm up.
I do develop people well, and draw up good development plans. I elevate people. You might or might not be able to get that from my writing, and you might or might not believe me, but I am highly reality-based and I can say, objectively, that my friends and inner circle go on to be healthier, happier, wealthier, more successful, develop faster, move faster, get more into culture, develop more, serve humanity better, and so on. That's what I'm fundamentally about.
People do tend to like me. You don't know me if you're just reading the text. Is he crazy? Well, I'm not neurotypical, that's for damn sure. But I do try to treat people well.
I've grudgingly accepted that I'm going to have to be in command a lot of the time, because there's a dearth of competent commanders. But I can't be the stable, consistent manager. I'm the guy standing on the table, waving my arms around. I'm the guy that just drew up a plan to recruit THE ENTIRE SALES STAFF of the #1 player in the market to defect to our company (we pay our sales team 8x what they pay, we're going to try to snatch THEIR ENTIRE STAFF and it's going to be fucking awesome if it works… I'm laughing my ass off about this, we'll have to work out some temporary office space with a revenue share of all business generated in that office space since I don't have the cashflow to pay office space, and they're sales team will have to go on pure performance basis… but if this works, we're going to destroy #1 in this market by taking all their oxygen from them. My colleague wanted to buy them in a couple years, I said let's just take sales from them right now - they're bastards who don't pay well enough, don't deliver good service, and are un-humanitarian while just pocking profits; thus, we'll be the force of change). So yeah, I can do that stuff. But I'm not steady. Now I'm standing on a table waving my arms around. Now I'm up in the wee hours after 3 hours of sleep drawing up plans while my dick is out. Now I'm crashing and rolling around on the floor crying. This does not make for a consistent manager.
I'm very aware of that. I'm a very, very flawed person. I'm not the solid B-player who can grind it out and consistently moves upwards, and the only way I could become that is to shut off my most beautiful times. This essay would not exist if I were not like this. Is my Thermic Hypothesis correct? It may have something useful in there, it may be dead wrong, but either way it's an interesting answer to a complex evolutionary question ("why did manic-depressiveness persist? how could the depressive period be evolutionarily adaptive?" -> answer: "it isn't adaptive. it's a side effect of burning too hot in the manic phase, but the whole package is adaptive because of how much sex, wealth, and power you build when up"). So maybe I'm on to something, or maybe I'm not, but these flaws allow me to try to bring big wins to humanity.
I've got to compensate for these flaws to do minimize the damage I do. What's happening at Simon and Schuster? I bet a lot of people are catching a lot of flak. I feel bad :(
But c'mon, publishing is the butt of the joke in the media. They're engaged in "wishful thinking" - they think things are going to get better, even though they're not doing anything to get better. They're pushing back against digital. They're anti-modern. We all know this doesn't work…
...and yet, I'm doing damage and hurting people as a side effect of my moral crusade to change the industry. I've had a number of people suggest I'm a hero in the last week. I've gotten amazing letters and had amazingly nice things written about me. (Thanks. It keeps me going. Really, I mean that. Thank you, you can't possibly know how much it means to me. "Literary hero" -> Wow, that humbles. The shaming attempts get me up to fight, but that humbles and makes me grateful.)
But I want to minimize damage. The first thing I need to do is educate people, which is my selfish reason for writing this. Here it is, it is public, I am not the easiest person to work with. You should evaluate me very carefully. I think I can bring gigantic wins to humanity, I think I can possibly be a generational figure. I'm not full manic, I still have my logic and probability and percentages and causalities and analysis and strategy. I'm not saying I will be a generational figure, but I study all their lives throughout history, and try to do the types of things that they did in my own way.
Ah, but I keep rambling. Pardon me. Downside of this whole mania thing. It's a dam bursting, and it's difficult to channel. I keep trying to write about the structures I'm building.
I need a strong "King" figure, and I need to be a "Commander" figure. I need authority like Belisarius or Zhuge Liang, but I need someone stable. It doesn't really matter who is #1 or #2, I'll pay homage to the king and nominally be following all his instructions. The King needs to be humanitarian and rational. I'll say, "M'lord, I have brought these tremendous wins to you, for you, through your wisdom and benevolence." And then the King needs to say, "Commander Marshall, you are unparalleled among this generation."
And when I leave the room, if another commander or general is upset that I get special treatment, the King needs to say, "Look... Sebastian is not a threat to you. Sebastian will serve you, kill for you, elevate with you. Don't even try to compete with him. He's insane, but we're glad he's on his side. Sure, his rank is Commander, your rank is Commander, but you're very different things. He's a force of nature when he's up, and he's a puddle on the floor when he's down. Do not fight him, go praise him and admire him, and he will elevate you. Don't compete with him, I don't need my stable generals to compete with my manic cyclothymic inventor strategist. The commander rank is really just a courtesy to him, and a way that he can requisition resources without being questioned. His real rank is "Inventor and Servant of the Whole Army."
So I need that person. Now, whether I find someone who is already King, or I put someone on the vacant throne? This doesn't matter. The King will take a greater share of the spoils than me, because it is required for decorum reasons. I don't mind, gold is just something else for me to build with. Give me the troops and resources I need, and I can do anything. Push back intelligently if there's a logical reason. Never push back if the logic works, just go for it. I'll be wrong sometimes, but if I try 10 different times, I get a single 100x gain out of it, and the other 9 don't work? We're ahead by a lot, so stop being so risk averse.
The King is nominally in charge. In fact, the King is actually in charge, so long as he understands that he coercing me is a breach of our agreement.
So, I need a moral authority figure. A King, of sorts. Then I can go back and forth between leading troops for short periods of crucial intervals (and my troops like me, and I'll die for them, and I'll do brave and insanely courageous things with my own life, but not ask them to do so because I desire to be humanitarian and a servant-leader). And then I'll retire for a while to the mountains to read books and mix chemicals and look at statistics and experiment and learn and sit on a large flat rock looking at the fish in the lake.
I need someone detail-oriented around me, that can capture my madness. And handle the post office.
I need enough resources so I can get healthy fast when I crash. Being crashed is fucking unhealthy. I need to study and work with the best to get healthy fast.
Great physician, good masseuse, chef, music, whatever. I need to get healthy as fast as I can, so crash doesn't become malaise. If I have enough things going on, that's okay.
I need to pay attention to where I'm at in my cycles. I can burn hard for somewhere from 3 to 7 hours, but every 1 minute over my limit takes serious toll on me. I need to become more sensitive to it. I can go for another 40 to 120 minutes or so after I'm over my limit, but every single minute does intense (and perhaps permanent?) damage to me, taking me out of commission for long periods of time.
I need to ensure this doesn't happen, since I wound up in my full command somehow despite the fact that it's not my natural inclination. If you become King and I work in your court, please be careful not to ask me to do something even very basic like deliver a letter after I'm out of gas. It's only 7 minutes, but the longer I keep going without a controlled crash, the closer I get to a full mental breakdown. Really, I think it's a thermic-heat-thing. Too much heat. Shut down now? Ok. Every minute things are melting though, I really feel both subjectively and it makes sense intellectually that that might be happening.
A FEW RECENT EXAMPLES OF PEOPLE HANDLING ME WELL
An old friend sent me this right after my most recent ascension (yeah, that's what I call it - note my lack of shame in admitting this publicly despite it not being in my best interest and certain to produce scorn and derision; instead of calling it a "manic cycle" I'm calling it an "ascension" - well, that's how I feel and think of it internally) -
If there's anything I can do to help -- websites, marketing, design, tech are all areas of expertise, among others -- just let me know.
Want to see you succeed!
I was so happy with him. Helping me make my creations into reality! I bought him a ticket to fly him out to China, put him up in the room I rent, going to take him to my tailor, and we're going to (probably) do a business deal together of some sort which will be awesome.
Another guy wrote me -
Wow. You're my hero, Sebastian.
Just that. But that keeps me going! THANK YOU SO MUCH.
He's been good to me, but so have lots of people. I'd done nice things for him, and vice-versa, but I'd forgotten. But this simple note re-awakened and re-vitalized my loyalty. I wrote back,
I'm going to keep pushing until something breaks. The industry is dying. Maybe I can help breathe some life into it.
I appreciate you reaching out to me from the blue. If you ever need anything, please think of me quickly and I'll do anything I can.
If it's urgent, put "[redacted]" as the subject line. You kicked off a process that's been incredibly meaningful to me, and I'm very grateful.
My seeming insanity is actually really, really simple.
Help me build.
I'll move heaven and earth for you.
WHY I WROTE THIS, AGAIN
My, we covered a lot of ground, didn't we? It took me 126 minutes to outline and write the first 80% in raw form (11:42AM on Sunday to 1:48PM), then I took a quick break, and hammered the rest of out from 2:23PM to 4:32PM (another 129 minutes). I'll do another pass of quick editing, and I'm writing this conclusion - it probably took five hours to write this, and we'll end up in the 9,000 to 10,000 word range.
Here's the most interesting points in here, to me -
1. There's this thing called "cyclothymia" and I gave you as much of a plain English discussion of it as I could. I really hope this helps parents and children understand each other better, along with erratic star performers, students and administrators, and all other sorts of things.
2. It's bothered me for a while why the "-depressive" part of "manic-depressive" wasn't eliminated by evolution just leaving the manic phase. My answer is the Thermic Reaction Hypothesis - I suspect that mania is more heat and the manic cycle shutting down other homeostatic processes, the end result of which is crash. I have no idea if it's true, it's just a jumping off point for thought.
3. I suspect (but am not sure) that with intelligent management and controlled crashes, the cyclothymic could spend more time in hypomania (good for humanity) and less time in malaise (bad for everyone). This should be very carefully investigated before being acted upon. It's reasonable-seeming to me, but you must be careful with unproven hypotheses.
4. I wanted to give jumping-off guidelines for someone to work with a cyclothymic. Again, caveat emptor - I'm not sure how universal those guidelines are.
5. I wanted to put all my cards on the table. This is who I am. Some people will say this was "unprofessional" - you know what? I think the exact opposite. I'm certainly stripping away the "veneer of professionalism" - I'm not pretending to fit in as a cog in the gigantic wheel.
6. I think this will make some people not want to work with me, which is good. It will be addition by subtraction.
7. For the people who do work with me, they'll have a very good idea of what they're getting. Radical honesty, radical transparency, radical effectiveness for a while, and with intermittent crashes and the risk of prolonged malaise crash. Putting my cards on the table like this is more fair to people who would work with me.
8. Truth has merit just for its own sake.
Any researcher, scientist. or anyone with questions may write me, but please keep it very short. I get too much email already and a reply might be delayed. I might not answer, but I'll try.
Anyone may repost this anywhere, in full or in part, without asking for permission. Please do share this if you know someone it would benefit.
Firstly and most importantly I wanted to say how much I appreciate your writing you come at business like a Kamikaze with total and utter commitment and a perspective that can be breath takingly elegant. I’m a big fan.
This post has a lot of heart and a lot of energy, it also stimulated discussion (Jesses post was incredibly insightful), which was your aim. I figured I’d weigh in for two reasons, whilst I don’t have either Cyclothymia or manic depression I have dealt extensively with people who do, often in work environments, secondly there was so much courage in this post it had to be commented on.
That being said I do have an objection to some of the parts of the post, objections I believe are logical and might give the uber-creative types an insight into dealing with folks like me.
The mania might be affecting your health but you’re willing to willing to take that damage in order to make huge progress quickly, as you said yourself you have no self preservation instinct when manic.
As a leader my number one priority is my people, number one. I can push around deadlines and renegotiate contracts, hell I can go out and make more deals, and projects no matter how profitable come and go but my people are with me for life. There is no way I’d trade my strategist for a completed project, a great strategist, Sun Tzu or Chanakya, is worth more than an army. Logically your partners even simply valuing your expertise would value your continued health far more than a timeline. If the price of less crashes is slightly less productivity, as a leader, that’s a price I’m willing to pay, my people are my greatest investment and they get more valuable with age, I refuse to let them burn out at 35 when we can still be kicking it at 70.
Sometimes when you know your judgement is off, deferring to someone else’s is wise. Especially when those people want to see you succeed and have huge belief in your intelligence, your focus and your passion. Lean on the people in your life, listen to their suggestion of when to take a break even if you don’t end up taking those suggestions at least logically consider that at times they will be more interested in your health than you will be.
I wouldn’t recommend trying to be a B+, that shoe probably isn’t going to fit you but it seems essential that you surround yourself with a supportive team. Generals win wars but they need soldiers and you need a detail guy to get to the bank, stand in lines and make sure you’re wearing clean socks. Clean socks are awesome. Also look for a political animal (I don’t mean this in a bad way) someone for whom relationship building is intrinsic. They can be a king or a diplomat it doesn’t really matter because either way they’ll be able to smooth out ruffled feathers, keep the social circles turning and free you up to move in powerful ways.
I don’t raise these to preach just as a way to give back some ideas as recompense for all the ideas and inspiration you’ve given me. Keep changing the world man, we need an intellectual revolution, especially in business.
To borrow from spock, live long and prosper.
Yes, yes, and yes. My husband and I both cycle this way. And we now co-parent with a disabled person who is only part-time (and sporadically at that) functional. It's interesting for us to coordinate childcare.
It's interesting for me to read this post because I have very different goals and values from you. But I feel a strong internal guilt/shame/oppression/don't know what to call it that tells me that your system is superior to mine and that makes me leap to all kinds of irrelevant defensiveness. Instead of being defensive I'll explain where mine go instead.
It's kind of a sad fact that a ridiculous portion of my life is still centered around the fact that I survived incest. I didn't just survive, I prosecuted my father (that was an elevated cycle) ending multiple generations of abuse inflicted on many many people. I did it in a big flamboyant way.
I have always thought of my down cycles as being times when I am weak on self-esteem and I have to catalogue my growing righteous indignation for a while before I see someone else being hurt and I can leap to their defense. I have to be pretty egregiously attacked before I am able to work in my own defense.
I was in a Master/slave relationship for two years where I was coddled through these kinds of fits of productivity. My Owner started a business while we were together. It's doing really fucking well now. He was a good King to serve for a while. Eventually I wanted to grow up and do something else though.
I think of the bursts of energy as sprints. In May, when my uncle died and triggered me publicly outing my entire family of rapists, I wrote 100,000 words in eight days. I did that right on the heels of doing a rather large remodel of my house (think insulation, drywall, painting). By myself. While I took care of my two kids who were both under the age of three. I can get a lot done.
But from when I was very young I had the burning need to parent. It was not a life choice I could miss out on. And women have different time constraints than men. I've done a lot of really extreme bdsm play during elevated cycles.
The problem with being a parent is you can't crash any more. There are these little humans who depends on me for survival. I have to figure out how to function even when I'm not functional. It's fucking brutal.
I can relate to all you said, though I have to admit I skipped two thirds of it. I however strongly disagree with the approach you are taking which is basically "push the highs, live through the lows". I don't know how depressed you are when you are down, or how "dangerous" you are to yourself and others when high, but I think this can end very badly.
I can't keep noticing that you are speaking in life/death terms, hell/angels, in conquering vs. being conquered, in jokers vs highly effective people. These are manichaean concepts that don't exist in the real world, even in their historical military context. These concepts are present in my thoughts too. Now that I've lived through a few things, I know that the boundary to suicide (on the depressed side) and completely lightheaded danger seeking (on the high side) is, now that I've lived through a few things, getting tenuously thin. I would be very wary of trying to push things to their limit, because a limit there is, and you usually find it pretty quickly when you are actively looking for it.
There's a lot of things in my life I have done that I probably wouldn't have done without the crazy emotions. These include: drug abuse, living on the streets, starting a company, playing my music in front of crowds, publishing a book which sold quite well, publishing a cd, publishing scientific papers when I was a teenager, sleeping with quite a few of my friend's girlfriends. In hindsight, I don't regret any of these. But I count myself very lucky to not have killed myself or someone else in the process, to have a financially stable family that didn't throw me out, and to not have lost more friends than I already did.
All the achievements count for nothing now that I'm older. What counts is being calm, content and spending quality time with my girlfriend and friends. The rest is just frosting on the cake. I'm trying very hard not to romanticize my actions, not to put a sheen on it and say "that's the way to live people, i don't want boriiing". Because what I was trying (still am actually) to achieve with all this art and creativity and productivity and engineering is to reach a point where I can say "I've done it all", curl up and live a boring life. I can never do it all, I can't even do a fraction, and "boring" is a very productive state too, now that my goals are set.
I am not in a no-shame mode right now, and you have got my email address if you want more concrete details. Just to say that my mania/psychosis included intelligent people, samurais and zen monks that I felt a incredibly strong mental connection to. And in a way, the zen part saved me. I am pretty sure that "enlightenment" is a manic breakthrough. But the strong boundaries set by the religion (or practice) help channel that. I still enjoy my "hypomania", which I can actively conjure by taking adderall or ritalin, I still play with the fire: it is easy to get overwhelmed by depression, it is even easier to get overwhelmed by mania. These two terms are "labels", but they are labels that I have to fill with content in order to help me live a better life.
The most important part of me dealing with this "illness" (collection of symptoms) are the pragmatic steps I take everyday. I have a very strict daily routine, I wake up early, go to bed as early as I can (I still don't sleep more than 5-6 hours a night), I exercise, try to eat the same thing at the same time, and try to be conscious of the way I think and feel. As I am freelancing and often on the road, this can be quite difficult at times, and I always pretty much immediately feel the effects. The medication helped find me a center point from which I can start exploring my feelings. It toned everything down enough that I am finally capable of "knowing" (not feeling): sad, angry, tired, happy, blue, in love, content, hungry, full. These are emotions I was not able to recognize before, it was all just a pile of intense burning energy.
If I am too low, I can endulge in things that I know fuel my mania (meditation, travelling, cleaning my flat, loud music, meeting people, dating, drawing, programming). If I feel that I am going slightly off a tangent, I do things that calm me down: eating very slowly and consciously, going to parties (don't laugh), reading a book, gardening, making music. I constantly have to reevaluate the impact of these activities. The most important thing I changed (and this again will sound ludicrous): I put all my books behind closed doors so that I would not see them when waking up or going to bed. If I see books lying around, I'm automatically going to wildly associate ideas, go into hypercreative mode, get manic.
I had 12 sessions of what is called "psychoeducation", which is not therapy, but rather a workshop of how to manage bipolar (or maybe better said a way to manage your life when you're a bit too intense). It was attended by 12 people of wildly varying backgrounds, some clever, some not, some rich, some not. It was impressive how you could quickly feel that everyone was struggling with the same issues (sleep, spending money, communicating with people, promiscuous sex, substance abuse, entrepreneurship). It was not about finding causes, about finding compromises or explanations. It was just straightforward advice that your mother could have given you. But what made it so effective was to see how other people cope with it.
That's where I recognized my own very personal triggers (japanese minimalism being one, heavy computer sciencey stuff another), and my own alert signals that now always lead to a "why are you doing this, think!".
My signals are:
- starting a company or a "speculative" project for $$$. I have this massive amount of ideas, I can make up a thousand a second, and I have cupboards filled of notebooks with stuff. With hindsight, a lot of them are actually pretty decent too. But that doesn't mean that the idea is worth pursueing, or worth anything at all either. It takes dedication, work to see it through, work to make it happen, attention to detail, and attention over time. I can easily bang out a prototype of an incredible synthesizer or other electronic gizmo in 2 hours. It takes about 20x the amount of engineering to make something that is actually usable and manufacturable. Then it takes inventory, manufacturing, accounting, sales, a website, support. The idea, even the creativity and engineering and skills necessary to make the gizmo in the first place, something I still believe I'm the only one able to do, is about 1% of the whole package. And that's not bad, that's not good, that is perfectly fine, I enjoy these 1% immensely. I dedicated my life to these 1%. I don't need the company.
- getting a new tatoo. synonym for "let's kick things up a notch and go burn down some trees"
- learning a new programming language. this is sign for "there is something bothering me and i don't want to find out and i'd rather do something autistic that feels mildly interesting and productive". The danger in this one is that the stress/exhilration of learning something new, coupled with the underlying unhappiness/stress of whatever is actually bothering me will trigger mania. and not the good kind of mania.
- buying a lot of books,
- switching from "yeah whatever I remember I have to do" to GTD is always a sign of oncoming mania
- writing a lot of rambling notes in my blog / evernote / sketchbook about "vague" concepts like creativity, seeing things through, inspiration, religion instead of hard facts.
It's easy to burn bright and fast, it's so easy to be bright, intense, visionary, an inspiration to others. It's so much harder to be consistent, calm, steady, reliable, invisible, "boring". But the more boring I've become, the more money I made, the better my software works, the better my art is, the more I can help my friends, the more fun I have everyday. Not the radioactive blinding and obliterating fun I had before, but the happiness that makes me whistle and smile at the birds at dawn, that makes me lie in a grass field at night and watch the stars, the happiness that leads me to make a cup of tea for my girlfriend and cuddle up in front of the fire, that makes me cook a big dinner for all my friends and watch a movie afterwards.
And man these things are boring, but they are so good.
Thank you. The term "crashing" instead of depression is really giving me hope. I can recharge (while still feeling guilty and pathetic), but have more hope during these times that the crash is ultimately healing me to do the BIG things once again. Great job!
I just found out today after 8 years of battling with major crashed that I have cyclothymia... I have been diagnosed bi-polor, major depressive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, the list goes on and none of them ever fit me. Until now. I have been on ALL kinds of medications as each diagnosis was made and at one time I was on so many antidepressants that i went into a DEEP depression. I took myself off of all my meds and started over. Today My psychiatrist asked me to research Cyclothymia because she thinks I might have it. Thank GOD finally i know what is going on. I like you love when I am ON and dont want that to do, that whole I can walk on water feeling is incredible. I am grateful now to know what is going on with me so that I can now work on improving myself. I thank you for writing this and making it public. I totally relate to everything you wrote, when I am on I am hot as hell I can accomplish ANYTHING. I laughed many times reading this because I can relate and it felt like I was writing this but I dont have a dick. lol Thank you Sebastian
I found your thoughts about why the cyclothymic gene or trait had not been "evolved away" interesting. (As I understood it: essentially because cyclothymics are so productive when they're "on" that the whole package is worth it.)
But then I had a potential counter-thought: What about people who are "purely" depressive? That has not been "evolved away" either, and yet I can't see it serving a useful purpose like the extreme blasts of productivity and brilliance you describe in your "up" phases.
So what does that say about the theory? I don't know; it's just what started rolling around in my mind as I was reading your essay.
Agreed w/ the other commenters on the danger of riding the highs. Yet blah normality is clearly not the answer for neuroatypical people. There are a few things (fish oil) which supposedly both stabilize & elevate mood, thus potentially letting you have a higher baseline. I think recognizing & cushioning the crashes is important, and so is recognizing and cushioning the ascensions - the stronger they burn, the more danger & the worse the crash.
There is some evidence that bipolar is a progressive disease, and the longer you spend off baseline, the more the extremes are reinforced (or perhaps damage caused to hemeostatic mechanisms), which means that riding the highs can make them worse later. Finding sustainable mild hypomanic states and keeping them at mild (confirmed by lasting a long time & not resulting in crashes) seems like the most likely course to optimize for this neuro-style.
I suspect that the hypomania isn't literally about physical heat, though it probably *is* about the brain going into overdrive and needing lots of recovery time.
Still, as another poster says, then you'd expect colder regions to have more folks like this. And Finland is a hard datapoint to ignore :-)
An alternative explanation for Finland: long winters, boredom, where hypomania is a welcome distraction and there's plenty of recovery time afterward when you need it.
I'm on this as well. I don't want to criticize, or try to get you to stop doing the things you do. On the contrary, what you write relates so strongly with me because I was (still am) on the same path. I'm still trying to not "be a joker", as you put it, to eat my own dog-food. The "advice" I give above is just my own story, I can't even say it's working for myself, I have to put it under heavy scrutiny everyday so as not to delude myself too much.
But it's because I care that I wrote these comments. Because I know that fulfillment is in acting, not in reacting. Because fulfillment is in awareness, not in numbness. Because I'm concerned that you may make the same mistakes that almost got me killed a few times. So I hope you take it as I mean it, not as a criticism, but as a my comment on my own personal interpretation of the things you write. I would really appreciate if you could contact me privately so that I could write a few more things that I don't want to share here.
And to people who write about "pseudo psychological diagnose", about how medication is there to make people stand orderly in line, I can't but shake my head. Sebastian already has a diagnosis, and he seems fine with it, he shares a 10k word blog post with the world about it.
A mental illness diagnose, which is an incredibly shaky thing to start with, is something that can be either hard to live with, or easy to live with (I'm so glad I have it because I can cling to that to pull myself up), depending on how you want to see yourself. But what is always hard to deal with is the good meaning people who think that it is a shameful burden, that suggesting that someone may be ill is an insult, that sharing your experience with the illness is something you shouldn't do. To these people, I proudly stick my middle finger up, and say *fuck* you.
And that's as far as I'll get to swearing.
Take care Sebastian, and with best regards,
Thank you. You describe me (and my father) better than I could do myself.
Focusing on strengths is on of the keys to success. I think it's enormously important to put both the strengths and the support we need in plain language. You just did this brilliantly!
I use qigong/ nei gong to mitigate the malaise and prepare the body for all the heat of peaking. I know it sounds like new age woo-woo, but it works for me.
Thank you, again
A few days ago, I wrote an open letter to a good friend of mine - "I Think Greatness is Something You Are, Not Something You Do" - I said to him, I'm not a great man, just a normal man working on great things. Greatness is something you do, not something you are.
To give you some background, my friend Brendon is just one of the most amazingly good people in the world. He takes care of everyone around him, his mind, body, and spirit are sharp. He's a black belt, an excellent programmer, a philosopher, a Shodan in Go (actually, even stronger than that - he's a Shodan under the Asian rankings, so probably even higher in America), a hard worker, extremely loyal, a clear and free thinker, widely read and knowledgeable, and again - an amazingly good guy. I've learned a lot from him (notably, he taught me how to play Go, sysadmin Linux, understand basketball at a very high level, improve at martial arts, improve my fitness, and other good stuff - we'd usually go drink green tea and play Go at Samurai Restaurant in Boston, go fight in the park, talk philosophy out at nightclubs, do stuff like that).
He wrote back to me about greatness and humility. I think this is a really beautiful piece, so I asked him if I could gently edit it and put it up. He graciously agreed. It's long, but go ahead and just start it and give it whatever time you have - there's a lot of amazing insight in here.
A Quick Favor Request - if you learn from this or it helps you, please send Brendon a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org - he was actually a little gun-shy about having such a personal piece put up with such raw power in it. He only agreed when I told him how many people it could help - so please, drop him a short line to say thanks if this teaches you as much as it did me.
Without further ado...
My drugs is hard.
Wellbutrin hived me up immediately, but that may have been related to my sushi habit.
Seroquel made me feel numb and fuzzy. And after a while it stopped affecting my depression anyways.
Lexapro, well, that was my fault for not taking it right. But actually that was one of the more awesome experiences.
More drugs is worse. The less drugs, the better. When things go bad, the response should be to lower the dose, not up it. So I am just going to relax on the damn Prozac.