Voltaire’s Definition of “Madness”

Many people are aware of Einstein’s definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. But Voltaire seems to have had a pretty good grasp of mania: “Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively.”  My initial manic episode clearly exhibited the former. (And depression can feature the latter.  Depression is so often characterized by ruminating.  Both mania and depression can be obsessive.)

Everyone close to me, except me, noticed I’d been acting strangely.  There is a word for a mental illness sufferer not believing he/she has a mental illness: anosognosia.  That was me initially, and for a few months.  Some patients stop taking their medications because they think they have the disorder permanently under control.  Again, anosognosia.  It is seductive to believe after months of stable behavior that one is cured.  But there are no known cures for bipolar disorder.

During that first manic episode, nobody ever says, “I think I may have a bipolar disorder.”  Not the way someone else might say, “I think I just broke my leg.”  Or “I may be having a heart attack.” That’s anosognosia.

When I was first hospitalized, they did a CT scan of my head. They said they didn’t find anything. I felt kinda insulted. “Unremarkable,” the report said. They found my brain to be unremarkable.

My advice to those with bipolar disorder: don’t ever get overconfident. Bipolar can’t be cured. And relapses are bound to happen. I stayed on my medicine and kept going to counseling. Five years after my initial episode, I had another one. The medicine needed tweaking. And it took a while, six weeks in the hospital, to get it right.

Everyone’s different. No two bipolar cases are the same. Overall, I’ve been lucky. So far.