This is the first part of a series that will be featured on my blog that describes what bipolar disorder feels like to me. In each post I will explore a single feature of bipolar disorder as I have experienced it.
Today, I want to discuss how I find bipolar disorder to be engrossing.
Now first things first, engrossing seems like a strange word to use to describe a mental illness. Engrossing carries a sort of positive connotation, as in the phrase “the book was engrossing.” If you describe a book in that fashion you’re probably recommending it.
So am I “recommending” bipolar disorder?
Well no, of course not. When I say engrossing, I mean as in this definition stolen from google: “absorbing all one’s attention or interest.”
I suffer form type 2 bipolar depression, which means I periodically experience a hypomanic state. The typical reader of this blog knows what that is, but for those who may not be aware, hypomania is sort of like diet-mania. If you don’t know what mania is, science has a GIF for you:
So anyways, back to engrossing.
I experience two different kinds of “engrossed” behavior, which I’ll call micro-engrossed, and macro-engrossed. I’ll demonstrate what I mean with a couple examples:
Micro-engrossing is what I call it when my mind very intensely focuses on something for a short period of time (1 – 5 minutes), while simultaneously blocking out everything else.
The old house my wife and I lived in had a brick wall in the living room. One night my wife was talking about her day, but I couldn’t hear a single word she was saying because I was micro-engrossed in – you guessed it – the brick wall (I didn’t say it made sense. Remember – mental illness).
a slob’s an artist’s rendering of that brick wall:
But as my wife’s talking, my hyper-brain becomes completely engrossed in that stupid brick wall. Soon my brain starts seeing patterns… Look at that diamond!
Now I think she’s talking about work… or maybe she’s talking about her mom. I don’t know, because I wonder how many bricks are in that diamond… better start counting:
“… it’s frustrating because it seems like my boss doesn’t listen to me. I get the feeling that she doesn’t respect…”
That took too long. I wonder if there’s a faster way to determine how many bricks are in a diamond. Is there a formula that can be applied that would scale to arbitrarily large diamonds? There has to be…
“…I was asked to pick up a shift this weekend so I need you to watch the girls, is that OK with…”
OF COURSE! NOW I SEE! The number of bricks in the diamond is equal to the number of bricks at the widest point SQUARED! 5 x 5 is 25! And it scales to arbitrarily large diamonds!
I’m a genius! I wonder what other patterns ther-
“Matt! Were you listening to a word I just said?”
“What did I say?”
[Sleeps on couch, gets to stare at brick wall all night.]
I’ve summed up micro-engrossing in one, glorious GIF:
Macro-engrossing is micro-engrossing just scaled up. It’s when my brain becomes fixated on a problem over the course of weeks or even months. It’s not as acute as micro-engrossing; I’m capable of carrying on a perfectly healthy conversation with my wife while engaging in this hypomanic behavior, but it’s always in the back of my mind.
Take this for example:
During a particularly strong hypomanic episode that I experienced last year while on vacation in Maine, I got it into my mind that I was going to single-handedly program a massively complex turn-based strategy video game. Civilization, but BETTER!
Well, in order to start, I’d need to randomly generate a two dimensional game map.
Now this isn’t a blog about computer programming and algorithms, so I’m not going to elaborate much more on the particulars of how one goes about doing this. If you’re curious, it implements a modified version of Conway’s Game of Life which you can see described by the man himself, John Conway, in this wonderful video.
The point is I found myself consumed by this problem while on this vacation. While my family was relaxing and enjoying a well-earned week off, my mind was humming on overdrive – determined to find the answers!
Ultimately, this phenomenon is the inspiration for the name of my blog, Loudest Minds; a reference to the disquiet of my mind – the constant racing of thoughts that characterizes the manic and hypomanic episodes of many people suffering from bipolar disorder.
I used to think of this engrossing behavior as a gift; a means to achieve moments of brilliance. But I’ve come to realize that mania is not a superpower, it’s a curse; because as soon as I solved the problem that had consumed the entirety of my mind’s resources for weeks, the depression returned, and I abandoned the game like so many other projects before it.
So that’s how I find bipolar disorder to be engrossing. I hope you were thoroughly engrossed by this blog post! If you were, share it with your friends!
If you suffer from bipolar disorder, do you experience a similar phenomenon? I’d love to hear about it!
Matt is a husband, father, and professional who was recently diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder. He is the owner of Loudest Minds, a site with humorous and informative posts to help those suffering with mental illness and addiction.