That was my question. I had never heard the word euthymic before. Which was strange because I was quite conversant in mental health speak. This was in the fall of 2014 and I was an outpatient at Columbia Medical Center in midtown Manhattan. By that time, I had traveled through a variety of psychiatric wards, doctors? offices and support groups, having struggled with bipolarity for years.
The moderator of a morning group session at Columbia used the term. I asked and she explained that a euthymic mood was a ?normal? mood. Wikipedia corroborates that euthymia is ?a normal non-depressed, reasonably positive mood.? The goal of bipolarity management is to sustain a euthymic mood while avoiding the pitfalls of depression and the flights of mania.
Bipolarity to me exists on the outer edges of a 0 to 10 scale. I say ?0 to 10?, and not the more typical ?1 to 10?, because it has to be an odd-numbered scale with a true midpoint. Plus, 0 is a better signifier of suicide than 1. Apologies for the dark commentary, but 0 more accurately describes the end point of depression.
The band of euthymia is from 4?6. This encompasses regular moods. Perhaps it?s a rainy Tuesday afternoon and you?re lonely ? that?s a 4. Maybe it?s a pleasant Thursday evening and you?re out with friends ? that?s a 6. It?s healthy and normal for the bulk of your existence to fall within this range.
He didn?t mean anything by it, but a friend once made a trivializing comment when talking about bipolarity with me. He said something along the lines of ?oh, I have bad moods, too.? Most people don?t have a mental illness. And most people ? fortunately for them ? never experience the depression range of 0?3 and the mania range of 7?10. Maybe my friend had gotten down to 3 a few times during particularly ?bad moods?, but he really had no frame of reference about bipolarity because he had never experienced the 0?2 zone of full-on depression.
I?ve had four bouts of serious depression in my life, the first of which occurred when I was a junior in high school. More recently, I had a severe episode in the winter of 2013 / 2014. It lasted about three months. It was very ugly, definitely in the 1?2 zone. I was in bed a lot, often up to 12 hours a day. I had no energy, no self-esteem and no drive. That fall I had been downsized from my record store job. I know ? depressing, right? And that winter season was particularly dark and cold.
A typical day for me entailed many hours in bed, followed by a lengthy lie-down shower and then ?regular-in-a-dive-bar? day drinking. A typical evening included more drinking at the miserable, money-laundering Japanese place across the avenue from my local. The culmination of such a day during this period was joylessly drinking $2 Sapporos while watching an NBA game I didn?t care about before returning home to pass out and sleep poorly because of the mediocre raw seafood in my system.
The other end of the spectrum is mania. 7 and 8 can be thought of as hypomania or not-quite-full-blown mania. And anything above 8 is full-blown. Mania certainly sounds more appealing than depression. What?s not to like about a hyperactive mind and boundless energy? Actually, I have found mania to be worse than depression. At least depression has a logical floor. ?I shouldn?t commit suicide because it would be upsetting for my parents?. But with acute mania, your judgment gets frazzled and since the feeling is so intoxicating, the temptation is to run with it.
Depression is wanting to jump off a building, mania is thinking you can.
Thankfully, I?ve never experienced 0 or 10. As I see it, 10 represents death by mania. That could be actual death or figurative death, like long-term incarceration or institutionalization. I have spent considerable time in the 1?3 and 7?9 ranges. 9 is a psychotic episode that typically leads to a hospitalization. The devil of bipolarity is the allure of that hypomanic zone between 7 and 8.
During my thirties I had it down to a near science: the right amount of sativa weed, the right amount of tobacco, the right amount of beer, the right amount of energy drink, the right amount of sleep deprivation, the right amount of nightlife lights and the right amount of volume 11 electronic music. Solving for non-hospitalization-mania was my drug. Booze and weed were ancillary to that. 36-hour Fridays were the norm. Many 60-hour weekends began Friday morning only to finish Sunday night.
Earlier I wrote near science. That?s exactly right. If there are approximately 100 big nights out in a year, you might get it right 98 or even 99 of those times. But once or twice a year, you?re going to miscalibrate the ?equation? for hypomania. Maybe you get a little too far out on the tree limb with sleep deprivation. Or maybe you get greedy and you try to push it to 8.5. It?s not an exact science and invariably the car goes off the highway. It?s fun until it?s not.
For me, and I think for a lot of other people with bipolarity, it was all about control. Sometimes control gets confused with denial. I knew I had bipolarity ? family genes, textbook symptoms and consistent diagnosis made this irrefutable. But I thought I could control it. I thought that I could manage it without Lamictal or sobriety or help from family and friends.
One difficulty in giving up mania is accepting that you won?t feel those types of highs again. Net-net, you?re certainly better off without them. If you have a certain amount of fun chips in a given week, it?s better to spread the chips around rather than loading one or two nights with all the chips. But you will miss the extreme highs of acute mania.
For me, getting sober (nearing three years now) really was about breaking my addiction to mania. I could chase the depression with booze or I could chase the mania with weed. Ultimately, mania was a mirage. Nothing ever came from it. When the dust settled a few days after a flight, I would be left with inscrutable Post-It notes and a shattered psyche. I won?t miss the brain damage of mania. It is, in fact, a toxic neurological event. As a doctor at St. Vincent?s once said to me, ?it?s like tiny packets of grenades going off in your head.? My diminished short-term recall and recurring irritability confirm this.
I enjoy things for what they are now. I no longer get stopped and frisked by police. I am present at family events. I no longer have hangovers. I am less isolated from my friends. I have more control over my life. I?ve grown to appreciate euthymia. It really is a better way to fly.
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