There are a variety of mental disorders that exist in the world, but few are as unpredictable and difficult to deal with as manic depression. I have that disorder. While the illness is genetic, I often wonder if it can be learned.
My father was affected with the disorder his entire life, but it didn’t reach real prominence until after he was already married and starting a family. I, now 63 years of age, saw the highs and lows brought on by the illness firsthand, and I can say with certainty there are few things more traumatic than dealing with the unpredictable mood swings, for both the afflicted and their family.
For those unaware, the symptoms of manic depression consist of emotional changes between “manic” and “depressive” episodes.
The manic episodes are occasionally difficult to place, save at their most extreme, but are generally categorized by high levels of energy, racing thoughts, and an elevated level of mood, going as far as euphoria or even psychosis. In this state, the patient is very unpredictable, and in extreme cases those in this state have been known to make several wild decisions on nothing more than a whim. My father for example took the savings he and my mother had and bought a car without telling her.
When my father was in a mania he would take us on excursions to parks and zoos. If we were tired or weren’t in the mood he would get angry; anger is another form of mania.
However once the excitement of the day subsided my father might very well become quiet and sullen, perhaps considering where the money should have gone.
My father might lose his weekly pay playing a “punch board.” Sure that he would win big money, he would come home broke leaving us without food at which time he would again become depressed.
Of course my mother became angry. A pattern developed. My mom and dad would have a terrible fight. Then they would make-up and things would be wonderful. We (the children) would be assured dad had “changed.” Of course over about a five-day period dad’s mania would return, he would pull a stunt and another fight would ensue.
At the age of 16 I started to become depressed regularly but was unaware of my own state. At the age of 18 I left home.
I married at age 23 and functioned fairly well until I was 34 and depression overtook me; I quit my job. Manic depression was diagnosed and I was started on medication.
While I emulated many of my father’s habits such as taking the family out when we couldn’t afford it, for the most part I lived a fairly “normal” life.
The reason that I mentioned the possibility of the illness being learned is that while my father refused to admit he had the illness and in fact much less was known about it 60 years ago, I seem to have obtained certain unusual traits.
I have problems with trusting people and situations always feeling that the rug may be pulled out from under me. I will tend to run from mildly happy to mildly sad in about five-day cycles. Finally I had angry feelings on my father’s birthday and Father’s Day. I have come to grips with those.
My father died at a young age so that didn’t help the situation.
Manic depression is much like alcoholism or any other major relational problem. Normal family relationships cannot thrive.