Thief of Joy: Don’t Let Manic Episodes Confuse True Happiness

On Christmas mornings, my siblings and I would rush downstairs, and be greeted by my mother’s smiling face. But we were always slightly uneasy–we didn’t know whether our mother was truly happy for the occasion, or if her smiles were a sign of a hard depression yet to come. It was an uncertainty through which we all suffered together for a long time. It became normal. Some years she would watch us open presents and even invite family for a huge dinner made from scratch; other years, she didn’t get out of bed.

Years later, we found out she suffered through most of her adult life from untreated bipolar affective disorder. The curious thing we came to realize is just how manic euphoria can present itself as outward happiness. But knowing she had a problem—an unknown problem that seemingly ate away at her through our entire lifetimes—we could never truly enjoy her happy times, because we were unsure if they were genuine moments, or just part of the cycle.

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Recurring bouts of depression and mania can easily create a void in good judgment about whether or not what a person is feeling is “true” happiness, or is instead a manic episode. The difference between happiness and mania, according to some bipolar researchers, is how the all-encompassing euphoria of the manic state can start out as enjoyable, if somewhat distracting, but can turn volatile and transform into more extreme emotional states like anxiety, or even an anxiety attack.[1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0447.2012.01882.x/abstract;jsessionid=FF31D3ED0D4A8810F61102EF8AB6203C.f01t03?userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=] Perhaps worst of all is the danger of mania then swinging into a severe, life-threatening depressive state.

Even when it’s clear that someone suffers from bipolar disorder, it can be difficult to distinguish between the euphoria of manic episodes and genuine happiness. Because bipolar disorder affects everyone differently, there are no clear signposts to differentiate the two feelings.  This can be frustrating, and even dangerous. That is why it is very important to find quality treatment as soon as possible if you’re concerned you’re suffering from bipolar disorder. It is a deadly condition: between one-fourth and one-half of bipolar patients attempt suicide in their lifetimes.[2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10826661]

Seeking Treatment


You don’t want to worry that every happy moment is actually a manic episode. You want to experience the good times for what they are, beyond any suspicion that your happiness is not authentic or wholly yours. This uncertainty can deprive you of enjoying any moment: happy, sad, or otherwise. Instead, seek treatment to manage your bipolar disorder, so you can truly enjoy your most joyful moments, and begin a life without anxiety over what your mind may or may not be feeling or experiencing.

A residential treatment center like Bridges to Recovery can help you seek out and identify your own true feelings of happiness; they develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to the specific demands of your experience with bipolar disorder. In all cases, there are experts—experienced doctors and therapists who spend their careers treating bipolar disorder—who will study your episodes (and the time between them) to identify the appropriate treatment for your needs.

When my mother stayed up for days at a time through a manic episode—cleaning, cooking, working, repairing the house—we excused her ups-and-downs as just another part of her unique personality. And because the lows were so frequent, we were happy for those highs. We appreciated her mania when we should have been treating it. An accurate diagnosis, and moreover, effective treatment, can vastly increase the quality of a bipolar sufferer’s life—or even save it. By seeking treatment, you can be happy and know, too, that you’re truly happy.