Personal Self Management
Overcoming the desire for Glory
Plenary Talk to the Manic Depression Fellowship on Mania Busting
Thank you for this invitation to speak on my self management approach to mania. A short summary of my approach to "mania busting" was published in Penduluum a number of months ago and I value the opportunity to speak about the conditions in which I evolved this self management technique. I hope also that you will see it as being more than something that one uses to manage an underlying condition that will continue. On the contrary my idea is that over time one ceases to have what is called "manic depression" at all.
For a number of years in the early 1970s and 1980s I lived with a psychiatric diagnosis of manic deressive in a regular 20 month cycle of highs and lows until I lost my job in 1983 and had one of my worst breakdowns followed by over a years deep depression. I had however broken with my illusion that I was trapped in a 20 month cycle. I started working in a disability project and then for Nottingham MIND and I began to actively think about my problems. Psychotherapy theory helped me to make sense of my highs and lows in a new way. I began to notice that the excitement in my highs arose in the anticipation that I would be bathed in glory as everyone recognised me as a hero for my great intellectual works and my depressions were actually a blanket thrown over the terror that I would be found out for being an inadequate fraud who could not do his job. I noticed that my desire for affectionate relationships was always getting channeled into the hope that if I performed brilliantly at work that would get me the attention I wanted. I began to see that as futile both because to be clever isn't the same as being sexy or cuddly and also because the competitive character of my intellectual highs actually wound other people up and drove them away from me. A lot of the anger at the end of the high was because of this. The confrontational isolation then explained a lot of the character of my madnesses.
I have to say that realising these things did stop me worrying as much and I haven't really had a long term downer since the mid 1980s - though I get down periodically as I believe everyone does - however I did not immediately stop having what for want of a better word I shall call "having a high".
The responses patterns of a life time could not be changed overnight. What happened was that I began to notice that my habitual response to situations was conditioned by how other people would think about and rate me. But I would still get very excited at the anticipation that they would rate what I was doing highly. There was therefore a bit of myself that was noticing myself more and more. It was my Self Observer. What I mean by this is that I was not just having highs there was now a bit of me that was, as it were, watching myself having highs. Cultivating this bit of oneself is the first step to self management. The self observer became my self manager.
Watching myself having highs changed the character of the highs. There was a bit of me that was asking questions like - what is this thing called a high or mania? What can I compare it to and what the hell can I do about it? When I asked myself this it seemed to me that the high was no different at all from the state I was in every night before my birthday as a small child when I could not sleep from the exitement at the following day. So I stopped describing my problems as mania I started saying to myself "I am excited at the prospect of getting more attention and this adrenalin rush is making me want to rush off and do lot and lots of things." I think at this point I no longer really thought of myself as a manic depressive. The trouble was the new word description of myself of someone who got excited at the prospect of being seen to perform well had not turned off the racing feeling in my body. But I began to regard the excitement in my body as unwanted. No longer did I regard it as exhiliration indeed I began to feel this excitement as unwanted and unpleasant.
Sudden insights do not change the conditiosn response patterns built up over years of childhood, at home and in school. They are still there. I was still, as it were programmed, to get excited at the idea of performace related glory, but now another part of my personality was growing that regarded this seemingly automatic response with weariness and repulsion. I was sick of being sick.
When I got excited I basically decided to lie on my bed and not to get up until I had calmed right down - and this is when I devised my mania busting technique as described in my article in Penduluum. My intellect was now telling me that although I wanted to rush around and fulfill lots of seemingly important work commitments that if I did I was going to end up in hospital again. As I lay there I told myself I must use all my racing mental energy to give myself reasons as to why I should not get up. When I started throwing my mind into reverse gear like this I could actually think of huge numbers of reasons why I should not get up. I would discredit myself again, I could get other people to do things, I should rationalise my commitments first and so on. Every time I thought of why I wanted to get up I did manage to think a lot of thoughts to counter it.
Secondly, however, how on earth was I to remove the horrible racing sensation of excitement. It was in my body and was not immediately switched off by my thought processes even though my thought processes were, so to speak, going onto the brakes.
Getting off mania is doing nothing. But how do you actually do nothing? Doing nothing is not an action it is the opposite of an action. Doing nothing I decided was about using all my mental energy, when I had broken the urge to get up and rush around, in observation of my body state. Firstly I decided to try to use my mental energy to find the words to describe my body state. So when I wasn't telling myself why I should not get up I was telling myself things like. "My breathing is very shallow. My feet hurt. My skin surface feels hot and prickly and zingy." The most productive thing however was to focus on my muscular system and its tensions. The best way of describing my body state was that it was poised to spring into action.
I had read some material from a process called Alexander Technique which is all about how we use our bodies and how we can use our bodies more efficiently. From reading about Alexander Technique I was aware that before we actually move the body for anything we tense a specific pattern of muscles ready to go. I found this a useful insight. When you are manic, if you try to stop you are like a runner on the starting block still ready to go. The most effective technique for relaxation I found for coming down from the adrenalin rush was identifying those points in my body which I was pulling the muscles towards ready for action and then just letting go from those points. Actually, of course, you cannot do absolutely nothing. You have to keep on breathing! So I nuanced the idea of doing nothing by thinking instead of letting the movement of my muscles where I breathed move into, and float away, the tension from the identified muscular holding and tension points.
You know how mania works so you will not be surprised by a paradox that hit me then. The first time I did this I found myself restoking my excitement with the thought I was going to be recognised as the hero who had discovered a cure for mania! I wanted to get up, rush off and write it all down. and circulate to journals like Asylum. I realised this would defeat the object of it all and decided to leave that for another time and another place. I did then calm right down after a few hours lying on my bed and began to feel incredible lazy and relaxed in a way I had not been for weeks. I actually did not want to get up and do anything. After a few hours far from being manic I really got into a sort of luxurious laziness which brought back long forgotten memories of being accused of being a lazy bones. Two years later I walked into an MDF workshop at the MIND conference and mentioned my technique.
Several months later I used the same technique to slow down again. Over time I've become more sensitive to not taking on more and more work and activity in the first place. My attitudes have changed. Since I've developed my technique there have been more and more occaisions where I have seen myself working more and more and felt - here's another thing to do but I can't be bothered to and in fact I'm working absurdly hard so which of my commitments am I going to drop. That isn't always so easy, of course. Recently I wrote a book which a publisher has said they will take if I rewrite it. In previous years I would have worked with energetic enthusiasm to get it finished as soon as possible spurred on by the lust for fame. This time I'm finding it hard to get started. I have found one task at least I can fob off onto another person at work who has been only too willing to help. The slower pace is probably far better anyway. It has allowed friends and colleagues to time respond with helpful suggestions and new material. I hope I will know when to start rewriting because there comments will ahve actually have rekindled an interest in the topic. (Rather than a premature race for glory) Slower is more efficient.
I've also come to see lying on my bed doing nothing as something that has to be done regularly as part of a life management review. Everyone needs to spend time doing nothing, watching their minds for what is worrying them, what is motivating them and reviewing life to see if time and effort can be saved in the better management of habitat, work and relationships. That way no one needs to become manic.
If I can supplement what I said in the plenary:
My approach can be seen as putting in the brakes on in that short period between being O.K. and going completely off the rails - that "window" when you recognise that you are speeding up again, waking up earlier and your mind is beginning to race. That is certainly how I used it the first two times.
I see what I did now in a broader sense. It was a crude but effect step in learning to manage my life and myself better. I would say it is very difficult to think in a balanced way when your thoughts are emotionally driven. Your thoughts are guiding your actions in a balanced way when you recognise the need for effective life management. Effective life management is making a sensible allocation of time and energy in (a) arrangements to sustain a habitat (domestic arrangments) with (b) a pattern of activities which ideally bring in an income (economic and work arrangments) with (c) a network of work and emotional relationships. Finally I would add (d) the need to look after your body in this process. When I was manic I was typically working harder and harder driven by the impulse to shine in work relationships but the harder and harder work was taking place at the expense of throwing my habitat and domestic relationships into chaos ( a house that turned into a tip). It was also at the expense of my work and personal relationships - I blocked out the way in which my agenda for glory and for pleasing other people was actually winding other people up. I got more and more angry with people when all that work I did to please and impress them had the opposite effect to what I wanted it to have and it turned into angry confrontational impulses. It is also important to observe that I was further blocking out also what my body was saying to me. In particular after a few days mania my feet were in a terrible state and my blood pressure was probably through the roof.
When you are manic there is no gap between the impulse to act and the action. My excitement that what I was doing would be recognised as important, that it would please people and amaze and vanquish your enemies, made me work harder and harder. But it was rushing forward with blinkers on to all these other matters. - the house, the real relationships and my blood pressure and feet. The point about managing mania is about putting back the gap between the urge to act and the action. It is about thinking first and trying to calm yourself right down so that you can think in a balanced way.
The point about lying on your bed to calm down arises from the recognition that you have been down the manic road before. A bit of yourself recognises that you are heading for trouble again. This bit of yourself which has a certain wisdom based in the experience of past periods of craziness needs to be given something to do, it needs to be given a specific technique, to bring the manic process to a halt. When you think in a balanced way about anything you also consider whether the opposite of your initial interpretations and the contrary of your first ideas might be true. If you have an impulse to act it is wise first to consider if doing nothing at all might be better - or even doing the doing the opposite of your first impulses.
The wise person thinks before they act. In mania you respond immediately to first interpretations and first impulses because the motivational energy is very high and racing. By lying on your bed and telling yourself to think why you should not dash around anymore you are beginning to develop a part of yourself that resists first interpretations, first ideas and immediate impulses. You are beginning to become "balanced". This part of yourself questions the original motives for the impulses (to please, to shine, for glory) . This part of yourself asks:
1.If the impulsively intended actions on the huge manic work agenda would not be better abandoned altogether,
2. or whether they can be re-arranged,
3. or whether if they are so important other people didn't ought to be doing them.
4. Or if they are so important shouldn't they be planned more first
5. Or couldn't they be done some other way with less effort
The self manager in yourself also notice a wound up, tensed, stressed racing body. When you begin to notice your body, the pattern of tensions in your body and begin to let go, breathing easier then you are really on the road to cure.
Over time I have come to see this business of lying on my bed doing nothing not as a management technique for mania but as an important part of life.
It is only if you take time out to do nothing on your own that you can become centred. As I have said we must all manage our relationships in our habitats within certain economic arrangements. When we are balanced we live more or less to a familiar routine which we can cope with. But everyday most of us are bombarded by new demands on our time at home or work, new situations for interpretation, new relationships or the loss of old ones, new opportunities that drag us more or less away from our manageable routine and which are unforseen deviations on the path into the future which we were prepared for, or hoped for, or feared. When and how are we to digest all these changes so that our lives remain well managed and balanced - while not stagnating and totally unchanging? If life is not to be chaotic we need time to think through how we are to keep home, relationships, work and body needs satisfied and these can evolve together in some kind of balance. Unless we set enough time to digest and process these things by doing absolutely nothing except relaxing, calming down and thinking, then we will always be on a rollercoaster and not really in control of our own destinies.
The development of a part of oneself that has enough time , space and peace, on my own, to contemplate where I am and what I am doing is very important to me now. I get very unhappy indeed if I feel I have too much work. The self manager in me is saying I am too far off balance and not fully in control. The self manager is like the feedback in a system. In a manic person the feedback is not self balancing - rather it is as if there is a snowball or avalanche effect at work. The person is like a runner whose improving performance means that they begin to overtake other people and thus get the enthusiam to try even harder but eventually run past their real capacities, fail to stand the pace and end up not finishing at all but in hospital. In a balanced person feedback works to check the hasty misjudgements of an over excited person. The balanced person take a longer view and judges the pace on their real capacities. Indeed the balanced person may ask themselves, if they are in a race, whether it is even worth running at all - and here I return to my original idea that we are often the victims of the performance principle gone too far - still perhaps trying to please by doing well and hoping that this will somehow get us the affection we never got as kids, when we were only ever noticed as being there if we did well at school, an idea that we then carried over into work.
end October 1997
© BRIAN DAVEY