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Keeping the Mania in Check

by Laura on June 21st, 2013

Is it bipolar or not? Is it stress? Does he just in need of a good night’s sleep? Maybe she’s simply high-strung and likes to talk fast.  

Last week, I spoke with Madeline Tasky Sharples about the triggers of her son’s bipolar disorder. Sadly, Paul went on to commit suicide. Madeline writes about her son and how she survived the tragedy in her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On.

Madeline talks a lot in her book about Paul’s musical ability, his creativity. And truly, not everything about bipolar disorder is bad. People with BPD have an amazing capacity at empathy and can connect with others on a deep level. They are often very artistic and creative.

It’s just that the disorder is a double-edged sword: that empathy can lead to depression–feeling too much. Creativity and multi-tasking can quickly go from productivity in hypomania to delusional, sleepless mania.

Knowing how to keep it in check is a life-long task and requires help from friends and loved ones. Welcome, Madeline!

Is it possible to manage bipolar tendencies?

Laura — My diagnosis was: well, you had a bipolar episode. If you have another episode, then you’re definitely bipolar. And my psychiatrist scared the living shit out of me saying that if I do have another breakdown, it’s going to be worse and it’s going to require a longer hospital stay.

I’m trying to figure out what was/is the difference between Paul and me.

I too liked being manic, but after my breakdown, I understood it’s not in fact a sustainable state. Over time, with therapy, proper diet, exercise and sleep I learned to manage my bipolar tendencies without medications. I can let myself become hypomanic, and in this state I can be very creative and productive, but I refuse to let myself go into the mania.

The mania is not truly a productive, creative state–it’s a destructive state. For me, it leads to paranoid delusions, hallucinations and really bad headaches.

What I want to know is … Is it a guy thing? Like, I was always a type A, perfectionist, people-pleaser, and I realized I’d be letting too many people down if I let myself have another breakdown. Was it catching it soon enough? (There’s also the possibility that I don’t have bipolar at all, but I doubt that’s true.)

Madeline – I think you’re lucky to be able to manage your bipolar tendencies. Paul tried all of that toward the end of his life – he even quit smoking – and I think he was doing well. He also worked every day at a very tedious and intellectual job, while successfully hiding his illness. But when Janet broke up with him all bets were off. That may truly be a guy thing. Kay Jamison says if you’re a young man, if you have bipolar disorder, and if a loved one leaves you, you are a candidate for suicide.

Also, almost two years passed between Paul’s first and second breaks. And he was off of medication most of that time. He graduated college and worked part-time jobs and played music gigs. He was doing so well, we all thought his diagnosis must be wrong. But when the second break started, at first with hypomania, it came on very strong and very fast. We brought him home from New York, but his behavior was hell for all of us until he was hospitalized again and resumed taking his medications.

I also don’t think he had a concern about letting people down if he had another breakdown. Paul was always a selfish guy. I think he just did what he wanted without taking our feelings into consideration. Maybe it’s your nurturing instinct that works in your favor – something Paul and maybe other guys don’t have.

*  *  *  *  *

This is part two a three-part series. Catch up on part 1 — Early Indicators of Bipolar Disorder.

Next week, Madeline and I will be chatting about the grieving process and how she found the strength to survive the suicide of her son.

Madeline Tasky Sharples is the author of Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide (Dream of Things) and Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press).

She co-edited The Great American Poetry Show and wrote poetry for The Emerging Goddess photography book.

Her articles appear regularly at Naturally Savvy and Aging Bodies and on her blogs, Choices and Red Room, and she is writing a novel. Madeline’s mission since the death of her son is to raise awareness, educate, and erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide in hopes of saving lives.

*  *  *  *  *

Starting in July, I’ll be on a summer schedule of posting only two-times per week. Make sure you stay up-to-date with Expat (Adopted) Mommy by signing up to receive blog posts directly into your email inbox–type in your email in the box at the right!

“Blue Sky” by sritangphoto from Other photos courtesy of Madeline Tasky Sharples.


  1. boussaidi permalink

    bonjour; ce qui a ete dit semble se resume dans ce que K JAMISON a superbement resumé rejoinant un ancien proverbe qui dit "qu'un etre vous manque et le monde est depeuple",la grande complication suicidaire meme si elle est virtuelle elle demeure toujours là,elle est presente les chiffres mondiaux avoisinent dans toutes les statistiques les 15% toutes formes confondues dans l'ensemble du SPECTRE problematique cest d e'tre dans le juste milieu,ou est ce qu'il est ?,là est le probleme dans la realite++il est vraie que la creativite est presente dans le moule familial des bipolaires, mais dans le cas des formes graves rt donc suicidaires elle est plus presente chez les autres membres de la famillequi peut s'exprimee dans differents secteurs de leur vie quotidiennes (artistique,commerce,science, politique ou autres…)merci

    • Hello "boussaidi,"

      I'd love to be able to reply to your comment, but my French is not good enough.

      Will someone please translate this for me?

      Thanks, Madeline

  2. Thanks for this post, Madeline & Laura, and, Madeline, thank you for your book. My dad is a bipolar, which is why I am very interested in this illness. The 'funny' thing is that my family was always making excuses for his behaviour: he was stressed, he hadn't slept well, etc…As a result, he was diagnosed far too late (it was difficult to ignore the fact that he jumped out of the window, despite the fact that he was suffering from minor injuries only, and he was finally taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed). The whole process took 20 years, when I was growing up. I still resent my family for protecting him…and not us, his children!

    When my mum eventually left him, well, as you say, 'all bets were off'. My dad doesn't manage his illness at all, he takes his meds and they maintain him in a 'quiet' state. I wish he could control his moods, but that's not going to happen.

    And you are right. He is selfish and loves being the centre of attention. there is something very self-centred about a bipolar sometimes. It is always about his struggle, his life, his pain…I don't know what the future holds for him, and I know that he is at a high risk of suicide. But I have come to the conclusion that I can't help him if he doesn't want to help himself.

    As for me, I am very fortunate to have built my own life in a different country, not too close to him, but not too far in case of an emergency. I take things one day at a time!

  3. First, I'd like to say how brave you both are to write about your experiences with this illness. This series is valuable to me because of my own situation.

    My son is bipolar, but except for a few months, has refused to take medication. He says it slows him down too much, which I gather is a common excuse among people suffering from this illness. Sometimes he accepts he's bipolar – if it suits him – but usually it's what other people say in an attempt to humiliate him. The problem is that he's made himself virtually unemployable as when he has a job he ends up trying to take over the business – he knows more/better than the owner. Recently he hijacked a major international deal. Another boss/friend described him as having "multiple personalities." He works round the clock on fantasy projects that will restore his fortune, suffers acute paranoia, has no steady income, and goes without eating for days. He fled his home country "in fear of his life" according to him and has been living here illegally, which means he can't work until he gets papers. He's scared of being caught and sent back to his country.

    As his mother, I try to deal with his raging thoughts and manic episodes that last an average of three days at a time. So far I don't think he's suicidal, but he's on such a self-destructive, vindictive path that even his loving relatives and friends are starting to avoid him. Usually I can get through to him but it takes a lot of stamina to spend several hours listening to his rants. I/He can't look for help until his status in this country is legalized.

    Again thanks for this series and other posts.

  4. Madeline and Laura, another courageous post from two strong women. This is part is made interesting due to Laura's questions from her own perspective, both as a victim of this disorder and as a female. Responding as mother of a son, it was fascinating to read Madeline's take from the male side of the situation. Keep it coming, ladies!

  5. I agree with Sherrey; this is not an easy topic to reflect on – I applaud your bravery, Laura and Madeline.

  6. This is tough stuff, all right. Being a mother and also losing a friend to suicide, I can understand, to some extent, your pain, Madeline. I applaud you for bringing awareness to the subjects of mental illness and suicide. I too am curious about the similarities and disparities between the sexes.

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