Manic work

The link between mania and intense work periods

In 2006, I wrote a two-act play, Two Fatalities Aboard the Zygos Taverna, in one night. Twelve hours. I sat in a chair and started writing and wrote all night and from 6pm to 6am I wrote a full-length play.

Recently, I wrote about half of my current memoir (about 600 pages) during several months when I was manic, centered around last November. During this time, I was a holy terror to my mom, who I live with and who helps take care of me. I slept 0–2 hours a night and felt fully rested—this lasted for around three months. I was not aware until recently that I was even seriously writing during that time. I knew I had written down some ideas, but mostly I just remember fighting with my mom and being unable to stop speaking once I got going, and saying things to my mom that were hurtful, that one would normally keep to oneself. In retrospect, I was clearly manic, making plans to cancel all my insurance and move to another state, when I am hardly in physical shape to carry a bag of groceries from the car to the door without shaking uncontrollably due to tardive dyskinesia.

I found a psychiatrist in Nashville, where we recently moved, he immediately prescribed me an antipsychotic, and I’ve been mostly stable ever since.

Now five months later as I integrate this writing from November with other more recent writing on my memoir, I am staggered at the volume I wrote while manic. It’s almost more than I can read. It’s detailed, cogent, emotional, dramatic, true. I don’t know if I could have written it if I wasn’t manic. Which is really fucked up. Because that manic month has permanently damaged my relationship with my mom and caused her to ask me to move out. So: incredible downside, incredible upside.

This isn’t new for me. I used to wake up next to my girlfriend at 2am, totally rested and nothing to do—so I went to work, drove to my job job in the dark, and I programmed shit for LexisNexis. I was a star there, and the fact that I was putting in a few extra hours of manic programming didn’t hurt.

Mania is like the fury of god. It seems to create and destroy with the same immense power, and we don’t get to choose which one it does or how loud the volume is turned up on the speaker of either. It’s terrible to be bipolar because your relationships will be tested with unimaginable tension—and most of them will break. But the flip side blessing is so great as to be an almost unfair endowment. I’ve written many books—forget how many. But the one book I got published by a small press is a 200-page novel. It took me three weeks to write.

I can’t brag because this is one side of the coin with that incredibly destructive downside. My life is basically always going to be fucked and it’s always been fucked when it comes to relationships, jobs, cars, houses, money, social acceptance. Talk to anyone who knows a bipolar person: the best thing they’ll say is we’re a lot of work. We’re not worth the effort for most people.

But we can work. We can write a play in one night. We can write two books a year, year after year after year. Bipolar people are like some kind of supercharged, real-life Elsa: dynamite-packed with concentrated versions of the creative and the destructive. We create crystal castles and impossible worlds—yes—and in our uncontrollable duality, we are constantly blowing ourselves up.

Like what you read? Give Matthew Temple a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.