• Tom Robinson

Exuberance: an abounding, ebullient, effervescent emotion

I’ve been itching to read my new book since it arrived last week and on Saturday afternoon I finally found the time to sit down and start it.


I’ve mentioned this before but reading really saved my life because when I was literally ‘dying to stay alive’, I used it as a way of distracting my brain away from the relentless depression and dark thoughts.


Although it wasn’t enough on its own to steer me out of depression and mixed state in the long term, reading did give me a temporary break from my own mind, and I learnt how to combat my illness by analysing and challenging my distorted thinking.


I had to force myself to engage in reading in the beginning because I really didn’t have one iota of interest in anything, or even the ability to concentrate.


I knew I didn’t have the energy for exercising, but I also knew that I needed to find a way of diverting my mind away from the horrors of the illness, and eventually I found that through engaging with reading I could quieten my thoughts and access the present moment.


One of the books I read in my recovery was Kay Redfield Jamison’s ‘An Unquiet Mind’ which is a memoir of bipolar moods and madness.


Not only is Kay a clinical psychologist and a professor in mood disorders and psychiatry but she is also a fantastic writer which means that she has been able to research and document so many important aspects of mental illness.


She’s a great example of someone who has been able to make a difference through her own lived experience of bipolar disorder and has been a great source of inspiration to so many people.


When I read An Unquiet mind, it was the realisation that I wasn’t alone that I found most reassuring, but I was also comforted to know that not only was it possible to survive this disgusting illness, but that people had also managed to achieve alongside it.


Although I would never have been able to reclaim any of my abilities without the successful treatment that I eventually received, I did draw on snippets of hope and encouragement that I found in the pages of memoirs like Kay’s and it did make all the difference.


I happened to see a clip on YouTube recently and it mentioned one of her other books called ‘Exuberance’ so I immediately googled and ordered it.


From the moment I started reading it, I realised that she has identified a really crucial point concerning the lack of research into certain areas and episodes of mental illness. On the very first page she writes:

“Psychologists, for reasons of clinical necessity or vagaries of temperament, have chosen to dissect and catalogue the morbid emotions – depression, anger, anxiety – and to leave largely unexamined the more vital, positive ones. Not unlike God, if only in this one regard, my colleagues and I have tended more to those in the darkness than those in the light. We have given sorrow many words but a passion for life few.”

Reading this struck such a chord because in twenty years no one has ever asked me about the upswings of my illness. That’s why I wasn’t diagnosed as having bipolar until I had a very obvious full blown manic episode many years after the onset of my disorder.


Mania is something way beyond exuberance but I’m guessing that she’s going to make the distinction later in the book. However, there’s an invisible line between exuberance and hypomania and I’m not sure exactly where its boundary lies.


The question is: ‘When is exuberance a passionate zest for life and when is it mania and madness?’


The first chapter takes a close look at exuberant people from history such as President Theodore Roosevelt who was once described as ‘the man who knows the great enthusiasms.’


He was particularly passionate about the environment which is often a common trait belonging to exuberant people who draw their inspiration from the natural world.


This seems to be especially true as winter turns to spring, and now that I am well I can appreciate this point because there is such pleasure to be gained from witnessing the regeneration of life. In Exuberance, Kay explores the relationship between those who have a capacity for exuberance and their relationship to the change of season. She writes:

“The joy brought about by an ecstatic reaction to spring, for instance, makes it more likely that an individual will watch for signs of its approaching, attend to subtle changes in light and temperature, and actively participate in the season’s pleasures and demands once it has arrived.”

Although I have definitely noticed that ‘normal’ lift in my mood as I’ve taken pleasure in the small signs of life returning this spring, I don’t think I would describe myself as feeling exuberant about it!


But It does fascinate me that my mind can go to such extreme realms of ecstasy when manic yet when ‘normal’ I don’t think I can access that higher state of exuberance. I’m hoping the book will help me to understand this too!


Anyway, so far I am finding the book fascinating and I think it will be quite enlightening and give me much to consider in relation to the manic side of my illness – I will report back!


I do think it’s important for people to be asked about their manic episodes in detail because not only is it important to distinguish madness from reality but it’s also essential that the sufferer is able to interpret and understand their own mind. This part of the illness is completely overlooked by psychiatrists!


People who suffer from bipolar disorder are always so excited to tell me about the upswing of their illness and although I think we should be careful not to sensationalise mania, I do think that it’s important to analyse the manic episodes to enable a better understanding of the illness.


I want to know why I get so ‘exuberant’ (manic) about spirituality, God and Christianity when I’m in mania when others don’t get any of that at all.


As well as knowing the distinction between mania and exuberance, I want to know why it is that we experience these states so differently. Why are only some people exuberant? What determines the way in which a hypomanic or manic episode presents itself? What makes one person exuberant about nature and the next indifferent? There’s so much I want to know!


Hopefully, I will find out soon and I will be able to report back!


If you would like to know more about the book 'Exuberance' then you can find more information in an interview with author Kay Redfield Jamison which I have added here.


Thanks for reading,


Speak to you soon,

TR

www.dyingtostayalive.com