harvest at sunset

Sometimes the ability to stay up for multiple days and nights in a row, joyfully performing a highly specific and demanding task, is beneficial.

One chapter of the book Projections, by Karl Deisseroth, focuses on bipolar. As usual, Deisseroth tells the story of one patient who suffers from the disorder, alongside his own story as a psychologist, as well as the story of the disorder from a neuroscience perspective. Evolutionarily, what is the purpose of mania? Here’s part of Deisseroth’s explanation:

“Mood elevation has the capacity to bring forth energy for social construction—for the time needed to build defensive earthworks under the rumor of war, to migrate the drought-stricken clan for weeks toward water without sleeping, to harvest all the winter wheat when the locusts hatch—and with all the rush of a positive change, that rewarding feeling needed to upend preexisting priorities temporarily, to align a person’s whole internal value system to meet the crisis.”

Simply stated, the purpose of mania is to rise to a challenge and get something important done.

Interestingly, the passage makes mention of uplifting emotions: Deisseroth uses the terms “positive change” and “rewarding feeling.” We learned in a previous chapter of Projections that good and bad feelings (including the bad feelings of major depression) arose evolutionarily as a kind of measurement system for the body. Through feelings, we decide which actions to take and which not to take. Manic states are sustained by good feelings. Otherwise, how could a person stay up for multiple days and nights in a row, joyfully performing a highly specific and demanding task?

It happens because it feels good.

It feels good because, a looooong time ago, it was beneficial to society to have people in that society who could do such things.

But as with major depression, there’s a caveat: the brain entering a manic state does not, unfortunately, always coincide with a crisis in the external world. When the brain is out of sync with the world around it, mania is unnecessary and often destructive.

Do you ever get so wrapped up in an activity that you don’t want to sleep or do anything else?

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