Manic depression

I believe life is more joyful and free when one is open and honest about as many things as possible.  Therefore, I’ve decided to be open about having manic depressive illness, in the belief that being public about it will lift a bit of mental weight from my shoulders, and act as a personal vote in favor of openness and lack of stigma about mental illness.

So far I’ve had two manic periods.  I recovered from the first on my own with the help of friends and family, with the significant downside of not being diagnosed.  The second one happened five years later, and was much worse: I was hospitalized twice (yes, that means they made a mistake letting me go the first time), and lost both a job and a girlfriend.  I’m taking appropriate medication, now, so with luck there won’t be a third by the time the real cures come along (see below).

The worst part of mania, for me, is that it adds a small stain to normal happiness and interests.  One is always left wondering: is this happiness related to mental illness? This phenomenon is especially annoying because all of my manic delusions are on topics that I naturally find fascinating, such as programming languages, simulation, complexity theory, physics, etc.  Rationally there’s not much to be worried about–I’m fairly confident I can notice mania now that I know to look for it–but it remains a mental drag.

I won’t go into details about my manic delusions, but here’s a taste: At one point I wrote P < BPP = PSPACE < EXPTIME on someone’s whiteboard, convinced that I had plausible physical arguments for each part (involving IP and the holographic principle).  Needless to say, this is insane: the sane version of me believes P = BPP < NP < PSPACE < EXPTIME.

A few good things: optimism and nonviolence are baked deeply enough into my personality that mania doesn’t seem to touch them, so I haven’t been a danger to myself or others.  Not everyone is as lucky, so this is something to be thankful for.  I also have no issues taking medication, since (1) I believe completely in my diagnosis, and (2) I don’t seem to have any major side effects (other than possible weight gain).

In the long run, I’m fairly confident that a couple decades from now we’ll have a much better understanding of both the causes of mood disorders and of how exactly the various drugs act.  Part of this is general optimism about medical technological advance, and part of it is an intuitive sense that mania and depression are simple enough that they can be mostly understand in terms of a small constant number of variables (activity levels of a few parts of the brain, key neurotransmitters, etc.).  I think the fact that something as simple as lithium works so well is evidence of this simplicity.  If this turns out to be true, we should be able to make a gadget that monitors the appropriate variables and detects mania and depression essentially perfectly (no more subjective mood charts).

Actually curing the source of manic depression might take a lot longer, since it seems to be intricately mixed with personality, creativity, etc., but an automatic mood detection gadget is probably enough to render the chance of relapses negligible, in which case it’d be an effective cure.  Something to look forward to.  Since manic depression and mood disorders in general are largely genetic, this will hopefully happen within 15 or 20 years, rendering any possible children of mine safe.

That’s enough for now.  There’s a fairly good chance that only a small number of my good friends will read this, but it’s still nice to be effectively public.  Especially since this website is still the top Google hit for “Geoffrey Irving”.

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