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Manic Temporalities:
Joyful Horizons and Melancholic Ruptures 

Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel, The Turmoil of Conflict (Joan of Arc series: IV), c. late 1909-early 1913. 

As formally noted in diagnostic categories, bipolar type 2 is known to change according to the rhythmic cycles of the earth. It follows seasonal patterns throughout the year, with rising and falling mood changes ranging from more hypomanic states, to depressive times. As spring comes on the horizon, so do the sounds and sensory impacts of mania; depression announces itself in the winter months. These short creative pieces present time-focused explorations, from labour time, to seasonal patterns, to generational time, as well as to breaking free from rhythmic patterns. They explore the cyclical rhythms of my experience of bipolar as a condition that is attune with different and often disruptive planetary cycles. My diagnosis has only just been announced, but, aware of my condition, I now notice and manage its weight and lightness, its breath and release. These poetic and critical pieces will analyse how my mind becomes absorbed by both the toxicity and joy of the world. These creative articulations mirror my disorder and its echoes in the chaos and rhythmic patterns of the world around me.

George Bellows, New York, 1911.

'Mania is the antithesis to capital; depression, however, sings its tune to the methodical rhythms of the factory line, without change and hope; it is monotony and exhaustion of forever.'
Iron Time of Labour 
 

My mania is unfixed and varies: it is sometimes without pattern; it sometimes comes in bursts of flame. Yet work creates the singular rhythms we all live in. Work structures our day and our years, plotting out moments of relief according to the cycles of labour and capital, incorporating planned and brief moments of rest from higher powers of machine cyclical and demands of growth forces. Work is a spear-like time, expressing the forward-marching progress of capital; it is not circular or bag like; it opposes the joy of collecting and musing. My own rhythms defy these odds, sparklingly agential and bursting with overpowering dances and energies from the forces of mania refusing to be pinned down by the schedules of labour. 

 

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A diagnosis of bipolar is a life-fixing sentence; it describes a life of sporadic rhythms moving in and out of labour time. Mania is the antithesis to capital; depression, however, sings its tune to the methodical rhythms of the factory line, without change and hope; it is the monotony and exhaustion of forever. Against days fixed and structured according to the tick tock of the working day, mania strains to be free, and to follow its own chaotic paths of fury and joy. According to my psychiatrist, bipolar type 2 - my formal diagnosis - can move with the waves of seasons. Work, however, represents an unmalleable energy, unable to mirror the flows and ebbs of seasonal rhythms. Work offers an arbitrary powered and cement-like structure to life; it is fixed as a cog; it is greased by the machine of extraction. Labour extracts power from the rhythms of bipolar, keeping it for its own extractive use. Bi-polar unleashes out in violent and often unregulated ways; spotting its signs are necessary so as not explode the restraints of labour which structure my days and months. My most severe episodes are spiked and exacerbated by the fixity and exploitation of labour practices; their iron fists crushing the fragility of my manic and depressive mind. Bipolar may come from within, yet it is often forced into its most chaotic expression when subject to the constraints of the structures of ourtside world. If left to their own devices, perhaps the rhythms of mania and depressive seasons would play out in a more melodic rhythm. 

Inspired by her time working in car factories in Paris, the philosopher and theologian Simone Weil reflects on labour time, suggesting that: 

Monotony is the most beautiful or the most atrocious thing. The most beautiful if it is a reflection of eternity--the most atrocious if it is the sign of an unvarying perpetuity. It is time surpassed or time sterilized.

(Weil, Gravity and Grace, 179) 

Monotony is the process of labour time stretching on in a loop of forever; it is the most atrocious thing. But, as Weil highlights, it is also a paradox, showing the beauty of eternity or, more frighteningly, time surpassed and sterilised. Bipolar rhythms exist in loops of beauty, reflecting seasonal patterns; reflecting highs and lows; reflecting the bright and the dark. Yet labour time is what wrenches the body and soul to another kind of rhythm: the rhythm of monotony of time stagnation. As it moves into manic elation, my mind bursts to be free of iron wrench of capital. 

Max Weber, Rush Hour, 1915.

'Trying to find rhythm among climatic chaos, the body and mind mirror the distorting and suffocating waves of global change.'

Anthropocene Time: Seasonal Ruptures
 

The famous but contested name of our geological epoch is the ‘Anthropocene’. But, what do we do with a geology that is fundamentally shaped, carved, and distorted by human activity? If the waves of our waters and the changes in our weather have been altered by industrial capital, what happens to my plant-like moods, which move with the sun, the weather and wave currents? Do I enter into a climatic mood turmoil with these environmental disturbances and ruin? Extractive histories shape the Anthropocene, making the natural and social violently entangled, where industrial practices are carved into the geological make-up of the earth. Trying to find rhythm among climatic chaos, the body and mind mirror the distorting and suffocating waves of global change. Geographers and social scientists attempt to pinpoint the moment of this change when the natural can no longer be disentangled from social-extractive strife. Like my own internal reflections, the world searches for a map to chart the beginnings of the end. ‘Mood mapping’, my mental health team calls it: a way of reconfiguring and claiming agency over swift changes in mood. Perhaps articulating our own external chaos as terms and statements gives a similar illusion of agency; a practice and a road map for a sense of hope in the face of the unknown. My wavering mind becomes like  

 

 

 

the geological strata of our earth: changed and morphed by a violence that is difficult to locate; an anonymous focal point where capitalist forces are everywhere and yet no accountability can ever be located. I can look for safety in seasonal time; rising and emerging with the sun and withering with the frost. Yet these seasonal handrails become loose like the shockwaves changing our rhythmic patterns to new climatic horizon, uncertain and unmapped. Mania is a furious strength, flowing into an unknown pattern, an uninhabitable earth that is broken, looted, and withering. How do we undo the mastery and sovereignty which leads to earthly violence? Extraction is a process of mastery, of harnessing and labouring; it is a process of erasure and transformation. My mind, too, becomes harnessed to fit the bounds of normalcy - a category we all defy - attempting to fit its arbitrary rhythms of violence. This struggle to bend to the normal produces a dichotomous schism between the sane and the insane. In Rivers Solomon’s science fiction narrative, The Deep, a strange alien creature begins to reflect on such violent forms of mastery:

Two-legs had a specific way of classifying the world that Yetu didn’t like. She remembered that, at least. They organised the world as two sides of a war, the two legs in conflict with everything else. The way Suka talked about farming was as if they ruled the land and what it produced as opposed to – they’d just said it themselves – existing alongside it. 

(Rivers Solomon, The Deep, 84)

As the alien narrator suggests, perhaps it’s not a case of being split and divided between two sides of one war, but about becoming in tune with co-existence. Like the Anthropocene, in which we have carved out environmentally and socially divided world, bipolar appears to exist in divisions. Yet perhaps mutual coexistence with the ebbs and flows of mood episodes brings a form of tranquillity and peace with the rising storms and immobilising silence of depression. 

Gordon Grant, Conflict, 1946,

​'Manic temporalities switch from the moss underground to the shoots bursting for the sun.'

Plant Temporalities 

The plasticity of a plant-like form, stretching towards the sun when it feels warmth, is like the sparks and rays of mania showing their shiny disorientated heads. Certain arbitrary rhythms of structural forces like work and the forces of trauma thrown from the outside can reorientate and disturb the planetary and seasonal rhythms of mania. But perhaps just listening to the sounds and movements of the weather bring about mood variations and changes in my own cyclical being. When the psychiatrist announces their determined diagnosis of bipolar type 2, they suggest it can be rhythmic, with seasonal changes mirroring the vast movements from manic to depressive modes. What are my internal seasons? What rhythms am I following? Are these rhythms my own internal patterns of stress, anxious minds, and glorious joys, or are they thrown forcefully from the outside? Perhaps they are an amalgam of both and I am unable to disentangle the structural from the internal, the environmental and social from the biological and inherent. Depression is a blockade to the flourishing of molecular movements rising to the light. It becomes a shroud of darkness; an inability to lend oneself to the plasticity of plant movements. Manic temporalities switch from the moss underground to the shoots bursting for the sun. 

El Greco, Laocoön, 1610-1614.

Intergenerational Time: Trauma Relived 

When I left home I took with me unresolved traumas. Carrying the voices of my ancestors with me everywhere I called home, I carried remembered pain and allowed it to continually sweep me away.

(bell hooks, Belonging Culture of Place, 18)

Mania delves into the darkest recesses of life’s lineages of trauma, moving through the openings and ruptures of life stages. Each moment of distress is relived at a ferocious pace. Remembrance becomes lightbulb moments of consciousness…is this why I am like this, I wonder? Is this trauma I relive again and again why my life and mind are categorised as bipolar? Family relations and other memories, I feel, are not even mine; they feel like inherited moments in which I was absent but somehow seem to recall with vivid poignancy. Generations of trauma seem to be moving through my mind. Depression, however, is a still and stagnant agony, where the blame entirely lies within the self. Depression is an encroaching super ego which no longer lives through seasonal frames but through stillness; it is an emptying of entire energies; a dark hibernation of a kind. If the trauma that comes from the outside, the trauma of inheritance, shapes my rhythms, do I lose agency of myself? Like the seasonal rhythms and earthly cycles which I rise and fall with, do I become lost in someone else’s nightmare? Time relapses into the force of memories relived in different fractures and pauses, capturing and absorbing, changing, and distorting my temporality. At times, I articulate a specific time frame as if it is a performance of the precise moment; the voices of the past, as if back in this moment, relive its urgency to be heard. Mania creates flights of ideas – a common symptom they call it –, yet they become flights of past hurt, shaping my present day, forcing themselves into the present. Is my world fractured and split by my tracing the lineages of hurt and pain? I lose sleep, sometimes one or two hours a night, sometimes for days. How, then, can the past truly be felt so forcefully in the present? Is bipolar a form post-traumatic stress? Is mania a forceful surge and gasp to speak my history of pain? What is time if not a memory of faded hurt which speaks its urgent need to be heard? Hauntings become integral parts of the manic mindset; an intense sensorial contact with the past changing temporality once again. Hearing the voices of the past, are they my own histories of pain or some other inheritance? You are your genealogy, moulded by our structural conditions, formed through our genetic make-up, shaped by the wounds and memories that haunt us. During mania, the pain of the past intrudes upon the present. The pain is oppression passed down the generations. I feel my mind slip from one event to the other, becoming conscious of a system of silence; voices become muted, and my own mind explodes. 

'Like the seasonal rhythms and earthly cycles which I rise and fall with, do I become lost in someone else nightmare?' 

Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, 1514.

Diagnostic Realities: Breaking Temporalities

The nature of a diagnosis gives strength, but it also entraps; it becomes a lifelong disorder to manage and contain. The endless reports describing the nature of your behaviour become entertaining delves into others’ gazes. What is entangled in myself and what is a symptom become haunting and oppressive questions. The temporalities I have described show a different time frame to the world, which demands and extracts. Mania dances to its own rhythm, ignorant and defiant of a world which restrains and moulds. If the interpretation of madness is mere violence against the world, how do I navigate the boxes and categories which explain my individuality to the world’s straight jacket of normalcy? Do I work with or against the diagnosis? Do I playfully undermine and ascent to its boundaries? Do I revel within its contours and rhythms of change? Mania results in missed sleep: one sheep, two sheep, three sheep four; I am losing sleep, a boomerang on loop, an explosive energy, one that burns furiously. What is the driving impetus to these changes, whether the diagnosis is one that is bestowed upon me or comes like explosive force from the internal workings of my mind? Bipolar is both a creative lifeforce and the stifling shadow of darkness working and breaking structures of our everyday, where mania becomes both a horror and desire, and depression a process of monotony and immobility. 

 

To map and understand the contours of my diagnosis, I return to the philosophy of Simone Weil in which she considers the significance of roots and rootedness:

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations of the future … Every human being needs to have multiple roots. It is necessary for him to draw well-nigh the whole of his moral, intellectual and spiritual life by way of the environment of which he forms a natural part.

(Weil, The Need for Roots, 40) 

A diagnosis is a form of roots, both weaving in and out of its origins, stemming from places of euphoria and dread; it is a conglomerate of opposites emerging from my bipolar temporalities. Returning to trauma, to generational time zones, and to planetary rhythms allows an agential power to emerge out of uncontrollable force of mood swings appearing beyond control. Discovering liminality in diagnostic categories, I find rhythms of new and joyful horizons. Diagnosis becomes a useful tool to navigating bureaucratic systems. In the world in which we live, it is necessary tool for orientating oneself with unequal and often oppressive societies. Whether it comes from the inside or outside, bipolar means I accept a new temporality in which my life does not fit the rhythmic pace of others. I discover empowerment and agency in the label, but I do not let its bounds and structures suffocate me. Where bipolar begins and myself ends is a difficult enmeshed complexity. But I find strength in the processes of attunement and roots, of discovering spontaneity in mood and mapping out new trajectories of energy. There is no one answer to why these ruptures of joy and melancholy are released in the extremes, dwelling only in polarities, but I find relief and empowerment in the roots, contours, relapses, the extremities, and the defying and unpredictable nature of a diagnosed bipolar life. 

'A diagnosis is a form of roots, both weaving in and out of its origins, stemming from places of euphoria and dread; it is a conglomerate of opposites which emerge from my bipolar temporalities.'

Edward Hopper, Ground Swell, 1939.

Bibliography

hooks, bell. Belonging, A Culture of Place, Routledge, 2009.

 

Solomon, Rivers, et al. The Deep. Hachette, 2020.

Weil, Simone. Gravity and Grace, Routledge, 1937. 

Weil, Simone. The Need for Roots, Routledge, 1949. 

Josephine Taylor

About Josephine Taylor

Josephine Taylor is a researcher in environmental humanities and an Assistant Professor in Literature at Northeastern University London. Her academic work explores energy humanities, science fiction, animal studies, and philosophy. She has published in a range of outlets from cultural magazines, poetry presses, and academic peer reviewed journals. She collaborates and is a member of the beyond gender research collective in which they use feminist and queer science fiction to envision just and utopian communities. Presently, she is working on her monograph which explores the nonhuman narratives of energy. Her research is also moving towards exploring air pollution and breathlessness through art and cultural studies. She is a keen advocate of living with bipolar disorder and has done different performance pieces which explores her condition.

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