Anytime somebody is described as manic, you expect excitement. It’s an ambiguous term that resonates in the popular culture with affection, and also has a starring role in a clinical diagnosis. Being manic is easy to caricature: it’s the friend who is a high energy blur, a multitasker who talks fast, juggles a dozen random thoughts while making lasagna, edgy jokes, and new friends, and blogs about economic policy while picking living room furniture, all with little more than a catnap.
The clinical part of feeling manic, the back side of the tapestry, has all the excitement and all of its hidden consequences. It may include feeling like a virtuoso on any given Tuesday, or a superhero whose decisions are all risky and brilliant. It may involve constantly having a dozen unfinished thoughts bouncing around, competing for attention and making it hard to focus. There might be impulsive decisions about spending, sex, or drugs, and very little sleep. Manic is the elevated mood that is the hyper half of manic depression, which is today known as Bipolar Disorder. People don’t usually stay manic. The bottom usually falls out, and serious depression follows, until they are manic again. These unpredictable shifts are the mood swings that come with Bipolar Disorder. People who have it often like the manic part, until it’s over.
We, on the outside looking in, seem to like it a lot too. A Google search shows that the manic image is useful in promoting things. There’s Manic Panic, a line of punk rock hair care products; Manic Mommies, a weekly podcast and blog about parenting; and Manic Salamander, a company that makes motorcycle parts. The attraction of mania reaches far and wide. On September 18, 2010, the New York Times ran a piece about eccentric business innovators, called “Just Manic Enough: Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs”. The concept seems to be that maybe manic traits, in controlled doses, might make somebody a creative business genius, crazy and impulsive and promising. Far from Wall Street, the Urban Dictionary, an online user-created dictionary of slang and common expressions, echoes this perspective. Its definitions of manic include: someone who is manic depressive; something that is insanely cool; and the tendency to become easily obsessed… (which is) a good thing as it makes you far more interesting & fun to be around. Urban Dictionary has 15 million visits per month; 80% of its users are under age 25.
Does being manic make a person more interesting? Depends. Being apt to speak and act on impulse, a manic trait, is often a mixed blessing, making for great satire, art, and fearless advocacy, but may be a scary trait in a love interest. Elevated emotions and confidence are contagious; people with charisma, energy, and endless stories can hold us spellbound. But if there is not reciprocal listening, the most animated of storytellers can get stale after a while, and interest can wane. Increasing the ability to focus, listen, and suspend judgment for a while, is a reason people seek treatment for Bipolar. (That, and the mood swings.) The jury is out on whether being a little manic really makes people more creative and precedent-setting, or just to think so. Somehow, the idea appeals to us, and that’s pretty interesting too.