Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mania and the Story of Icarus and Daedalus



This post is from a special request from a bipolar bud of mine who follows this blog. In a conversation with him the story of Icarus came up and I mentioned that I'd researched that story in relation to bipolar and found that there was indeed a link. He in turn mentioned that he'd greatly appreciate reading what I'd found in a Polar Bears blog post. So this is for him. Here's to you, bro. 

The following is an excerpt from my (unpublished) book manuscript.

Excerpt from Dancing in the Dark - Why?
March, 2013


The hallmark of true bipolar is mania – and let's try to strike from your mind all the descriptions you've ever read about bipolar, or if you are “bipolar”, your own concepts of your experiences – so let's try start with a clean slate. I think to understand anything, we have to drill down into what this poorly understood phenomenon is. Let's go back a few years and see what we can find pre-pharmacological era (IE: pre-drug tainted era and pre-run away diagnosis era (1)). Let's set aside all these unscientific observations of behaviours, the so called “symptoms” and get down to the bare bones of “mania”. If we can find that, perhaps we can solve some of the mystery of bipolar.

The earliest reference I could find of mania is in the story of Icarus. From Wikipedia, the story from Greek mythology: 

Daedalus (his father) fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Daedalus tried his wings first, but before taking off from the island, warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea, but to follow his path of flight. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Icarus kept flapping his wings but soon realized that he had no feathers left and that he was only flapping his bare arms, and so Icarus fell into the sea.

When I again started to try to figure out clearer what bipolar was all about and, more importantly how mania actually affected me personally, the story of Icarus for some reason leaped to mind. Well, that's not true, I know the reason. It came to me when I was writing The Roller Coaster chapter (2) and these flights of fantasy of mine followed by hard crashes reminded me suddenly of the story of Icarus and his flight too close to the sun (getting too high) and then crashing to earth (the inevitable emotional crash following mania). I then decided to look up the story, read the Wikipedia entry and bingo – this, under Interpretation:

Literary interpretation has found in the myth the structure and consequence of personal over-ambition. An Icarus-related study of the Daedalus myth was published by the French hellenist Fran├žoise Frontisi-Ducroux. In psychology there have been synthetic studies of the Icarus complex with respect to the alleged relationship between fascination for fire,enuresis, high ambition, and ascensionism. In the psychiatric mind features of disease were perceived in the shape of the pendulous emotional ecstatic-high and depressive-low of bi-polar disorder. Henry Murray having proposed the term Icarus complex, apparently found symptoms particularly in mania where a person is fond of heights, fascinated by both fire and water,narcissistic and observed with fantastical or far-fetched-imaginary cognition.

So here we go, this is good stuff. Frontisi-Ducroux studied mythology and not modern psychiatry and his work was published in 1975 pre-dating all of today's nonsense notions of bipolar. Henry Alexander Murray (May 13, 1893 – June 23, 1988) was an American psychologist who taught for over 30 years at Harvard. He was Director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic in the School of Arts and Sciences after 1930. So again, a pre-modern era thinker and I think we can gain some insight from his interpretations of the legend of Icarus and the phenomenon of bipolar and mania that is not tainted by today's run amok notions.

First we see mention of over-ambition or high ambition. Yes, this fits well with the older concept I've had of mania and matches my own experiences from the 1991 to 1994 years when my "ambitions" included taking over the head of a large corporation, taking over as head coach of the Ottawa Senators NHL team, trying out for the BC Lions professional football team (at the ripe old age of 34 and with zero prior professional experience) and of trying out for the vacant lead singer spot of an internationally known rock group (along with a few other “up there” delusional ideas). Yes, I think these definitely qualify as “overly-ambitious”. We see mention too of the “pendulous emotional ecstatic-high and depressive-low” of bipolar disorder. Well, that describes my worst periods of rapid cycling to a 't'. 

Now as for fondness of heights, fascination with both fire and water, I can't say any of those fit me. (3) I can't recall any particular interest in any of those. I have though read of others with mania feeling like “superman” and wanting to explore heights (Icarus like) and that these literal ascensions to heights often lead to deaths from either believing they could fly and trying to or from accidental falls. Narcism and “fantastical or far-fetched imaginary cognition” again fits my model to a 't' though. I certainly fell in love with myself and my ideas, my fantastical “grandiose thoughts” and my thinking then was certainly far fetched imaginary cognition. My cognitive powers got way too carried away.

But let's examine this portrayal of mania more closely. Now in the story, Daedalus constructed two pairs of wings. Now this suggests that Daedalus wanted his son to fly higher, in other words was encouraging Icarus to have ambition. Now if we return again to The Roller Coaster and look at my how my concepts of ambition were influenced by the short story Jonathon Livingston Seagull, we can again see the metaphor of flight and “flying high” and that at that point of that chapter that I saw nothing wrong with this ambition. 

Is there anything wrong with ambition? No, this is what makes humans what they are. This is what leads to all discoveries. This is what put men on the moon. Ambition is one of the – back to the human brain for a moment – fundamental things that separate the human mind from the animal mind (or at least we've taken it far farther than animals can. We can see some signs of ambition in the animal world as well). 

But – but! - Daedalus also warned his son not to fly too high, not too close to the sun. In other words, not to get overly ambitious. Daedalus understood the dangers here (from his own previous experience?) And look at what the description says – Icarus got “giddy from flying too high” and that he “soared through the air curiously”, and got carried away and could not control his flight and he got too high, got “burned” by being too high and thus crashed back to to the sea where he drowned (the metaphor here for depression... how we seem to “drown” in the sea of depression). So is “mania” just a form of ambition, of ambition being carried away by giddiness, by, in other words, over excitement? Of “soaring through the air too curiously”? This is an extremely important part of our examination here and we're going to drill down into this with as much detail as I can muster.




Over excitement, giddiness, again is as age old a normal behaviour as mankind. Nothing new under the sun here. So is “mania” excitement and giddiness run amok and carried to extremes? Again, this could describe many, many people. Where is the line between “mania” and excitement driven passion? Once again, and I'll just keep hammering this point home, are we looking at normal human behaviour and not a pathology of an “illness”?

But let's carry on. My “why?” is not done with this yet. So here we go, we have this basic concept of excitement and giddiness leading to getting “too high”. Now, again, is this a bad thing? I think we here have to explore the part of mania that has been buried in the mad modern rush to medicalize it and drug people into a coma to “control” it. Here we explore the up side of “mania”.


Mania has long been linked to creativity and, as we've seen, ambition. A look at famous figures thought to be “bipolar” (or manic depressive) is impressive. Since creativity and ambition are part of the mix of what's thought to be mania, this naturally leads to some famous people with big accomplishments. But again, in my drive for pure data, we have to go back to pre-pharmacological revolution figures. I can't trust any diagnosis or manifestation of mania (and hence bipolar) in the drug era (50's onward). In fact, it's hard to trust any of them because “self-medication” has always been a problem associated with bipolar like symptoms. This puts a fly in my ointment of seeking purely raw data (IE: unmedicated subjects) so I'm in a bit of a dilemma here. 

Ernest Hemingway, for example, I see is on my list of “bipolar” people. We all know how creative Hemingway was and also we can see a very adventurous life – two things that I certainly can attest for signs of possible mania in a person – but he was also a famously ferocious drinker and alcohol is rather notorious for mood alterations in people. Many people, it has long been observed, lose their inhibitions when high on alcohol and do stupid things – exactly as we see in accusations of “manic” behaviour. Alcohol can also deepen depression, the other side of mania. So it is impossible to know with ol' Ernest, outside of pure speculation, whether the metaphorical chicken or the egg came first here – did alcohol use trigger mania and/or depression, or did he drink to control the moods? Impossible to know. And once we introduce any foreign substances to the brain, we know that all bets are off as we saw in our examination of psychiatric and so called recreational drugs back in Analysis of Prescription. (4) It is just, therefore, too hard to know where the lines of the mental phenomenon of manic depression and signs of alcoholism are, the lines become too blurred. So let's move on. 

End of Excerpt

I then went on to explore the lives of several famous people from the past (including Isaac Newton) but that gets too long to include here. Perhaps another time. 

(1) There is a lot of back story here as I wrote several massively long chapters tearing down modern psychiatry's notions of "mental illnesses". These were not my own creations but instead sought to consolidate enormous amounts of academic literature and the works of science research writer Robert Whitaker. It was all, in other words, very well founded evidence. 

Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic is absolutely must reading. In the chapter Bipolar Boom he very firmly establishes that many, many cases of "bipolar" that he investigated (and he is a Pulitzer Prize nominated and highly respected science investigator and writer) were either connected to recreational or psychiatric drug use (IE: the "bipolar" cleared up when the drug use stopped) and he presents very strong medical evidence for this and some case studies. He also very firmly establishes the massive "catch basin" for bipolar diagnosis that the pharmacological/psychiatric alliance established in order to write as many life long prescriptions as possible. His work is extremely well researched and scientifically established.

(2) The Roller Coaster is a chapter in my book in which I describe a period of some particularly insidious rapid cycling that lasted roughly 1992-ish to the fall of '94. If you are bipolar and have never experienced true rapid cycling, consider yourself extremely lucky. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. 

(3) This is not exactly true. Later, when I ruminated on my various periods of high suicidality in my life, there were many times I was incredibly - and nearly uncontrollably - drawn to water. These were bizarre, almost hallucinogenic or mildly psychotic experiences (hearing voices, commands) that implored me to come into the water and go under to join this voice calling to me. It was like it was asking me to join an underwater world. I am quite convinced that many people who commit suicide by drowning (something very, very hard to do due to very powerful instinctive reflex actions, by the way) by succumbing to voices and commands very much like I experienced. 

(4) Anatomy of a Prescription was a long chapter in my book manuscript on the science, supposed pathways of efficacy and function, and side effects and brain damage of psychiatric medications. Again, these were NOT my findings, but merely a collection and summary of related academic data and research by psychiatrists dedicated to non-pharmacological methods of mental illness treatment. It was all very well supported by long term empirical research analysis and medical research data. 



Final note: this portion of my manuscript was written when I was desperately trying to believe that bipolar was not as serious of a mental health condition as psychiatry believed and presents to the public and I was exploring all aspects and angles of several major mental health disorders. I was also desperately trying to believe that mania was not "bad" (and I was very manic at the time of this writing). Nonetheless, I still strongly support all the views I put forward in this chapter of my book manuscript. I still maintain that much of what is understood about "bipolar" is nonsense put forward by the pharmacological/psychiatric alliance almost purely in the interests of profit, a point I'll further establish another time.

Whether mania is "bad" or not will have to wait for a future blog post. (Hint: in true bipolar disorder it probably is). 


1 comment:

  1. Well, yes.. And as Jung most famously said, "The Gods have become our diseases".. then followed up endlessly by the great modern psychological thinker James Hillman, with his books 'Suicide & the Soul'.. then followed by 'Re-Visioning Psychology'.. also later by his best selling book 'The Soul's Code'.. I have become a devourer, like a hungry Saturn, reading just about every book I can get my hands on by Hillman, including his books 'Mythic Figures,' beginning with an essay on 'Dionysus in Jung's Wrirings' & also on 'Athene, Ananke & the Necessity of Abnormal Psychology'.. And another essay titled 'Pink Madness: Why Venus-Aphrodite Drives Us Crazy With Pornography'.. also the book 'Animal Presences,' 'The Dream & the Underworld' & 'Pan & the Nightmare' etc.. I have also read & studied much of the books & workshops with astrologer & Jungian analyst Liz Greene, author of book's like 'The Astrology of Fate' & co-author of 'The Mythic Tarot'.. She also has available numerous studyshops on Cd, including a workshop she did with Hillman titled 'The Alchemical Sky'.. With these studyshops available at www.astrologos.com..

    And meanwhile I have been studying astrology, psychology, mythology & the world in general & writing about all this in my blog www.whatsitallmeanthen.blogspot.com since late 2007.. I too was inspired, like many others by books like Jonathon Livingston Seagull in my "Individuation process".. Hillman was basically calling for us all to return to the poetic basis of Mind, back to the imaginative Renaissance Mind.. The meaning of life essentially being our own Soul's in search of Eros. Or that which most deeply inspires or "moves us".. Eros, who is love.. as in all the great works of Shakespeare etc et al..

    And all this taking me back to the three wuotes ot the start of my daily journel.. beginning with a quote from the book 'The Artists Way'.. then ending with a quote from an essay on "bi-polar disorder," based on Hillman's essay on the Puer & Senex dynamic relationship.. the endless dialog between the "eternal youth" & the "old man"..

    Regaining a
    Sense of Power
    There is a vitality, a life force,
    an energy, a quickening, that
    is transferred though you into
    action, & because there is only
    one of you in all time, this
    expression is unique. And if
    you block it, it will never exist
    through any other medium &
    will be lost.

    Martha Graham
    'The Artists Way'

    Psyche’s Return
    to Greece
    Socrates: Beloved Pan & all you other 
    Gods who haunt this place, give me beauty 
    in the inward Soul, & let the outward 
    & inward man-woman be at One. 

    Plato, Phaedrus, 279B

    A Jungian Essay 
    on Bipolar Disorder
    It is not a matter of indifference 
    whether one calls something a
    'mania' or a 'god'. To serve a mania 
    is detestable & undignified, but 
    to serve a god is full of meaning..

    Carl Jung

    ReplyDelete