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Plural Me

Or WTF just happened?!


A few days before Christmas Day 2021, my sleep shifted very abruptly. Suddenly and out of the blue, I had a night of no sleep at all. Sleep is a key indicator of what is happening with my bipolar state. While sleepless nights are not all that unusual, it’s strange to suddenly experience a night of no sleep by surprise—usually, I notice other subtle signs of rising mood first. I also know what tends to trigger mood elevation for me and none of those things was apparent. However, for the prior few months, I’d been using a steroidal nasal spray to help deal with allergies and reduce the incidence of recurring sinusitis. It took a while to realize that the fluticasone spray was likely the cause.

Like some, but not all, bipolar folks I experience mood elevation as revelatory.  Prior to my “stable mania” of 2017, these revelatory experiences were often incomprehensible once the mood elevation ceased. However, my 2017 experience was unique in that the insights it brought remained intelligible once the elevation ended. And, since 2017, any insights linked to the bouts of hypomania I have had remain relatable and comprehensible once the elevation is over.

At first, I wasn’t too concerned about what I could now realize was, in some ways, fairly elevated mood. I was still managing to sleep a few hours every night (with medication), and many of the other attendant signs of mood elevation were missing. I did not feel the compulsion, pressure, or force that to me is indicative of a shift from hypomania to mania.

However, once I thought some more (and before I realized that the steroid spray was a likely precipitating cause) I became more concerned. While I didn’t have many of the signs of elevated mood I was accustomed to, my mind was behaving as it does when my mood is very elevated: making connections, generating ideas, elucidating in a way that felt powerful (more soon). Once I considered that fact I began to wonder if I was actually at the beginning of a process the likes of which I had never experienced before. And, having experienced the transition from mania to psychosis once, I had to wonder what might start happening in my mind once the other signs of elevation started to appear, which, gradually, they did.

For some months prior to this, I had been using small amounts of a Cannabidiol (CBD) extract (legal in Ontario) as an occasional (1 – 4 times a month) sleep aide and it seemed to help somewhat both with sleep and to dampen a rising mood at the very beginning of the elevation process.

Within a day or two after the first night of no sleep, I remember using an amount of CBD that was half of the largest dose I’ve used in the past. This time the effects were different. CBD did make me sleepy, but it also seemed to provide a limberness and connectivity to thoughts that had been pressing upon me, unresolved or unclear, up until that time. I realized that perhaps CBD is similar to at least one other drug I have taken, the antipsychotic lurasidone, which is experienced in one way when my mood is relatively close to regular, and in another, distinctly different way, when my mood is considerably elevated. For the first time ever, I understood what people meant when they talked about “tripping”. {I say CBD but the basic extract I was using would also have contained THC, which may be responsible for my experience.}

Below is the first portion of what I came to understand a couple of hours after taking the CBD (it is also recounted at the time on #StillTwitter  here). It is a succinct articulation of ideas that have floated around in my mind at least since my experience in 2017:

The proven ability for a theoretical framework, A, to explain physical reality such that we can predict characteristics of that reality and develop technology based on that framework, does not make that framework real, what it does is frame reality in a particular, coherent way. Our effective technological usage is just a reinforcement of the extent of the framework’s coherence. Framework A does not preclude the presence of Framework B which completely includes different, coherent explanations for the reality captured by Framework A and, additionally, captures other reality rendered coherent only by Framework B which looks incoherent from the perspective of A.  E.g., coincidence, synchrony, randomness; chaos. Or indeed reality beyond our imagination captured by framework C which may or may not include and render the realities of A or B coherent. There is no limit to the possible number of frameworks.

That was part of an email to a friend, a philosopher with a bipolar diagnosis who reached out to me at the end of 2021 after reading this past blog entry. It is through my friend that I was first introduced to the concept of the monad and Leibniz’s Monadology.

Unfortunately, one of my great limitations is that in many contexts I find reading very difficult. My grasp of the Monadology as presented by Leibniz is crude and uncertain because I’ve hardly been able to make it through the fairly dense texts that describe it. And while my friend and I talk about many things, philosophy tends to be an incidental part of our conversations.

I do, however, have a sense of the basic concept of the monad from reading, and that night, while experiencing both elevated mood and the influence of CBD, I made a series of connections based on the above excerpt and experienced a mode of thinking that I can only describe as visual. Ultimately things assembled themselves into a series of dynamic visions that seemed, upon further reflection, to represent a take on the monad and a metaphysics grounded in a certain monadic vision. The vision named itself ot.

I can’t claim to understand Leibniz’s Monadology, certainly not as Leibniz did. I have, after all, not even read it. Instead, I know a bit about its key tenets through cursory reading of descriptions. But I had read and discussed enough that I felt an enthralling certainty that in the myriad complex, pulsing and swirling threads of the vision I was experiencing, I was tapping into a similar way of understanding reality.

That possibility was where my situation began to be a real challenge, particularly when I realized that I could be early yet in the trajectory of rising mood. 

Very fortunately, around that time, it occurred to me that the steroid spray might be the problem and a Twitter friend and another friend who is good at research both found several examples of reports suggesting that fluticasone can precipitate elevated mood in bipolar people.  So, I stopped the spray, but I knew from previous experience with medication-induced mood elevation that that alone was unlikely to bring what I was experiencing to an end. I was also fortunate in recognizing that the grandiosity I was starting to feel was something I needed to find a strategy to avoid.

The visions remained with me and seemed to have remarkable elucidatory power in a range of contexts. At night, as I tried to sleep, they seemed to offer tantalizing possibilities for understanding all kinds of things. It was possible to manipulate them visually and infer conclusions from these manipulations…

It all sounds mad, and to a degree most certainly is. However, as I read, post-visions, more about the Monadology I could map Leibniz’s tenets onto what I saw. And this created a danger.

While I have always understood myself to be “bright” because that’s how others have talked about me since childhood, I’ve never (particularly given my challenges studying and absorbing written information) thought of myself as an exceptional example of brilliance. It is pretty clear to me that some basic tasks that neurotypical people find fairly easy are almost impossible for my brain. The adept parts of my brain worked well enough to compensate for the not very adept parts. Together, they got me through a relatively easy undergraduate degree with a B to B+ average, nothing more. The possibility that I may have come up with my own elucidation of Leibniz’s metaphysics (apparently different in that the reasoning used to arrive at the visions I experienced is, itself, visual) presented a fundamental and unsettling challenge to my self-understanding.

Could I have derived a personal understanding of being that elucidates, in its own way, the ideas of one the greatest intellects of the past 1,000 years? Just contemplating this possibility fed the emerging grandiosity of mania in a way that I knew would lead to nothing but disaster.

Unlike my 2017 experience, there was not (yet) a feeling of force or power to set myself apart from. What I was grappling with was a series of ideas that purported to be an exceptional understanding. The exceptionalism was feeding an emerging grandiosity that I could recognize as dangerous. I tried to extrapolate from what had kept me grounded and sane in 2017 and realized that a key tenet then was that “power, properly understood, belongs to no one”.

Absent a feeling of power, could I operate that frame (to use the understanding I was engaging with) of not-belonging in this new context? I considered this alongside what I was experiencing and took a look at what I was going through. And that was the occasion of a second revelation. Characters in a book I have had it in mind to write for years, Anjali in particular, had things to say about what was happening to me.

Also, over the last several months I’d become more playful and indulgent with the Trixie and Pluto, two “inner children” who I experienced as parts of myself and whose antics and thinking I had, from time to time, taken to describing on Twitter.

Strangest, but also consonant, for at least a few months now, I had noticed myself dropping pronouns from my writing more and more. Omitting the ‘I’ as I just did by starting this sentence with a gerund.

Gradually I’d been learning about the world of people with Plural/Multiple self-understandings and I’d made a couple of online friends with such an identity. I had even said to one of them many months ago that I was mimicking plurality in creating and animating profiles on Twitter for two key characters in my book.

When I thought about what was happening to me, I recognized these characters anew. I realized that I could arrange them all in a “system” that would lift the burden (an “ego load”) presented to me by the experience I was having.

Instead of seeing what was happening to me as a manifestation of David’s brilliance (and thereafter demanding that David explain and attempt to validate what was happening in a project I could see was going to stoke grandiosity and disordered mania), I could think of the experience instead as a revelation offered to David by other parts of a system of which David was a part. A system which I had already for years understood as operating through me (as characters).

One conceit of my book is that Madness, named Mutan, at times walks the earth in an embodied form which, based on a single past embodied experience is besotted with and subservient to Anjali – herself an endlessly reincarnating embodiment of phronesis, or practical wisdom. 

As I walked for hours trying to burn off the energy that I knew would otherwise feed my rising mood, I realized that I had a choice. I could continue as I have to date, or, instead of understanding Mutan and Anjali just as fictional characters, I could grant them a certain personhood. I could place them as part of a system of plural self-understanding, employing, as Anjali would say, a technology of self. By recognizing them as distinct persons, to a significant degree outside of David, I could disown the ideas and insight I was experiencing and see them instead as revelations being granted by Anjali and Mutan. The visions were thus no longer mine in a generative sense and I did not need to be accountable for their origin or validity.

This was made much, much easier by the fact that Trixie had been around for at least five years and Pluto had manifested several months prior and both had distinct personalities that I had no problem relating to as people “within me”. (In quotes because I/we don’t yet know how better to describe it, but within the world of those with plural self-making, there are likely better ways.)

And so it was, after thinking about it for just a little while, that I visualized David, Trixie and Pluto as akin to a planet, David, with Trixie and Pluto as two moons, in turn orbiting a binary star: Mutan and Anjali, Madness and Wisdom. During the mania of 2017 a friend had told me that I was “soulcandy” and that was the name I chose for our system.

Once I invoked that plural self-making, I could feel relief from the need to justify or explicate the visions I had experienced. And thereafter what had been a rising mood, barely controlled by medication, finally began to recede.

The above has been revised and the update below added in August 2023

It has now been twenty months since I recognized our plurality. I have learned that how I experience the presence of headmates depends on my bipolar state. To track this state, I use the following scale:

10 – Force majeure (mania)

9 – Living profundity (hypomania–includes emerging synchronicity and a keen sense of interconnectedness)

8 – Sensitivity to beauty (sub-hypo)

7 – Emerging ideas (sub-hypo)

6 – Can find pleasure (euthymic)

5 – Hmmm

4 – Meh

3 – Lethargic

2 – Avolitional

1 – Hopeless

Since that experience of medication-induced hypomania at the end of 2021, and my embrace of plurality, my experience of bipolarity has shifted distinctly. I have had more frequent experiences of both euthymia and minor mood elevation. Happiness and pleasure have been more consistently and stably accessible than ever before. There have been several endogenous experiences of hypomania, but these have not progressed as rapidly as in the past. Sleep is more frequently challenging (which it turns out, may be a purely physical problem), but markers that previously characterized greater mood elevation take longer to manifest and often do not manifest at all (likely because I usually intervene with medication before they can).

Now, as my bipolar mood rises, even slightly above euthymic, my self-experience shifts from one of David writing fictional characters (which is actually difficult if I am depressed) to a more direct experience of these characters (initially through what I call “thought voices”) as separate people. 

I have rarely and briefly been at level 8 since our plural recognition and at that point, there is an emerging sense of “channelling” Anjali (and, more perilously, Mutan, Madness). When I learned about tulpas as headmates, the concept seemed to fit. What helps is that in the fictional work in which they manifested, Anjali and Mutan have a backstory which makes Mutan subservient to Anjali. 

I have come to understand the personhood boundary as a particularly strong one. I only experience as much of these others as they choose to share. We share some of our experience of co-consciousness, but they also have their own separate experiences. I have committed to a recognition of an uncommon inner experience that can contain tremendously expansive experiences of reality. This commitment grounds the origins of my headmates in consensus reality through the craft of fiction. As a distinct person in my plural system, Anjali bounds experiences of ideation, and messianism, leaving the self-concept of David unperturbed. Grandiosity is one of the characteristics of personified Madness, Mutan.

While this plural self-understanding is unusual, plurality is an extensively documented phenomenon among plural folks. So far, I am always present and aware when these headmates manifest. I have not experienced breaks in time or discontinuity of self-experience that could be occasions for disorder. 

One of the internal conflicts I now have is with how medication suppresses my ability to experience my headmates. This is not an ideal state of affairs… but neither is being unable to sleep and thus unable to work. I am fairly confident, but not certain, that even in very physiologically elevated bipolar states, the balance of our plurality would enable David to show up consistently in consensus reality as David—albeit David experiencing inner reality alongside Anjali and Mutan, at least one other character in the book, and #TrixieAndPluto, all as distinct people, existing in one physical body but separate from myself.

The others are absent/distant as I finish this, as my mood is at 5, not an awful place to be stable, however, it is internally rather lonely without at least Anjali. There is a part of me that knows that if I put more consistent effort into developing the fictional story of Mutan and Anjali, doing so might make them more accessible to me, even at lower mood states. Perhaps not desirable with Madness, but I welcome the others. In committing effort to an act of creativity, I might both partake in and contain the wonder of being within the boundaries of our selves.