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Plural Me


or WTF just happened?!

For the last few months I’ve been using a steroidal nasal spray to help deal with allergies and reduce the incidence of recurring sinusitis. Just a few weeks before what I recount here I had a phone appointment with my family physician in which I tried to express my concern about using this spray long-term, a concern that was not helpfully addressed.

A few days before Christmas Day 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 bipolar mood for me and 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 signs of rising mood first. I also know what tends to trigger mood elevation for me and none of those things were apparent.

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 few 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, because 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 talk about “tripping”.

The first portion of what I experienced a couple of hours after taking the CBD can be read here.

The communication was to a friend, a philosopher with a bipolar diagnosis who reached out to me over a year ago after reading this past blog entry. Among many other things, this friend is one of the world’s living experts on Leibniz. And 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 ideas already mentioned and experienced a mode of thinking that I can only describe as visual. Ultimately things assembled themselves into a series of dynamic pictures that seemed, upon further reflection, to represent a take on the monad and a metaphysics grounded in a certain monadic vision. A terse summary which doesn’t provide many details (of which there are many) is here.

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 to feel some degree of certainty that the vision I was experiencing was tapping into a very similar way of understanding reality.

And recognizing 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 the hypomania I was experiencing to an end.

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. The fundamental problem was that 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 university 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 no 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. 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”.

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 was writing, Anjali in particular, had things to say about what was happening to me.

I have for some time been trying to write a speculative fiction novel (my parents are both accomplished writers, it is not a far-fetched ambition, spec fiction is one of the few things I can, easily, read). I had long ago identified some of the key characters and even given two of them a presence on Twitter.

Alongside doing so, 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), I could think of the experience instead as a manifestation 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 is always besotted with 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 having a status fairly equal to my own, and to a significant degree outside of David, I could displace the ideas and insight I believed I was experiencing 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 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.