Last week I wrote about the difference between distractions versus mental health problems in prayer. This week someone ask what I thought about mania’s effect on prayer. Here it is.
Mania is the second side of an illness called bipolar disorder. The first side is depression. There are many variations of this illness. So, please don’t try to diagnose yourself via online checklists. Only licensed psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and master level mental health therapists can do that.
In brief, people with mania think everything seems wonderful and they are awe inspiring. If you don’t believe them they can become quite irritable. Increased energy, decreased need for sleep, talkativeness, racing thoughts, and over-involvement in pleasurable activities that carry negative consequences are other symptoms.
Unlike those with a depressed mood who think they are a sinful glob of scum those experiencing mania can think they have reached the heights of sanctity or been given divinely infused insight. They likely identify with Saints known to have had mystical experiences. Prayer is ethereal, otherworldly. In hypo-mania, a less intense mania, these are simply experienced less dramatically. Common for both, spirituality leans toward the mystical and is guided by feelings and irrational thoughts rather than common sense.
Because of the nature of manic and hypo-manic experiences, it is very hard for a person affected to see there is something wrong. Reality sets in only after the manic episode has passed (due to medication 99.9% of the time). Hence, if you have a bipolar condition, prevention is key. Here are my suggestions for avoiding problems in your prayer and general spiritual life.
- First, don’t trust intense feelings. Stop praying if you start to yearn, pine, be consumed, have intense love feelings, or anything like that.
- Second, don’t trust it if you begin to have non-stop multiple spiritual insights, begin to think “deeply,” or start to believe you have a “special” relationship with Jesus, Mary, a Saint, or even a priest. Mania makes relationships more intense than they really are, as does psychosis.
- Third, the best form of prayer for those vulnerable to mania and hypo-mania is the boring kind. Try reciting established prayers, sitting quietly without thinking too much, or engaging in an act of charity. Keep intense feelings and profound meanings out of it.
- Fourth, look up and befriend Saints who had no mystical experiences at all. Start with St. Francis de Sales. Add Sts. Jane Frances de Chantal, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Benedicta of the Cross, and follow the example of Blessed Fr. Enrico Rebuschini.
The beauty of mania, hypo-mania, and the psychotic form of depression is that because of them you must learn to pray without emotional or intellectual “consolation”. According to everything I’ve read on holiness and Saints, losing these “sensible consolations” is the surest way to God. So, work on detaching yourself from the want for intensity and focus on your choice to believe and what that requires of you in ordinary life.
It’s tricky to develop radar for precursor red flags of mania, in secular and spiritual life. The best workbook I know on this subject is The Bipolar Workbook: Tools for Controlling Your Mood Swings by Monica Ramirez Basco, PhD. This is a religious and value neutral book. You can apply the skills taught there to your spiritual life.
Picture by Alex Russo (Cubism version) 7 Aug 2012. Creative Commons, Wikimedia. Using this picture does not mean the author endorses this post or this blog.