On Monday, December 19th 2016 (so as of writing this a mere eight days ago) I sent a text to my most trusted of MH supports (and incidentally the other host of our Change But The Name Podcast) Randi Fellows, CPS, letting her know I had officially lost arbitership over my mood and was admitting myself to an inpatient facility.
Here’s the actual text, for what it’s worth:
I didn’t get a chance to check her response until my release (when “contraband” like your phone and shoelaces are returned to you), and found to my moderate surprise the following – again, a screenshot of the actual texts:
It turns out we were both admitted and released on the same days at almost exactly the same times. Not to the same facility, mind you – but categorically we had essentially broken down and recovered unknowingly with a sort of quantum entanglement that was indeed “spooky action at a distance.”
Fortunately we don’t need to dip too deeply into the realm of quantum mechanics to find an analogy with utility to understand – or begin to understand, anyway – just what in the ever-living hell happened to us; might there be some fundamental biological or physiological thing at work here that could save us from an immediate return to abounding delusions about otherwordly coincidence and higher powers just straight up fucking with we mice and men?
Though we can’t rule out our possible subordinate role to super-beings (I’m not completely joking here, but that isn’t the crux of this article), men like myself are in cases like this beneficiaries of a uniquely female trait and tribulation – menstruation.
That’s a weird sentence – permit me to explain:
It’s no accident that words like lunatic (root: lunar) and moonstruck are used to describe insanity; But it has also long been noted that there is a separate connection between lunar and menstrual cycles (some henpecked men might not see the separation). Feminist poet Marge Piercy wrote in 1980 a novel entitled The Moon Is Always Female; For me personally, on a rare occasion I managed to take my now-distant college education seriously, I remember learning of a controversial phenomenon of psychology/physiology called menstrual synchrony. Though I admit I probably remember this term more from salient immature disgust (Shark Week aaahhhhhhh!) than academic interest, it has for whatever reason claimed a small alcove of my memory, and returned unbidden to me a number of times through my own self-study of Bipolar mood cycling.
I first noticed a similar phenomenon during my first major inpatient stay (now some years ago at Johns Hopkins) – I entered depressed and suicidal, then left hypomanic. But outside of my personal narrative arc – and what I found intensely interesting – was the way my mood change over those thirty days fell into cyclical alignment with the other patients.
As I elevated into a state that I probably shouldn’t have been released in (and independent of myself so to did others improve without my influence) I began to notice that the majority of us – around twenty, men and women young and old – fell into a clear self-feeding communal cycle of positive energy. It’s worth mentioning here that this is hardly limited to small groups undergoing inpatient treatment – the layperson will understand the immediate, almost gravitational effect of even one individual with a particularly powerful disposition, whether positive or negative.
We (the patients at Hopkins) finally broke through during a fateful day during our allotted exercise time when I, fed by a few days of gregarious interpersonal interaction for which I deserve little credit, thought it reasonable to unload a full-force punt on a soccer ball in the confines of our tiny hampster-wheel gym. I ain’t Christiano Ronaldo by a long shot, but my full-grown-man leg strength brought down a light fixture and a healthy dose of debris.
I was banned from the gym, and released from the hospital shortly thereafter.
Weirdly though, and the point of this anecdote, is that collectively we all turned the corner at that moment; all twenty or so of us – some having been so debilitatingly depressed at times that they couldn’t walk or speak – were released in good spirits within a span of three days. When I learned this I immediately remembered menstrual synchrony, and for the first time wondered at a more generalized version of this principle that might have something to do with cycles as a concept and human behavior as a point of origin.
If one wants to take the perspective of coincidence it would be nothing short of bizarre to recount how many times Randi and I had joked about the two of us “cycling” together since our CPS training only to have it peak in a near-identical cray-cation with zero knowledge of the other. Afterwards (so just a few days ago, really) I threw out the term “Mentsies,” a clumsy portmanteau/pun on the Mensies (you know, mental-mensies).
Though I doubt either of us will ever get seriously empirical about the idea of mood cycles aligning when individuals with Bipolar spend a fair amount of time together, I might here throw out a question mark to anyone who might point me in the direction of recent research thereof.
WHERE YOU PhD HOMIES AT ON MENTSIES?
I personally think the important thing to take away from all this is the consideration of the following tripartite inquiry, with number three probably being the most useful (in being the most general):
- Is there a MH analog to menarche (the onset of MH symptoms?)
- Is there a MH analog to menstrual synchrony?
- Do either of these effects – should they exist – have to be limited to the MH sphere?
The Moon Is Always Female (and consideration of any cyclical effects pertaining to human behavior) raises the age-old question of causality: If menstrual cycles follow the moon, then does menstrual synchrony result from ovulating women being in close proximity, or is it more just a side effect from all of them being affected by the moon, which is the same damn thing at the same damn time for all of them?
Think about that in a MH context for a second – Did Randi and I’s “mental synchrony” result from being in close proximity to each other, or is there some sort of larger, singular gravitational analog by which we the collective MH community are passively affected?
Shotgun “Looner Cycle.” Coined and posted, and I will prosecute copyright infringement.
On a serious (and final) note – since seasonal depression seems to be widely accepted, and this is the time of year for it – I’d be curious to hear any stories you might have similar to Randi and I’s “mentsies” this holiday season. Feel free to comment or start a thread in the CBTN forum!