Wikipedia:

An infinite loop (or endless loop) is a sequence of instructions in a computer program which loops endlessly, either due to the loop having no terminating condition, having one that can never be met, or one that causes the loop to start over. [Source]

Computer programs make accurate (if a little Matrix-y) analogs for mental health, mental illness, and thinking in general; it’s important to remember throughout this article that you (and all human beings) are considerably more complex than a computer program, while remaining cognizant that the use of this analogy herein has utility as a didactic tool. So with that being said, let’s first examine the comparison between infinite loops and the three main mental states that become problematic in persons with bipolar disorder (which includes myself).

Some historians and mental health professionals believe Einstein may have been Bipolar.
Some historians and mental health professionals believe Einstein may have been Bipolar.

Infinite loops in computing can be simple or complex, ranging from code as simple as


int main()
{
  for (;;); // or while (1);
}

in the programming language C, or


10 PRINT "INFINITE LOOP"
20 GOTO 10

in the programming language BASIC [ibid.]. Hopefully even if you have zero understanding of computer programming you can see, particularly with the BASIC code, that on line 10 the program will output the words INFINITE LOOP, and on line 20 return back to line 10 and repeat the output – forever.

This is a good analogy for what happens in a person with bipolar disorder in one of three main “episodic” mental states, or the internal conditions that create mental health episodes. In the case of bipolar, these manifest as:

  1. Mania
  2. Depression
  3. Mixed episodes (or ultradian cycling)

In all three of these cases (and let’s stay simple and ignore the gradient between the three for the purpose of this article) the person afflicted develops a thought pattern very much analogous to an infinite loop in computing. This engenders situational constraints from which there can be no escape without outside help, whether in the form of medication (check out the CBTN article To Take Drugs or Not To Take Drugs – That Isn’t The Question for what constitutes medication), help from another person or group, or environmental factors (up to and including police intervention) that force one into new situational constraints that can break the loop (read: jail).

THE INFINITE LOOP OF MANIA

From Bipolar disorder on Wikipedia:

Mania is a distinct period of at least one week of elevated or irritable mood, which can range from euphoria to delirium, and those experiencing hypo- or mania may exhibit three or more of the following behaviors: speak in a rapid, uninterruptible manner, short attention span, racing thoughts, increased goal-oriented activities, agitation, or they may exhibit behaviors characterized as impulsive or high-risk, such as hypersexuality or excessive spending. To meet the definition for a manic episode, these behaviors must impair the individual’s ability to socialize or work. If untreated, a manic episode usually lasts three to six months.

People with hypomania or mania may experience a decreased need of sleep, speak excessively in addition to speaking rapidly, and impaired judgment. Manic individuals often have a history of substance abuse developed over years as a form of “self-medication”. At the more extreme, a person in a full blown manic state can experience psychosis; a break with reality, a state in which thinking is affected along with mood. They may feel unstoppable, or as if they have been “chosen” and are on a “special mission”, or have other grandiose or delusional ideas. This may lead to violent behavior and, sometimes, hospitalization in an inpatient psychiatric hospital.

The onset of a manic (or depressive) episode is often foreshadowed by sleep disturbances. Mood changes, psychomotor and appetite changes, and an increase in anxiety can also occur up to three weeks before a manic episode develops.

The infinite loop of Mania involves an inability to escape from asymptotically increasing energy, creativity, positivity, and sometimes sexuality. You may have heard of hypomania – “hypo” being the same prefix that means under used in hypodermic needles (under the skin), so basically “under mania” – which falls somewhere between normal functioning and a full-blown manic episode. Unlike mania, hypomania can (and often is) almost a higher form of functioning, as explained in the already-cited Bipolar wiki:

Hypomania is the milder form of mania, defined as at least four days of the same criteria as mania, but does not cause a significant decrease in the individual’s ability to socialize or work, lacks psychotic features such as delusions or hallucinations, and does not require psychiatric hospitalization. Overall functioning may actually increase during episodes of hypomania and is thought to serve as a defense mechanism against depression by some. Hypomanic episodes rarely progress to full blown manic episodes. Some people who experience hypomania show increased creativity while others are irritable or demonstrate poor judgment. [Ibid.][Emphasis added]

One of the key differences between hypomania and mania is the loss of the ability to retain a rational self-awareness of one’s own behavior. That is, as one crosses the threshold from “under manic” to truly manic, one doesn’t experience any tangible change in one’s sense of rationality – the extreme and bizarre behaviors and speech that accompany mania very much depend on the person’s literal inability to recognize how outrageous they are acting.

For me personally (and many others with Bipolar disorder type 1), the terminus of a manic episode is a euphoric, almost orgasmic messianic union with the Truth, or the true nature of ourselves and the purpose of existence, god, etc. It is, essentially, riding manic infinity till its end (a hard thing to describe with words, as it seems paradoxical or self-refuting). It’s also important to note that mania isn’t the same for everyone, and is influenced a great deal by preexisting behavioral traits, beliefs, culture, and experience that vary between persons with bipolar as much as they do between normies. As mentioned, I have certainly come across plenty of people diagnosed with Bipolar disorder whose manic experiences were nearly identical to my own (including a gentleman from Saudi Arabia who, if you substitute Muhammad and Allah for Jesus and God, went through the exact same narrative arc as I did), but I’ve also come across (and at times directly intervened in) manic episodes that were quite different than my own. A teenage girl in California’s mania is going to have experiential and cultural constraints that differ in many ways from, say, A Tibetan octogenarian monk in the Himalayas’ mania.

Mania is insidious as an infinite loop because there is no way in hell you want to get out of it. The above meme is funny, but also dead on the mark – mania is, simply put, the best possible feeling in the world. Whereas in hypomanic states one can have elevated self-esteem for legitimate reasons because of actual performance enhancement, the infinity that occurs in full-blown mania is caused by a complete and utter confidence in any and everything you say, think, or do.

Think about that for a second – particularly you normies – imagine, if you will, that your brain just stopped holding you accountable and, in conjunction with a very-much cocaine-like high, at once and for a significant time you had a) limitless energy, b) limitless confidence, and c) god-like immunity to negative comments or arguments against your ability or sanity.

Mania becomes an infinite loop when one loses all restraints as much as gains tons of energy; in fact, from my experience I would say the latter is predicated on and a product of the former.

So – as promised by the title of this article – how do you get out of this insidious manic episode, particularly when it feels so lets-go-hunt-bears-with-spears awesome?

As with all three of these mental states (Mania, Depression, Mixed), first keep in mind that there is a point of no return; that once you’re fully gone, you’re fully gone, and you’re only getting out of it through the intervention (for better or worse) of something or someone outside of yourself – and probably by force, against your will. So the key is to pay attention to what’s going on inside you, how it’s affected by what’s going on outside and around you, how the two interrelate, and what works for you as an individual.

THE FOUR STEPS TO PIMPING YOURSELF OUT OF A MANIC EPISODE

PAY ATTENTION – Keep tabs as a habit both internally and externally so you feel a manic episode coming on before it becomes full-blown.

Once that (horrendously difficult to master) skill is developed, the best way to break a manic episode on your own is to identify the specific thoughts and/or triggers that are causing the mood swell.  Did you forget to take your meds or did you self-medicate (alcohol, marijuana etc.)? Do you have a legitimate reason to be excited, and if so, is your excitement in appropriate proportion? Would a trusted friend or support give you the same analysis as you’re giving yourself?

IDENTIFY – Identify the specific factors that are contributing to your rise in mood.

Now that you are exercising your baseline (you’ve been paying attention, right?) as a referent and have identified the specific factors contributing to your mood swell, it’s time to take action. In conjunction with paying attention to your normal behavior and stimuli, you will also pay attention to tracking and analyzing what self-management skills work the best for you. While you (speaking from personal experience) won’t be an expert immediately at shutting down a manic infinite loop, you will with practice – like anything else – get better. Maybe it’s time to take a break, peel yourself away from the current activity, stop watching politics or the news, pass on the next beer or the next hit, stop staring at the blue backlight of your cell phone…

MANAGE – Take action by implementing the self-management skills you have paid attention to, identified, and used with success.

Hopefully this takes you to a lower, more stable state. But, in being realistic, sometimes you’re just not going to be able to shut it down. At this point that lurking temptation to let go starts getting a little too antsy to fight. Again, by utilizing the first three steps you can also identify the internal sensory experience of nearing the Rubicon. If you feel this coming and start to think you won’t be able to stop it, it’s time – for your own sake and those around you – to take final preventative action. It’s time to D-up like a football team and place yourself in a bend-but-don’t-break safety net.

PREVENT – Take the necessary actions, from making a call to a trusted support up to and including going to the hospital; exercise with your last remaining free will the choice to place yourself in a safe environment from which you can’t unleash your mania.

P-I-M-P, or PAY ATTENTION, IDENTIFY, MANAGE, PREVENT – I hate corny mnemonic devices as much as the next person, but having no plan whatsoever is how you end up running naked down the street to the quad.

THE INFINITE LOOP OF DEPRESSION

As with the perversion of post-modernism, Depression often entails a healthy dose of gallows humor.
As with the perversion of post-modernism, Depression often entails a healthy dose of gallows humor.

This infinite loop works much like mania, except it takes you in the complete, diametrically opposite direction in terms of mood. Instead of being sky-high-confident-bear-slayer happy, you become abyss-starting-back-slice-my-wrists suicidal. Also like mania, it’s important to remember that this is your head doing this to you, and it’s going to become indistinguishable from legitimate low mood due to your inability to maintain an accurate internal barometer with regards to your rationality.

Symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder include persistent feelings of sadness, irritability or anger, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, excessive or inappropriate guilt, hopelessness, sleeping too much or not enough, changes in appetite and/or weight, fatigue, problems concentrating, self-loathing or feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicidal ideation. In severe cases, the individual may develop symptoms of psychosis, a condition also known as severe bipolar disorder with psychotic features. These symptoms include delusions and hallucinations. A major depressive episode persists for at least two weeks, and may result in suicide if left untreated. [Ibid.]

Chill broski/siski – you’re in luck, you can P.I.M.P. yourself out of a depressive episode just as easily (which by now ought to be understood as ‘with extreme difficulty through rigorous practice’) as you can during a manic episode.

THE FOUR STEPS TO PIMPING YOURSELF OUT OF A DEPRESSIVE EPISODE

PAY ATTENTION – Keep tabs as a habit both internally and externally so you feel a depressive episode coming on before it becomes full-blown.

Signs of depression (mentioned also in the above citation) are easy to extract in retrospect. It’s important to note that early on in the Bipolar life adventure, most of the work in controlling depression (and other types of episodes) has to happen after the fact. But, by paying attention, you can begin to notice them as they happen, thus earning your first merit badge on the road to becoming a Buddha-level PIMP.

IDENTIFY – Identify the specific factors that are contributing to your fall in mood.

Use your shitty experiences and the fortunate human advantage of long term memory to forgive yourself and turn your past depressive episodes into pedagogical tools. Some major warning signs for me personally include increased sleep, decreased energy and interest, increased time spent focusing on shit that pisses me off (news, politics), too much blue light (phone, TV) when I’m laying down to sleep, zero libido, and suicidal ideation that evolves into specific plans.

MANAGE – Take action by implementing the self-management skills you have paid attention to, identified, and used with success.

Stabilize through your most efficacious learned techniques. Again, in being realistic, sometimes you’re just not going to be able to pull it off. In reverse of mania, that lurking temptation to let go manifests as serious, might-actually-happen suicidal ideation and/or self-harm. The Depressive Rubicon so too can be identified and dealt with by paying attention to and identifying your personal depressive threshold. If you feel this coming and start to think you won’t be able to stop it, it’s time – for your own sake and those around you – to take final preventative action. It’s time to D-up like a football team and place yourself in a bend-but-don’t-break safety net.

PREVENT – Take the necessary actions, from making a call to a trusted support up to and including going to the hospital; exercise with your last remaining free will the choice to place yourself in a safe environment from which you can’t fall victim to your depression.

Get to the hospital, be honest about your suicidal ideation, expect the inevitable pre-admission wave of wanting to leave, ask for some Atavan, and ride it out. Remember (even though you won’t care at the time) that you’ll be feeling better in a matter of days, and you needed a break anyway.

THE INFINITE LOOP OF MIXED EPISODES

The best actors play a mix of roles.
The best actors play a mix of roles.

Mixed episodes, also known as mixed affective episodes or mixed affective states, are described as follows:

In bipolar disorder, a mixed state is a condition during which symptoms of both mania and depression occur simultaneously. Individuals experiencing a mixed state may have manic symptoms such as grandiose thoughts while simultaneously experiencing depressive symptoms such as excessive guilt or feeling suicidal. Mixed states are considered to be high-risk for suicidal behavior since depressive emotions such as hopelessness are often paired with mood swings or difficulties with impulse control. Anxiety disorder occurs more frequently as a comorbidity in mixed bipolar episodes than in non-mixed bipolar depression or mania. Substance abuse (including alcohol) also follows this trend, thereby appearing to depict bipolar symptoms as no more than a consequence of substance abuse. [Ibid.]

Speaking once more from personal experience (more because it’s the only experience whose facts I can personally validate as opposed to having some kind of personal importance), mixed episodes are the worst of three types of Bipolar “infinte loops.” In conversing with normies I often define them as having ‘the high energy of mania mixed with the darkness and violence of depression.’ Though Wikipedia (above) states that this is a high-suicide-risk state, I’ve always felt it as more of a high-homicide or more generally high-outward-violence state, though I can vouch for the anxiety and substance abuse (the latter being a result of the former, in my case).

Mixed episodes are god-awful inner maelstroms; on the one hand you can not stop, in the most general sense – pacing, moving, working, thinking, and so on (read: infinite loop a la mania). At the same time you get the hellish evil darkness and impending sense of doom or hopelessness that comes with depression, though for me it tends to be more outwardly-directed. What I mean by this is, instead of (as with depression) finding myself at fault for the disgusting state of my environment or my individual condition, I find myself laying blame or passing judgement on others – I become a whiner, or a “hater,” with a ready willingness to exact what in the moment feels like justified vengeance. The difference from the messianic feelings that can accompany mania is that I care for neither what damage might be done to others, or what damage might be done to myself. Perhaps the Leonidas meme would be better purposed in this section.

Mixed episodes are almost a double-infinite loop (transfinite loop?), the two playing off each other in what to me sometimes seems double-helical, or black hole-ish – a sucking, caving-in sensation with a side of gravitationally accelerating collapse.

THE FOUR STEPS TO PIMPING YOURSELF OUT OF A MIXED EPISODE

PAY ATTENTION – Keep tabs as a habit both internally and externally so you feel a mixed episode coming on before it becomes full-blown.

Here you can apply what you’ve learned about your personal signs of both mania and depression, which prior to mastering the first step of PIMPing must be gleaned from memory retrospectively.

IDENTIFY – Identify the specific factors that are contributing to your oscillation in mood.

Though mixed episodes are described as “simultaneous” elements of mania and depression, most of them are actually rapid oscillations or flux between polar extremes. Unfortunately the time scale at which this happens can become so infinitesimal (see what I did there?) that it feels simultaneous; in my experience the only co-occuring “simultaneous” combination is high energy and dark ideation. Some factors to look for are homicidal thoughts, nihilistic or misanthropic thoughts and behaviors, and berserker-like rage.

MANAGE – Take action by implementing the self-management skills you have paid attention to, identified, and used with success.

Stabilize using your learned techniques. Remind yourself you might not be able to handle the episode, and be honest with yourself regarding whether you might need to move to the last step of PIMPing.

PREVENT – Take the necessary actions, from making a call to a trusted support up to and including going to the hospital; exercise with your last remaining free will the choice to place yourself in a safe environment from which you can’t fall victim to your depression.

Take mixed episodes seriously, maybe even more seriously then the two classic Bipolar mood swings. These are the episodes during which you might hurt other innocent people. Get to the hospital and be honest. If you have huge reservations about outing yourself as having homicidal thoughts, remember the CBTN network and plenty of people are present, interested, and ready to help without judgement. If that’s the one stigma that’s making it hard to get help, and you really know you need it, admit yourself for suicidal ideation – because homicidal behavior is very much suicide, whether literally or figuratively. I encourage you to be a truthful as possible, but if you know you need it, I and everyone else would rather you hide behind a lie and ensure everyone (including yourself) is safe than choke on pride before the fall.

So there you go – a brief introduction to the three main “infinite loops” of Bipolar disorder:

  1. Mania

  2. Depression

  3. Mixed Episodes

And how to PIMP yourself out of them:

PAY ATTENTION

IDENTIFY

MANAGE

PREVENT

Good luck in your future PIMPing, and remember, your homeboy John and homegirl Randi would love to hear your thoughts or help you out if we can, especially if you’re willing to join us in the CBTN forum or contribute an article of your own.

Good luck fam!
Good luck fam!

Cheers!

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One thought on “How To PIMP Your Way Out Of The Three “Infinite Loops” of Bipolar

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