Her parents, she said, has put a pinball machine inside her head when she was five years old. The red balls told her when she should laugh, the blue ones when she should be silent and keep away from other people; the green balls told her that she should start multiplying by three. Every few days a silver ball would make its way through the pins of the machine. At this point her head turned and she stared at me; I assumed she was checking to see if I was still listening. I was, of course. How could one not? The whole thing was bizarre but riveting. I asked her, What does the silver ball mean? She looked at me intently, and then everything went dead in her eyes. She stared off into space, caught up in some internal world. I never found out what the silver ball meant.
There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you're high it's tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one's marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friends' faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against-- you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.
Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it, an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide.