Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.  (Psalm 139)


Time will pass; this mood will pass; and I will, eventually, be myself again. But then, at some unknown time, the electrifying carnival will come back into my mind. ― Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

It’s been over a year now since I met the woman I love, the one who will be my life partner until death do us part. I’d like to say this joyous relationship has resulted in complete happiness, emotional balance, complete contentment. But I would be lying. The truth is that my mood states have been cycling as rapidly, if not more so. My highs are higher and while my lows have not been as low, they cause me more misery, with guilt heaped on top that I should be grateful for such blessings as I have.

There is something woefully wrong with the term “bipolar disorder.” It implies only that we swing from highs to lows. It fails to capture the times when both mania and depression attack our psyche and together leave us run over and ragged. When I am in such “mixed states” my gut is wrenched both by pangs of sadness and the sense that I need nothing to sustain me. My chest burns with fear as well as the feeling that I have the power to create and destroy. My mind is distorted by racing thoughts with no form and I easily become agitated when others can’t make sense for me.

And, worst of all — I am mean. Mean as hell, especially to those I most love.

Of all the states of manic-depression, this is the most painful to myself and damaging to my relationships. I feel trapped in aloneness. But I am not alone. Hear what others say about their experience of mixed states*:


Gracie: One minute you’re full of energy, cleaning the house, feeling great about life, having some great ideas, getting your excitement back. Then the next, [you’re] about to cry and over-emotional for no reason, so lost in life you don’t know where you’re going [or] how you’re feeling, just that you’re not feeling good at all, feeling like you’ve not slept in weeks, irritated beyond belief by anything and everything. I get extremely agitated. I’m very short with people. Even the smallest things can set off my anxiety. I’m quick to snap when I’m in a mixed state, because my mind and body are so confused.

Joey: A text message could burst my entire day into flames and I can’t see any of the good that happens. And then if I ask for help, it’s like my mind doesn’t want it, and I flip out on whoever I was asking.

Emma: You want your significant other there to hug you and hold you and tell you it’s going to be ok but at the same time the idea of someone touching you makes your skin crawl.


So, if you have a loved one trapped in a mixed state, what can you do to help? Here are three things you can try:


1) Be there, but not too close.

My wife Susan had a co-worker who called this “Mama Cow Syndrome.” Calves want space to roam, but would be desperate if their mamas were to let them out of sight. Singer-writer Lucinda Williams puts it this way in “Side of the Road.”

Let me go and stand awhile / I want to know you’re there, but I want to be alone.

When I am in a mixed state, I need at least triple the amount of psychic space as I normally do. I am fine to be in the same room with others, but I do much better if I can be absorbed in a writing project, working on my finances, or listening to a podcast. If someone tries to engage me, I become agitated, irritable, even abrasive. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the state I’m in. Stronger than this, though, it’s a state I’m trapped in and know no way to get out of.


2) Put safety first.

When someone is emotional intense with you. You need to do what you need to do to stay safe. Sometimes this means cutting off contact until things settle down. For far too long, women have endured abusive relationships in part because they are afraid their husbands will do harm to themselves or others. They count themselves responsible to carry the emotional weight of the relationship. This does damage not only to them, but to their partners whose emotions are out of control.

When I am in a mixed state, one thing that makes me more anxious and can elevate my mixed state is when people act afraid to be around me. The thing that most settles me down is when someone points out that my behavior is extreme and that they will not put up with it, that they won’t let me bring them down. Something like:

I’m here for you, but I don’t deserve how you are treating me right now.

3)  Help them float beside you, not desperately drown you.

When you are trying to save a person who is drowning, don’t let them drown you in the process. If they pull you under in their desperation, you must let them go for a while, essentially let them continue to drown until they will stop fighting and let you save them. The same is true for someone who is drowning emotionally. When their desperation becomes destructive to your saving efforts, let them go until they are ready to receive help.

I am so grateful for persons who have saved me from drowning in despair as well as left me alone when I was insistent on damaging myself and others. With God’s help, I will always come to the point where I have been able to swim. Said better, I have come to hold onto the hand of Christ’s who leads me to safely to shore.