The Post-Escalation Depressive Crash and What It Means to You

I was recently asked if I could find a decent article on the Depression one can experience after a person with Bipolar Disorder crashes out of an escalation. I couldn’t find one that I was satisfied with or that addressed this matter specifically, so here we are.

About the Post-Escalation Crash

Bipolar Disorder is characterized by the mood cycles it gives us. We go up, we go down. Right? Right.

An escalated cycle (mania or hypomania) is like putting our mind into overdrive for as long as we are escalated. Sooner or later, that cycle will end. The Bipolar mind typically snaps back hard into Depression because it has been in such a severe state of overdrive for the duration of that cycle.

How severe is it? Typically, it will be a far worse and deeper depression than we normally experience. In my case specifically, I go from being reasonably intelligent to not being able to do basic math in my head. The thoughts just aren’t there. I never drive in a post-escalation crash period because my mind won’t connect thoughts and actions. As an example…

My mind crashed out of an escalated cycle while driving once. I was escalated one minute and cratered into severe depression the next. I almost ended up rear-ending someone because my brain ceased to do what it is supposed to do. Consider the process required for braking.

1. The person ahead applies brakes and their brake lights come on.

2. Your brain sees the brake lights.

3. Your brain associates the brake lights of the car ahead with a need to stop.

4. Your brain sends the signal to your legs to apply the brake pedal.

That all happens in the span of a second or two. It’s just habit for people that drive on a regular basis.

Now consider what might happen if you insert 3-15 seconds of brain lag between each of those steps with no guarantee that your brain will connect the dots properly. Consider what might happen if your brain doesn’t pull the correct information about the scenario. “What are those lights for?” “I can’t remember which one is the brake pedal!” “That car is slowing down! What do I do?!”

The Difference Between a Crash and a Depressive Cycle

I want to preface this section by noting that this is heavily opinion and theory based on my interpretation of facts. Take it with a grain of salt.

I’ve met many people who feel that this deep crash is another type of cycle. I don’t believe this to be the case and there’s no real support for that belief, that I know of, other than the person having Bipolar Disorder and the low being depression. I don’t believe it to be a cycle of its own because it is often temporary. In most of the examples I’ve seen in myself and in the several people with Bipolar Disorder I interact with on a regular basis, it’s not unusual for the person to crash hard and then float back to their normal.

The crash is just different. It just feels and functions different than what my depression normally gives me. And it does the same thing in numerous other Bipolar people that I’ve been around. It can be frightening and intimidating, which is made worse by the depression, because we’re not used to it.

The other problem is that people who have been dealing with this for a long time often get used to how Bipolar Disorder affects them. “Well, my depression has done this for 30 years. Why would it change now?” It changes because Bipolar Disorder often gets worse with age, so it changes the way things can happen in your brain in addition to whatever other influences are at work such as stress, medication, general life situations, and more.

So, if you haven’t ever experienced it before and you suddenly are, it’s not unusual.

How do we deal with it?

As always, talk to your mental health professionals first and foremost. Communicate with them about what is going on, particularly if it persists for longer than a few weeks. In my personal experience and with other Bipolar people I’ve been around, it usually doesn’t take longer than 2 or 3 weeks to recover. If it takes longer than that, it’s very likely that a medication may need adjusted or added.

The “natural control” crowd often doesn’t want to hear that, particularly if they are in the camp of Bipolar people who aren’t so severe that they can manage with very little medical oversight. But the fallout from this type of cycle can be far, far more severe than what natural management practices can handle.

First, I would recommend revisiting the way that you look at a dominant escalated cycle. A lot of people look at it like this…

maniabelief

When really it looks more like this…

maniareality

We need to account for he possibility of that extremely deep crash. We need to have a strategy for dealing with that as well.

Rest is an important part of recovery, in my personal experience and with many of the people I interact with on a regular basis.  A lot of times I’ll sleep 12-16 hours a day for about a week after I crash and then my brain will rebalance.

Sometimes, patience is the only way you can handle these things.

But, as previously mentioned, involve your mental health professionals as much as possible so they can look at your situation specifically. If it’s lasting more than a couple weeks, we may need a medication adjustment to pull us back towards our normal baseline.

A Theory About Post-Crash Depression and Suicide

Again, pointing out that this is just a theory based on my interpretation of facts and I have no way to substantiate it. I strongly suspect that a post-manic crash is when a majority of suicide attempts driven by Bipolar Disorder occur.

Consider the following.

Ben is well and balanced for years. His body becomes acclimated to the medication and he triggers into a manic cycle that he doesn’t identify because he doesn’t realize that medication efficiency doesn’t last forever. He goes from loving husband and father to manic monster over the course of a couple weeks, unloading verbal and emotional abuse on his family until he finally decides that his family is the source of all of his misery and walks out.

He quits his career, something he went to college for, to pursue his “lifelong dream” of being a rock star even though he hasn’t picked up an instrument in 20 years, shacks up with some random woman he met, files for a divorce, and tears his life to pieces as his brain is screaming through mania.

About a year later, the manic cycle comes screeching to a halt. Ben crashes hard into depression. His mind is no longer plagued by the delusional emotions and thoughts of mania. The love for his family is back, in full force, with the knowledge of what he did to them. Everything he’s built in his career is in shambles. None of the emotions he had for this random woman are present anymore. She becomes collateral damage in the cycle because Ben probably related his delusional thoughts and feelings about his family to her. And many people in her position are convinced by the “passion” and emotional instability a person like Ben is projecting; when in reality he’s just projecting manic delusion.

And he’s in the process of being divorced from the woman he wanted to spend his life with.

On top of all of that, now he has a severe, deep depression which is an entirely new experience; a depression that he is not used to navigating. And Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar-depression, is whispering in his mind on a nearly constant basis about how badly he fucked up. Delusional, incorrect thoughts and feelings plague his mind while he is drowning in the depression with all of the lies it likes to tell us. “It’s hopeless, it’s pointless. You’ve lost everything. You’ll never be able to fix this.”

What’s left for Ben? He’s burned the bridges to the people he cares about. Hopefully, he would reach out to an emergency service or his doctor. But I’m certain plenty of people do not. I think that this time period, when a Bipolar person swaps from the “invincibility” of mania to the most fragile emotional state we will ever experience, is the most likely time that we will decide we’re done with this ride.

What can we do about it?

The only solution I can think of is to plant a seed that will hopefully blossom after they crash. I would say something to the effect of, “If ever there comes a time when you realize how awful you’ve been acting, please reach out to me so we can get you help.” And that may be a real hard thing to do with someone whose brain is screaming through insanity with all of the chaos and misery that goes along with it. Hopefully, they will remember that when their brain finally crashes out and know that they can reach out instead of seeing suicide as the only option left.

That does not mean you make them promises or welcome them back with open arms or anything. Every situation is different. Every person has limits on what they are able to deal with. But, many of the people that are faced with this decision are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, spouses; and so on. It could be the difference between just a serious life change versus needing to explain to the kids why their parent is gone. And if they do reach out, get them in touch with an organization that can help at-risk, in-crisis people that serves your area. In the United States that would be the National Suicide Crisis LifeLine 800-273-TALK (8255) and their site also has a chat contact option, which may be good for some.

How will I know if a toxic person is just trying to manipulate me?

Given that most of the people dealing with this will know the Bipolar person very well personally, you’ll know. It’s a night and day difference. Just pay attention to ensure they are acting on trying to get help. Don’t promise that they can come home or that there won’t be repercussions. Don’t promise to forgive and definitely don’t forget. Just focus on getting that person in contact with people that can help them.

And finally…

I want to take a final moment to point out that this article specifically points at a dominant escalated cycle and the subsequent ending of it, not general instability or Rapid Cycling. I’ve known Bipolar people who never really had extremely deep lows and highs. This information may not be 100% applicable to each of us specifically. Nothing is when you’re dealing with mental illness. If you’re in doubt, talk to your mental health professional. If this resonates with you, feel free to let your professional read this, get their thoughts on it, and develop a strategy for dealing with it that makes sense for YOU.

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10 Responses to The Post-Escalation Depressive Crash and What It Means to You

  1. Dee says:

    Thank you for this. I need to know this.

  2. Lisa says:

    I have lived this life for the last two years. My husband of 19 years had a trigger from his mother’s illness and death. He had a gastric bypass, and his mental stability is gone. He is self medicating with alcohol. His gastric bypass, altered the rate of absorption and he is lost in his own mind. He moved in with an old girlfriend, has had 6 jobs in 1 1/2 years, regressed to high school. Moved back to his hometown. I understand that the alcohol extends the episode. Will he really crash and come home to us? Or is that wishful thinking. There is only so many times a person can take rejection. He has agreed to take the genetic test if I agree to sign divorce papers. Does anyone else question themselves as to whether they are right about mental illness being the root of the problem or if they just don’t want you and your children and instead want the new life they have forged for themselves.

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Lisa. It sounds like the situation is far more complex than just a manic cycle. Substance abuse is another wrench in the works altogether which complicates matters severely. Yes, it is possible that he wants that new life. It’s also possible that he’s lost in his mental illness. In situations like yours, there isn’t often neat or clean answers. Even if he did take a genetic test, it wouldn’t mean much if he just says, “Okay so I am. So what?” And then refuses to do anything about it. If it’s okay with you, do you mind if I email you so we can discuss what you’re going through a bit more in-depth? I note you’ve previously posted, but unfortunately I don’t have an effective way to search my blog for past history posts.

      • Lisa says:

        Yes I would be happy to discuss this with you. I have gotten to the point that I have tried every possibility there is to get him help but nothing I try has been any help. I am very frustrated with the way mental illness is handled. This has cost extreme things including money in our lives. But the biggest loss to him was our children that he adored and now can’t even contact them. Now my children are dealing with abandonment issues which just continues the circle when his bipolar father walked out on him. Something that he never got over. And had a step father that was a drunk something he never thought he would be. He never drank and always took his pills and went to counciling. Now he has become a copy of both of them.

  3. Skittles says:

    Thank you for this well thought out, very properly described and easily legible/relate-able article. My spouse has these cycles and it’s sometimes hard for me to fully understand requiring me to sometimes step back for a while and re-analyze multiple times what just happened. My father is manic depressive/Bipolar Type 1 so I’m used to seeing manias throughout my life and it helped me prepare for my spouse, or so my spouse affectionately says hahaha. Spouse is Type 2 so it’s hard to really grasp what’s going on when he’s having outbursts and reacting in ways that I know aren’t him, but at the same time ways I’m not fully familiar with (due to Type 2, he doesn’t get the manias I’m familiar with although there are some similarities in the outbursts – just the hyperactivity & jollity that goes along with the words/actions aren’t present, just the focused/intense energy if that makes sense).

    This article really helped me understand that my beliefs on what had been going on during and after the most recent outburst truly were the disease (as I suspected with the brutal 13H crash about 24hrs after symptoms clearly flared up). I am very thankful to have come across this as I’ve been trying to comprehend the severe crash that I’ve seen happen a couple times in the last decade after an outburst. It does seem to be part of the cycle, and I fully agree from our experiences as well (and seeing it occur to my father in the exact same crash manner growing up) that it isn’t its own cycle but rather a symptom of burning yourself out from an episode and needing the rest to recuperate. Almost like if a kid has way too much fun at an amusement park they will crash the entire ride home, evening, and fair bit of the following day (perhaps not the best example, but first comparison that comes to mind). This is an excellent article.

    • Dennis says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      Type 2 Bipolar Disorder features hypomania instead of mania. Think of it like “mania-lite”. Many of the same principles for management apply.

      It’s also important to note that not every escalated (mania or hypomania) cycle will end in a clean crash. Quite a few people will just experience a drop and then shift into a new cycle. It just depends on the person and numerous other circumstances that you can’t really quantify without understanding what’s going on in a person’s body and brain chemistry.

      But yes, the post-escalation crash isn’t all that unusual and is often a part of a cycle, but not always.

  4. Sadwife says:

    Hi my bp1 husband left in manic episode I believe after going off his meds . He flew 700 miles overnight to his family and has made me sound bad while manic so they won’t let him come back says we are too toxic together. They won’t believe me is bipolar they think it is all me and I just stress him out . So now he is rapid cycling from what I can tell and listening to them and won’t get back on meds. He says he will love me till the day he dies and really misses me and he’s sorry he is crazy and did this but he wants a divorce because it is too late for us and we just need to move on and have new and better life’s apart because I’ve changed and can’t love him as much as he loves me. Any advice we have been married 12 years and he has been gone 5 weeks! Is this him or his bipolar?

    • Dennis says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      That’s going to be a difficult thing to overcome, especially if he is surrounded by people who don’t believe in mental illness or Bipolar Disorder. The only thing I can really think of is try to steer him to talking to a therapist. If he sees a therapist, they might be able to see and hear what’s going on and help reground him. If he’s unstable and believes that moving away and divorce is the only way, it’s going to be difficult to derail that until he is in a more stable state of mind, which can take awhile since he went off of his meds.

      In the meantime, you should definitely focus on keeping yourself well and healthy. You may want to consider talking to a therapist yourself, to help navigate this difficult circumstance and emotions surrounding it all.

  5. Jon says:

    Just found this article and contributers experiences as have had a side on impact of a bipolar crash, not seen coming.

    The article is really written well and the description of the car and brake lights is spot on, my cognitive abilities break down in a crash, but during ‘normal’ times they’re great (complicated procedural processes, technical IT system designs, micro management of miniscule data), insert the crash and I’m lucky to be able to work out how to recognise things in front of me, decision making goes, ability to think of 2 things at once impossible, processing 1 thing hard.

    The contributers shared information resonates with the state a mind can feel it’s in. I’m sorry that that just on its own doesn’t make the situations better for the pain and mentally exhausting circumstances all are or have been in, but the words shared on here feel like little torch lights between those who experience either bipolar types themselves, or just as importantly those who are so close to someone who experiences the illness, and are trying to make head or tail of what’s happening.

    I send all of you thoughts and wish you can find you’re own versions of energy to persevere, no matter how small the energy is, 1 grain of sand of energy can sometimes help. Thoughts with everyone, take care

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