Robert Lowell wrote “Mania is a sickness for one’s friends, depression for one’s self.” I used this quote roughly 25 years ago, typing it on the cover of a mixed tape I made for my best friend. On April 11th when my book launched, she showed me the long-forgotten gift.
While I don’t remember giving Susan the quote, as I reread Lowell’s words they made sense to me in a way I doubt they did all those years ago. While I can’t speak for the poet, or truly know what those lines meant to him, I can say that a couple of times when I was manic, I thought about my high school and college friends a lot. We had moved around extensively during my 30s, living in a total of four states. I lost touch with several friends, and it wasn’t until I found myself moored back in Bloomington, Indiana, that I reconnected in any meaningful way with some of them.
During these manic episodes, I would set up a euchre game, convinced they were about to show up at our house. Other times I’d step out on our back deck and listen for the hum of airplanes overhead or the whistles from nearby trains, feeling certain they were delivering friends to see me.
In depressive episodes my friends were also important. I had missed my own self just like Lowell wrote, and I also missed the ability to laugh, create, and move forward with pursuits. I’d call my girlfriends, but wouldn’t have much to say, and yet having them there on the other end of the phone gave me comfort.
While the famous writer’s quote doesn’t end there, I could add to it, something like, “Mania is a sickness for one’s friends, depression for one’s self. Many thanks to my friends for allowing me to find my way back, and being there for me when I did.”