A million miles a minute — Hummingbirds, mania, and empathy

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I bought a hummingbird feeder recently and I’m really enjoying it. When I don’t have enough energy to get out of my chair or enough motivation to save the world, it warms my heart to give these little guys with the manic wings some sugar water and the chance to take a load off.

There are a lot of hummingbird feeders that allow you to watch them as they simultaneously flutter their wings a million miles a minute and dip their long beaks into the sugar water. Click on this picture to see the video associated with picture on YouTube.

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All I could think watching this video  was “Sorry, Mr. hummingbird, you’re have to flutter for your supper, while we watch.” Do the people who have this type of feeder have any empathy for these beautiful creatures? Of course they “love” their hummingbirds because by using these feeders they can see their beauty up close. But is there any compassion for the difficulties this bird has in getting a little nourishment? This little guy is doing the hummingbird equivalent of rubbing its belly and patting its head at the same time – beating its wings into a froth in order to get a tiny bit of sugar water (while its doting human fans look on?)

One frame from the video on Youtube showing a hummingbird feeding

One frame from the video on Youtube

I empathize with these hummingbirds. I have fluttered my wings a million miles a minute, although when I did it it was to ill effect. In my first manic episode I had so many ideas streaming through my mind that I found a blank book and just wrote them down line after line, page after page, without ceasing. In another manic episodes I went without sleep for 10 days, too busy to sleep and enjoying the adrenaline rush. Saving the world, as I recall. Technically I do not believe that you can go without sleep for 10 days — after a while you have waking sleep with little micro naps when you’re not looking. In a different manic episode I was so excited about the ideas pouring through my brain that I kept my husband awake all night, telling him stories. In that manic episode eventually I became convinced that I was God, although in my tour as God I did not work at a frantic, blurred pace. Once I believed that I was God I felt magnanimous and slowed down a bit.

Back to real time. Although I realize that the speed of hummingbird wings is their modus operandi, I still empathize with being too speedy and the opportunity to take a break. So I chose to buy a feeder where they can sit quietly, dipping their beaks into the syrup and resting awhile.

At first I hung the feeder, human height, where I could see it better. But they did not like it. It is possible I was changing too many variables at once, the fact that they did not come may have just indicated they were getting used to the new feeder. Then I asked myself, “Who is this for, me or these hummingbirds?” So I hung it again, this time as high up as I could and refill it from a chair. I chose a spot that was protected and dry, where they might feel least threatened. This reminded me of the easiest way to create a manic episode. The fastest way to induce a manic episode (in someone wired that way) is to seriously threaten them. These wee birds are already flying their hearts out, I don’t want to threaten them.

When I ask myself if there are any spiritual lessons I am learning from my experience with bipolar disorder the one that always floats up to the top is empathy. When I began this life I confess that empathy was not part of my skill set. Raised in a family with developmentally disabled emotional intelligence did not help, although we kicked butt on the SATs. But my experience has been that, if you’re paying attention, empathy can be gleaned from all of the life experiences that accompany bipolar disorder.

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This is a typical view of a hummingbird visiting my feeder. Although they are feeding, they are very alert, and leave after 20-30 seconds.

It’s been a couple months and I have some regulars, sometimes 30+ a day. Apparently that little area of my back porch is now officially hummingbird territory. When I am on the porch, if a hummingbird begins to dive toward the feeder and then sees me,  they give a relatively large squawk, turn tail and humm away. The message is clearly that I am not supposed to be there. Apparently that is not the negotiated agreement at this point. Must’ve missed the memo. In contrast, they’re totally cool now with my big dog on the porch (that did take a while).

I knew little of their life or habits — no red dye in the syrup, a few things like that — but I’m learning. Sometimes I hit the Internet, where there are some wonderful websites, but mostly I learn by observing. This little fellow actually stayed for over five minutes today, chilling on his red perch, looking out of the trees. I feel blessed by that. He was the inspiration for this article. I think that I’m going to call him Zen. 

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Comparison photo #2 – Mr. Zen

[ Apologies for the horrid quality of these photographs. Without a camera, in order not to disturb this fellow I’m 20 feet away, behind a glass door, using my phone.  Even so the difference in body language between the two photographs is clear, even for a non-avian.]

[ Second set of apologies for people who actually own the hummingbird feeders pictured above. After I wrote this I thought, empathic toward whom? I guess not toward hummingbird feeder owners. I am certain that you care about hummingbirds, we just have a difference of opinion.]

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