For the last couple of weeks I have been seriously out of whack. In particular my sleep has been dangerously compromised. Sleep is the number one factor in my bipolar equilibrium It is essential to both getting into and out of balance. And that is not just for me. Over many years spent listening to people with bipolar disorder, I have heard countless times how dangerous a lack of sleep can be. One woman in a DBSA support group (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance), who experienced respectable, psychotic manias, explained numerous times how she could fall into a manic episode after only one night without sleep. For me, I could go somewhat longer, probably two nights without sleep, before courting the inpatient unit on the psych ward.
One of the things that I like most about teaching and writing about a topic is that it affords me the opportunity to explore and learn about the subject matter in greater and oftentimes unrelated detail. When I taught abnormal psychology at university I learned much more about the history, neurochemistry, and creative experience associated with bipolar disorder than I ever had before. And in thinking about this article I explored the definition of equilibrium, the etymology of the phrase “out of whack,” and the culture of bobblehead dolls.
To try to describe my current experience, I began exploring the imagery of bobblehead dolls. From what little I knew about them they seemed to be a useful analogy for my current experience. What I have seen is that when you whack the head of a bobble head doll, it wobbles back and forth. A useful illustration, I thought.
A bobblehead, also known as a nodder, wobbler or bobble head, is a type of collectible toy. Its head is often oversized compared to its body. Instead of a solid connection, its head is connected to the body by a spring or hook in such a way that a light tap will cause the head to bobble, hence the name.
You’re encouraged to mute the volume before playing this video. It is a good example of bobbling, but it is also 30 seconds of fairly obnoxious advertising.
I began with this analogy because it appears to me that it is much easier for someone with a severe case of bipolar disorder, such as myself, to wobble. All animals respond to whack on the head, but some of us more sensitive to a blow, are thrown out of equilibrium more severely, and take longer to return back into balance.
But then, in trying to find a video which illustrates this, I ran into a huge pocket of bobblehead culture with which I was unfamiliar. What I found ranged from videos which use bobbleheads like puppets, to act out stories, to life-size, bobblehead replicas of sports figures. These sports figure look-alike dolls appear to be the modern-day equivalent of honoring war heroes with their statues in the town square.
Apparently for most people bobbleheads are small statuettes that you place on automotive dashboards so that they will bounce cheerfully along while you’re driving. As a pragmatist I have never placed anything on the dashboard or dangled anything from the rearview mirror, because it blocked my ability to see traffic. The fun in placing such a potentially dangerous distraction on my dashboard never appealed to me. Apparently people who do so are willing to compromise their own safety and that of their children for some benefit of which I am unaware.
Now the descent into completely unrelated but politically au courant material
One totally off topic but entertaining roundabout I traveled through in exploring this topic was Hillary Clinton’s indulgence in extreme bobblehead behavior. It is best for me to stay away from politics on this website, I engage in off-topic discussion too much already. But surely it is safe to point out truthful observations. No matter whether you like Hillary, like Trump, or dislike them both intensely (as I do), it’s hard to argue with the fact that Hillary engages in a huge amount of nodding, although the interpretation is somewhat subjective.
A female reporter at CNN reported how frequently Hillary engages in head nodding. If you too have a skeptical nature or outright disbelieve this fact I encourage you to watch this two-minute video. I was skeptical at first, but not after watching it.
I call myself a feminist. No matter what a lightning rod that term may be, all that means is that I believe in equal rights for women (it does not mean that I enjoy angry male bashing). If you look at Hillary’s bobbing from a feminist perspective, you may wonder why a smart, ambitious politician engages in nonverbal behavior that can appear ridiculous and that can be politically undermining.
From a scientific perspective (in which I was trained), this body language begs the question, “Why would such a politically savvy, financially greased woman engage in potentially self-defeating nonverbal behavior?” (Okay, granted, that is not stated in scientific terms.) Are there sociological or psychological reasons for her to do so?
It is in anthropological research about nonverbal body language that I found what appears to be the correct answer. If you are in (or hope to be in) the role of politician, therapist, or feminist, I strongly advise familiarizing yourself with this subject. Desmond Morris wrote some fascinating books about this topic (with lots of photographs! I love those) and he illustrated how humans communicate with one another primarily nonverbally. But the preeminent business magazine Forbes also describes a few important gender differences in body language which can undermine an ambitious female politician’s attempts to make herself appear to be a strong effective leader.
When a man nods, it means he agrees. When a woman nods, it means she agrees–or is listening to, empathizing with or encouraging the speaker to continue. This excessive head nodding can make females look like a bobble-head doll. Constant head nodding can express encouragement and engagement, but not authority and power.
Returning to the subject of this website
In thinking about this article I came up with a new term for my own use to describe bipolar discombobulation. I have also always liked the word “discombobulated,” because it is one of those words which sounds like to me like what it represents. Only slightly different, but integrating the bobblehead doll — “discombobblation.”
For me the analogy between a wobbling bobble head doll and my current state of bipolar discombobulation (apologies, that alliteration was too fun to pass up) arises from the simple physics of a bobblehead. The oversize head to me is analogous to the sometimes seemingly overimportance of the brain in understanding bipolar disorder. This oversized brain is tenuously connected to the body by an unstable spring which creates a sensitivity to whackedness. Because of these out of kilter brains, those of us with bipolar disorder are more sensitive to being whacked into disequilibrium. Whacked. Another word that sounds like what it represents.
Now a true confession by the author. After writing and rereading this article, it is now clear that this article is 95% off-topic and apparently 95% for my own benefit. For very long time and with great reluctance I have had to be scrupulously self observant, in order to recognize when my attitude and behavior are spinning out of control. By rereading this article, I just observed that my recent efforts to regain balance have succeeded, at least in part. That is recognizable because I have engaged in a long, humorous, but (for me) educational detour. Writing like this is a sign that I am doing better. It is when I am silent that I know that this disorder does not go well, and evidence of my sense of humor is always a positive indicator. My hope is that a few others will enjoy it as well.
In the next article I mostly promise to regain seriousness, and to return to the erstwhile subject of this article. I will describe how, yet another damned time, I am attempting to return to some semblance of equilibrium after being seriously out of whack.