Episode 249 – BIPOLAR DISORDER: A Jungian Perspective

Jan 19, 2023

Photo Credit: Joseph Lee 2023

Imprisoned by the sea with his son Icarus, mythological craftsman Daedalus constructed wings to escape. Beeswax held feathers in place, so Daedalus told Icarus not to fly too high or too low: the sun’s heat would melt the wax and sea spray would weigh the wings down. Elated, Icarus flew too high–and fell. Like Icarus, the moods of people with bipolar disorder swing from soaring into mania to sinking into depression.

This disorder affects at least 2% of the population worldwide, with genetics by far the major contributor. BP is a major cause of disability and can also be a factor in creativity; it often brings with it anxiety, substance abuse, migraines, and more. Treatment includes medication, attention to lifestyle, and psychotherapy that includes relating to archetypal polarities.

Jung says, “It is not a matter of indifference whether one calls something a ‘mania’ or a ‘god.’ To serve a mania is detestable and undignified, but to serve a god is full of meaning and promise.”  Bipolar individuals soar between opposing archetypes leaving them exhausted and confused. Myths help ground the ego in a larger perspective.

Here’s the dream we analyze:

“I am in a restaurant busy with people standing and moving around. I too am standing and have been given a seafood dish in an opaque glass (at first like a fancy stemmed glass for cocktail shrimp) and I slurp some of it down. Looking into the vessel I realize I’ve been eating raw seahorses. I continue to eat, one and then another, not wanting to be rude. They are slimy, room-temp, and gray. I look again into the vessel, which now is narrow at the top and wide at the bottom as if the seahorses, barely submerged in a grey liquid, are in a dark pit that I have to peer into, and I do realize that some of them are still moving, puckering their lips trying to breathe. I decide I cannot keep eating them. I go to where murky puddles have formed in the cement by the melting ice and crab parts of the kitchen’s seafood prep. I assume the puddles to be brackish, or at least can provide a more bearable end of life for the seahorses, so I throw them in by flicking the glass. There are still more seahorses stuck to the bottom of the glass, my flicking hindered by its strange shape. People are standing and talking around the puddles now, so it’s discreetly that I quickly flick the rest of the seahorses out, not wanting to be seen doing it and not wanting the seahorses to be seen in the puddles.” 


Buzz Aldrin. Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon. https://a.co/d/j1IQZID

Jason Thompson. A Jungian Approach to Bipolar Disorder: Rejoining the Split Archetype. https://a.co/d/fZS821Y

Kay Redfield Jamison (multiple books): An Unquiet Mind; Manic-Depressive Illness; Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament; Exuberance: The Passion for Life. 

S-town podcast. https://stownpodcast.org/

Werner Herzog (film). Grizzly Man. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grizzly_Man


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1 Comment

  1. Simcha

    Thank you for this episode which raised a question, which I hope is not redundant, nor too complicated.

    My question comes from Joseph’s closing remarks about the Jungian contribution to bipolar disorder (including his nod to Deb’s earlier reference to the transcendental function, at about 40:00).

    How do you know if you are getting closer to the Self or to an Archetype? To individuation or to archetype possession?


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