Jungle Boy
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Jungle Boy
by Diane MacKenzie


My son often calls himself a "Jungle Boy.' Jungle Boy is a name that he created to describe the experience of mania. He is ten years old and has Bipolar Disorder. When mania sets in, Jungle Boy has come to town. We are never certain, as to exactly how long he will stay. There are warning signs…signs of his imminent arrival. He will start to growl and hiss and scratch at those unfortunate people within his reach. The house becomes a cage and he paces back and forth, between its walls, like a trapped animal. The tension level starts to rise and we can all feel the static in the air around us. My husband swears that he has come in from work and, felt the electricity in the air, as soon as he turned onto our street. It is a tangible energy. Video games and television hold no interest for Jungle Boy. Sleep eludes him and as a result, his primal instincts take over, to an even greater degree. Slights are perceived as attacks and any sudden movement is an affront to him. He instigates fights with whoever might be available, at the time. Jungle Boy will not be ignored. He will not be contained. We have had to learn to live with his unpredictable arrivals and sometimes bizarre behaviors. Teaching and reaching this Jungle Boy is the most challenging aspect of my life.

Mania in children is somewhat different than mania in adults. Manic adults are often euphoric and filled with boundless energy. They become can become social to the point of promiscuity and often wreak havoc on their own financial affairs. Self-absorbed to the nth degree, they appear to think of no one but themselves. A mild manic episode can produce bursts of creativity that rival those of prolific novelists. Children present a slightly different picture. Different enough, in fact, that they are often misdiagnosed and receive improper treatment for years. Manic children are often irritable and extremely aggressive. Jungle Boy has been known to stick a leg out and trip his three-year-old sister for no apparent reason. It is as if his limbs and body have a mind of their own. Sometimes, he seems to lose his ability to communicate and resorts to physical retaliations over nothing at all. Other times, it seems as though he simply cannot control his impulse to cause pain to an unsuspecting person. Mania tends to bring with it sexual precociousness. It is during these phases that he speaks of it frequently and attempts to touch others inappropriately. He has made more than a few people uncomfortable with his attempts to act out and his outspoken statements regarding the matter. For years I believed that he might have been sexually abused. Looking back over incidents now, I have come to realize that he has been that way, virtually from birth. He began to exhibit these behaviors at the age of three, just before the birth of his little sister. More than likely, the jealousy and discomfort surrounding this major life change, precipitated the behaviors. No matter the cause, it is by far the most disturbing of the symptoms. Laughter is something that I long to hear from children. It can be infectious to see a child giggle when something tickles their funny bone. The laughter of mania is not quite the same. It almost seems to be unnatural. Eerie might be a more apt description. This is the kind of laughter that comes at the wrong time. When Jungle Boy is being reprimanded for something particularly serious, he will often start to titter nervously only to have it erupt into a full-blown giggle fit. I have compared it to cartoonish depictions of hyenas. There is an underlying malicious edge to it. The need for sleep becomes virtually non-existent. A sleeplessness night greatly increases the chances of a manic episode. With Jungle Boy, mania seems to be at the farthest end of the mood spectrum, after a sleepless night. Mania also produces risk-taking behavior. Jungle Boy attained legendary status in our neighborhood when he refused to get on the school bus one morning, during his second grade year of school. He fully intended to ride his bike down a very busy highway, through morning rush hour traffic. However, he only managed to get about a quarter of a mile down, Mississippi Highway 51 before being picked up by a neighbor and returned safely home. It is about six miles (including three major intersections) from our home to the school. A manic child will frequently meet most of the criteria for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Inattention, extreme hyperactivity, lack of impulse control, fidgeting with hands and feet, and talkativeness can be symptomatic of a manic episode. It is believed that hyperactivity is often mistaken for childhood mania. Recent research has shown that bipolar disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder occur together frequently. Jungle Boy was diagnosed with ADHD during a thirteen-day hospital stay, when he was three years old. Night terrors are sometimes used as a means to differentiate one disorder from the other. Jungle Boy often screams out in his sleep and runs through the house looking for me. He once went out the front door at 2:00 in the morning. When my husband caught him at the bottom of the steps, he was unable to waken him and only managed to turn him around and steer him back into the house. Once Jungle Boy was safely inside, he looked at me and began to scream. He screamed the "horror movie scream queen." I thought that I had frightened him and tried to apologize. It was only then, that I realized that he was seeing something, that was not me. He was still asleep. After placing a cool rag on his face, he slowly wakened and had little memory of what had previously happened. His dreams contain graphic content. Blood, gore and dismemberment are common themes. It is believed that this phenomena is almost exclusive to children with bipolar disorder. Jungle Boy is always manic or becoming increasingly so when these dreams invade his sleep.

Grandiosity is the most maddening of the symptoms. During a manic phase, Jungle Boy often thinks he is ten-feet tall and bulletproof. He has sucked me into a quicksand pit of power struggle more than once by acting as though he is my equal. The most frustrating, nerve-wracking part of it all, is that I know he truly believes it. It is during these times that he shows blatant disrespect for any authority. Jungle Boy is foul-mouthed and insolent. He has no qualms about using profanity in my presence or the presence of others for that matter. He is a bully that picks on smaller children without seeming to care…he seems to do everything and anything without a hint of remorse. It is then that I am scared for Jungle Boy. It is then that I must be at my strongest so that I can stand up to him and show him the right way to go. It is these times that tire me out, past the point of exhaustion into a kind of mental restoration zone. For a while, I must let someone else take over my responsibilities. It is then that I become so weary that my vision blurs and I cannot determine if I am speaking to my son or to my other son, Jungle Boy.

Mania in children can seem to be as wild and untamed as the jungle. The experience affects the child, the family and sometimes, even innocent bystanders. The next time you see a child yelling uncontrollably in a store or hitting their mother at the gas station…think before offering well-intentioned advice. That advice often serves to exacerbate the situation and eventually makes it harder on both mother and child. If they are speaking in measured tones and seem to be in control, move along or better yet out of the kindness of your heart quietly ask if everything is all right. If they respond with a yes, move along, don't stare and try to remember the story of the Jungle Boy.


About Diane

I am a poet by nature and a writer at heart....29yo mother of three born in Memphis, TN on Halloween. I love to write...poetry, articles, fiction, the whole shebang. I write for myself and for anyone else who might be interested in my occasionally coherent babble. Enjoy.....

Diane is a talented a gifted writer and her works include many other venues besides Bipolar Children.  She writes for Themestream and her titles can be viewed (and rated!) at the following url...Diane's Articles

Please visit her there.

Diane can be reached by EMAIL



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