From a general standpoint, every mental illness (at least in my experience) offers it’s afflicted a slightly varied experience from the next in line. The numbers rattle off to “BiPolar Disorder Type I – Last Manic Episode Severe w/o Psychosis.” Next up is the well beloved Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) rounding out with Borderline Personality Disorder for good measure.
In a world of “medicated everyone” not many people blink an eye when the sack of pills comes out. Though in a strangely uncomfortable way it occasionally strikes me to explain what they’re all for and watch them adjust their demeanor in that so common and anxiously polite manner I’ve come to expect.
Here’s the kicker. When I was running a sales organization with a 150 reps, and quotas, plane travel 5 days a week – outside of the unchecked alcoholism at the time – you would never have known. The counselor that has finally found a checkmark next to his name for me continuously tries to reinforce that the mania can be used as an asset, a tool.
That’s where the differentiations come in for all of us.
In the early stages, mania feels like the beginning of fearless adrenaline rush without any edge. Endless possibilities are all within easy reach potentially. The stacks of chaotic problems encroaching all around are not only solvable but nearly laughable in their simplicity. With a blossoming confidence that transcends arrogance to simply become conviction that ANYTHING that I want to do right now I could do. Usually, I start walking, headphones in, my face will become unable to hold onto anything but a ear splitting toothed smile as I laugh out loud looking at the oncoming traffic. Air crisps or whistles across my skin. It’s the first moment you meet a new woman, it’s the first cigarette in the morning, it’s a tank of gas in the car and a world to explore, and it’s far to exquisitely perfect to be sustainable.
For me, this is where it starts. To the reader, if you felt as though there was nothing you couldn’t accomplish, the world was your oyster for a day – would you find it tempting to hold onto that?
Challenge #1 with comorbidity and dually diagnosed:
- Regardless of consequences, addiction says “If it feels good, do it. Do it again….”
- Mania can feel equally as potent as the strongest narcotics, with the same hazing of rational cause/effect evaluation.
The logical outcome is the circular pattern of up, down, feel bad, look for other options. Recovering from addiction is reliant almost entirely on the willingness to simply hand in the weapons and stop fighting. Surrender to the reality it is a losing fight, and if you stay away from using, you are on your way to brighter things.
Mania is deceitful though. Sure, it’s easy to throw an ungodly sum of anti-psychotics down someone’s throat until the pattern may well be nearly impossible to repeat. It could be argued on some level, that while a Thorazine shuffle isn’t a high quality of life, if it’s sufficient to overcome the initial hurdles of early sobriety without a high flying manic swing knocking you off the tracks, I don’t know how hard I’d argue against it.
That said, I’m a stubborn and foolish individual who continues to bolster the thought that, “If we just edge down the manic swings a touch so that I don’t feel like me I bet it would work…”
The reality is that I’m trying to stay high without thinking of it that way directly. My brain will pull magnificently orchestrated rationalizations out of the neurons they were stuffed for a rainy day until I’m willing to concede, that maybe, just maybe, this time everything will balance out. This is where the big kicker comes into play.
Challenge #2 deals with facts:
- Not only do I know that I can do anything while manic, I’ve proved it to myself so many times over that it feels like I’m reliant on the mania to accomplish anything. Without tipping off into psychosis (which I’m blessed to not endure), in full blown mania, I truly will be the bizarrely entertaining, wildly offensive yet endearing, crazy charismatic and charmingly maniacal life of any party. FYI – sales is both a great and terrible place to put this to use.
- Factually, I know that I only will have about 1-2 days of the enjoyable mania before it starts to turn me into something wildly unpredictable, sleep deprived, and consumed with a NEED for more – which inevitably leads into the cycle all over again.
I had written something try and put it in perspective for my poor parents who have watched this for 15+ years. Mania tried to capture all the blended excitement and frustration attendant with the feeling.
In essence, as everything builds up further and further, I force myself into a corner where the only outcome is going to be using my own self prescribed medication, or face another hospital which in the throes of mania seems completely ludicrous.
I recognize that the world looks at the series of insane adventures that have certainly occurred, the days without sleep, the spontaneous flights of fancy and even actual flights as something only a “crazy” person would do. Certainly, there is an element out of the norm, that’s why I’m taking medication and working on counseling in the first place. But for all the oddness, I delude myself with imagining that there is an element of jealousy beneath the demeaning words tossed around.
When things fade down, I’m always certain to get right back into the cycle with meds, visits, check-ups, retrospection. Invariably when the cycle completes I’ve lost my job, money is gone, probably overdosed once, and I’m homeless and coming back to family with my hand out. There is an absolutely bittersweet element to everything related to the upswings in BPD (much as I’m sure there are to the down as well).
This is not a life that I want to lead. I am working to follow the directions and accept the help of those still willing to offer it. So often though – just like with drugs and alcohol – all the progress fades away when the world takes on that special hue, sharpens up, and the rush comes on. I’ve lost homes, my wife, family, my life 6x (god bless Narcan), and even access to see my children for fear I’ll disappear again and leave them devastated. In the same breath, I left my pregnant wife nearly bankrupt and verging on foreclosure before she divorced me, and since, there are wide oceans of wreckage that spill against the happy homes of those that dared to care.
If you happen to see someone else having the time of their life while they pour gasoline on everything they’ve worked so hard for – speaking from experience – the smile is masking a far greater pain and frustration then is easily seen.
Tears from laughter and tears from misery both look the same.
This was originally written as an awareness building essay for another site that didn’t use it, so I’ll feed myself (and anyone who cares to listen to me prattle) the leftovers. Thank you for reading, and I really would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. ~S