Most people I know have never experienced a manic episode. They are curious but respectful, so don’t ask for details about mine. They don’t want to upset me by dredging up painful memories. I appreciate their respect and concern, but I think that talking about hard things makes us stronger.
My first mania, in May of 2017, was delightful. More than delightful, it was bliss. It started with insomnia, something I’ve often struggled with. But this was different. I averaged three to four hours of sleep every night for two weeks. After tossing and turning beyond the point of frustration, I would abandon my cozy bed to declutter and organize the basement. I wanted to avoid screens and anything stimulating, and physical work while listening to music helped calm me. I was not tired during the day and had more energy than I usually do. Obviously something had to give. I began to feel giddy and joyful. I became a fun mom, something that many moms will feel and many dads won’t understand. My children loved the happy new me who allowed more sugar and screentime, and our excitement fed off of each other. My confidence grew. Spring was in full swing and with it, a city eager to shed our winter gear and celebrate the sun. I was one of many who smiled and said hello to strangers in passing, but I interpreted their friendliness as attention and desire. And often it was. People began complimenting me, a forty year-old mother of three. Strangers began flirting. My husband was more attentive than he’d been in years. My mojo was working. My creativity exploded in my writing and my art. Sex was even better than it usually is. I’d never felt happier or more proud of myself. Who wouldn’t want to feel manic? I began asking questions about religion, the meaning of life, and how to attain world peace. I began figuring out answers too, at least answers that made sense to me. As my confidence skyrocketed, my ability to function deteriorated: I couldn’t drive safely, couldn’t cook a proper meal, couldn’t focus long enough to read, and couldn’t resist sweet temptations at the grocery store. Some characteristic signs of mania are sleeplessness, grandiosity, hypersexuality, taking extra risks, overspending, paranoia, and psychotic delusions. My main delusion was my unwavering belief that I was pregnant or had miscarried. By the time paranoia took over, I needed help, so I was hospitalized. I was certain that I, or someone I loved, was in danger. Blissful mania was finished. I thought everyone was out to get me, including most of the hospital staff. Luckily I had my husband, who steadfastly supported me until the medication kicked in and my sleep patterns began to resume something approaching normal. Coming down after that high was hard. I was depressed for months.
My second manic episode happened exactly one year later. Season changes and switching the clocks for daylight savings time affects me, and many people with mental illness, significantly. Again I couldn’t sleep, again I noticed admiring glances everywhere, again I threw caution to the wind with my credit card, and again I was flooded with creative impulses. Again it started out fun, but this time it didn’t last long. Because my psychiatrist had diagnosed me as bipolar during my previous manic episode, the people who were supposed to help me were not as kind or forgiving this second time around. I was treated poorly. It made me angry. My most prevalent memory of my second manic episode was me full of rage and lashing out. I was not suicidal and never dangerous or violent towards anyone other than myself. After another hospitalization and coming down from this second episode I was again depressed.
I think mania is similar to being too drunk – you’re either the life of the party, crying, or getting into fights. You never know how the night will go, but you know you’ll have a wicked hangover/depression afterwards. If I had never experienced the terror of mania I would be tempted to relive the euphoria. Staying up when I have trouble sleeping is an easy way to achieve a high, far easier than alcohol or drugs, and longer-lasting. So I’m grateful that the second episode was as bad as it was. It scared me straight.
I hope this is helpful. If you’re struggling with mental health, please talk to someone. Email me if you want. In Canada, you can find local resources and support at www.crisisservicescanada.ca, or call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 if you’re between the ages of 5 and 29. If you’re thinking about suicide, please call the Canada Suicide Prevention service at 1-833-456-4566.