Manic Episode: Another Side of Bipolar Disorder.
Welcome back, my friends!
My apologies for the extended absence. I’ve been very busy with other projects, which I’ll have to return to soon. Also, I wanted to make sure this article was perfect, because this one’s a little tricky.
So far, most of my articles have focused on depression. As someone with type II bipolar disorder, that’s the side I know best. Also, it’s the side that’s easiest for a person who doesn’t have bipolar disorder to understand. Everyone has been bummed at some point. Wanna understand bipolar depression? Take your depression, magnify by about a jillion, and there ya go. Pretty easy to understand, right? The other side of the coin isn’t as straightforward. A good metaphor, I hope, will make it easier to understand.
Let’s say that the average human brain is like a Volvo.The Volvo gets great mileage and is one of the safest, most dependable cars on the road. You wanna get to work on time, day after day and with very little fuss and worry? A Volvo is the car for you.
The bipolar brain is more like a Ferrari.
The Ferrari is fast and flashy. Its sleek, predatory looks practically demand that you drive it at dangerous speeds. You want to make it to work in forty seconds flat? Then the Ferrari is the car for you. Unfortunately, it guzzles gas like your Aunt Janie guzzles gin and tends to spend more time in the shop than on the road. The insurance premiums are astronomical and you are almost guaranteed to wrap it around a tree someday.
Now then… bipolar depression is like the times when the Ferrari is in the shop. It’s up on the lift, and you’re going nowhere. You can’t even show it off by rolling it into your driveway. Not only that, but you gotta walk to work while all the Volvo drivers practically blaze by at 35 mph. In your mind’s eye, they laugh at you as it starts to rain. Your anxiety tells you they are ALL aiming for puddles near you, and the occasional sociopath WILL soak you for his or her amusement.
But then the shop owner calls. Your chariot awaits! You go down to the shop, pay the exorbitant bill, and fire up that 16-cylinder Italian ego trip.
“I’ve missed you, Farrah,” you say, not caring about the look the shop owner gives you. If HE had a Ferrari, he’d name her Farrah, too. Your foot barely taps her gas pedal and she purrs delightedly. She’s missed you, too.
“Good girl,” you say, then ease Farrah’s shifter into first, the action so smooth that instinct alone tells you that she’s out of neutral. You pull out of the shop’s parking lot and into traffic. At first, she’s just glad to be off of that horrible rack and back on the road where she belongs, but every red light, every school zone is an irritant, and sand only makes pearls in oysters. Sand in an engine is death, but Farrah complies and stays below the speed limit… for now.
As you pull into the parking lot at work, all eyes turn to you and your beautiful machine. You pull into your space and reach for the key to kill her ignition, but you stop short.
“It’s been so long. Just once,” she begs. “Pretty please?”
You know this is how it starts, but you’re still in control. Just once won’t hurt anything, right? It’s not like you’re doing anything dangerous. Besides, what’s the point in owning a car like Farrah if you can’t show her off?
With Farrah’s gears in neutral, your foot presses hard on her accelerator and her engine screams ecstatically. Those who weren’t looking before certainly are now. Many are impressed. Many others are jealous. And Farrah, at long last, feels warm and tingly.
“Mmm… baby,” she purrs. “You’re the only one who knows how to touch me right. Again. Please.”
“Sorry, babe,” you say, a little defeated. “I gotta go to work now.”
Farrah pouts as you shut off the engine, sputtering just a little to let you know she’s put out. You promise her a full tank of premium and a stretch of deserted highway tonight followed by a loving sponge bath. You know that will make her happy, but she’s still sulking.
When five o’clock rolls around, you dash into the parking lot to find Farrah waiting. It’s a beautiful day, so you decide a little sun would be good for you both. You drop her top, fire up her engine and gun the accelerator—just a little—as you exit the parking lot. No harm done, and at last you’re out on the open road where both of you are more happy… for all of about twenty seconds.
Gridlock. No one’s going anywhere fast. The traffic jam drives you nuts, but you try to smile regardless. You’ve gotten so many “nice car, man” comments from the Volvos that your ego has slipped into overdrive. Eventually, though, it gets old. You’re sick of hearing how nice your car is. You wanna FEEL how nice she is, and in this traffic, how can you? You can’t even get out of first gear! You’ve got to MOVE!
Speed isn’t Farrah’s only good quality. She maneuvers like… well… like a goddamn Ferrari! Each time you see an opening in traffic, you seize it. At first, you make sure there’s plenty of space, but soon ANY amount of space is enough as long as it moves you forward. Other drivers stop saying “nice car” and start saying “watch it, asshole!”
“Fuck them,” Farrah says. “They’re just jealous, baby.”
Finally, you come upon a stretch of open highway, just begging to be devoured. You stomp Farrah’s accelerator and instantly know that what she said is true. Who wouldn’t be jealous of this speed? This freedom?
“At last!” she screams as you tear away from the nightmare behind you. The wind whips your hair as the speedometer climbs. This is what she’s DESIGNED to do, you tell yourself. It’s just you and Farrah and all is well in the world. You drive off into the sunset, victorious, just like in the movies.
But real life isn’t the movies, and sunset only means the end of the day, not the end of the film. You pull into your garage and park Farrah for the night. You have to work in the morning, but you’re too wired to sleep. You try watching TV. You try a hot shower. Nothing works. Sleep just won’t come, not with Farrah calling to you from the garage.
“Sleep is for those Volvo people,” she says, spitting out the word Volvo as if it had the arsenic taste of bitter almonds. “You’re better than them, baby. All you need is me. Come on. Let’s go for a drive.”
But you know better. You’ve been down this road before. With the help of a few Benadryl, you ignore her voice and drift off, but your sleep isn’t like real sleep. Your body lays motionless but your mind spins like a screeching tire. Dreams and reality melt together for a few fitful hours of sleep and traffic nightmares.
You’re awake long before sunrise, but you force yourself to stay in bed until the alarm goes off, then you’re up in a flash. You sing in the shower. You skip breakfast. You rush to the garage.
“Good morning, sexy,” she says. “Ready to play?”
“Are you?” you ask, smirking as you sink into a kid leather bucket seat that fits you like a glove. You deftly slip your key in her ignition and give it a twist. As you pull on your driving gloves, the temperature gauge begins to rise. “Like that, do you?”
“Sailor baby, you get me hotter than Georgia asphalt,” she purrs.
You bet your sweet ass I do, you think as the garage door rises to release you from your prison. Your house isn’t your home. Here with her. This is home. This is where you belong.
Now, there are two different ways this scenario can end…
The garage door is barely up before you’re skidding out of the garage and into… another fucking traffic jam! No! No no no no NO NO NO!!! You honk madly. Farrah’s engine growls at any Volvos who get too close. The admiration in the Volvo drivers’ eyes is gone. Today, they look upon you with fear, but you don’t give a damn. They’re just in your way, anyway, right? One Volvo tries to pull in front of you. You stomp the accelerator and he weaves out of your way just in time.
“My lane, asshole,” you shout. “Mine!
Your lane or not, the traffic light turns red and you’re stuck. Time stands still. You scream and rev your engine, both you and Farrah quickly reaching redline. The temperature warning light comes on, but you ignore it. It just wants to slow you down, too. You smell oil smoke, but don’t care.
“Go baby,” Farrah shrieks. “Go! Go! GOOOO!”
Something snaps. Thick gray smoke boils from the engine compartment. Farrah’s engine chokes and sputters as the light turns green. She’s got just enough strength to ease to the side of the road.
“This is all your fault,” she says, dying. You weep at what your anger has done.
The tow truck guy clucks his tongue as he winches Farrah’s front end into the sky. “Damn shame,” he says. “Such a nice car.”
In your mind, you finish his sentence. If only you knew how to treat it.
Welcome back to depression.
Or, it could end like this…
The garage door is barely up before you’re skidding out of the garage and onto the open road. Your floor it and Farrah jumps over the speed limit like an antelope. There’s no traffic, no cops, nothing but miles of open road. You cut each corner closer, but not because you’re out of control. You do it because you’re fucking amazing! Every move you make is the right one. The world is yours and everything is perfect…
…until you run out of gas in the middle of nowhere during a thunderstorm and have to walk to the nearest payphone (you forgot your cell in your hurry to hit the road) only to find you don’t have any change, so you have to walk all the way back to your house. Once at your house, you reach into your pocket and find that you’ve lost your keys somewhere along the way.
Welcome back to depression.
George Carlin, one of the funniest men to ever live, once said that the cliché phrase “more than happy” sounded like a medical condition.” Well, he was right. “More than happy” is called euphoria, and euphoria is sometimes a symptom of a manic episode. Sometimes, bipolar disorder feels WONDERFUL. At the beginning of the upswing, you have hypomania, and hypomania can be very, very good. It’s your chance to really shine.
Sometimes, when you’re hypomanic, you are the life of the party—charming, witty, friendly and filled with energy. Your mind becomes razor sharp, your reflexes like those of a kung fu master. You make friends easily, accomplish incredible amounts of work, and have flashes of brilliance that astound and amaze everyone around you. I LOVE it when hypomania works that way!
Sometimes, however, it doesn’t. Sometimes when you’re hypomanic, you are the total buzzkill—cranky, bitter, sullen… and yet still filled with energy. Your mind is sharp, but it’s your tongue that’s the razor. You’re nerves are so jittery you twitch. Fine silk feels like sandpaper against your skin. You still have that keen focus, but all you focus on is the neighbor’s goddamn stereo and if you had one ounce less of willpower, you’d crash right over and shove the thing straight up his ass. But that wouldn’t fix the problem, because dammit, you’re pissed and you’re gonna stay that way. I HATE it when hypomania works that way.
Now, if you’re type II bipolar like me, hypomania is the ceiling. You hit it, stay there for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks (depending on how rapidly you cycle) and then spiral back down into depression. If you’re type I bipolar, then hypomania is just the beginning.
Hypomania basically means “little mania,” so for a full-tilt manic episode, take my description of hypomania and magnify it exponentially: the occasional sleepless night becomes days on end without sleep; the occasional ego trip gives way to full-blown narcissism and delusions of grandeur; euphoria becomes psychosis; irritability becomes hostility and anxiety becomes outright paranoia. Some even experience hallucinations.
No matter how high the ladder goes, unless you drop dead from exhaustion (which does happen occasionally) or wrap your Ferrari around a tree (yes, those on the upswing really do tend to speed) then you’re going to find yourself right back where you started. For some, that’s a relatively normal mood. For others, it’s welcome back to depression. Hope you enjoyed the ride.
And on that note, I hope you, my readers, have enjoyed the ride. I’ll be taking a break from this blog now, but I’m sure I’ll be back I’ve got so many other stories, poems, screenplays and articles to write. I’ve got sketches to draw and music to compose. I’ve got a life without bipolar disorder… or at least a life without thinking about it all the time.
The one thing I want you to remember most of all is that NO ONE IS A DISEASE. They are a person with a disease. Their disease is not their life, at least not unless they allow it to be. Don’t do that, folks. It sucks. Be people. People are OK unless they won’t turn their goddamn stereos down.
Keep fighting, folks!