What it’s like to come out of mania

I recently missed a dose of my lithium. It’s a tricky thing getting medication like that refilled. You cannot refill it too early –insurance will deny it. Weekends and holidays can also impact getting your refills. Or a delay with the psychiatrist renewing your script. I’ve had a few close calls before –getting my refill the day I run out due to one of the aforementioned situations. But a couple of times, a combination of those obstacles have caused me to be without my medication for a day or longer.

This most recent case was just one day. One measly missed dose.

One small change can throw a whole ecosystem off balance. Our bodies are really no different. Missing one day of lithium was enough to throw me into a small hypo-manic episode that then morphed into a nasty, though thankfully short, mixed episode that reminded me just how excruciating it is to be careless enough to make spontaneous and rash decisions (to NEED to make them) while also being keenly aware of exactly how the real me would feel about those decisions, and hate and torture myself for making them.

I think my hypo-mania really shows on social media. I don’t hold back from the debates and Facebook preaching. When just manic I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of my crusading, but during a mixed episode the soap box moments are quickly followed by shame, regret, and painful self loathing. And yet, when I see a snarky reply to what I see as my logical, well put message of truth and goodness, I cannot stop myself from responding. Every. Time. Despite the anguished voice inside of me begging my fingers to turn off notifications and forget about it.

But it’s also very confusing, because maybe if the real me wasn’t so concerned with what others thought of me, my manic debating wouldn’t be such a source of anxiety and shame for me. I do think that arguing isn’t healthy, particularly arguing with strangers with whom you’ll never come in contact with and whose opinions honestly don’t matter. But at the same time there are topics I truly believe need to be discussed, because that’s how we change a toxic culture. So maybe my manic alter-ego is the crusader for good she thinks she is. Maybe her over-confidence isn’t such a bad thing when it comes to certain issues. Maybe its regular me that needs to resolve her problems with self image and insecurity.

This dilemma is common for those with bipolar. You start to wonder, what’s the real me and what’s my illness? It’s not like I say things in those Facebook debates that are uncharacteristic. They’re things I say to Max or my friends when I see something that irks me. When manic I’m just in that crucial place of “I don’t give any f***s” that I can actually say what I’m thinking to the person who illicited that reaction. So is my manic alter-ego a part of who I am? Or is she a product of miswiring in my brain?

And then there’s the question that scares me the most. What if everything I’ve accomplished was accomplished by mania?

I came up with the idea for my novel while manic. I wrote the first three chapters while manic. The three chapters that inspired the direction for the rest of the novel. I still feel they are my best chapters so far. What if I’m my best artist while manic?

I continuously get good grades while manic. Is the “good student” I always thought I was just a product of mania?

Not to get too explicit but I’m really adventurous and good in bed when I’m manic. Is my true sensuality only present when I’m manic?

Does it take a mental illness that harms me to reach my full potential as a person?

I’m writing this post to remind myself that the answer to these questions is a loud, resounding NO.

Because the mania faded. And stability steeps back into my soul, and it is peaceful and happy.

While manic I was working on an essay for my class. Throughout the weeks as I turned in assignments and had grades returned, I fully expected 100% on each assignment. And I got it. It got to the point where I KNEW I had 100% before looking, because in my manic state I was SO good of a student that it would be literally impossible to get less than perfect. The fact that I actually got perfect scores just fueled just “proved” my ego right. This is why those 100% scores in the very beginning weeks were so dangerous for me guys! I was like, “Man, I’m the smartest person in this class. I bet no one else has ever gotten 100% on everything before. I’m a prodigy. I’m the best student this professor has ever seen. I’m going to graduate with 100% in every class I take here.” Yea. I know how it sounds. That’s manic confidence for ya.

But the mania started to fade right before I turned in my essay draft. Enough that I was nervous about turning it in. I went through A LOT of revision for a first draft. Definitely more than I needed to. But at this point I was terrified of losing my standing. Terrified that my success in the class so far was because of mania and not because of my merits as a writer and a scholar.

When I saw my draft grade posted, instead of the calm expectation of a perfect score I felt butterflies. I was nervous, not about my grade actually (I was still pretty confident I’d get an A, the good confidence from knowing you worked hard), but I was nervous for the feedback I would get from my professor. And that nervousness felt SO good. It was natural. It was healthy. It’s the kind of unease that isn’t debilitating but keeps you humble and motivated to progress. It’s the nervousness that constantly keeps you working on becoming a better person.

And that is where my best artistry will come from. That is where my deepest intimacy will come from. That is where I will be the best student I can be. My manic alter-ego does not believe she can grow. She believes she has hit the limit. But the real me… the real me knows that I am limitless.

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