There was discomfort in the air. I sat straight in my chair, sort of on the edge of my seat. Not back and relaxed the way one does when they’re comfortable. We were both sitting that way, he and I.
I faced my family doctor with the shared objective to debrief my recent bout of mania and psychosis. We were to make a plan, a way to move forward from this lifetime low (or high, depending on how you looked at it). I remember the genuine concern in his eyes as he did his best to relate to a situation he couldn’t really relate to.
“That must have been a terrifying experience,” he offered.
“Uh, actually…no, not at all,” I countered. He looked confused. So I continued, “It was the happiest I have ever been in my life.” I could see that didn’t take care of the confusion.
I went on to describe how I had ridden an incredible euphoric high for days. And the fact that this high stood in direct contrast to the depression I had been so actively living for the last few years meant I enjoyed it all the more.
The experience was downright awesome. ‘Terrifying’ didn’t fit my description of the events. For those who were watching from the outside though, I suppose it would have been an adjective of choice as my personality and behaviour transformed drastically.
That exchange with my doctor was three years ago. In fact the anniversary of my last major bipolar episode passed this month without incident. When I reflect back I feel proud of how far I have come, but I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t admit that I have moments where I miss my mania.
Last week when I was in the city for work I took the subway. As I descended the stairs onto the platform I noticed a man dressed in a kilt carrying a yellow backpack. His hair was groomed, nails and skin clean, and clothing well laundered. He seemed to fit in at first glance, but there was one thing that stood out upon closer inspection.
He wasn’t wearing shoes.
I’m not proud to say that my first reaction was to assume that he suffered some kind of mental illness. I felt pity. Until it dawned on me that I was putting him into the same category as myself. I don’t need pity. When it occurred to me what I was doing I righted the situation. My pity turned into curiosity. I found myself sneaking sideways glances in his direction. I spied on my shoeless friend as surreptitiously as possible. The last thing I wanted to do was exchange eye contact with him.
I found myself concocting all sorts of reasons for why he was navigating the subway system without footwear. It seemed an odd thing to do. Surely he had a good reason for it.
His feet were clean and callus-free so it appeared as if this was a relatively new undertaking. Maybe it was a dare. A funny idea he and his friends cooked up the night before in a beer-induced stupor.
Going in another direction, I deduced that he must be married; he wore a ring on his left hand. Perhaps this was an idea he and his partner hatched to get ‘back to basics’. Or better yet, maybe ditching their shoes was a spiritual quest to live more simply and discover God.
Or maybe he just hated wearing shoes. It could be just as simple as that.
My imagination continued to run wild while another part (the sometimes insightful, but mostly unhelpful side of my brain) was coming to a conclusion that hit me and stopped me in my tracks.
You know, if you were manic, you would just go ask him. It’s too bad you’re such a scaredy cat now.
And so I had to admit to myself. Yep, no doubt, if I was manic I would bounce on over to him and just flat out ask him, “Hey, so tell me, how come you don’t wear shoes? I’m just curious. I’d love to know why.” I likely wouldn’t even stop to introduce myself. I would just chat him up as if we were old pals.
If things went down as they usually did when I had super-human confidence in a manic state, I would make a fast friend. I would seize a rich opportunity to learn about another human being’s perspective on life and so be enlightened with a different way of thinking.
In my humble opinion, we are presented with a variety of opportunities to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone every single day; opportunities we hardly pursue. We walk right past people who need our help or at least our acknowledgement. We feel curious about someone intriguing but when they look at us we avert our eyes instead of smiling and saying ‘hi’. Each and every day just the right people and experiences are placed at precisely the right time for us to learn something important. Yet most of the time our insecurities and socially constructed limitations prevent us from seizing these opportunities or even seeing them at all. It’s like we wear blinders.
And that’s why sometimes I find myself missing my mania because it was so good at removing my limitations. It helped me see things I normally wouldn’t see. It helped me capitalize on the opportunities to explore a thought or experience deeper. I learned a lot about myself when I was manic.
But (and this is a big but) the longer a person’s mania is left unchecked the more their risk-taking behaviours increase. Mania becomes dangerous when there are no checks and balances to bring you down from the high. All your filters are removed and life becomes confusing and over stimulating to the point of exhaustion.
And that’s why, although I miss my mania sometimes, I am able to rationalize why I can’t let myself go there. The colours of life are a bit more muted this way, and my daily experiences a little more hum-drum, but I am healthy and I am balanced.
I guess that means I am just going to have to get creative at finding other ways to walk a day in another person’s shoes (or in this case, bare feet).
Liked this? Try reading My Story.
Check out this article in BP Magazine called ‘Missing My Mania’.