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’.
Sarah, I loved this post and felt as if I were reading something I had written. There were so many similarities in your description of your manic episode to my first two bouts with mania.
I can definitely relate to you when you say you miss it sometimes. It does that to us, right? But you and I both know that the way we’re living now is what we need – the balance keeps us grounded. We have too many good things in our life to let our illness get in the way. You’re doing an awesome job, mama. Really enjoyed this post.
Thanks so much Jennifer! Yes – agreed. When you have been to the brink of the human experience, which is where mania (and if not caught fast enough – psychosis) inevitably takes me, you know that is not a place one wants to frequent. I find mania a fascinating experience to unpack later but it just takes so long to heal and get to that place of wellness where ‘unpacking’ is even possible. Mania, although beautiful in the simple truths it unearths for me while it is happening, is just simply not worth risking the life my family and I have worked so hard to build together. Thanks so much for being a regular reader – it means a lot!
Thanks so much for reading!!
great post, I have heard this from friends who are manic or bi-polar and from the way they explain it they feel invincible like never before when they are on a high, the medicine smooths it all out into a dull work a day feeling. I love the way you write about it and make me think of ways we subconciously assume so much about someone when we think they have a mental illness
Thanks so much for reading!
There is definitely a let-down when you come down off of mania. Most people experience quite a depression afterwards. I know I did.
My experiences with mania were at times so overwhelmingly euphoric that it is tough to not want to feel that feeling again sometimes.
I saw a great documentary about manic depression that explores these issues it’s calle the cage
Thanks for sharing that! I will have to look it up.
Great post. Something you wrote got me a thinkin’ …
I will never be able to fully accept that the “socially constructed limitations” (aka a big part of so-called ‘normal’ reality) should be the ‘right’ that makes so-called mentally ill individuals like ourselves somehow ‘wrong’/’abnormal’. Is it really ‘nuts’ to want to break down communication barriers, reach out and invite random strangers into our lives, just for the hell of it? I think it’s ‘crazy’ that we all walk around in protective bubbles that prevent us from being ourselves, from really connecting with others.
I often feel that some of my depression — though clearly at this point in my life biological to some degree or another — owes itself to constantly having this ‘normal reality’ reinforced everywhere I turn, in opposition to most of my natural thoughts, emotions, moods.
For me, every collective reality is the tyranny of the majority, a combination of selfishness, insecurity, fear, greed, etc. If that’s ‘normal’, I will never allow myself to be assimilated.
Perhaps what you miss about your mania is being free from having no choice but to subscribe to a the various collective realities in daily life that just feel so damn wrong?
Food for thought?
Thank you for this very thoughtful comment!
I can recall thinking to myself many times when I was experiencing mania (on the brink of psychosis) that the things I was coming to believe and understand about myself in relation to other human beings was more in line with my authentic self than my ‘normal’ personality. I was doing all kinds of things that I yearned to do in my every day life, but didn’t because I didn’t want to seem ‘weird’ or embarrass myself. I was chatting up perfect strangers, meeting the eyes of everyone I passed so that I could smile at them and say hi. I was giving undivided attention to people I would normally walk right past. I felt more connected to everyone I encountered, more in tune with their emotions, more curious about their personal story. I had more patience and more wonder with my children, revelling in the smallest of ‘ordinary everyday miracles’ like a worm in the garden or a hawk in the sky. I was immensely happy and grateful just to be alive. It took me a long time to let go of the anger I felt after being told that all of those wonderful aspects of me that were all bubbling to the surface were all just a manifestation of faulty brain chemistry. I am still trying to make sense of it all.
But one thing I know with absolute certainty is that nothing makes my soul sing more than listening to my authentic self. Not just acknowledging, but really listening. That is the biggest lesson I have learned from my bipolar blips in this life.
Clearly, had I been there with you, I would have gone clearly, had I been with you then, I would have walked over to him to discuss why going barefooted in a public area is a bad idea – strictly from a foot doctor’s
Ha ha! Yes – you wouldn’t have been able to help yourself 😉 Too funny.
So well-written! Thank you for writing this. I was just explaining to someone how mania, for me, is often a time when I suddenly am brave enough to do all the things I’d been thinking about doing when I wasn’t manic. However, as you pointed out, that “courage” sometimes elevates to an area where necessary safety boundaries disappear and suddenly being “confident” turns to being reckless. I especially like what you said about “All your filters are removed and life becomes confusing and over stimulating to the point of exhaustion.” SO perfectly stated. That sense of overstimulation is intriguing at first, then the brain burns out while simultaneously still trying to engage with EVERYTHING. Bravo on this post! 🙂
Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your perspective on mania.
If only we could have mania in measured, safe amounts. Don’t we all yearn to be a better version of ourselves and seize the opportunities life lays before us?
Unfortunately for those of us who lack the reset button when mania sets in, pursuing its wonder and elation just isn’t worth the risk.
Ho hum 🙂
Agreed! If only we could use mania in small doses that would give us the edge when we safely need it. I love this: “pursuing its wonder and elation just isn’t worth the risk.” You are such a wordsmith! So glad you’re blogging. 🙂
Thanks! That’s very nice to say. I appreciate your kind words 🙂
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