The following is an excerpt from my memoir Seeking Happiness: A Bipolar Story:
I stayed in my suicidal state for a month before it finally lifted, or more accurately, before it shifted to the opposite polarity, and I began running around manic again.
My mood elevated, and I became elated. I told everyone I was in remission because I felt so good. I was overflowing with goal-oriented energy. I would read for hours upon hours on end. First, I decided I was going to re-read the entire Bible a second time, and I bought over $100 in textbooks to supplement my reading. I planned that I would get into graduate school to study the Bible after I finished these books. While I was still reading the Bible, I also purchased a 300-page book on bipolar disorder and finished it right away too—cover to cover. Then I spent another $100 or more buying more books on bipolar disorder because I was going to learn as much as I possibly could about my condition and how to survive it. Before my new bipolar books even arrived in the mail, I acquired a very expensive textbook on Spanish because I decided I was going to finally master the language. Then I would master Latin, followed by French, followed by German, followed by Greek.
Before I could finish one project, I had started another. I wanted to quit my job because it was getting in the way of me accomplishing my goals. When I told others about all my projects, my words tumbled out of my mouth such that they could hardly be stopped. While reading a medical textbook on bipolar disorder, I decided that I would become a clinical psychologist and become part of the solution for curing bipolar disorder. That’s when my therapist finally stepped in and pointed out I was burning the candle at both ends. Only then did I realize that I was being swept away by the current of my disorder.
After a month the manic episode ended and with it my goal-oriented energy departed. I could no longer read even a page from my medical textbook on bipolar disorder, which earlier I would effortlessly pore over for ten hours a day. The elated quality of my mood ended as well, and I returned to a middle ground—not manic and not depressed, but not happy either.
This was my second strongest manic episode. Here I’m going to try to break it down into its parts, so you can get a better idea of what a manic episode looks like. It is important to note that my experience is one of many. Manic episodes — while sharing several of the same symptoms — can vary widely into how they actually play out.
I was on lithium at the time, which in theory, prevented my manic episode from getting much worse. That said, it should have prevented it from getting as bad as it did anyway. I was also on Latuda, but it doesn’t have antimanic properties like lithium.
So often one bipolar episode follows another. In my case, my manic episodes tend to follow my depressions. For others, the reverse. It is unsurprising that one of the worst depressions I ever had spawned one of the strongest manic episodes I’ve ever had too.
The first thing to note about my episode is my mood. I switch almost overnight from being hyper-suicidal to feeling elated. This elation constantly expanded as my ambition grew without restraint.
I chose to re-read the Bible. It’s important to realize that preoccupation with religion can be a symptom of mania. Furthermore, I was a religious studies major in college and had read the entire Bible before. It took months to do. In an instant I said I would re-read it as if it were something easy to do. The textbooks I bought to read along side it were 1,300 pages combined. Yet this goal seemed so simple to me. It was like reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This was just the start though. I decided I was going to to back to school and become a professor of religion and teach the Bible for the rest of my life.
My attention only lasted so long before I became distracted. For some reason, I chose to buy a book on bipolar disorder, and I couldn’t put it down. This became a new goal. I had not stopped believing in my old goals of re-reading the Bible and becoming a professor. Instead I added this new goal of researching bipolar disorder on top of my existing pursuits. Goal-oriented behavior is a very common symptom of mania.
My mind just kept running in every which way, and soon the idea just popped into my head, “I’ll finish learning Spanish.” I studied it in high school and college but never learned it. I decided this was the perfect time, and while I was at it, I’d go ahead and learn French and German which are considered research languages for biblical studies, Greek which is the original language of the New Testament and required to be a professor of it, and finally Latin, a language I wanted to learn for no other reason than to beef up my English vocabulary by understanding the Latin roots underlying the it.
Not only did I believe I could learn these languages, research bipolar disorder, re-read the Bible, and become a biblical professor, I thought I was halfway there. You see, mania clouds judgment and causes marked impairment, whether that’s socially or occupationally or financially, or even generally. Fortunately, in this episode I didn’t get arrested or nearly bankrupt myself.
My poor friend at work. Another symptom of mania is pressured speech. What this means is that my words were flying out of my mouth AND I wouldn’t let my friend speak. I would keep talking even as he tried to say something. I had such excitement inside of me and soooo much to say, I couldn’t slowdown to snail pace to hear him out.
Finally, my episode did end. I came down enough that I could realize I was in an episode. That also means that during the entire time I was up, I didn’t realize that I was up. I was running wild and didn’t even realize it.
Afterward, I found myself unable to read a single page in my bipolar textbook. The reason was not because I was depressed. I was in a middle ground. Manic episodes come in three phases: prodromal, acute, and recovery. I was in the recovery phase and experiencing functional impairment.
In the recovery phase, functional impairment is easier to explain. I’m recovering. That explanation fades with time as the functional impairment extends pasted the recovery phase for no obvious reason. I can’t explain it myself, but I live it after each episode of mania or depression.
That was my second worst episode. Hopefully, I won’t have another one that bad any time soon.