Nothing sounds more like bipolar disorder than spending sprees, grandiose thoughts, and suicidal ideation. What follows is my worst manic episode that led to my first hospitalization.
The following is an excerpt from my memoir Seeking Happiness: A Bipolar Story:
Mania came upon me like a mighty wind hitting my sail. Within two weeks of increasing my antidepressant dosage, I was bombarded with overflowing passions. These started out innocuously enough, but one emotion swept me into the next as I spiraled into a seemingly bottomless madness.
My first obsession was with my body image. Whereas before I lifted weights in college because I found it enjoyable, now suddenly, I had to have 6 percent body fat and be built like Arnold Schwarzenegger or else I wouldn’t be attractive. Almost overnight I found myself lifting weights up to two hours a day, six days a week. I took my younger brother, who lived with me, along to the gym. He wore out quickly, but I pressured him to keep going, keep pushing, keep lifting in an endless struggle to be bigger, leaner, happier. I lifted and lifted, but I never tired – or to be more accurate, my mind never let my body tell me just how exhausted it truly was.
But the exercise I put my body through was nothing compared to the mental gymnastics I engaged in. I decided that this was the moment I was finally going to finish reading the Bible like I had always wanted to. I picked up where I had left off and started reading the New Testament. But “reading” was the least of what I did. I simultaneously poured over extensive verse-by-verse annotations included in my academic study Bible. If that wasn’t enough, I read my massive textbook on the New Testament, and then followed that with a second six-hundred-page tome on the Historical Jesus. I read, and read, and read, but could not devour books fast enough. I was consumed by my desire.
I read until I had finished all of my books. Then I put my Bible down and recognized Jesus for who I thought he really was – just a man who started a religious movement and whose followers deified him after his death. It felt like my eyes were opening for the first time. I could finally perceive what I could not see before – the bias of the biblical authors, the stitches they used to assemble the stories, and the myths they employed to create fantasy out of reality.
But why stop there? If Christianity wasn’t true and there was no God, then all religions were equally suspect and invented by people to fulfill their needs. Engrossed by the mania besetting my mind, it was the shortest of steps from discovering my own passion for religious exegesis to sharing my views – or imposing them if need be – on others. My mind was clear and the truth was known. It was time to help other people see “the truth.”
And the first person who had to know was Ruth. I became convinced that I had to show her what I saw. I would become the next great professor of Mormonism (her denomination) and I would lead her and the Mormons to the truth. I was going to change the face of American religion.
There was, of course, just one hitch to my plans. I was no public speaker or pastor and I certainly wasn’t about to join Ruth’s church and revolutionize it from the inside. The most logical route to my fevered brain was to write groundbreaking treatises that would be preeminent in the field, revolutionizing the way Mormonism was understood and practiced. Such are the thoughts of a mind on fire.
In order to accomplish this goal, I needed to do research, and in order to do research, I needed books – a lot of them. Despite owning a fully functional library card and being within walking distance of a university, I felt I had to own the books I was using for my research. And if my research was going to be thorough, I had to own a lot of books. So I bought books, and then more books, and then even more books. On the first day God created the heavens and earth, but I bought twenty-eight books for $700 to refute his existence. But like God, I wasn’t satisfied on day one – I wanted more, I needed more, so I bought more. While God was busy separating the light from the dark on the second day, I was busy buying thirty-five books for $500 so I could separate the Mormons from their prophet. I kept buying and buying until I had bought over one hundred forty books on Mormonism, with no sabbath day in sight. Every book I bought felt like it expanded my knowledge, even as they sat untouched, many still in their plastic wrapping, piling up on my bedroom floor.
Come to think of it, spending felt even better than creating, and I continued to do so uncontrollably. My wild spending habits didn’t stop after I bought every book on Mormonism I could lay my hands on. I returned to my fixation of mobile games and dropped $600 on them in a matter of days. And to come full circle, I decided now was the perfect time to acquire attractive new teeth to match my attractive new muscles. With only 10% down on $5,500, I had a brand-new set of braces attached to my chompers.
I felt such clarity of thought during this time. Everything made complete sense, and I felt completely grounded. This was what true wisdom was like, and I wasn’t about to pass on the experience no matter what it cost. If I had to spend to soak it all in, so be it.
In reality nothing could have been further from the truth. I couldn’t see all the bad decisions I was making, even as the bills started to mount. In a month’s time I had run through more than $3,500, plus agreeing to be on the hook for another five thousand. I managed to spend everything I had, emptying my bank account and maxing out – then going over the limit – on all my credit cards. Four years later, I’m still paying down this debt.
Unfortunately, mania was just the beginning. A deep, soul wrenching fatigue was festering beneath the surface. The smiling mask I wore called mania slipped and underneath it was a grimace. Depression entered into the maniacal mix I was feeling. There couldn’t be a more potent and lethal combination, as the mania provided the energy to act on my depressed emotional state.
And that’s when I found myself in a Walmart trying to price a handgun. For better or worse, it turned out that while Walmart sells toothbrushes and hairdryers and shotguns and rifles, they didn’t offer handguns (even to suicidal manic-depressives with money to spend). Since bigger was better in my fevered mind, I thought a bigger Walmart, the largest in the area in fact, would certainly care them, but no dice.
And so on my twenty-third birthday I stood in a run-down pawn shop. Sitting on a purple cushion behind a glass display was a stainless-steel revolver with a wooden handle and four-inch barrel. It was only $250, and my first thought was how affordable it would be to kill myself.
What stopped me from buying the gun is difficult to reason out. Before I had always maintained that buying a gun would create financial hardship on myself, leaving me unable to pay my rent and utilities. At the time the thought of spending that kind of money made me uncomfortably anxious, so I told myself I couldn’t afford to do it. But having “solved” my worries about money, the revolver’s price wasn’t a concern. Was it because my brothers were with me that day? Was I just scared? Did I lack the resolve?
I don’t know the answer, and I guess I never will. The best I can come up with is the simple fact that I didn’t buy the revolver because I wasn’t ready to kill myself. Instead, I walked out empty handed and checked myself into a mental hospital four days later.
To read about my adventure in the mental hospital, click here.