Why I Am Grateful for My Manic Episodes
Two years ago I arrived at the ER in an ambulance. I don’t recall the ambulance ride, but I recall my hospital stay. I knew I was me, and I would recognize my husband… most of the time. But I also thought the hospital was fake, everyone was pretending to be somebody else, I was being held hostage and I had to run away. If it were a hospital, why were there more security guards than doctors? I couldn’t see any doctors; all I could see were the security badges on their sleeves. And why did they have to hold me on the table and forcefully take off my clothes, my bra? The entire time I was trying to figure things out. So I would ask the date. They would vaguely respond “Thursday.” Why wouldn’t they tell me the date? That’s what the paramedics had asked me and I was proud I knew exactly what day it was. I still knew. It was a reference point, a connection with reality, part of me knew my kids were at their last day of school. So why were they keeping that reference from me now? Trying to confuse me — white lies that my mind would blow out of proportion. I created an alternate reality from all books, podcasts and movies I had seen recently and memories that had been important and intense in my life. I had to escape. I tried to run away three times. Finally, three shots of medication later, I resigned to observing and found myself comforted by the security guard standing by my door who seemed far more curious than threatening.
I was transferred to the behavioral health unit of another hospital. Three days later I was allowed back home, but it took a month of intensive treatment, over a year of therapy and a lot of courage to overcome the fear and anxiety to trust my mind again and to regain confidence. And it took two years for me to be grateful for the most intense, disturbing, ugly and beautiful experience of my life.
Doctors told me (and I read) that it’s best to say “I have bipolar disorder” as opposed to “I am bipolar.” “Bipolar doesn’t need to define you,” I’ve often heard. Oh, but it does. I am bipolar and it probably always has and always will define who I am. I am grateful for those two months in a manic state where I had a completely different perception of the world. Most people will go through life never even knowing, never even wondering about what makes us human; what connects us to one another; what connects all life on earth; what link we have with the universe. I don’t know either. But the way I define my mental illness is that, for a short window of time, I lacked the capacity to filter all stimulus I received from the world. Boundaries for what separate and define us where lost, everything became blurred: people, places, time. But my persistent mind didn’t shut down, it kept trying to make sense of it all. I created so many interpretations of what I was experiencing — in one experience, we were being controlled by electronics. In another, I was able to see my previous lives. In another, I was a test subject in this world that was doomed to extinction and I was here to help figure out how we could do it differently. In yet another, I was living across two universes, shifting at random between the two. These two universes were connected in a way that if children painted butterflies, real butterflies where born elsewhere. I didn’t just create these interpretations, I lived through them.
Today, I have selectively picked the parts of my experience that I find useful — the parts that seem to transcend the “craziness.” I don’t care so much about the “how,” although I still have to stop my mind from pretentiously trying to solve the puzzle of life. Now I care about the essence of what I have experienced. I can find that essence by eliminating what caused fear or confusion, and instead, keeping those other parts of my experience that caused bliss. I don’t want to know if kids actually create real butterflies in another world by painting them in this one, but I know with all my soul that kids painting butterflies and adults connecting meaningfully with them as they do have an importance that is beyond our comprehension.
I can’t go back to being my old self. I don’t want to understand the world without the bipolar filter that, with help of medication and therapy, I constructed a place of living in relative peace with my alternate perception of reality. Today, if I were to choose to erase my mania experience or “lose my sanity,” I would choose lose my sanity. And that is something I wish this society can one day accept, if not understand.
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