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What Can Happen With Mania

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

While I walked into Value Village I glanced at the textures of the fabric. It is a space I have known so well since my elementary school days of thrifting. Everything was brighter. I had gotten used to this new level of sensory perception. I certainly was not interested in my typical hunt and gather. I needed a sun hat. One I could wear as I rode the city bus to the best park I knew. As I sat in the green grass in my purple purchase, I spoke to myself. Something I had learned to do inside of my mind. I had been in the hospital for a month or so. They let me leave on a pass. Instead, I spent all of my money shopping and sitting in hotels. My family filed a missing person report. The hospital sent the police.

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It has been over 20 years since I felt the pendulum swing of my mood disorder. The lithium overdose in 2017 that had my toxicity level so high the intensive care physicians could not believe I was speaking was low. The high was the time I went camping alone. The moments where it all appeared to align. The synchronization of my life. It felt like the signs of the impending doom of a hospitalization. That was when I hit a deer. I hit her. She bolted out of the fog and dented the passenger side and all of the belongings I had left. I pulled over and sat with her while she died. I would have touched her or held her. She looked at me like she would bite me. How do you comfort a deer while she looks into your eyes and bleeds to death?

A human looks the same while they suffer in silence. I spent my silence looking out the windows. One window I looked out of for nearly five months was large. Some blackbirds flew in the open air. The white birds sat to the right on a roof in hundreds. The seasons changed, so did my medications. The other patients bought me tea and my hospital-supplied body lotion came in a paper med cup. The shampoo was worse. The highlight of my morning was the delivery of my extra yogurt to the clerk’s desk. It came with a plastic spoon.

My intolerance to antipsychotic medication prevailed. Psychosis is odd. It has nothing to do with feeling at that point. Daily life feels normal. Hiding your delusional thinking seems easy when you know the answers to the questions. It felt much like the interviews I used to conduct with candidates for employment. I rate my mood a seven. That gets you fewer questions and more time alone. Alone is where it is easier to be when you are lost.

I tried to disappear from the world I once knew, so I could start a new life where no one knew me. It was the grand plan of my life for a year. The same year my mother forced me into the hospital. I bought a Jeep off of Kijiji and called it manifestation. I drove from Saskatchewan to Manitoba when it was minus 50 below with an uninsured vehicle and invalid driver’s license and left an apartment full of my belongings. The rest I threw away. The second time in a year I had chosen to do this. I was alone in a hotel for a month until I ran out of money. The memories of this period I keep to myself.

My mother cried when she sent me away for the third time in a year. Her pain meant nothing to me. I had heard too many people cry the worst tears of their lives daily. Human pain is not the same when you speak to someone who tried to end their life over lunch. My father hates my empty eyes when I am on sedatives. He always has. I spoke to no one for the third stay. This time it was six months. I refer to this period of my life as the letters. The ones I wrote and used the government to mail. Those letters made sense to no one.

The acute wards of a psychiatric facility feel like a spitfire of enlightenment. The patients speak in riddles and leave signs for one another. I worked every day and thought it was important because grandiosity usually does. Kind of like Carl Jung’s “Red Book” or Einsteins annus mirabilis. I know why Nikola Tesla was alone. I realized why Van Gogh seemed so intense. I certainly understood why people walk away from life. My stays were long because I no longer wanted a home. I just wanted to be left alone.

After four and a half months in the hospital with no medications in my system, the psychosis became obvious. I have been on 25 combinations of medications since I was 19 years old. I have a condition that limits the classification of drugs my body can tolerate called akathisia. Again I was given a choice between two antipsychotic drugs. Panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, tremors and constant walking always follow. Agitation feels a lot like wanting to crawl out of your skin and then peeling it off so that you can breathe freely. I could feel my brain sitting in my prefrontal cortex. The pressure had built from my flight mode. I gave up the fight I was having with myself. I was about to move in with a fellow patient. She was sent to the hospital by her sons for spending a lot of her money. She was in her 80s. We spoke daily about her lifelong mood disorder as she battled her dementia.

After a year and a half of barely speaking, I called my mother. She cried when she told me how sick I was. I asked to come home. I left with the only belongings I had kept. A suitcase and a bag of clothing. A printer, two Rubbermaid bins of art supplies, and my occupational therapy creations. After we packed my contents into her Dodge Ram I told her the image I kept replaying in my mind. It was from an IKEA commercial. The lady jumps into her vehicle with her husband and cheers start the car, start the car, and the vehicle speeds away. My mother laughed as we drove away. This time was better than the truck ride when she picked me up from the hotel. That was the ride where she told me about all the dead deer she had driven past and the period of her life when I went missing. I sang out loud to She Talks to Angels by The Black Crowes.

I lost two years of my life to my illness. Looking out the window feels different as you age. At least I no longer lay in a bed looking at the white birds while the seasons change. The window I look out most now reminds me of this maquette I saw once in a movie. I hear sirens at night. Finally, it no longer scares me. The humans I met inside of the hospital during my stays changed me.

My fine arts thesis during my university education was about mental health and my genealogy. It was entitled “And it happened to her, and her, and maybe even her.” My great-grandmother spent time in the same rural hospital as I. She laid in the same bunk in the dorm-style unit I was on. I have a photograph of her there. She looked young and beautiful. So did I. My grandmother walked the halls of an acute ward as well. My great-grandmother had dementia after electroconvulsive therapy and years of addiction. My grandmother died of her second round of cancer when I was 15. I wondered what it felt like to be the daughter of that mother as I hung out in a bed staring out the window and waiting for the rest of my life.

I was angry at the world for a while. I felt remorse for that anger until I realized I resented humans who left me behind. We all feel sad. We all feel mad. You classify some of us as something else. Something you do not want to talk to. Something you do not want to touch or feel or sense. Empathy is learned over time and gained with experience. Compassion is another symptom that comes with age.

I have worked in the field of human services and disability for most of my adult life. The vesica piscis is a mathematical lens that has two equal circles that overlap in the middle. The middle is the shape of an eye. I think of this as the exchange between two humans. Two equals. The middle area is the shadow where both of the minds align. The work in human development happens inside of the shadow. I teach this often in leadership development.

I wonder how other people sit with themselves when they are alone. I watch two humans as they interact. I usually find it difficult. People often avoid reciprocity because it takes time and effort. Life is about being the student and then being the teacher and understanding at the moment which role you are playing.

I only wore the sun hat that one day. It was beautiful. I left it at the hospital. Inside the closet, they lock clothes in. Those clothes now belong to people who have nothing. I had things. I had no one. I was speaking to a friend at the clothing store we were working at in 2018. A young girl below us was seated on a display case. She said I am alone. I do not feel lonely. She was in the store with her parents and had heard it on the radio.

This period of my life felt like that. I spent my time with different people. People who I did not know and I learned from them. You experience your life alone. Your life in the series of moments you gather along your travels is your reality. Getting to the ground can be difficult when you get high off the intellect of your moving mind. I found my way back. I still smile when I see blackbirds. The white ones often make me laugh.

Image via contributor

Originally published: February 26, 2022
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