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Why I Never Want to Forget My First Manic Episode

We never want to forget.

That’s why my wife and I are intentional about revisiting the events of 2018. What began as a year of great news and success, ended with a heartbreaking and lasting nightmare. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, and as the anniversary of my first major manic episode gets closer, I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my story again. I do so with the aim of inspiring someone else going through the same thing. Maybe you need to hear this. Maybe someone you love is currently away from home, unreachable, not themselves. Either way, my message is that there’s hope.

As we joined the international celebration of Marvel’s Black Panther and subsequent viewings of it, my psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant. It was to help manage the anxiety I was experiencing at the time. I was overstressed and overworked. My side business had been picking up. And doing crisis response at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. for my full time job had me burnt out. At the same time, past trauma had been bubbling up. It was a perfect storm I didn’t know I was in. For all these reasons, hypomania kicked into full gear around April. By summer’s end, I was sleeping less and going out more. I was also taking more risks — doing things I’d never do.

By October, I was on a Megabus to New York City with less than $10 to my name and nowhere to stay. I had drained our accounts, soon to drain our retirement and leave my job. My thoughts were racing, my body was hot most of the time, and I took to wearing the same outfits over and over again. I can distinctly remember looking out the front window of the bus. I was watching my life burn down, while frozen in place with a rusty seatbelt across my lap.

Fortunately and unfortunately, I publicly documented the hurtful/shocking things I was doing. Fortunately, because at least people knew where I was. Unfortunately, because who wants their worst possible moments to be plastered across the internet in real time? I wasn’t in control of the narrative. Mania was in control of me and didn’t really hit a slowing point until later that same winter.

It’s hard to even write this, though I revisit it often. Healing isn’t linear. There’s no end at which to arrive.

As with all things, life keeps moving, no matter our circumstances. Though my life was interrupted like when the Wifi just drops from your phone, I’ve been able to pick up the pieces these past three years. There have been ups, downs, opportunities, triumphs and lessons. I’ve had some down days and some really good weeks.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

I’ve been working on healing.

I was fortunate to have a safe place to land when I began to come down from my mania. Some have stories with a different set of circumstances. I know I was often close to being homeless, locked up, hospitalized or even dead. Being able to recover from home was a blessing. I was able to see a therapist, get rest and finally get to the point where I could shower regularly.

I’ve been figuring out relationships.

I often say that I burned everything down three years ago. That includes several relationships in my life. Some people I knew and trusted disappeared. They never checked in with my family to see how I was doing. Some blocked me. And some just wished me well — I still haven’t heard from them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not surprising. I know I hurt people. I’ve owned that and have taken steps to apologize and taken responsibility for my actions. But that doesn’t make the wound hurt any less.

It’s not all bleak though. I’ve been able to build new relationships through support groups, my work as a content creator and in my career as a higher ed professional. My familial relationships have strengthened like never before — they were the ones who were there before, during, and after the dust settled, and the ashes remained. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for their support.

I’ve been designing my future.

One therapist told me that I still get to have the life I want. I didn’t believe them at first. It was a difficult session. I was convinced I didn’t deserve to be happy or start over. I told myself that no one would want to befriend me, work with me or be served by me. It’s a sad thing to say to yourself, and I believed it. But I didn’t stay there.

In time, I took my therapists’ encouragement to create a dream list for myself. I became clearer with my values. I became laser focused on what I did and didn’t want in my life. I was careful to underscore everything with “There’s no rush. I have to get adequate amounts of sleep. None of this will be accomplished in a day.”

And let me tell you, a lot of what I wrote down has been coming true. I’m working a job I love. I’m doing things that align with my values. My faith in God has deepened. I’ve been stable since the summer of 2019, even during this pandemic. Yes, there were times when the medication didn’t work and I had to deal with the side effects. There were nights I woke up crying, angry because none of this felt fair. There were moments where I just wanted to delete all of my social media accounts and isolate myself forever. It hasn’t been rosy, but it’s been good.

The biggest thing that’s helped ground me is my relationship with my wife and my role as a father. My daughter’s happiness and safety are my biggest reasons for continuing to work on myself. Because of her, I’ve been able to frame my diagnosis as a gift. I’ve been more serious about following through with doctors, staying consistent with my sleep schedule and sharing my story.

There’s life after a manic episode. There’s hope too. Even though I can easily snap back to the dark forest of my life, I know there’s life beyond the trees. And, that’s true for you as well.

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

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