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My Own Personal Hell

How It Feels to Have Full-Blown Mania

I was 20 when it first happened. I had just started my second year of being at a four-year university, living with a few roommates that I had lived with the previous year. I was studying political science and it was mostly going well, minus my first quarter when I had stretched myself too thin after working long hours on a congressional campaign. Midterms were coming up, and I took a weekend and went with some old friends up to Los Angeles to be in the audience of the American Music Awards. That was when something strange began.

The night of the awards show was a blast. Hanging out with old friends, seeing the biggest pop stars in the world performing live. I felt amazing. In retrospect, I felt intense euphoria. At some point in the middle of the night, I realized that I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned in my friend's dorm apartment, and I couldn't turn off my brain. The thoughts endlessly swirled, and at some point I noticed that I had been talking out loud for hours. I started crying and didn't know why. I felt so happy and I thought that maybe it was a sign from God.

The next day, I could tell my friends were concerned, but they also didn't know what was wrong with me. Nor did they confront me about it. When I got back home to San Diego, I somehow arranged to meet up with my best friend growing up. I don't remember what we talked about, but I know I was crying again when we did. After this, several days went by in a blur.

It was the week of Thanksgiving, 2007. My housemates had left early to be with their families. I had planned on coming back home for the holiday after my midterm exams were over. None of this would come to be, however. The thoughts were becoming more rapid, and I was becoming more out of touch with reality. I vaguely remember calling people I knew and yelling at them for unknown reasons that didn't make any sense. I started hallucinating and believing that I could hear the voices of loved ones in my mind. I don't believe I slept for a few days.

Early one morning, I woke up on the front lawn of someone's house. I don't know how I got there. I got up and walked around, confused. I thought that I was in Heaven. I couldn't find my car and it took me awhile to realize that I was a couple miles from my home. I walked back to my home, only to find that I had locked myself out. My keys were nowhere to be found. A police car pulled up, and the officers asked me a few questions. Luckily, in spite of my obviously deranged mental state, I remained calm. They placed me in a 51-50 hold (an arrest for the person's own protection) while they figured out what to do with me. Suddenly, for reasons I did not know at the time, my Aunt Patti showed up and talked to the cops. She was able to get them to release me to her. Apparently, my mom had become worried about me because of my behavior from the past week (strange phone calls and all) and asked my aunt to check on me.

We drove to meet my mom somewhere. My memory is very fuzzy from this time, but when she was driving me home, I began talking to people who weren't in the car as if they were there. She took me to a psychiatrist immediately, who then sent me to a hospital right away.

I spent ten days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). It was a surreal and many times frightening place, with patients who were in far worse states of mind than I was. Talking and interacting with them could be comforting or fun, but sometimes it was painful seeing the harshness of their own mental illnesses. I was diagnosed with Bipolar I, an illness that I knew nothing about before this. Never before had I experienced an episode like this one.

My manic episode swung wildly from high points of extreme euphoria, during which I felt invincible and as if I might be Jesus, to low points of feeling deflated and worthless. What goes up must come down. It felt like my own personal hell. The drugs that I had to be given during this time were quite heavy, trying to stabilize my mood and bring me back to reality. I would sleep heavily at times, and other times be far too nervous to fall asleep. I told my family how scared I was being in the hospital, and my mother helped get me back home sooner than the doctor wanted me to. She did this because she knew I would be able to sleep better and get well at home easier.

It took me years to really fully recover from that episode. My anxiety was persistently high for a long time after. I carried Xanax pills with me in a small Ziplock bag at all times, fearful that I would have a panic attack in public. Any time that my speech sounded sped up, my family would ask me if I was feeling okay, worried that I might fall back into mania again. I did actually have a minor episode about a year after that one, but fortunately, I was able to nip it in the bud before it got worse. 

The worst part of everything was not feeling like myself for a long time. I felt like I had lost my sense of humor and that I couldn't enjoy the same things I used to. When I started to gain those things back, that was when I finally felt like I had recovered. Still, not a day goes by that I don't think of my first manic episode. I am different forever because of it.

I am grateful that I have had the support of my family and friends for my difficult times. It is easy to see how one could be abandoned by less compassionate friends and relatives when they are suffering from mania. The behavior change is so drastic and the thinking becomes so delusional that many will assume it must have been brought on because of drug or alcohol abuse. Or that perhaps the change is irreversible. Many homeless people are victims of mania. If you know someone who has manic tendencies, it is important to speak up when the symptoms are flaring up. Catching it early can spare a lot of difficult time and pain. Showing patience and compassion is the very best thing we can do for someone experiencing mania. And if you have just been through a manic episode, don't give up hope for yourself. It gets much, much better. You will be yourself again.

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