WRITTEN JANUARY 2019
Bipolar disorder is known as the “CEO disease” and living with it firsthand I can tell you why that is true. It is not something I am shameful of, it is something that I embrace because it has pushed me to new heights. We are visionaries who see the world differently. We have grandiose ideas that we feel we must follow through with. We want so badly for those ideas to come to fruition because we feel that they will change the world.
We feel that we must stand for more because, no matter what we accomplish, it feels as if it is never enough. Sometimes, a manic high will sweep us off our feet, but that is when creativity is highest and a rampage of ideas starts flowing through our minds. Of course, we can become completely illogical and go as far as having delusions of grandeur. Although, once we come back to reality, there are some things that we thought of when we were in that irrational state of mind that we dwell on because some very good ideas do come to you during mania.
Un-medicated or un-diagnosed, we can fall into periods of depression because we feel that the life we are living is inadequate. Even medicated, it is very hard to find the proper balance to create normal brain chemistry that makes us function like the rest of society. The struggle to find the right combination of medications, many times, leads to people giving up on medications altogether. Trying to find the right medications for your brain chemistry for bipolar disorder can sometimes take years. Through this frustrating process, so many times people will just say that medications do not work. Then they tend to go back to self-medicating through things such as marijuana, which can be helpful with depression. However, in some cases, such as mine, where I had a full-blown psychotic break and thought I was Jesus, it can lead to just that – delusions of grandeur. So self-medicating is very dangerous. Often though many people think it is the only way out.
Self-medicating and drug abuse are so common with bipolar disorder because people who are bipolar have extremely addictive personalities. Something like smoking marijuana for someone with bipolar disorder can be as hard as a habit to kick as cigarettes if you do not have a mental health disorder. We are impulsive and always want more. We go on spending sprees and many people end up filing for bankruptcy. We want more sex. We do risky things and things that are out of the ordinary. Euphoria sweeps us off our feet and we become energetic, talkative, and our thoughts race every night. We become very energetic and feel the need for less sleep because there is just way too much to do.
On the other end of bipolar is depression. In a manic low, I have had periods of depression that lasted for months. No matter how good that I had it in life, I had absolutely no self-esteem. I had so many friends, yet I felt lonely as if I were the only one alive. I would feel worthless and feel as if my life was no longer worth living. You would think it would be easier to sleep the day away, but sometimes your racing thoughts of depression keep you up all night. I used to stare at the clock every night and stress every hour that would pass before my alarm clock would go off because I was worried about something as simple as just getting a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is the best medicine when it comes to mental illness, and even if you are properly medicated you still need sleep. The first time I went full-blown manic was when the anxieties of my actions from my manic phase kept me awake for six days straight. This was the first time I had a psychotic break and suffered from delusions of grandeur. After three and a half days without sleep, you can go into a psychotic state. Sleep is sometimes hard to come by when you are manic, but it is crucial. The fact that it is hard to sleep when you are manic is a recipe for disaster.
So many people have such a stigma against medications because they are afraid of side effects or they just do not want someone to know that they are taking them or simply because they do not believe they would help. I do not understand why people do not think of the brain as an organ like the rest of the body. When you have diabetes and you are told to take insulin, you will simply take it – no questions asked. People will go through chemotherapy and radiation to stay alive from cancer, yet people are afraid to take a medication to heal their brain. Having a mental illness just means there is a chemical imbalance in your brain. So, if you no longer want to feel out of balance, depressed, or out of your mind, you must do something about it. You must find the proper balance of medications to be able to live a normal, happy, and healthy life.
The feeling of being in a full-blown manic high is the best feeling you are going to get. It is like the ultimate drug and being that people with bipolar disorder love to feel high, it is sometimes a feeling that we chase. Sometimes, people will stay away from medications and suffer through the depression because they are waiting for the mania to sweep them off their feet. When you are full-blown manic, it is like your brain is operating at 100%. I have been there where I could turn absolutely everything into a sign from God. After my accident, still believing I was Jesus Christ, I thought that every song ever was written for me as guidelines of how I was going to take over this world. I could take any lyric and make it have meaning. It makes listening to music or watching television an absolute blast. When you share the signs with other people that are mentally stable you cannot comprehend how they do not understand the signs you are showing them.
I say that you should speak up when you are struggling, but there is one other problem when it comes to mania. When you are manic, you do not realize you have a problem. In those manic highs everyone else may realize you have a problem, but to you, there is absolutely nothing wrong. The spending is fun. The drugs are fun. The sex is great. Life is great when you are manic, and you do not want that period of euphoria to end. You may just think your life is it an all-time high when really you are spiraling into an all-time low. It is the people around you that realize that you have a problem. Yet, if this has been your behavior for years and you have gone undiagnosed or they do not know about your diagnosis then they just may think that this is just the type of person that you are. You may go off to college, as an example, and your new friends may not know what your regular self is like. So, if you have a close friend spiraling out of control, then reach out to a family member back home and let them know what is going on. This way the person can seek treatment before it is too late. Before they reach that full-blown manic high that leads to hospitalization where it may take weeks or months for them to get their mind back. Sometimes people never can even come back to reality.
One of the most devastating parts of bipolar disorder is that it is hard to diagnose until you have a full-blown manic episode. People may not be diagnosed until their first suicide attempt. They may not be diagnosed until they have a full-blown manic high and do something dangerous like I did – like get behind the wheel of a car and crash going 120 mph leading to paralysis. Sometimes we do not notice that something is wrong with someone or that they are struggling and then we lose people to suicide. Our society needs to have a better understanding of the signs and symptoms of a manic phase to get people the proper treatment before it becomes too late and something drastic happens. More importantly, if you are struggling you need to open up to someone right away. Do not internalize your struggles because you are loved and there is hope for you.
I am truly grateful to be stable these days. It took a lot of work to find stability. The first year after my accident, I worked with my psychiatrist once a week to figure out the proper medications. Most people are not this committed. Also, unfortunately, insurance does not usually cover this type of treatment and there are too many barriers with insurance to get people with mental health disorders the type of treatment they need. Just one of my antipsychotics without insurance would cost $800 a month. With people getting manic and blowing through paychecks and filing for bankruptcy, insurance is not usually something they can afford. Even with insurance, sometimes it takes months to get into a psychiatrist and you are just written a prescription with no follow-up.
People are sent to the psych ward these days for maybe just three days at a time, and then sent on their way. Three days after a suicide attempt you would think that someone is not ready to face the real world. We need better treatment and better coverage to fight mental illness. We need affordable medication, affordable healthcare, and access to treatment right away. It is going to be a long battle before this mental health crisis is under control. I just urge you to spread awareness and be an advocate for yourself or a loved one with a mental illness, continuing to fight until we get the proper treatment that we deserve and so desperately need. Most importantly, if you are struggling reach out for help. Never stay silent.