Even though I was unaware of it, I experienced hypomania throughout my childhood. Now that I am more educated on the disease and I understand what hypomania is, I can look back and say, yes, I was the textbook-definition of early bipolar disease. But it wasn’t until my senior year of high school (maybe even earlier but I honestly don’t recall… thanks to my flawed memory) that I began experiencing severe manic episodes.
“Episode” is such a misleading term, though. My mania was not short bouts of racing thoughts and psychosis for a couple hours a day. My mania often lasted for weeks or even months and only would stop for a short intermissions of severe depression.
I remember my entire senior year being filled with mania. I would stay up all night working on art or studying. I graduated with a 4.2 GPA because I had insanity tied to my work ethic. I indulged in risky behavior and wouldn’t come down from the ledge. I could go on for hours about all the strange things I did that year. If only I had known what mania was back then.
The first signature manic episode that stands out to me is when I ran away from college after being on campus for two days. My parents had moved from Arkansas to Maryland shortly after I graduated high school and I moved from Arkansas to Illinois for college. I think about how much effort and money my parents put into getting me out there and I am ashamed to this day about throwing it all away.
My boyfriend was a good for nothing man-child back in Arkansas (in mania I indulged in bad taste), and only two days after arriving on campus, I began obsessing over booking a flight to visit him for my birthday in October. My parents kept telling me to wait and enjoy my new college experience and that we could discuss booking the ticket later.
One thing my parents should be recognized for is how when I was very sick, they were still supportive though I always saw them as the bad guys. My parents were always the ones standing by me and talking me off the ledge. And for that, I always treated them as the enemy. I hated them. They were horrible people. I had no idea why they didn’t want me to jump off that cliff. Now that I am more sane, I am so grateful for all they endured with me. I am so lucky for how much of my insane behavior they have forgiven. But most of all, I owe my life to them for recognizing that I was so ill.
After my parents talked on the phone with me for long hours and attempted to convince me to just enjoy my first few days as a college student, I decided they were evil and I had to leave. Why I wasn’t interested at all in my new life as a college kid, I will never understand. But I packed up all my things and went to the Dean’s office and withdrew from school. With all my dorm-mates and advisors begging me to stay, I hopped on an airplane and flew to Arkansas.
I think I stayed at my dead-beat boyfriend’s drug dealer’s house for about a week, maybe even less than that. And I honestly do not remember a single thing from those days. I was so deep into psychosis, my memory is gone.
I ended up calling my parents and begging them to save me. I don’t remember what I said or what I did. I just know they got me on a plane to Maryland and that’s where I would be for the next five years.
In my first few years in Maryland, I frequently got mistaken for being a drug addict. A few months after I had arrived there, I got a retail job at a store at the mall. I worked the 5am stock shift most days and all my coworkers were women—mean, catty women. I had heard several passing rumors that I must be on drugs. I never found out what drug people thought I was on, but I had heard rumors so far down the line that my 13 year old sister told me one of her classmate’s mom worked at my store and said I was doped up all the time.
I don’t blame people for assuming I was on drugs. Although, you shouldn’t really spread rumors about people whether they are on drugs or not. If you don’t know what bipolar disorder is, you might not understand why someone was behaving a certain way. There were some days I was so hyped up in mania, I would be talking a mile a minute. I frequently would get stuck on certain topics and talk about them nonstop. I remember thinking to myself, “I feel so giddy,” as I felt my heart beat in my fingertips. On impulse, I once spent $300 on clip-in hair extensions that I wore once. ONCE. Also, if any of you know me, I never do my hair so why would I ever buy hair extensions in the first place.
Then there was my sleep disorder that I developed around 19 years old (I probably had mild symptoms of it in high school too because I was always falling asleep in class). I didn’t get an actual diagnosis until I was probably 21 or 22. I had several sleep studies done on me, where I would go sleep in the hospital for two days and the nurse would attach all these wires and sensors to my head and all over my body.
It’s called a “non-specific sleep disorder”. The sleep doctor explained to me that at night I was not entering the REM phase of sleep. So I essentially could sleep for 20 hours a day and still feel like I had not slept at all. This plays into my drug addict image because I would literally fall asleep standing up, mid-conversation. I totaled my first car because I fell asleep driving. (No worries, I don’t drive anymore). I’ve lost two jobs because I fell asleep on the clock. I can’t describe how awfully, painful it is to feel so tired, you literally can’t function.
There is no treatment for this disorder because the cause is unidentifiable, hence the name “non-specific.” So I continued my symptom management with a ton of Adderall. When my sleep disorder was really prevalent (it is less severe these days), I would take one instant-release Adderall immediately when I woke up. Then I would take an extended-release Adderall a few hours later, and around 5 or 6pm when I would start to feel exhausted again, I would take another instant-release. I have also always been a coffee drinker and that wasn’t always enough.
Even with all the Adderall and coffee, I was still so drowsy that people assumed it had to do with my drug addiction. Then on top of the drowsiness, add in my depression. In contrast to my manic times, I would be so dark and heavy some days. I remember sometimes, when I got a minute alone stocking the floors, I would just silently cry to myself. I don’t actually know if anyone ever noticed, but if they did they probably thought it was weird.
When people ask me why I haven’t gone to college yet, I have learned to say I had to withdraw because of health issues. I find a lot of safety in saying that. It allows me to truthfully identify why I have struggled so much. I am ill. I am sick. I have a disease. I had to withdraw from college because of my health condition. I got called a drug addict because of my health condition. I will always be battling and treating my disease, but every day I am one step closer to mental health.
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out What Depression Teaches You