Hello to all of Sue’s fans! I’m thrilled to write for you. My name is Cat Davis, and I write a blog about my experiences with bipolar 1 disorder. Years before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I discovered my passion for working with people with special needs. Since then I’ve proudly advocated for people with “neural differences.” Now advocate for myself as well! Mental illnesses and disabilities are often stigmatized, so I enjoy teaching other about what exactly it means to live with something different going on in your brain. Before my diagnosis, I certainly assumed that bipolar disorder was only an illness for really crazy people, the people tucked away from society and institutionalized for their entire lives. Mental illness is an interesting topic, but also a confusing one. We just don’t know what causes mental illnesses, or how to cure them.
The article I’ve written for you today describes what the term “mania” means, which is a word stigmatized in and of itself. I hope you learn something from reading this, and I hope you enjoy! Thank you!
Since the onset of my bipolar symptoms at age 13, I considered myself as two beings: my depressed self and my normal self. When I was depressed, I found myself in therapy. Then I got back to normal. Then I stopped therapy. I forgot what depression was. I didn’t remember. I didn’t want to remember.
I didn’t know, no one knew, that what we considered to be my normal was actually my mania, gradually emerging from within me, a result of my mental miswiring.
My therapists only saw my depressed self. So they diagnosed me with unipolar depression. They prescribed me higher and higher doses of the antidepressant Prozac, because I was not getting better. I got worse. Prozac led to rapid cycling: my brain switching back and forth between mania and depression and mania and depression faster than ever before. I was hospitalized. Twice. In two months. I wanted to die. Prozac was killing me.
But I didn’t know Prozac was killing me. I thought my brain was killing me.
My 5th psychiatrist changed my life with three words: “you are bipolar.” He switched me from Prozac to a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic. Following the mania that earned me two hospitalizations, I settled into a moderate depression. But my new drugs helped, bit by bit, piece by piece, minute by minute. I stabilized in six months.
My psychiatrist told me that I needed to teach others about my mania, so they could help me recognize my prodromal symptoms. I gradually taught those closest to me what to expect, and how important it is to pull me down, no matter how much I protest. My family and friends helped to stabilize me almost as much as the drugs did.
I want to teach more people about mania, a confusing and terrifying term to those who do not understand it. Education leads to conversation, and conversation leads to acceptance. And I crave acceptance, for myself and for everyone who struggles with a mental illness.
So here are 9 of the warning signs of mania:
- Decreased need for sleep (and food)
Sleeping too little is both a cause and an effect of mania. When I don’t sleep enough, I become manic. And once I’m manic, I don’t sleep. Sleep is boring. Sleep is for the dead. I am not dead.
I also struggle with disordered eating when manic. In high school I would binge, filling my stomach up so full that I would bloat and end up at the infirmary. Then I would take laxatives for weeks, deciding that the painful cramps were worth a flatter stomach. Every now and then I still go days eating one meal or less. Food escapes my mind. Everything else seems so much more important.
- Increased energy, or feeling “wired”
Psychiatrists often misdiagnose bipolar as ADHD because mania often leads to hyperactivity. I bounce my leg uncontrollably to get rid of my excess energy, to try to force myself to pay attention. When I don’t bounce my leg, I wring my hands or twist my hair or chew my nails. My fingers perpetually shake. I don’t stop moving.
Research shows that exercising while manic may exacerbate symptoms. But exercise helps me to recognize my mania. When I start an episode, I punch and kick and run until my body cannot handle it anymore. I wake up the next morning and can hardly get out of bed. Ice baths are my best friend. I don’t notice my physical limitations when I’m manic. But I do notice the aftereffects, the exhaustion, the pain. And I remember to return to reality, to turn down the energy, for as long as I can that day.
- Rapid speech and racing thoughts
During a manic episode, I don’t care what anyone else has to say. I love the sweet taste of words coming out of my mouth. My friends tell me to slow down, to breathe. My freshman roommate yelled at me, “you’re not listening!” And it’s true. I wasn’t. Mania turns my brain into a tornado—a genius, beautiful, captivating tornado—and I get swept up in it. I go back and forth and up and down, considering if I should be a model or a mathematician, if I want to go to Paris or Prague, if I love him or him or him. My mind swirls. I don’t know what I’m thinking about anymore. I can’t keep up. I shoo away my thoughts, shouting, “Please leave me alone!” I don’t like my brain anymore.
Mania makes me the life of the party. Mania throws my self-esteem through the roof. I will ace every test and go to every party and drink more than the boys and show up all the girls. I can do anything! When I’m manic I take on many projects, convinced I can and will complete all of them. But I can’t, and I won’t. I have trouble carrying out long-term tasks because of my mood swings. Soon enough I won’t care about writing a book or losing 20 pounds or finding the cure to cancer. I will move on to my next novel idea.
- Euphoric mood
Sometimes I’m thrilled to be alive. Why did I ever consider leaving this perfect world? I smile and sway and sing songs in my head and dance to them, feeling like I’m high, higher than the highest drug high. Everyday is the best day of my life.
- Irritable mood
Sometimes I hate everyone. I pick fights, just because I can. I’m angry. Leave me alone! Don’t touch me! I hit people who tell me to stop, to act rational. Go away! I hate you!
- Risky, impulsive behavior
Mania seems to wreck my prefrontal cortex, seems to tell me I can do anything I want to, without consequences. I spend money I haven’t made. I don’t study for my tests. I drink until I’m blackout and can’t remember what happened the night before. Other people go on sex sprees. Other people participate in erratic self-harm. Other people commit suicide. Out of nowhere. Too fast. No time to consider what the actions will mean, no time to consider whether or not we care.
- Changes in thinking, attention and perception
The world is bigger, brighter and so, so much better when manic. Mania leads to more intense senses: yes, the five you learned about in elementary school. I literally experience stronger, experience deeper than other people do. I love every sight, smell, sound, taste, touch I encounter. Mania is colorful. Beautiful. Inspirational.
Researchers hypothesize if bipolar disorder leads to increased creativity. Think of your favorite actor, artist, writer. More often than you may expect, he is bipolar.
The most frustrating part about being manic in college is that I cannot concentrate for more than an hour at a time, if that. My study skills differ dramatically from other people; I must give myself at least a week to begin relearning information for a test. I slump through my notes at an impossibly slow pace. It is not fair. It never will be. This is my brain. This is how it works. This is something I deal with.
- Paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and psychosis
These symptoms are perhaps the most important to notice, perhaps the most dangerous, perhaps the reason psychiatrists often misdiagnose bipolar disorder as schizophrenia. I can only speak so much about bipolar psychosis, because I thankfully have only experienced a mild version. Did you know that a mild version of psychosis exists? Don’t worry; neither did I. But it happened to me nonetheless.
Psychosis is a break from reality. I hear voices and see things that aren’t there. My mind separates from my body. After a recent breakup, I saw him, heard him, and ran away from him, constantly. I swear he was right there, just look! But he was not right there. I became terrified to leave my apartment, because I knew I couldn’t hide from him in the real world. My fear capsized when I actually saw him. I was hospitalized. I couldn’t handle it.
Now I can handle it. And if you’re bipolar, or someone you love is bipolar, you can handle it, too. You will get there. Our society will get there. One correct diagnosis, one intellectual conversation, one research project is one step closer to acceptance. And I will continue to crave acceptance, for myself and for everyone who struggles with a mental illness, until I receive it.
Thanks again for reading! And thank you Sue for allowing me to write on your blog! It is truly an honor.
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About the author:
Cat Davis is a 20 year old student at the University of Virginia, and she writes a blog about her bipolar 1 disorder at highrisk1.wordpress.com. She is an Ambassador and writer for worthliving.co, a mental health awareness website based in Nova Scotia, and her articles can also be found at botid.org, alltop.com, selfgrowth.com, and iam1in4.com
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