Lies Mania has Told Me
by Erika Nichols-Frazer
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Mania is a liar. It convinces those experiencing it of things that have little to no basis in fact. A common symptom of mania is paranoia, which can initially arrive in a relatively innocuous form (everyone is talking about me) but, unchecked, can morph into something far more harmful and dangerous (the government has implanted a tracking device in my arm, or there’s a plot to kill me).
In my case, while experiencing multi-week-long bouts of mania as a result of bipolar disorder I, the disease has convinced me of things that simply were not true:
- my husband didn’t love me anymore and we couldn’t work on our marriage
- I could see spoken language and my rare condition would be of interest to the medical community as well as celebrities like John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, who’d certainly want to interview me on their shows
- I could find love in a near-stranger and would live happily ever after,
- that 200 pages of unedited nonsense would surely turn into a bestseller.
With clarity, I now know that none of these things were actually true.
While I never got around to writing to John Oliver or Stephen Colbert while deep in the throes of a manic episode, I did leave my husband for two weeks, dead-set that the distance that had grown between us was irreparable. I immediately took up with a person who, back in high school, had made me extremely uncomfortable with his advances and whom I’d blocked several times on social media. I ignored the warning signs that this person was unhinged and even potentially dangerous. I believed I was in love, confusing sex for something more meaningful.
My manic brain said, here is someone who sees how brilliant and desirable I am, who appreciates me, really sees me—everything is perfect! Never mind the fact that he had a dead-end job that he promptly quit so he could spend more time with me, that he had no place to live and was surfing couches and rapidly wearing out his welcome, that, even though he was thirty-two, his father had confiscated his credit card, that he’d never been in a relationship that lasted more than a month, that my friends had nick-named him “Creepy C.” in high school because he waited outside of my classrooms for me, performed an original love song for me in the hallway, disrupted my health exam to bring me a CD he’d made me on the back of which he’d written the titles in superglue. So many red flags mania told me to ignore.
I stopped going to my job (thankfully, my boss and coworkers were understanding and allowed me to take a few unpaid weeks off), didn’t answer calls from concerned friends and family members, spent money recklessly, barely slept or ate for weeks. I believed I could make a new life for myself, that I was finally the person I was supposed to be with no responsibilities or ties to anyone besides my new lover, who also had mental health issues. We were convinced we were going to be famous. More lies.
Mania has also convinced me I don’t need to eat or sleep and can subsist solely on candy (which I crave when manic) and beer, never mind that sleep and healthy eating can help cure symptoms of mania and alcohol can worsen them. Mania has made me pace my dorm room all night, talking to myself. It has made me scratch at my skin, throw things at the wall, scream. It has caused me to anger over virtually nothing, a minor suggestion my husband made or an offhand and well-meaning comment. Mania has told me that no one will ever love me, that I’ll be abandoned like I felt I was at a teen psychiatric hospital when I was thirteen; things will never get better, also all untrue.
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While in the midst of one of my worst manic episodes to date, which lasted several weeks, I spent an entire three-hour drive by myself rambling aloud, convinced that I was writing a brilliant manifesto that people would surely want to read. When I got home, I lay on my stomach on the carpet in my writing loft and furiously typed more than 200 pages in a night without stopping to edit or even reread, gibberish words filling page after page, persuaded that some hidden meaning lay in all of this that the world needed to read. It was coming out perfect the first time, I truly believed; I was inventing a new form, like Jack Kerouac or Bob Kauffman. It would be celebrated for generations to come, just like those Beat-era poets whom I loved. I would immediately find an interested publisher—in the Big Five!—and be propelled to fame and success before I was thirty.
Mania is often followed by depressive episodes, which can also lie to you. You’re incapable and unworthy of love; you’re worthless, a failure. Bipolar I can involve wild swings from up to down and back again and persuade you that it will always be like this.
After more than three weeks of feeling like a balloon floating away from myself, I started to become more aware of my surroundings and found myself in a life I didn’t recognize. Day by day, my thoughts began to reassemble themselves into neat lines, coming just one at a time again. First, it was what have I done? I was angry at myself for things that felt out of my control. I began to sort the memories of the last few weeks, the ones I could recall, anyway. It was as if I was watching someone else’s life. Then, I even felt some sympathy for myself—I’d been so lost, so alone. One thought began to connect to the next; I slept a full night through. It was like reemerging from a fog, seeing myself and the situation I’d put myself in more clearly.
As I slowly, gradually, returned to myself after the weeks-long manic episode in which I left my husband, I realized that I did not love Creepy C. and had no future with him, that I was still in love with my husband and he still was—and always would be—in love with me, that our problems were solvable and that, with a lot of work, we could rebuild our relationship. I returned to my job. I moved back home. I slept soundly again. Moments of mania and unreasonable outbursts began to subside, though didn’t disappear altogether for several weeks or even months. My husband and I went to a couples’ therapist and I began thrice-weekly psychoanalysis to better understand these uncontrollable emotions and how they took hold of me, to learn strategies to, as my therapist said, not get swept down the river of my emotions but fight the current and eventually make it to the other side.
Regular exercise (for me, team sports like soccer and hockey, as well as solo sports like running and snowboarding), uninterrupted sleep, and a balanced, nutrient-rich diet are some preventative measures you can take to keep mania and depression at bay. But, my therapist told me, you’re not always going to be able to avoid pitfalls, triggers, lies. She taught me to recognize symptoms like rapid talk, racing thoughts, nonstop movement, and anger (mostly at myself) as the oncoming of a storm. When I feel it coming on, I learned to do my best to slow down, breathe, be aware of my body, and assess the situation. Why am I feeling this way? Are these thoughts rational and true? Or do I know better? My therapist taught me how to stop, step out of the thought, and take a critical look at where my feelings came from and try to understand them. Talking about it, with my therapist and with my husband, friends, and family, helps me navigate my feelings, too. Just taking the time to be aware of why negative or harmful thoughts are clouding your judgment can help shut those feelings and behaviors down.
Mania can convince you that the worst is going to happen or that everything’s perfect and rosy when it’s far from it. It can make you buzz like a bee, talk nonstop, have racing thoughts that can’t be parsed out into coherent ideas, scratch at yourself, hit yourself, hurt yourself and those whom you love. It can be violent, paranoid, mean.
One of the hard lessons I had to learn through therapy (and with the help of several medications) was how not to listen to the lies mania told me, how not to be swept down that river, how to trust the people in my lives, such as my husband and family, who said they loved me, how to listen to my intuition and even love myself. While mania hasn’t reared its ugly head in me for four years, I know it’s always lurking, preparing to strike. And this time, after two years of psychoanalysis, months of couples’ therapy, adjusted medications, and lots of painful conversations with those whom I love, I’m prepared for it. And I won’t believe its lies.
EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
See Related Recovery Stories: Bipolar Disorder, Mental Health Aloud, Mental Health First Person Essays