Talking to a survivor this morning felt like coming home. She and I met through our psychosis support group. I was shocked when I went to my first group and heard how similar all our stories were.
One woman asked if anyone else had been diagnosed with bipolar, and the vast majority of us nodded.
“I thought my baby was the reincarnation of Jesus,” said another, and a group of us enthusiastically cried, “Me too!”
But when someone admitted, “I was traumatized by having to stop breastfeeding,” we all put our hands to our hearts. That was one of the most universal pains of the experience.
I hesitate to write too much about support group because we abide by Vegas rules- the specific stories aren’t mine to tell.
But what I can say is that it’s amazing how similar our experiences are, when they seem so utterly bizarre to people who haven’t experienced them. It used to feel like my experiences were creative novelties made up by my own mind, but the strange truth is that they’re much more like physical symptoms: predictable, recognizable, and (fortunately, generally) highly treatable. Delusions of grandeur, in particular, seem to present in uncannily similar ways, as do religious delusions.
At first, I resented this a bit. I thought it made me less special- my story less unique. Even the hypergraphia was predictable- nearly all of us in the group have blogs.
Still, I valued the comfort of finding people like me. I came up with the PyschoSisterhood name because that’s truly what it felt like: being inducted into an elite group of people who all had a deep, familial connection through their shared trauma.
One of the things that I discussed with my friend today as we walked was something that’s still considered a faux pas to talk about, but many people with bipolar can tell you: and that’s how unbelievably good mania feels.
It’s not all sunshine and roses- it can be truly terrifying, like having a bad trip. But if it hits just right, for me, there’s no joy quite like mania.
This time around, I told my mom that I thought the love I had for my daughter during mania was what it was like to experience true love- the way God must feel it. She didn’t like that very much.
But after having been depressed for so long (severe depression from July-August and mild-moderate depression from August-November), mania felt positively euphoric. I was able to be silly with Bailey. I looked Matt deeply in his eyes and told him how much I loved him. I zoomed around the house managing to clean while I went, taking normal everyday tasks and turning them into a game, or at least an effortless ritual. I was able to listen intently to the coffee chats I had with coworkers, asking them insightful questions as though I was their therapist.
Life felt easy, particularly in my hypomania before the psychosis set in.
True, there were downsides. It was difficult to sit still, sleep, or concentrate on challenging tasks, and, eventually, I really started to annoy Matt. And as it evolved into psychosis it became clear that there was a risk that, while I hadn’t yet, I could become dangerous to myself or others.
We didn’t get help in time to avoid a hospitalization, which was partially due to advice we’d been given not to fear hypomania- that when channeled properly hypomania could actually be a great way to live. We wanted so badly to believe this. To think that I was the kind of person who could experience intense joy without having to problematize or pathologize it. That my elation could be like it used to be before my diagnosis- a sign of satisfaction with my life, instead of an omen of impending doom.
So we believed this advice.
This did not please my psychiatrist, when we told her after waiting to get in touch with her until I was pretty far gone. She scolded us after the fact, like small children, as we promised not to do it again.
But now we’re left wondering what the future holds. Will I fall back into post-mania depression? That possibility seems unbearable, especially since I definitively can’t take SSRI’s anymore (that’s what launched this round of mania). So I look for a new source of hope. Maybe that little bit of mania reset my brain and it will be easier to teach it to be happy and healthy again? Maybe if I’m diligent with my CBT strategies and healthy life habits the depression won’t come back (for now)? We don’t know, and that’s the scary part- the frustrating part- when we thought, three weeks ago, that I had unlocked some secret to doing so well.
So we just wait. And while I wait, I walk. And after I walk, I write.
I hope that some day I’m able to look back at these posts and see them as distant memories. That my mania and severe depression and hospitalizations will be few and far between, with a lot of joy in the middle. But until then I’m going to have to grapple with memories that are simultaneously blissful and traumatic.
And find people who can understand exactly what I mean when I say that.
Thanks for reading,
73 miles down, 27 to go