My Monster: Mania

I became symptomatic with bipolar disorder when I was about 16 years old, after my dad abruptly left in the middle the night, never to return. My mom and I searched endlessly for him, driving the streets at night, shining a flashlight into dark corners of our tiny Florida town, looking for him like a lost puppy. I knew he wasn’t there; she knew he wasn’t there, but looking gave us a sense of control. That’s when my symptoms started to peek through. At first, the signs of bipolar were small and quiet, knocking around inside my mind like a tiny, restless mouse. There was cyclical thinking, obsessive tendencies, and, of course, delusions of grandeur.

Yet, over time, these symptoms grew and changed, taking the shape of something totally different. Inside me, what was rattling the cage was no longer a mouse. It was a massive, terrifying beast; one that forced me to do and say things I never would have otherwise. The monster made me believe I was someone and no one all at once, it drove me to ruin relationships, to humiliate myself and others, and to take huge risks as if they were nothing at all. That’s what Bipolar 1 does.  It starts off slowly and increases in intensity. Before long, it’s consumed the life of the one dealing with the disease and everyone around him. It is relentless, unforgiving, and steals with both hands.

 It’s difficult for me to look back at my life and not wish that I could scream, “Get help, man. This is not normal!” Instead, I’m forced to relive moments that I desperately wish I could make vanish into thin air. Like film reels on repeat, I watch myself in the moments when I convinced friends and family that I was going to be a fighter pilot, even after I was kicked out of the program because I was failing out of school. I see myself making waves in my career in insurance sales, only to have my ego inflated enough that, in mania, I was fired after I challenged my boss in front of hundreds of employees—by comparing car insurance to McDonald’s French fries. I watch as I bought a Hummer behind my wife’s back and hid it in a nearby parking lot for months. I blink away tears as I see myself in divorce proceedings with my wife, signing away my rights to property, money, and my children. I peek through my fingers and watch as the bloodthirsty monster steals my dignity and leaves me living alone in a 100-year-old, dirt-floor cabin in the woods, cursing God.

 I lived as an undiagnosed bipolar person for 35 years of my life. That’s until I was fortunate enough to be referred to a psychiatrist who was able to look at me, listen to me, make astute observations, and ask questions that revealed my diagnosis. I firmly believe that first appointment with him saved my life, because prior to that, suicide seemed like the only way out.  

 It wasn’t instant; it was gradual. But as soon as the proper meds settled into my system, it was as if I could see the world clearly for the first time in my life. My mind was quiet, my thoughts were slow, I could make decisions rationally, I could deal with my emotions appropriately. The monster wasn’t gone—he never will be—but he is silent now. I’ve made peace with the fact that I will spend my life keeping him at bay with medication, therapy, psychiatry, and daily work on myself. Sometimes I can feel him fighting to get out—rattling the bars of the cage, just itching to burst through. But most of the time, I’m able to exist, maybe not as a normal person, but as someone who’s figured out how to lock his monster up, and throw away the key.