The Pros and Cons of Spinning Out of Control
Iíd be lying to you if I wrote that being manic was a bad experience. Despite the fact that I squandered tens of thousands of dollars in two months and lost the respect of people I normally cared for, that period of time was, without a doubt, the most exhilarating days of my life.
Up until those manic times, I suffered from depression for 25 years. I saw therapists throughout those years, endlessly complaining about my loveless marriage to a woman I wasnít the least attracted to. Yet I refused to even entertain the thought of divorcing her after 13 years of marriage because the notion of leaving my two children was horrific. Whatever droplets of self-worth I had left was due to congratulating myself on what great sons I had.
During one of my hiatuses from a job I loathed, I called a cab and asked the driver to take me to a hospital Emergency Room. I told the triage nurse I was suicidal-which I felt, but wouldnít act upon solely because of its effect on my children-and a security guard escorted me into a locked unit where I remained for one week.
My medication dosage was doubled-much to the objection of my psychopharmacologist-which made me feel much better. No, not better-much, much better. For the first time in my life, I was blissful. Itís difficult for me to understand in retrospect how I hadnít attributed my state of sudden joy to the increase in meds. I had erroneously believed it was due to my hospital treatment-which was, I now realize, virtually non-existent apart from the medication.
I donít know for sure, but I suspect that the medication mega-doses I received had plunged me into a manic state, which did not dissipate until months later when my dosage was brought back down to its original level. I came home a new man, frightening to everyone but myself. When my wife called me ďmanic,Ē I screamed at her, proclaiming she didnít want to see me happy-that she gained satisfaction throughout our marriage by keeping me down, that she thrived on the power it provided her. I donít discount that theory today, but she was indeed correct in her layman diagnosis.
I did strange things-things I thought were not strange, but instead a reflection of my new founded optimism. I told people the hospital staff had cured me, but offered little evidence-because there was none. I was flying high on Nardil, a member of the first class of anti-depressants and the only ones I could tolerate after trying virtually all others.
My sons, then 11 and 5, knew nothing of mania and thought I was simply being more of a fun dad than I normally was. They never knew I had suffered from depression the whole time I knew them. I had always forced myself to be funny and entertaining, despite the pain of my mental illness.
My mania, however, wasnít always so entertaining. I insulted my wife, revealing my true thoughts about her during frequent episodes of frenzy. I didnít feel badly about my behavior whatsoever. To the contrary, I thought I had arrived at a more pure state that emptied me of all the resentments I had carried around for a lifetime.
After the hospital, I didnít return to my job, a freedom that fed my mania. I gorged myself with hamburgers at the local diner and went to the movies. I adored living and appreciated that. I pitted those who couldnít recognize it.
Those manic days did provide me with one great benefit-I was now able to now see that I had to end my marriage. I was confident now to have the courage to do so. The misery attributed to my marriage, I realized, outweighed my strong desire to continue living with my children.
When I left home following a tearful good-bye to my kids, my mania increased two-fold. A month into my independence, living only ten blocks from my children, I met a woman who placed a singles ad in a local newspaper. I convinced her, in a very manic way, to become my girlfriend.
We had a wild romance, one that I wanted my wife to be aware of (our divorce wasnít yet settled). I sent her a letter that included a chart comparing her to my girlfriend. It included sex as one of the categories, reporting to my wife that my girlfriend was much better than her in bed.
I spent the money at a furious pace. One day, on a shopping spree in a furniture store, I applied for a credit card and was rejected. I was told I had bad credit, since I made no payments on my other cards. I was dumbfounded. It was the first time I realized that my mania had a negative effect on my life.
I drove my girlfriend to her job every week. When we reached the toll, I realized I had no bills left in my wallet. I had to dig into change to pay the way. Again, the effects of my mania had hit me. My savings were down to a handful of coins.
All the promises I made to my girlfriend-to take care of her and her children-were now found out to be false. She wanted a rich man as her next husband, and I wasnít it. She broke up our relationship. That, coupled with my reduction in medication, brought me into a mild depression. It did not escalate however, because I was still free from the chains from a job and a bad marriage.
Alone for the first time in decades, aside from an assortment of undesirable roommates, my mania was slowly leaving me. I wasnít depressed either-I was in a state that I thought might be somewhat approaching normal. My mind was returning to the real world of responsibility. I settled back into writing jobs and made enough money to live day-by-day. I declared bankruptcy to end the daily phone calls from collection agencies. I stopped going to therapy because I never thought they had anything of substance to present to me. Instead, I began reading books on spirituality (particularly Zen), which finally gave me the guidance I had been seeking my whole life. It taught me to not take people so seriously because they were only speaking from their own world, a world that was right for them. There was no need to try to convince them otherwise, because they would never change their minds. This sort of advice served me well, helping me to patch up my relationship with my family.
I canít say that I wish my mania to return. Even though it was such a rush, it hurt too many people and made my life overly complicated. But I can say Iím not sorry it happened-like my drug years in college, it was fun, but I know it had to end.
Iíve been on a combination of antidepressants and bi-polar medication for four years now. Iím married to an Asian woman who I also met through an ad who understands my need to be coddled and knows about my struggle with depression. I havenít told her about my mania, however. Iím afraid of scaring her; that it could return and put her into jeopardy. But I donít think that will ever happen. As long as I continue on the meds Iím on now, I don't belive Iím not in any danger of repeating that performance.
I canít say Iím a happy person, but Iím not plagued with endless depression either. When I have a depressive episode, I fear it will last, but it only stays for hours at a time and then takes its leave. This is fine with me-Iím a hopeless cynic, critical of much of what I experience in my world. But Iím also in a place I appreciate, leading what seems, to others, at least, like a normal existence.
Mania taught me an important lesson about others and myself. Iím convinced that everyone, without exception, is discontented in some way, seeking a happiness that is unreachable, unless perhaps, youíre a guru who has reached nirvana. A major reason for our discontentment, I believe, is the social constraints placed upon us to cover up our lies. We experience connections with people who are unfair, unpleasant and hurtful, but weíre afraid to voice our objections. Mania presented me with permission to do so. I didnít care about outcomes. Is mania the ultimate happiness? I continue to ask myself that question and wonder why itís labeled as a mental illness. Are the consequences that dire? Society has come to answer that ďyes,Ē but I am unconvinced. My stable existence is ďokay,Ē and not much more than that. Perhaps if I never experienced mania, without anything to compare my present state with, Iíd be less prone to want so much more from life. But is that a bad thing? I think not. I continue to seek the road to happiness free from mania; I read, I question, I come to conclusions, reject them, and come up with new ones. That, I conclude, is the greatest gift mania has provided me.
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