My first manic episode happened during finals week in the middle of my M.Div. program. I may have slept 10-12 total hours that week. I didn’t know I was manic, I just knew I felt great and was getting a lot of shit done.
One of my buddies down the hall had an espresso machine. A couple of times that week we shared a demitasse or two in the wee hours of the morning. I tried to go to sleep but couldn’t.
Bipolar I types can go so off the rocker that they may be found running through the streets naked, have both auditory and visual hallucinations, and exhibit many signs of paranoid schizophrenia. Then they have a hard and deep crash which is where suicides can occur. If you make it out alive hammered up the scale like the ball of a high striker strong man carnival game only to come down again.
My type, called Type II, is a little less obvious and a little more insidious. My highs could get just high enough that I forgot about sleep, I got hyperfocused, and behaved more like someone with an acute ADHD episode. I’ve had debates about abstract postmodern philosophy while chain-smoking and drinking gin with a touch of tonic. I am not sure what meth is like, but it looked like a scene in Breaking Bad where Badger and Skinny Pete debate critical differences between zombies.
The lows just suck. They last longer and go a tad deeper. On either side of the fence, sleep can help solve a lot of the roller-coaster ride along with an effective medication cocktail.
During my entire experience at Princeton Theological Seminary I had several highs where I studied like a mad man and wrote papers that were much more detailed and researched than they needed to be. I remember writing a paper on St. Augustine’s influence on St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of evil. I followed St. Thomas’ doctrine of evil through the entire Summa Theologiae in a matter of a month. For a 15 page paper, I wrote 30. I took the class pass/fail just so I could go all out. Who does that?
I also wrote a 180 page thesis in a week. I would sit and write up to 30 pages in a day, forget about sleep, skip meals, get jacked on coffee and just work. I would go to my little job sitting at the Continuing Education building and work there too. If that wasn’t enough, I had a few finals to prepare for at the same time. I got it all done, and scored all A’s. The fact that I did all of that makes me anxious and kind of freaks me out a little.
What is most profound is that neither I nor anyone else saw it as strange. My then wife would call me up to remind me to eat. Even in college I would be hyperfocused on something so much, a party that literally happening around me could not distract me. I wore hypomania as a badge of honor, but it would catch up with me one day. I’ll leave that for another story.
If you want to learn more about this illness, this is a nice little article that quotes a very good source from Johns Hopkins University.