The summer of 2013/2014 was magnificent, exhilarating and glorious. It was also a manic summer.
I had just come out of one of the darkest winters of my life, where I was hospitalised and everything had ground to a halt for months. Spring came around, and with it hypomania. I was extremely speedy and productive at work, I had countless energy for exercise, writing my thesis seemed like a walk in the park and my creativity had spiked and I was finally recording the songs I had written over the years. Overall everything was tremendously easy and I was being extremely productive.
Somewhere along the line in January 2014 I decided it was a good idea to stop taking all of my medication. I remember it started as reasoning with myself that I would give myself a break and have a few days free of my anti-psychotic medication. As soon as I stopped taking the anti-psychotics, I stopped sleeping. Within a few days I was convinced I did not suffer from bipolar, I was not unwell, and everyone, especially my psychiatrist was wrong. I stopped taking my mood stabilisers. That was when things really started to go downhill.
Things that had been going along at a fast pace began to race by at a dizzying speed and thoughts came so quickly they merged into one and everything became a blur. I was reading twenty books at a time – only getting a few pages in before moving onto the next. I was convinced I was a great writer and wrote poems and passages that made no sense. I started to draw a mural on my wall (I’m not the world’s greatest artist) and recorded pieces of music that were a jumbled mess.
There was too much stimulus at work and I couldn’t focus on one task before moving onto another. I had become totally unproductive and had to take sick leave. I lost all interest in my academic work and my desk in the university library would be piled high with books on the Italian Renaissance, Ancient Greek art, science articles and medical texts. I had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge but couldn’t sit still long enough to take anything in.
In February 2014, at the height of summer and my mania, I became psychotic. I was convinced that nothing was real and that everything was a dream. I became obsessed with the universe, was in awe of its mysteries and was sure that I had the answers to solve them. I remember being a passenger in a car and I thought that it would be fun to throw myself out of the car (that was hurtling along at 100kph) because I would bounce along the tarmac like a beach ball. Thankfully I was stopped.
Then the hallucinations began. Bright colours started to enter my visual field and I thought I could see each individual atom. A middle-aged man dressed in a tattered suit started following me around. I thought he was my guardian angle. Up until this point my delusions and hallucinations weren’t fearsome but wondrous and pleasant. I knew I was special, that I had heightened senses and other people were inferior.
Before long, the hallucinations turned menacing and I became paranoid and suicidal. The night before I was admitted into hospital I had a nasty fight with my parents (it was so bad that I can still remember it, unlike many things that happened when I was manic). After the fight I locked myself in my room, but the man followed me, which I didn’t like. He had always kept a respectful distance, never came into my room and would stay on the other side of closed doors. This scared me and I shut myself in my wardrobe. The entire night I was in a panic, I wanted to die but was too terrified of the man to leave my wardrobe.
The next morning my aunt came over and I told her everything. She called my psychiatrist and I was in hospital that afternoon. I stayed in hospital for 2 months. Within a week of being hospitalised and put on anti-psychotics, sedatives and mood stabilisers the psychosis cleared up. It took me longer to slow down but when I did I was back in control of my thoughts and behaviour and I returned to work and study.
Overall, my manic summer lasted about 5 months, 3 months hypomanic and 2 months manic. Looking back now, my behaviour was extremely bizarre and the whole episode was very dramatic, but at the time it seemed like I was completely normal and everyone else wasn’t. I had been manic a few times before, but that was the first time I had become psychotic. My psychiatrist told me that psychosis can happen in very severe cases of mania and doesn’t affect everyone with bipolar disorder.
I have stayed on my medication for a year now since that episode and I have had no symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations or delusions. Now I can tell when I’m becoming dangerously elevated and I am put on extra anti-psychotics and sedatives which keeps the mania at bay. ECT also works well and brings me back down to earth very quickly. For me, medications and ECT prevent full-blown episodes of mania so I can continue to work, study and enjoy life.
There are days where I long for my manic summer. I remind myself that although most of the time it felt magnificent, it was not without consequences and the days that weren’t glorious were terrifying. I still remember the look of concern and fear on the faces of family and friends and the constant fighting.
I lost friends, wasn’t able to work for over two months and had to get an extension on my thesis. And as sure as night follows day, so too does depression in the wake of mania. Whenever I’m tempted to stop my medications again, I tell myself that the mania isn’t worth it. It’s not worth putting your life on hold or the friendships lost. A manic life is not the life I am supposed to live.