It Took Me 14 Years To Realize How Dangerous My Manic Episodes Were

by A.M. Thompson
Originally Published: 
A blonde curly-haired woman on a beach experiencing a manic episode
Benjamin Egerland / EyeEm / Getty

The first time I was manic I didn’t know it.

I was familiar with depression — we had spent many nights together: long nights full of sorrow, sadness, numbness, and tears — but mania? It was a word I heard, but didn’t know a damn thing about. But then it hit me.

Actually, my first manic episode consumed me.

Of course, it began with innocuously enough: with an overwhelming sense of joy. Of energy. I was literally high on life. Colors became brighter. My body became lighter, and the air around me was electric. It pulsated in ways I never knew.

I began writing constantly. The ideas came into my mind quicker than they could fly from my fingers. It was intense and inspirational; I was creative and sensational, and things were good.

I finally had both my mind and my muse.

I decided I was going to write book — “Superwoman Unmasked” it would be called — and I dropped out of school. My decision was spontaneously rash, and my advisor tried to talk me out of it, but I didn’t listen. I had words to write, a story to tell, and a fire in my belly.

I shook — literally shook — with energy and motivation.

Within days, I had tens of thousands of words. They weren’t good words. In fact, the pages didn’t make sense. At all. But that is because I was spiraling so quickly that my thoughts were erratic.

I couldn’t think or concentrate.

Of course, I didn’t know that. Not at the time. I thought I was brilliant. I felt unstoppable. But thoughts of grandiosity are common with mania, which is why I kept going. I kept writing. I thought I could — suddenly and impulsively — start my own literary magazine.

And I rode this high wave wherever it took me: I didn’t just work hard, but I played hard. I drank and danced. I danced and drank and, in my emboldened and inebriated state, I became the woman I wanted to be: I was witty and charismatic; charming, outgoing, and emphatic; and I was happy.

Or so I thought.

Or so I initially believed.

But then things began to shift — my mood began to shift — and I lost control.

I became angry and irritable. I began drinking more (yes, more) and sleeping less, and I turned my energy away from productive tasks and towards risque ones: i.e. I became a stripper, a 20-year-old dancer named Candy or, on select occasions, Pink. I began having sex in strange places: my then-boyfriend and I banged behind buildings and in cars. We did it on playgrounds, on the ground, and behind Blockbuster Video. And we fucked in our apartments hallway, laundry room, common room, and on our back porch.

And no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop.

I was running at 1,000 miles per hour. Racing toward a wall which I was certain would never come. But then it did.

I took a blade to the small of my wrist.

You see, there is a common misconception about mania that many (myself included) believe it is a mood of elation and exhilaration. A productive period of awareness and euphoria and, while it can be, mania is also irritable. It is sexual. It is suicidal. It is drinking and drugging and making bad decisions. And it is dangerous.

It took me 14 years and several episodes to realize how dangerous.

(I didn’t receive a bipolar diagnosis until I was 33 — more than a decade after my first manic episode.)

That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. There are times when I long for mania, not for the madness but for the creativity. For the inspiration that comes in that hyper-enlightened state. But I know if I come off my meds I am rolling a dangerous set of dice, one which impacts not only me but my family.

My husband. My daughter. My perfectly imperfect little life.

And so I take my antidepressants and antipsychotics. I take my uppers and downers and antianxiety meds and I hope that today will be decent. Today will be good. I hope that today I will be level.

I will be okay.

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