Sleepless highs – Part 1

This story documents about eight days in November 2014, where I experienced my first true episode of mania. Due to the level of detail I go into, I felt it necessary to break it up into two blogs. This is the first one.

Things went pretty well after that. I attended my cousin’s wedding, I reconnected with Uni friends, and went on a road trip to Berlin to watch the world cup final. I started back at University in September, moving into a new house and ended up finding a girlfriend. Things were certainly looking up for me. I was also playing a lot of rugby this term, getting picked regularly for the first team and consistently playing well. The course was fun, and I found time to balance work with going to the gym, as well as seeing my friends and girlfriend. Again, like with what happened in 2012, I put this brief encounter with darkness at the start of Summer right to the back of my mind. I didn’t really discuss the events with anyone, and if I did, it was with very little detail.

It was what happened in a particular week in November of my second year, in 2014, that affects the way I live to this very day. It was at this point in my life where I first made contact with a mental health crisis team.

Throughout the course, we get to choose, or are assigned extra projects to take on for a week, to up to eight weeks, depending on what year you’re in. My project in second year involved a week of research as well as a 1000 word write up. This seemed like a fair task at first, as I had a full free week to start my reading, to plan the essay and to write it up, fully referenced.

Things did not go to plan.

For some reason I felt more happy than usual. My thoughts seemed clearer and I became more chatty with people. I got easily distracted and lost focus on the task at hand. My thoughts, slowly but surely, starting getting quicker, and it became difficult to process one simple task without thinking about fifty other ones at the same time. My sleep was steadily deteriorating, but I felt rejuvenated when I woke up.

On the Wednesday of that week I got very little work done, to the point where all I had come up with was a title for the essay. Afternoons, of course are dedicated to sports, and I had been picked for the first team. Brilliant. What’s more was that my mum had planned to visit me for the day, and had come to watch the match. This was a rarity as she very much hated, and still does, hate seeing her ‘boys getting hurt’. I remember being very aggressive and very vocal during the match . I was excited, not only because we were winning the match, but also because I hadn’t seen my mum in two months. I was also excited to break the news to my mum that I had a girlfriend.

In the evening, we went for a meal in town. I remember on the way in feeling a great deal of empathy with my mum. I was listening to her issues with having to put up with my dad and younger brother’s boisterous behaviour at home, and comparing it with my own attitude to some of my housemates’ behaviours. I felt like I was the mum in a house of guys. I had hadn’t been able to do this so easily in the past. To be able to relate to someone on such a level, almost to the point where thought I knew what they were thinking and feeling. The meal was lovely, and our mother-son catch up felt nice and accomplished. Later that evening I attended the annual rugby bonfire social. I drank a lot of alcohol. However, I felt incredible, and I felt confident, strong and unstoppable. I was what people would describe in the social context, as ‘on form’.

Getting out of bed the next day was not an issue for me. I was a little tired, a little parched, but I didn’t have a headache. Slowly but surely my thoughts returned to the pace they had been previously in the week, if not slightly quicker. I assumed that this was a straightforward reaction to the stress of working under pressure with an essay due in Friday. I waltzed to the library with a big grin on my face. “I beat the hangover!”, I thought. I spent the whole day focusing on my essay; writing, reading and analysing each specific research point and putting it in the context of my essay’s agenda. I only went home to eat dinner and rest for an hour or so, and then back to the library I went.

That evening my brain was firing on all cylinders. The only diversion from my stress was the pure relaxing tones of my iPod’s ‘chilled playlist’, consisting of artists such as Simon and Garfunkel, Tracey Chapman and Fleet Foxes.

“Oh my God. I’ve got it!”, I thought. “I’ve actually got it!”. I’d had an epiphany.

Having just recently finished a couple of weeks of lectures on Virology and Immunology, I was completing a a respective feedback form, and I had thought of a way that could potentially better improve the teaching. It was to do with incorporating physical 3D models of viruses, antibodies and their respective receptors to help tactile learners better understand the ways in which our immunity works. I immediately emailed the two Doctors who delivered the lectures, with my ‘bright idea’. I didn’t stop there. I emailed my parents, my project tutor for that week, and the director of years 1 and 2, insisting that they heard about my idea that would ‘change the way immunity would be taught forever in medicine’. Retrospectively, I was completely manic. Looking back at the emails I sent in early November 2014, they were quite eloquently written, however very excitable and aggressive. I genuinely believed that if I somehow failed at medicine, I could pursue this idea as a business model and make millions from it. I was deluded. I also believed that my intellect at this point in time was similar to that of Einstein, Shakespeare and Mozart. These were delusions of grandeur. I was not well.

My First Time.

I have never been hospitalized before. I think that I am pretty good at hiding things, but I couldn’t hide this from myself. I knew there was something wrong. I wasn’t sleeping more than a couple hours, I was becoming emotionally abusive, and I was falling back into overspending. Mania. This isn’t the first time I have been manic this year, but I hope it is the last. I moved into a new apartment earlier this week and I already can’t make rent. I am exhausting. I am tired from being me.

I took myself down to the hospital which I think we can agree is a feat on its own. Not having insurance was both a blessing a curse. The plus side is that I could choose whatever hospital I wanted and the downside is that I am uninsured. I can’t help but laugh that this insanely expensive vacation I just took and I didn’t even get to go to the pool. I am constantly, actively working to better myself. I take my medication, go to all my doctors appointments, religiously see my therapist, use the breathing exercises. I am not immune to it. It wasn’t at all what I had expected. Clean, hospital like in some ways, slightly degrading, and cold. BUT I am blessed to have gone to a place that provided me a private room and bathroom. Granted, everything was bolted to the floor and the bathroom had no door. Overall it was a really nice place filled with people actively trying to get better.

I was sad and anxious that I was taking all these days unpaid, but I had to. I had to go and get help. It was an out of body experience watching me set fire to all the relationships that took years to rebuild. One conversation has sent it all tumbling down. Here I am, trying to intervene and slow the damage. I was discharged yesterday afternoon and it seems that my grandparents are going to be the hardest to recover. I suppose it is divine timing because we just moved away after living next door to them. I am fortunate to still have my mom in my corner because it would be hell living together for the next year if I am going to be the source of her pain and anger.

I am doing better today. Better than yesterday, better than a week ago. I just have to keep pushing forward. My anxiety is manageable right now and I hope that it stays that way. I hope that this made inpatient stays a little less scary for those who haven’t experienced it.

Keep fighting the good fight!

Confusion in Paradise

This time I was 20. Having just finished the first year of my medical degree, I flew out to Greece to work as a hotel receptionist for eight weeks. Sun, sea and plenty of sailing seemed like the ideal working conditions for the Summer. What could be better, right? Everyone was so friendly and inviting. “You’re the new guy, right? Come join us for a beer later.” And “Hey, how about a quick ski tow before work tomorrow?” etc. It all seemed perfect. I was enjoying the work, enjoying the guests, and enjoying my relaxing time off even more.

I became stressed. The workload started to take its toll on me, and the pressures of not making a mistake in the first week felt very apparent. One of my colleagues had received a disciplinary that week following an investigation into her performance, and had found she had made several crucial errors over the course of her time there. I guess the stress helped at first. I had so much adrenaline that I could power through shifts with ease. I could maintain a friendly face with all the guests and co-workers. But then I started to lose sleep. I’d start to worry about the prospect of receiving a disciplinary. I would wake up at 5am, again and again, night after night until the Sunday of my first week, where I had to work the night shift on front desk. I was required to stay up all night, until 8am the next day until handover, performing several mundane and monotonous administrative tasks.

The following day, my day off, I went to the beach with a few friends I had made from work and, again, this time on my own, I broke down in tears for reasons I couldn’t quite make sense of. Why was I crying when everything around me was so brilliant? In theory, I was having a ball! I was doing a job I enjoyed, surrounded by beautiful scenery and incredibly friendly people. I had received mentions of written gratitude from guests the week earlier. I had helped make their holiday fantastic and everyone thought I was doing a great job. So why on earth couldn’t I stay happy and positive? The next day I started to become fixated on people’s conversations. I was obsessively paying close attention to each and every word that was being said. I thought people were talking about me, but not to me. I could hear what they were saying, but I couldn’t interpret it as normal conversation. It seemed loaded with secret, hidden messages that were trying to tell me to quit, to give up and to pack up and go home, because they didn’t want me to be there. This scared me, and slowly but surely I became very delusional. This time, however, I was not taking Lariam. This time there didn’t seem to be a single, direct cause to my odd thoughts, my lack of sleep, and eventually, to my low mood.

Me: “I need to come home, mum. They’re all talking about me. They don’t want me to be here.”

Mum: “Who’s talking about you, love? What do you mean they don’t want you there? You’ve just started and you told me last week that they love having you!”

Me: “No. You don’t understand. They’re sending me messages and I’ve done lots of bad things, so I need to come home.”

I was beyond reasoning with. I was irrational. Ultimately I was psychotic. This was serious. I started to believe that the food I was being fed was poisoned. I was refusing to leave my accommodation. I thought that people were spying on me from a van outside, and that the TV show my roommates were watching had hidden secret messages in them. I firmly believed that they were telling me a story about myself, and this belief was impossible to shake. I began obsessing over the smallest of details, and would take much longer than usual to perform the most basic of tasks. I neglected all of my basic bodily needs. I was petrified. My manager came to see me towards the end of the second week, and could clearly tell that something wasn’t right. He would ask me a question, and I could barely answer in coherent sentences. I fixated on what he was saying, pulling out specific words that would form a connection in my mind and would translate as a secret message. Imagine that someone was speaking to you in a language you couldn’t understand, like Japanese. They would then throw in an English word here and there so you could understand some of what they were saying, but it obviously wouldn’t elicit a sensical response from me. I guess it was kind of like that for me with every interaction.

Following a discussion between my manager and my parents, I was put on a flight home. I was informally assessed by a Psychiatrist and a GP who we knew through friends. They believed what had happened was called ‘an acute stress reaction’. No official diagnosis was reached. I was given a single dose of Valium (Diazepam) on arrival home. This helped settle my thoughts and allowed me to remain calm. Most importantly, it helped me sleep. My regular mood and sleep pattern soon returned to its usual state. I quickly recovered, and was able to go about my daily life relatively care free.

Enjoying a day trip away from work.

My Demon Said To Me

Broken and alone
Chilled to the bone
Confused, spinning
From the chorus in my home
‘You’re not enough
You’re not enough
You can’t do it on your own’

I concede
I give in
Okay, I’ll listen
I must admit
I’ve come to love
The way the cold blade glistens

But when I close my eyes to go
Among those who
Took fate by the throat
Something whispers
Soft and slow

I tilt my head
To lean in to the muse
And my demon says
No one can hurt you

As long as I’m here…no one can hurt you.

Now I See

Yesterday, I received my very first pair of glasses. I didn’t realize how blind I was. I now see everything so differently. So crisp. So clear. It’s insane. I had no idea that I wasn’t seeing things clearly. And it reminded me of myself when I realized something was wrong with my brain.

I have struggled with crippling depressions ever since I can remember. And these depressions are a lot longer than a week or a day. They last from 6 months to 3 years. My most recent depression lasted 3 years and included 6 months of not eating, which resulted in my body nearly shutting down. It included many, many nights of self-harm. And when I finally came out of it, I dove straight into my very first manic episode.

My manic episode lasted for a little over a year. And it took 9 months to figure out that something was wrong with me. During the first 9 months, I was extremely reckless, hyper-sexual, and felt indestructible, all-knowing, and ecstatic. I didn’t need sleep because I was fueled up on manic energy. I was creating art, music, books, and I wasn’t going to stop just to sleep. In order to stay awake when I did get tired, I turned to drugs, which is COMPLETELY out of character for me. The mania caused me to lose my appetite, so I lost a lot of weight again, and the drug use just made it worse. I overdosed 6 months into my mania (didn’t tell anybody, though). During the next 3 months, I was desperate for money and I was still hyper-sexual, so I began taking money for sex. This is also COMPLETELY out of character for me. It was after I got roofied that I realized something had to be terribly wrong with me.

I went to my PCP, who said it sounded like I had bipolar disorder. However, they weren’t equipped to handle mental illnesses, and asked me repeatedly to go to a psychiatrist. I put it off because I was feeling great (still manic). I also didn’t want to admit I had a mental illness. It didn’t take long before I tripped and fell face-first into another depression. This one was intense, and lasted 3 months. By the end of the 3 months, I was experiencing depression and mania at the same time.

I became extremely reckless with men again, and I was hallucinating a terrifying black demon. I couldn’t sleep anymore. I couldn’t even go into my bedroom; I was so afraid. The only way to get the demon to go away was to cut myself. So I started etching little red ditches in my thighs every time it happened. I begged for help. I went to the hospital and begged to be admitted to the psych ward. They even saw my thighs. They wouldn’t take me because they said I wasn’t a danger to myself or others. I never felt more invisible and helpless in my life.

A week later, I called my boss and told them what was happening to me. She has bipolar disorder, too, so she immediately called 911 and asked them to do a wellness check on me. Instead of coming to my house, they called me and asked if I was okay. I wasn’t ready to go to the hospital yet. I wanted to say good-bye to my daughter (who I sent to my mom’s because I knew I wasn’t safe). So I told them I was fine. Thankfully, my cousin decided to call them again, so then they actually came to my door. It was just in time, because I was just trying to cut a path in my arm that was deep enough to bleed out. They saw my arm and said if I didn’t come with them, they would 302 me (give me no choice). I said PLEASE take me, I’ve only been trying to go for a month. So, I finally got the help I needed, and it was 2.5 years ago. I’ll write about my stay in the psych ward another time.

My whole point is that sometimes you don’t realize how blind you are to your situation, actions, behaviors, etc until something is put in front of your eyes to make you see it. For me, being raped opened my eyes. And then my brand new glasses made my vision clear, for real. 😉 The important thing is to make sure that once you see your issues, you get the right help for them. And then do the research so that you can be self-aware and catch episodes before they have a chance to spin out of control, which we all know happens very quickly.

Official Launch of the James Edgar Skye Patreon Account

It was always the goal for me to write full-time. It has always been a dream of mine to be financially stable enough to write full-time. I have been a struggling writer for a long time, and my experiences with my mental illness have been shared here so many times here on my blog. I do struggle holding down a full-time job and my work with freelance has been up and down. With the change of medication, and the fact that I am feeling much better it is time to officially launch my Patreon account.

Become a Patron!

What is Patreon?

Patreon is a way for artists like me to connect to my readers in a real way, and at the same time, it offers tiers for special offers that keep you in the loop of what I am working on a the moment.

This is the official look at what a Patreon account looks like: Patreon is a crowdfunding membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service, with ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or “patrons”.

Become a Patron!

What does it Mean for J.E.?

If I can get my Patreon account going, it means a lot of things. The first is working on my current writing projects full-time and have enough money to hire a top-tier copy editor, so that when I self-publish The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir it is the best possible product. It will give me the time to create a book about the members of the mental illness community beyond just my memoir. I want to start a podcast that will show the many phases of mental ilness and people’s experience.

Once I meet my goals, I will be able to offer merchandise and, of course, copies of my books. I can do so many great things for the mental illness community. There are so many great things I can accomplish. The lowest tier is $2 and $5. I know I have asked a lot of the mental illness community of late and this is just something I have good feeling inside my heart

If you can help that would be amazing. I am genuinely in awe of people in the mental illness community. If you have questions about how to sign up and join a tier please reach out. It can be a confusing process.

Update: I got my first three patrons. I am really excited.

Always Keep Fighting

James

Become a Patron!

What are Your Worst Mental Illness Symptoms

I feel better. My depression lessened over the weekend, and I have a good feeling about where the rest of February will go when it comes to the depressive episode being entirely over.

I have not felt this good since the first week of January. While thinking about what to write this week on my blog I came up with a question that I want to pose to the followers and contributors of The Bipolar Writer blog. Just a couple of questions.

Identify what you struggle with…

What are your worst symptoms?

How do you dea?

Feel free to leave your comments down below! Let us use this as a stepping stone to something great. Maybe it will inspire you to write a blog post!

Always Keep Fighting

James

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Rural Mental Health 911

There I was, minding my own mental health business when someone I know (read my husband of the last 20 years who is growing on me) suggested I travel with him through rural South Africa.  He is doing a review on the state of rural health, whether there are sufficient doctors, nurses and other necessary stuff for health to be delivered in a context where everyone – let alone people with mental health challenges – are vulnerable.  At first I wondered why on earth he would want me, the multiple mental illness disordered someone to travel with him, as I’m not really the kind of gal you can take pretty much anywhere (and who has consistent unreasonable demands that cannot be met).  For example, I was completely outraged that they did not have a cappucino (extra shot of espresso with cream) at a petrol station in the very rural parts of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.  I mean honestly, rural health is a challenge, but no proper coffee?  This could lead to war and I am the most concerned for these coffee poor people. Anyone with mental illness within a 500 km radius is clearly suffering – if you can’t get over your pill hangover with proper coffee what can you do??

More seriously what struck me was a number of stark, non mental health friendly realities that exist in this environment.   Firstly (in no order of priority):  everything is FAR (like really far) and that means that healthcare (regardless of the reason) is difficult if not impossible to access.  If I think about the times that I needed to go to hospital, urgently (cryingly / psychotically etc) needed to see my psychiatrist / psychologist, the mind boggles at how you would access these kinds of services in rural areas in Africa when you are EXTREMELY vulnerable. Second:  I know for a fact (and it’s confirmed by research) that mental health / illness awareness is low if non-existent.  Coupled with this, as we all know, there are also many mental illnesses where insight into your own illness is low (and most likely to be some of the most severe illnesses).  Thirdly:  even when you know you’ve I dunno, felt sad and manic your whole life, and would like treatment, you are likely to be made to feel worse by way of reception from your local family / community / health workers (or all of the above) whom you may or may not be able to access after travelling loads of km’s with money or food that is in very, very short supply.

And then my personal favourite:  let’s assume you’ve been able to jump all these hurdles: if you need to be hospitalised, a “bed” is usually on a first come about to die basis, so if you’re not in the act of death and / or dying there usually isn’t a bed,  an actual psychiatrist on call, or available, approriate medication to treat you with what is often considered to be a rather minor, made-up ailment.   I have personally been told on admitting that I was suicidal and needed hospitalisation that I should come back later.  Insert witty comment here, as I have no words.  This was certainly my experience in urban areas, so I imagine that in rural areas, this must be very, very much worse.  Added to this, Emergency Medical Services in the Province has been known to go on STRIKE.  Yes.  All available ambulances were on a um, go slow.

If I lived here, I would participate in the strike and my own mental health by asking them to put me out to pasture with the cows, and hope that I be struck with lightening as a manner to reset my clearly broken brain and body.  Better than waking up without coffee, to have to walk / hike far to a facility that would be too full, or to be “turned away” by an ambulance that wasn’t working that day.  Am I making fun of this situation?  What would I suggest in this deplorable state of affairs?  I really don’t know.  I don’t know how many people with mental illness live here, what they need, and how we can help and make sure that things change.  After all – we live in the country with one of the most enabling constitutions in the whole world – and further rights that are enshrined in our bill of rights.  Unfortunately though – in the past couple of days, I have seen that this means very little if anything – to people who don’t even have their basic human rights respected, let alone access to health.  We need help, we need to make a noise, and not stop until it changes.  And YOU need to be part of it. African Mental Health Matters Too!  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

The Bipolar Writer Needs Help… Again

https://www.gofundme.com/rasing-to-upgrade-the-bipolar-writer-blog

This is my GoFundMe under my real name David TC (I wasn’t sure if I could get the funds if I used my Pen Name James Edgar Skye.) Thank you in advance for donating!


So, my goal is $300. The cost to upgrade. If 100 people donate 3 dollars, I can reach my goal quickly (the donation button is below through PayPal.) I am going to try and keep this post going all weekend in hopes that I reach my goal. Please, if you can help it would be amazing, and if you can’t, I understand. I haven’t done one of these in a while, so here it goes!

If you can’t donate please reblog this post or share my GoFundMe link above, it would mean the world to me!

You Can Also Donate Below!

Just Click the Pay with PayPal button!

Always Keep Fighting & Thank You

James

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An Awesome Achievement!!!

I wanted to share a special achievement for The Bipolar Writer blog.

I was told by WordPress that I have reached 10,000 plus followers. Wow. I never imagined about a year ago that this blog would get to this point. I started this blog to share my experiences with Bipolar One, and talk about my brand–The Bipolar Writer.

I never imagined that this thing that I started would take off. I figured that after a month things would change to a point where I would get bored. This wasn’t my first blog.

I am amazed every day that I get to wake up and know that my blog is making a difference in the mental health community. To all the contributor writers, thank you. For all that are following, thank you. It has been an honor to be sharing my experiences with you. To many more amazing people finding this blog!

James

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