Catching ManiaIt's like a performance, and I'm waiting for the curtain to go up.
My group -- I call them my crazy group -- meets every other week. The first time I ever went, I went with my wife. I have no idea what she thought, but as soon as I sat down and I saw the vibrating fingers and jiggling legs and twitchy eyes of everyone in the room, whether they were up or down, I knew I had found my people.
"Care and Share" they call it. It sounds so lame. We're supposed to be smart people -- maybe even brilliant -- and we can't come up with a better name than "care and share?" Well, I was in no position to resign my membership back then, and I don't want to now. These people understand me as only someone who has been to that place can understand.
There's no particular order. Our leader, fifty years and a couple of new kidneys into the disorder, just sort of stares one of us down, when he thinks it's our turn, especially if no one else volunteers. I've been doing "sharing" work for a long time now -- and in a lot of different situations. I've been in various online forums where, because I was anonymous, I could admit to everything I do. People said they were impressed with my honesty, but I had no choice if I wanted to gain any semblance of health back. I had to work through.... work through? Is that what I'm doing?
I just want to understand. Why do I do what I do? Why; for a person who has studied his own navel for so many god-damned years that I've worn a hole through it; why do I still mystify myself?
It's not working through or working out. It's practice. But practice at what?
Most of them have been hospitalized at one time or another. Many were 302-ed (forced to go in by someone else) once or even several times. But a lot of self-hospitalizations, too. In this, I am different. I've never been hospitalized. My psychiatrist asked me if I wanted to once, but the idea shocked me, and I said "no" with a vehemence I did not know was in me until then. I was right, too. The hospital may be a refuge for some, and it may keep them safe, but it is also a hospital -- i.e., unpleasant simply because it isn't your home and you have no privacy and strangers are telling you what to do and if you're in due to your mental issues, you might even have less control of your time and space.
But they are my people. They don't look at me funny when I say things like planning suicide was one of the most hysterical things I'd ever done. Hell, they can talk about suicide without getting uncomfortable because everyone in the room is a suicide survivor, whether they've made an actual attempt or not. Everyone has thought about it or is thinking about it. I don't know if anyone who hasn't been in that place can imagine how comforting it is to be with people who aren't afraid to talk about it. I mean, where else would you see a whole roomful of people nodding their heads in recognition and support when someone talks about how they want to kill themselves?
My people. If we were a tribe, I don't know if they'd even let us on the worst res in the land. In fact, they don't. Something like half the homeless are mentally ill, and of those, the largest group is made of people with bipolar disorder. A large portion of the prison population is mentally ill, too. What a choice: prison or homelessness. I'm very lucky. I didn't get sick until my career was well-established and I had a lot of coping skills, not to mention, health insurance.
My people know how to laugh. We'll sit at a table in some restaurant and end up laughing so hard we can't breathe. Healing, that is. The other people around us probably think we're crazy, but we are, so no harm done.
Here's a weird one. People with bipolar disorder are supposedly smarter, on average, than the rest of the population. A lot of geniuses in the arts and sciences, it is said, were bipolar. Maybe there's something about thinking faster than others that goes along with the disorder. For so many of us, our manias are characterized by this feeling of thinking faster and faster. It was for me. It was so different that I thought I was going to be diagnosed with brain cancer.
I don't like the idea, though. I am uncomfortable around any attempt to measure intelligence. I don't know what these numbers mean. I don't know what intelligence means. Is being the first to laugh at something a great talent? It's actually a little embarrassing, because you're laughing all alone for a fraction of a second there. It seems more like a consolation prize than anything else. We may be crazy, but at least we're smarter, whatever that means. And if it isn't a consolation prize, then it seems like a form of insecure bragging. Either way, I'd just as soon make it go away.
You never know what kind of mood someone will be in on any given night. Sometimes there is a mixture of moods -- some people depressed, others doing ok. Occasionally, someone will be manic. There's one woman who starts talking faster and faster and won't stop until finally someone tells her to stop -- sometimes not very kindly.
"Oh, was I talking too much?" She asks so innocently -- a stark contrast to her revealing clothing. She's a nursing student, and it is hard to imagine her wearing such clothing to class, but it is also hard to imagine that she ever wears anything different. Sexual acting out is a common symptom of the disorder.
One night, the first person who spoke was clearly a bit manic. Somewhat combative in tone. The next person picked up on this energy, and bumped it up a notch. Then it happened again. It seemed like each person was feeding of the energy of the previous person. People spoke more quickly and more urgently.
I like to wait until later before I talk. It gives me a chance to figure out what I'm thinking or what I want to talk about. But it also gives the room a chance to decide what it is going to be. This night, by the time it got to me, it seemed like several people were manic, and I felt this kind of anxious energy in my chest, and when I spoke, I was speaking faster, and I became aware that everyone was very focused on me -- I felt like they were puppets and I was pulling their strings with my words and I became separated from myself -- being both the watcher and the performer -- and I would pull this string and everyone would laugh and then I'd pull the next string and everyone would quiet down... and with each change in mood and each change in response, I would grow more and more energized -- almost levitating with the electricity that was surrounding me...
That's how it felt. I don't know what others thought. I don't know how if felt to anyone else. Maybe it was a kind of delusion, but that's the beautiful thing about the manic energy: you don't care. You just do it. And for a person who has been shy most of his life and certainly afraid to be up on stage even though he wants to do that more than almost anything -- it's such heady stuff.
I left the room buzzing and bouncing, ready to shine my laser eyes into any woman eyes who caught mine and scramble her brains so she'll do whatever I want her to.
Naw. That was just how it felt. It's amazing for me to feel that way because most of the time I feel like a wallflower. The one that's sitting behind the potted plant, at that!
It's a fun buzz. It's neat that people can feed off each other and get to that place. Neater that we can arrive there safely, without going over the top, although I don't know what anyone else did afterwards. Still, I am so glad I have that. My people. The ones who I can be myself around.