Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Messy Reality of Mania

I have decided to write a more vulnerable post than I usually do because I want people who do not understand mental illness to understand bipolar better and I want to let other people like me know they are not alone. Too often bipolar is portrayed as an illness of non-functional people and no one really knows what the illness is like for those of us who live and work with rest of world every day. Also, when those of us who write about having the illness are never honest about the darker sides of it, especially when we are in the midst of living it, we make other people with bipolar feel like what they are experiencing is abnormal. I hope this post helps raise awareness that in the midst of struggles like this, we still work to be contributing members of society. I also hope that others with mental illness feel held in a community of people who understand what they are going through.

Recently I have been noticing what I have to do to clean up after a night of mania, all the things required to be able to "present well." (Presenting well is what they say when those of us with mental illness are able to look ok on the outside and function just enough to get by.) This post-mania clean up and presenting well is one of the hardest parts of the illness and I wanted to share with you why with the story of a average day after mania.

After finally falling asleep at 7am, I wake up two hours later in a panic that I might have missed my alarm and I am late for a meeting. (I did not miss the alarm and now I am awake hours before I needed to be.) I think of the many tasks I still need to finish so my work does not fall behind, so I frantically lay in bed with my computer and get a few things done through the haze of sleep deprivation. I hope that everything I write sounds coherent. I have extreme stomach pain from everything I ate and drank last night in a binge eating episode.

I get out of bed and find that coming down from a mania and being extremely tired has made me quite dizzy, and I trip over my own feet and run into the side of the bathroom door. I barely brush my teeth and I shower, but don't wash my hair because that is too much work. I get dressed and try to pull up my pants without aggravating the now angry, red, and swollen cuts I made on my thighs and stomach. I know every step I take for the next few days will hurt. I make sure my son does not come into my room before I am fully dressed so he does not see the damage to my body. When I buckle my belt I realize my stomach is in fact two belt notches larger than it was yesterday thanks to everything I ate.

For me, this photo is a bit embarrassing, but real.
After I am dressed, my husband tries to get me to eat something for breakfast but I am full from various fast food items, the wrappers of which I now have to clean up. It is humbling and shocking to have to gather up the remains off all the things I ate since I don't really remember eating some of it. My husband has already cleaned up the shards from the dishes I broke in anger the night before. There is a lot of regret and questioning "What the heck did I do?" and "Was that even me?"

In order to not look like death warmed over, I sit in front of my extensive makeup collection doing everything I can to attempt to cover the huge red welts I have nervously scratched into my face. I put concealer under my eyes and curl my lashes to make me look less tired. A bit of light shimmer eyeshadow in the inner corner of the eye helps brighten the eyes as well.

At some point the night before or that morning I had sent my therapist an email saying I was not doing well, and he calls to help me look at what happened and see what triggered it. His call helps me realize the mania was not random, but a reaction to an event. This understanding stops me from falling into self-loathing, shame, and plunging into depression. Thank goodness for good therapists!

I try and interact with my son and husband, trying not to let the stomach pain and drowsiness make me too snappy. I fake a smile and hope my son has no idea how bad I am doing. I drag myself to meetings, with the pain of my stomach making me double over just a bit, and my brain being completely filled with what seems to be cotton. I can't really follow exactly what is going on so I smile appropriately and ask relevant questions, all the while knowing that while my body is in the chair, my mind is trapped somewhere else. I can see myself looking fairly presentable and not noticeably off to people who do not really know me, and yet I feel a million miles away trapped in a post-mania fog. I track the conversation while having a totally other conversation in my brain of how terrible I am and the agony that is life, which I have to live day after day.

I do all the things I have to do to "present well" and not cause too much alarm, and I go home. I get in bed and sleep, until my husband makes dinner and he and my son try and wake me up so we can eat together and we try to make tomorrow a better day.


Rev. Katie


  1. Thank you for your risk of vulnerability, Rev. Katie. I recognize some of these patterns from my past lover. I hope ze and you always have the heart to make the best of each day, always returning to loving each other. <3

    1. Thank you Alison. It is interesting how the illness is different and yet similar in all of us. I hope ze also is able to manage the illness. It is hard on everyone and if we stick together and keep talking, we can help each other.

  2. Dear Rev. Katie, Thank you for your candor and vivid details of post-mania. Sharing your story has helped me so much to understand what my mother must have gone through. What a gift you are giving to fellow sufferers and their families by writing this blog.

    1. I am glad you found the post helpful. Often we do try to hide the bad parts of the illness from family and friends and they are unable to really understand what is going on. I am not sure how your mother's illness affected you but even in a really good relationship I know it is still hard. I hope that you have had healing and support as the child of someone with mental illness.

  3. Hello, Rev. Katie,
    I join the others in thanking you. I read this blog entry last night, and the words "self-loathing, shame, and plunging into depression" reverberated for me in such deafening ways. I recently made a big mistake in my life (by disregarding boundaries with my psychiatrist) and I am filled with shame and the horrendous sense of "oh my G-d, what have I done?". My counselor here in Baltimore has taught me "Forgive yourself, forgive the Other, and begin again with love"......I feel like I am in the quicksand of self-loathing. I will stay alive, and thankfully. You have helped me more than I can say, Katie. Please, try to be gentle with your Self......Blessings, Rev. Katie. Blessings!

    1. I like what your counselor says. In fact, that phrase is either a reading or a hymn in one of our church's hymnals. Very powerful advice.

      It is hard when we make a mistake and fall into self loathing. My therapist says that when this happens, it is an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and we can use it to bring more healing and have it happen less often. Rather than punishing ourselves for it, which does no one any good, work to repair relationships and take responsibility but also to learn more and do better. It provides insight into our pain and fear and we might as well use the knowledge to get better.

      So often it feels like we are the only ones who do really unhealthy things, but that is not true. Everyone does it, even people without mental illness. That does not make anyone bad, it just makes us all human. Part of being human is learning and growing.

      Be gentle with yourself as well. I hope you are feeling a bit better and know that things can get better. Blessings!!

  4. Dear Katie,
    You never fail to amaze me with your courage and candor. You took a risk in being vulnerable and I feel honored to be let in to your interior life. Sending you love and hugs, friend!

    1. Thank you Elaine. I am honored that you read the blog and to have you as a friend.

  5. Dear Katie,
    This post of yours is a true cry for help if I ever heard one. This was a truly sad and disturbing post to read. This has been viewed by many of your relatives and it upset many. I know that it must have been very hard for you to write it. This is not only hurting you, but also your husband and, unfortunately your son as well. Please, for your sake and for the sake of your family, seek a compenent psycharist who is very familiar with bipolar disorders. I know that you do not like to be medicated, but if you work with the right person, they can find the right drug that can help you. Please do this for yourself. You are the only person who can change you. There is hope, but you need to take the first step. We all love you and want only the best for you.

    A very concerned relative

  6. As several folks have said, your voice is full of courage and it's powerful to hear your story. And I imagine it's hard to share. And hard to hear. You mentioned "presenting well" - the truth is that much of the world strives to present well and see others present well and if it that facade is broken and the truth is revealed - it can be hard to handle. So, it's amazing to know someone who's willing to take that risk.

    Hopefully you know deep down that you're loved and wonderful, however you're feeling and/or presenting. You give a lot of hope and healing to folks and I hope it helps you heal, too.

    By the way, I know for a fact that Jeffrey's got a great mom and dad - he's a lucky and awesome little guy (who I miss hanging out with!). Lots of love to you all!

    1. Dear Scott,
      I know as my friend, this was hard to hear, as it was hard for me to write. I am grateful that you had the openness to read it and see how it can be helpful to others. And you are right, we all seek to "present well" and I really wish we were all more kind to each other so that no one would feel that they had to hide in order to be respected and loved.

      Friends like you do let me know that I am loved, and that is one of the best gifts in my life.

      Thank you for saying Jeffrey has a great mom and dad. We miss our days of being able to hang out with our wonderful friends. I always feel so grateful for how you helped watch him so I could exercise and have better mental health.
      Love to you all!