mania: or – people are less interested in mental illness than in cancer

i should have felt it building over the last two days. i know the warning signs – feeling elated when i buy things: thinking fast: intense creative inspiration, idea after idea after idea: mind racing in bed: mood glowing and shining and running: needing craving wanting people: wondering what there is, what i can do, where i can go: endless ideas on clothes to make out of linen.

it was sharpening its teeth.

today though, i sat in a coffeeshop, having two ristrettos. then three sweet treats. extra yoghurt. and i got up to walk away, and as i walked, everything felt slow around me, like the world was reset and i was racing. everything moved too slow. everyone spoke too slow. where were people for me to talk to? where could i make friends? why don’t i have more friends, go out more? going out, going out all the time, it’s fun, isn’t it? why do i normally hate it? i don’t, do i? i love it! i need it! it is what i want right now. where are all the people?

then i went into a store, and saw notebooks. i could get notebooks. i could start writing in notebooks, long handed, in coffee shops, in bars, i could write everything, i could rewrite the world, i could make the feelings of cancer tangible, i could make people breathe it in, i could express every strange incident of my past. i could write that article on my highschool exorcism. i could write it as fiction. is it metafiction? it’s memoir when women do it, metafiction when men do it. this is bullshit right? like Oranges are not the only fruit. that shit’s metafiction.

and then i remember i write badly and poorly and need to type because i can’t read my own handwriting and i can put notes in my phone; i’m just attracted to the lifestyle of the notebook.

i could make linen clothes. i will throw away all my tshirts. i will only wear oversized grey shirts with triangular necklines because i don’t know how to sew in a crescent shape.

then i found a pottery store and i bought pottery because i like to support local makers and i like the way the cup felt in my hand and i know alex likes cups too, who doesn’t like cups, really? cups are beautiful and warm and when you eat off beautiful pottery, or drink out of a softly beautifully formed cup, you are a part of something larger. we are all a part of something larger, and i know it so intimately when i look at the sky and the leaves outlined against the sky and the incredible shades of red in the leaves against the blue, that incredible canberra blue sky that looks like nowhere else i’d rather be.

i used to hate this city, and now, i can only really imagine living in tasmania as another option. canberra is beautiful and the air smells good and it is safe, safe, safe from the temptations of a big city when i feel like this. in a big city i could catch a train to a random station and get lost in a suburb that is it’s own creation, its own world.

i feel bored. itchy bored. as though, somewhere close by, there is something amazing, luminous, incredible happening and i am on the edge of finding it, if only i looked over there, or did this one thing. then i would satisfy this feeling. i just need to get there. i just need to find it. will it be in buying something else? will i find it in the next rollover of tweets, or when an email comes? is there a parcel for me? i’m expecting parcels. i want my Anne Carson book i ordered. it’s about grief. i don’t feel grief right now. i feel a lot of other things though, and i don’t know how to keep them all in order because the are all fighting to be heard, fighting for satisfaction. they are hungry, these feelings.

i keep scratching my head because there are pimples on my scalp and i keep running my hand over it, over and over, because the discomfort is sharper than the euphoria that is threatening.

do not give in.

that is my mania rule, and it is one i am very fortunate to be able to live by. i have an unusually high level of insight into my mental health – my doctors all say that is what has saved me, over and over again. i know each warning sign, and i am exceptionally good at moderating it. my medication does not control the mania. all it does is stop depressive episodes, and slow the number of manic episodes from daily to maybe one every few months. i no longer ultra-rapid-cycle every week; it’s an occasional thing slicing into my otherwise stable mood. i rely on my insight to bring myself back.

it is triggered by things i am well aware of. good news. a change in circumstance. stress. change in seasons. if all of these collide, then it is worse.

the way i return to normality is to repeat to myself ‘do not feed it, do not feed it’ over and over again. i’ve had extensive psychotherapy, mostly using images, so what i do is imagine a line, a flat straight line, like a road, and i have drawn it to stop myself from going further into the mania. i use images as it’s the best way to understand and describe mania. like holding onto a thousand helium balloons and if you let one slip out they all will follow and you lose, you LOSE as good as it might feel, it is a bad idea, and it is important to repeat that. letting go is a tremendously terrible idea, and you will lose something if you do. it’s hard to say what i will lose in this round – what thing i will push too far, what person i will push away, what indignity i will expose. so i keep it in. do not go towards the light. do not give in.

but unless you have experienced bipolar euphoric mania, you cannot understand, cannot empathise about how good it feels. it is all the feelings of the initial infatuation with someone new. it is the smell of rain on a hot evening. it is looking into the face of a child who is laughing. it is the taste of everything delicious you have ever eaten, cascading into your mouth. it is everything, pushing you fuller and fuller.

i worked with a woman once who described how, when i was manic, it was as though i took up more space. i take up far more space. everywhere is too small for me, if i let it go. i am loud and brash and hideous and seductive in that space. it is sex and magic. it is hungry, and it takes no prisoners.

the crawling sensation is less pleasant. it is the precursor to euphoria, and i have to not run with it, but sit with it and observe it, and neither fight it or indulge it. i need to let myself feel it, but keep myself where i am. if i fight it, the mania fights back and pushes harder. if i give in, it takes me, and everything around me along. i stand, and i let it run through me. i cannot ‘fight’. if i take up my sword against it, the only blood that is shed is mine, because the tension will snap it, the tension will swing the other way, and i will sink.

i have to get home. i have to stay quiet. i have to let it out, pour it out, get it OUT of me before i suck the life out of everyone around me. introverts, stay away. i am toxic. you can smell it on me. i feel like i have been laughing, laughing for hours, that taste in the back of your throat. the endorphins screeching up and down and under every fingernail. let go. let it all go.

years ago, i told everyone i worked with that i was bipolar, because when i was manic, i looked like i was on drugs, and i didn’t want people to think i was on drugs.

i can’t listen to music, because it feeds it. the music sounds so good. music never sounds better than when you are manic because every single word is speaking to you. a bird flew over when i looked at the sky, and for a second, i thought it looked at me. i closed my eyes, and i stopped walking, and i said to myself, over and over again, ‘don’t feed it. don’t feed it. don’t feed it.’ i started walking again, each step too slow, the spaces beside me moving sluggishly backwards and jolting around as i moved forward. each movement cut out sharply against the last.

what if i run out of words? i feel like i need to hoard them. i never knew that you could be a writer who didn’t write fiction. i am no good at fictions because i am miserable at moving a plot outside of retracing my own steps. i never thought of writing as something i could move out and give, sell, share, make reasons with. i am grasping at ideas and sensations, and i can place the language around them in a way that i think makes sense and lines up and isn’t too pretentious, because i worry about being too purple in my prose. it was a shitty habit from high school.

i can make this go away. i never want to, and it kills a part of me each time i need to do it, but i can, and i do, and i have, over and over again. i hold onto the faith that my mental health professionals put in me, knowing i can because i have and i will. i can feel the mania, like a solid visible thing, moving in me. i can slow it down, and i can make it go away. i have the capacity to make my mind work for me. it just takes time. and i grieve every time i lose it, every time i can’t just go safely into the mania, and let it take me to those places without fear and without full knowledge or understanding. i don’t care.

mania makes me lose the capacity to feel guilt. i become euphoric and sociopathic. sociopathy is complicated, and i loathe it being reduced to a condition suffered by murderers and terrible people. i have known good people diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder – people who are not driven by empathy but by moral codes – a desire to keep people safe because it is the right thing to do. they will have no negative emotional consequences if they fuck someone over rather than care for them, but they chose to care because it is the right thing to do. that to me is admirable. i bring down the mania not because i feel bad if i fuck people over, but because it is the right thing to do. i feel nothing negative in this space, no consequences. there are no consequences here, just the goodness, the freedom, the emptiness of my delusions of grandeur.

everything is good. everything i do here is good. everything is pure. everything is erratic and pulsating. i can feel the blood moving through my neck. it feels swollen around my ears when i think about it, it is though my neck is swelling. i touch it, and it is not. it’s just the fear of a blood clot in my jugular. that’s stupidly specific. but that’s where i’m convinced i’ll get one.

i forget about the cancer in this space. or, more, it diminishes. it’s small and manageable and i will rise above those cells, how stupid it would ever be to imagine i will not survive outside of this. i will survive outside everything. i could walk down the middle of the street, right now, and the cars would pass right through me. just you watch. just you see. i did that once in the middle of brunswick street in brisbane and i flew. i flew through the cars. and then, i went back onto the pathway, and i stopped flying.

i am sorry this is not about the misery of cancer, or the pain of my upcoming death. i am not really sorry, actually. i am always angry that no one finds mental health as a chronic illness as interesting as cancer. cancer sounds seductive. the word is huge. mental health is dribble and attention seeking. attention seeker, attention seeker, in that bright stripy jacket. screeching on street corners. i don’t want attention, you don’t understand. i just get too big for my body, too big for my house, i just keep getting bigger and getting louder and getting sharper and i don’t mean to take up your space, it just happens. and i am sorry. intellectually sorry. because i don’t feel guilt right now.

when i started taking lamotrigine the first thing that happened, after the fast erratic cycling stopped, was guilt. overwhelming heavy constant guilt for the ripping tearing selfish force i had been. it only goes away in the best of it, in the hardest sharpest moments of mania. and then it comes back. i feel very guilty about a lot of things, from cancer, to small incidents that happened years ago, to taking up space. shut up, elizabeth. no one wants to read this. write more about how much pain you are in. write more about the cancer. it’s bipolar. it’s embarrassing.

i feel embarrassed by the flow on effect from my mental illness. cancer has made me feel many things, but i have never been embarrassed or ashamed of it. mental illness though? i cringe at it. i see people, in my mind, rolling their eyes as they read this, or if they read a post i make about it somewhere. oh mental health, on about that again? come on, elizabeth, get over it. you aren’t some snowflake because you are bipolar. it’s not that interesting. it’s dull and, let’s be honest, all a little over the top.

that is the point. that is the fucking point. bipolar is over every single top. there is no cap. there is no notion of the top. stop it, i can’t do those every day things, i have important things, silent things, overwhelming things i need to create for you. for me. just to get it out.

my liver has been aching the last few days. right now, i can feel the slow dull ache below my ribcage. this is my body doing something. i am unsure what. either the dead cells are going and my liver is regenerating in the spaces where the tumour has shrunk, or maybe they are growing again. it is impossible to know, and i am unstoppable, and they are unstoppable. and it doesn’t matter because i am beyond this. i am more than this. the cancer is small, and i am large. and it goes on, and i go on. and it is boring. it is embarrassing. stop it. your voice is silly and dull. who would bother. talk about the cancer again, will you? those words are interesting. these are not. mental illness has been done to death.

you should see the cups i bought. one is eggshell blue, the other brown. both matt, and warm when you hold them. i will drink water from my cup, and each time, it will be something special. hands made these things.

now i will drink water, and i will try and read, maybe. my fingers tingle. i could walk and walk. or i could find someone to drive with me. just keep driving. driving makes it better. driving slows it down. please. just take me somewhere in a car and i will feel safe, and comforted, and know that the interesting thing is moving, not where we are going. i don’t care where we are going. i don’t care where i am going. just. keep moving. i’m safe with closed doors, no exit, and the landscape moving beside me. i am contained, i am quiet.


About elizabeth

various things.
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6 Responses to mania: or – people are less interested in mental illness than in cancer

  1. kari says:

    Fly on in Peace, Elizabeth. Fly on and be still and be Joy. Much love.

  2. Cordelia says:

    You Write so beautifully and you help give me insight into mental illness, something I need more of.

  3. Dani says:

    “shut up, elizabeth. no one wants to read this.” Usually you are right, but on this one you are so wrong. I don’t have any words for you right now, but yours are wonderful.

  4. greenspace01 says:

    I find this fascinating. I’m familiar with the distorted perceptions and thoughts of depression, but mania is unfamiliar, and interesting. when I read an earlier post of yours about hypomania, I was captivated – it sounded so beautiful. this time I can understand the danger of it more – the physical danger to you of risk-taking because you’re fearless; the social dangers (to you; to others) because you’re totally carefree and expansive.
    I sometimes feel that welling up of desire to make and learn and do – I don’t know if it’s a faint form of hypomania, or if it’s just creative inspiration, and I notice it more because it’s such a contrast to the “what’s the point” of depression.
    good on you for having the insight and the self-discipline to keep yourself safe and bring the mania down.
    and you write beautifully. I’ve never seen you write purple prose. sometimes your writing is very spare, sometimes it’s vivid, but it always suits what you’re writing about.

  5. Anthroknitgal says:

    I too have a ‘bipolar brain’ as my psych nurse practitioner likes to call it although I never had full blown manic episodes except when I was on antidepressants prior to the bipolar diagnosis. Those manic episodes lasted weeks and months whereas before the lamotrigine the hypo-mania lasted only a few days. But the wonder of those few days! I was an amazing mom the first day. I could do anything, I was so creative, so patient, so energetic. The second day I wasn’t as good with the kids but I was so productive still and I loved being able to focus on whatever project had become my obsession overnight. The third day was the angry day. All those wonderful feelings? Gone. But the energy wasn’t so I was just pissed at everyone and everything. And then of course the depression.The full mania was like that but even better. For once I was free. All my crippling inhibitions and insecurities were gone and it seemed like nothing could ever go wrong. Of course I had money for that. No problem if I wanted to party all night (When level I have never felt a desire to party, to get drunk, I just don’t have the personality). Staying up to paint all night before a full day of classes? How could that be a problem? And the deep empathy I felt for the whole world was intoxicating. Of course later came the shame, the embarrassment about what I had done while manic even though I didn’t even know that what I had been was manic. The lamotrigine helps. I no longer have near catatonic depression and regular suicidal ideation and the hypomania is under control. I take my meds religiously and I track everything to keep me aware of what is happening but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the euphoria, the energy (especially the creative energy), and the love I felt for the whole universe.

  6. Wozka says:

    People are much more willing (in general terms of course) to give time to Cancer or other types of illness than they will give to Mental Health.
    My husband has wrangled with both – going from complications from an Acquired Brain Injury (invisible, so you just need to get over it) and General Anxiety Disorder managed with Stelazine and Endep for 8 years, to a slap-dash almost off the cuff diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder dosed with Epilim which gave him the very rare side effect of eye-quivers. Can’t remember what it’s called. Which the prescribing Dr said is very rare, so the eye quivering must be from the Brain injury. This different Dr managed to be so good at his job that he only saw my husband once to make that diagnosis.
    To now a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and a sub clinical degraded Thyroid. All ‘Invisible’ illnesses. Interestingly, a degrading thyroid will give you ups and downs like a slower cycling Bipolar Disorder.
    To help the RA, he has to take Prednisone. Prednisone can bring on mania ro psychosis for some folk with Bipolar Disorder. So now the Drs are covering their bums and trying to get him in to see a Psychiatrist to either confirm or deny Bipolar because the Prednisone will likely be ramped up to help with the joint pain while the Methotrexte kicks in (since the Sulfolazine has failed and the RA has returned after 3 months).
    He tried to continue working, but couldn’t type anymore. He was working in Community Mental Health under the Federally funded PHAMS program and is an experienced Mental Health Consumer Support worker.
    He also had a week in a Qld hospital under an ITO because of his anxiety brought on by a stalker and police harassment (which was of course a paranoid delusion according to the Drs.) whilst working in Consumer Support. Nevermind that I was there when he started getting the weird phone calls and witnessed it all….

    No… Mental Health is very hard to follow and understand for some folk. And I have a great deal of empathy for those who must navigate life whilst managing their health and outlook in the face of gross ignorance.

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