Recently, I asked member of GaG about their experience with mental illness, and wrote about it in Part 1 of this myTake series. Many members responded to me question, but @redeyemindtricks went above and beyond, going in depth about what it's like to have severe bipolar disorder.
I am a severe manic-depressive ("bipolar 1", in today's terms). I use the word "am", because the cycles are very much still there -- even though they've mellowed with age.
When I was YOUR age -- pretty much exactly -- I was going through the most intense swings between mania and depression.
I'm not going to judge whether you are actually experiencing this yourself... I'm just going to relate some of my own experiences, so that you can compare to what you are feeling, and make the decision yourself.
• Sleep was completely "optional". Staying awake for 3 straight days with no loss of cognitive function, alertness, or awareness of my environment was common. I sometimes stayed awake for 5 days in a row; a few times, 7 days or longer.
• I was completely anesthetized to both physical and emotional pain.
Physically, I could run barefoot along a concrete sidewalk or up cement stairs, get a piece of glass wedged in my foot, and not even *notice* until I saw that I had been trailing blood behind me for hundreds of yards (= hundreds of meters, for you). I once broke my finger during a manic phase, and didn't notice that it was broken for more than 12 hours.
Emotionally, it was like I'd become immune to hurt and vulnerability. I could look at pictures of friends who had died, or portraits of my mother (who passed away when I was 2), and feel nothing. Along with that, went empathy -- my sense of when my words were hurtful to others was dulled, or even eliminated altogether. I remember saying things that made my closest friends burst into tears, and being too hopped on adrenaline -- and too unemotional -- to understand why.
I lost the ability to hurt. I lost the ability to cry. I lost the ability to empathize. I lost the ability to understand others. I lost the ability to FEEL. I became... pure energy.
• I would RAGE when things didn't work out the way I wanted them to.
If I was trying to weld some hotrod parts together (I worked in my father's auto shop) and I couldn't get everything to fit right -- which was much more likely, since I was jerky an had shaky hands and more unstable, faster movements overall -- I would fly into a screaming fury and smash the parts against the floor until I'd destroyed them.
I remember, VERY vividly, a couple times when I did this until the metal had torn through my hands themselves -- which, again, I didn't have the capacity left to feel. It was painless. One of those times I even had to go to the emergency room because I'd lacerated my left hand so badly that I'd torn 1/4 of the way through two of my flexor tendons. If I'd smashed those pieces of metal just a little harder, or for just a little longer, I probably would have sheared off two of my own fingers -- including the one that wears my wedding band now.
• When I was "productive", I was INCREDIBLY productive.
I would read entire books in a few hours. At one point, I learned an entire year's worth of algebra in about 2.5 days. Under my father's supervision, I spent as long as 20 to 30 hours •straight• welding car bodies together. I had a practically INFINITE attention span.
• I "acted out" through my sexuality.
When I was going through my most intense manic phases, I could fuck and fuck and fuck until I was literally bleeding from the inside. Didn't matter, I still needed more. The pain -- like every other kind of pain -- either didn't register at all, or felt like a tingle that just spurred me to keep going harder.
I had mental images of completely exhausting, even *destroying*, the boys I was with... and true to form, I never found any who could keep up with THAT appetite.
I would erupt into a violent rage with boyfriends and fuck buddies if they couldn't keep getting hard and keep fucking me, over and over and over again.
Toward the end of my junior year of high school, and for most of my senior year, I had a boyfriend who would get incredibly hard and visibly aroused when I'd start punching him and screaming at him to give me more of what I wanted... so, that didn't help this. Didn't help it at all.
• Screaming... I did a LOT of that. I would scream because it was all I could do, with all the emotions flooding through me. Screaming was a release... a catharsis... even an orgasm, at times. At the height of my manic phases, I could very literally have an orgasm just from screaming incoherently at the top of my lungs, and flailing around hitting things (or boyfriends/lovers).
• I felt absolutely invincible. I would walk around staring people down -- and *literally* feeling like I could stare holes through their physical bodies, if I tried hard enough. (This EVENTUALLY led to... a more subdued, mature form of physical confidence, after many many years.)
I walked around my neighborhood -- one of California's most infamous, for street crime (eastside Long Beach, immortalized in so many early-mid '90's hip hop songs) -- literally feeling like I was immune to physical attacks of all kinds.
I *did* carry a blade on me, which I knew how to use well -- and I had 4 well-connected and well-respected brothers, whose reputation went a LONG way toward protecting me from my own idiocy -- but, I literally walked around like I was untouchable. All 120 lbs of me... and that was 120lbs soaking wet.
By the end of a longer manic phase, it could have even been 115 lbs. Because...
• Along with no pain, and no need for sleep, I had no appetite.
I ate a lot of vegetables, because I've always loved the crunch and texture of vegetables in my mouth... but, I didn't ever feel like I HAD to eat anything with actual calories, during these phases. (Oh, and I'd always eat my father's awesome Mexican food, because... fuck he's an amazing cook.) I was running on pure adrenaline, sex, energy, fury, and defiance. There were a couple of times when my weight went as low as 113 or 114 pounds, and I'm 6'2".
And then there were...
• I wanted to sleep... and sleep... and sleep and sleep and sleep. I would sleep for as long as 18 to 20 hours in a row, maybe getting up to drink water and go to the bathroom a couple of times in the interim.
It was a different kind of sleep, too -- one I can only describe as THICK. I didn't "drift off" to sleep -- I was enveloped in a thick, thick blanket of it.
I hooked up a heart rate monitor to myself once, just for shits and kicks, and found that my heart rate went as low as 28 beats per minute in the middle of these sleeping episodes.
• I was INCREDIBLY creative.
I could make music... I could make rhythms... I could make abstract art, and memorial art for my friends I'd lost... and, more than anything else, I could WRITE.
I would write and write and write and write and write.
I filled notebook after notebook with short stories about crazy manic-depressive girls with loving fathers, dirty hands, and big dreams. I wrote nasty, filthy sexual fantasies that eventually became a gift to my husband when we got engaged. I wrote poetry. I wrote song lyrics... rap lyrics, too.
I wrote a whole lot of shit that made absolutely no sense at all. Sometimes I wrote the same one or two words 500 times in a row.
But... I wrote.
I wrote out my heart and my soul and my life.
• All that empathy, that disappeared during the manic phases... came back. But, it didn't necessarily come back in a *good* way.
See, I got back the ability to see right directly into people's hearts -- but, depression has this way of making you WANT to hurt other people. Especially people who want to help you. Because depression tells you that hurt is good, and that hurt is comfort, and that hurt is life.
And so, I would use that empathy... to hurt people.
I would look right into their hearts... see EXACTLY what their emotional weaknesses and vulnerabilities were... figure out EXACTLY what the most hurtful things I could say to them would be... and then I'd say them. I'd say those things just to see people's faces dissolve into a mess of hurt and tears -- and then my OWN face would do the same thing right afterward, and I'd start sobbing, and we'd hug each other, and everything would be OK for five minutes, until I'd fucking do it AGAIN.
I probably drove my father, and my brothers, and my two best friends, away... hundreds of times. If not thousands. I ripped out their hearts and stomped on them, because it felt GOOD to do that to someone close to me, in a way that only a person going through life-seizing clinical depression could ever understand. And... here I am, 25 years later, and ALL of those people are still here for me, and they've NEVER left my side. Why? I don't know.
I... don't know.
I owe a lot of debts I could never repay.
• I still wanted sex. Still needed it. But it wasn't the same kind. This time, it was... like, breakup sex, EVERY time. I'd hurt my boyfriend, we'd fight, I'd tell him it was over in the worst most cutting way possible, and then... when he'd come back to me, we'd *make love* in a flood of emotions and tears. I probably broke up with my senior year boyfriend at least thirty or forty times.
• Productivity hahahahahah... I didn't do ANYTHING. No homework, no studying, nothing that didn't have a creative component. My grades were still good enough, because American school is easy as fuck... but, anything that didn't involve writing all through the night, or taking a welding torch and burning away my problems, I was NOT interested in, and fuck it if I was gna do it.
I actually dropped out of college during one of my longest (although somewhat less intense) depressive phases, about midway through my second year... and I never went back. Wasn't for me. Ironically, still one of the best decisions I've ever made.
• There were LOTS of times when I almost ended it all. The only reasons I didn't were my family, my writing, my sexuality, and -- probably most important of all -- my ability to get lost in music.
Read the girl mho here, if you haven't already
I was just a PERFECT little girl, huh?
That should give you a little more color on exactly what I'm talking about, when I say my father was a saint. A fucking saint.
I wrote about him here:
If I had to start from scratch and play the game of life 100,000 more times -- with random dice rolls for fathers and brothers -- I would do worse all 100,000 times. There's no doubt about this at all.
That... Was my experience.
Mine was much more intense than most, but... that is INTENSE bipolar/manic-depressive disorder.
And... I'm still alive.
And now, as a grown woman, I handle crisis situations, and adversity, and stress, better than 99.8 percent of people I know.
Because a lot of people aren't really *tested* unless they're directly confronted with a major tragedy, or strife, or stress, or whatever. And I've had plenty of those things in my life, too -- but, with the kind of mania and depression I had, it was literally like experiencing life's worst tests, ALL THE TIME.
So... like... all the "trial by fire" that most people get in their entire lives, I got by age 17 or so... and I was introspective enough to capture a critical mass of the lessons from that.
Bad place to be.
GREAT place to be FROM.
Keep ya head up.
Thanks again to redeyemindtricks for giving us a glimpse into living with severe bipolar depression!
For everyone fighting depression, bipolar disorder, or any other mental condition; remember, you're not alone. We're here for you.