Here's a handy guide for surviving a manic episode:
- Temporary tattoos. I repeat. TEMPORARY tattoos. You do not need to come out of a manic episode and discover you’ve had PEACE LOVE DONUTS permanently tattoo’d across your chest.
- Same goes for body piercing. You don’t need to discover, post-mania, that you’re now the proud owner of a septum ring. Faux nose rings are your friend.
- Hide the credit cards. Better yet, have your spouse/significant other/best friend keep them for you until the mania passes. I know you feel really strongly that you just MUST HAVE that $2,300 Vitamix blender. I know you truly and fully believe it will change your life forever and that you must have it NOW so you can start whipping up all those kale smoothies but wait. Borrow your friend’s Vitamix. And remember this: you don’t like kale.
- No, you don’t need a brand new RV. I know you really, really think you've become an outdoorsy person. But that's just the mania talking. How do I know this? Because you hate camping, that’s why. You’re an indoors kind of girl. You like fuzzy socks and indoor plumbing. You like books and crocheting by the (indoor) fire.
- I know! I know! You’re gonna become a real adventurer! You’re gonna sell everything and live out of a van like all those sexy hipsters on Instagram.
- But no, you’re not.
- Because you’re 40 now and maybe living out of a van was cool and hip and amazing when you were in your early twenties, but now you have children and animals and a mortgage.
- Also, you are a person who requires Netflix, a full-size bathtub and a toilet at 2am every night. Camping is not your dealy-o. Just say no to #vanlife.
- Get off of Craig’s List. You don’t need to come out of this episode to discover a beatup 1959 Shasta camper parked in your driveway. Because, no, you’re not gonna restore this camper from the moldly floorboards up. These things require experience. Experience which you do not have.
- I know you think your husband is ruining all your fun but believe me, you’ll thank him when this is over. (Thanks, Matt).
MEET MY THREE BEST FRIENDS
Meet my three best friends: Lofty, Booty and Billy. These are my nicknames for Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Abilify. Together, these friends of mine work hard to keep my brain from careening off a cliff. They are basically the guardrails of my mind. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes my mind is driving so fast that even the highest guardrail is no match. When I’m manic, almost nothing can stop me. My brain is like a car going downhill without brakes. It’s exciting and utterly terrifying. Mania would be awesome if it weren’t followed so hard by crushing, black-out depression.
Hence, the meds.
Wellbutrin keeps me from getting too depressed, Zoloft prevents me from getting too anxious and Abilify gives me the ability of maintaining a steady mood all day.
At this point in my life, I believe it's my moral obligation to take my meds.
HELLO INSOMNIA, MY OLD FRIEND
One of the side effects of my medication is that I have trouble sleeping. As someone who used to sleep deeply and well for most of her life, this is extremely irritating. Well, it was irritating until I began to learn how to use those quiet, insomniac hours for something good. Like writing. Which is what I’m doing right now at 3:01am.
There was a time when I would have viewed insomnia as more than enough reason to quit my meds. Sleeplessness was not a sacrifice I wanted to make. Insomnia felt wasteful. It made me anxious about how tired I would feel the next day. I’m not saying I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy being awake when everyone else is sleeping, but my perspective has shifted.
For one thing, now that I view taking my medication as my personal moral responsibility to myself and those around me, quitting my medication is not an option. This means that insomnia is an unpleasant side effect but it is still better than being wildly manic or crushingly depressed. This is the price I pay. And for the sake of my family, I pay it gladly.
While nothing seems to help my insomnia, what has helped is viewing these wakeful hours from the ancient Christian perspective. Christians have a longstanding tradition of praying through the night. Monks and religious pray the liturgy of the hours and rising at 3 or 4am is not uncommon. Their schedules and timetables are determined by a summons to prayer.
I, too, am finding that these quiet, early morning hours can be redeemed through prayer. They do not have to be wasted. They can be shaped for the glory of God. Through prayer and meditation, I find a freeing self-forgetfulness.
To be clear, self-forgetfulness is not self-erasure. It is not destroying the self God created for me, as me.
It is the ancient Christian understanding that I am created for a purpose—to bring God glory with my life. It is a grateful acknowledgment that I am free from the entanglements of my feelings, my character flaws, even my mental illness. In Christ, I am a new creation.
Self-forgetfulness is not self-loathing or self-hatred. Rather, it is loving the sacred self God made in me which bears the image of His own self. The beauty of my self is owed to the One whom it reflects: God. Just as the beautifully sculpted marble reflects the skill of the sculptor, so, too, our selves reflect His skill and limitless glory. We do not look at a statue and think: wow, this statue really did a great job sculpting itself! We look at a statue and think: whoa, what amazing artist created this sculpture?
The saints held everything loosely, including their own lives. The only thing to which they clung was God’s will. And even doing God’s will was not something they believed they could accomplish in and of themselves but only through the power of the Holy Spirit. Clinging without grasping. Holding fast without needy desperation. Saying with Queen Esther, “If I perish, I perish.” Understanding and fully accepting that their lives were not about them. But about God and the work God was doing through them.
When I look at these insomniac hours, I begin to feel comforted: that my suffering is not meaningless.
My suffering can be offered up for the benefit of others through prayer; my obedience to treatment and taking my medication provides the opportunity of these hours to cooperate with God’s work; and that, most poignantly, by using these hours to pray I can, perhaps, in some measure, relieve the pain my dearest friend Katherine felt on the night she took her life. These were the hours of her death. These have become the hours of my new life in Christ.