Hijacked by my Brain
I took a hike a few months back in the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside Asheville, North Carolina. Having scaled one of the peaks, I sat and saw the expansive valley below from my lofty perch. The sunshine warmed my face as I inhaled the cool, crisp air. I was on top of the world.
As all others living with bipolar disorder, I had periods when I was driven down to the abyss of depression and then episodes when I was elevated to the heights of mania. I couldn’t predict when my neurotransmitters would hijack my brain but they inevitably would. I was being repeatedly kidnapped.
The Mania of Love
Though my manic periods were ones of agitation and irritability, they were also times of euphoria and grandiosity. I was the smartest guy in the room, walked with a bounce in my step and felt that I was capable of doing things that were, in reality, well beyond my reach.
When we have a huge crush on someone, the world falls away and all that is rational is replaced with heady infatuation. In this state, we behave in ways we wouldn’t otherwise, throwing all caution to the wind. Everything feels tingly, as if we are living on the edge of ecstasy. This is a small glimpse of what mania is…an other-worldly intoxication.
As a psychiatrist, it was my duty to un-manic my patients. I was required to shift their state of giddiness into, at times, one of bland sobriety. I was like a thief in the night, robbing them of what they most loved. Turning the tables, when my psychiatrist recommended lithium to me in our very first session, I was literally being given a taste of my own medicine. The psychiatric perpetrator had become the psychiatric perpetratee.
A few years back, there was a Broadway show called Next to Normal about a mother living with worsening bipolar disorder. Once she was medicated and mood-stabilized, she longed for those periods when she was mountaintop-high manic. She sings:
Mountains make you crazy
Here, it’s safe and sound
My mind is somewhere hazy
My feet are in the ground
Everything is balanced here
And on an even keel
Everything is perfect-
But nothing’s real, nothing’s real
I wouldn’t trade my current mood stability for my prior elevations given the havoc and heartbreak it caused those around me. But, there are moments when I long for my now-medicated-and-absent euphoric core to rule the day and carry me upward toward that place far above. I love ascending the North Carolina peaks but sometimes, I do miss those mountains.