The fear of heights is rational even as the heights remain beautiful.
What began as a deep dive into narratives of possible apocalypses ended with a controlled-burn of my own false self, the necessarily crafted personas of my adolescent life.
In the words of Robert Lowell, “Yet why not say what happened?”
Over the last year of my life, I aimed to confirm old answers (known-good medication treatments) to hard questions (living well with cross-generational bipolarity) as consciously and as completely as I could. Having learned of the possibility of treating some common mental illness with micronutrients, I attempted a full exploration into what it may take to lead a good life with my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, type 2.
You may be familiar with the illness. Several celebrities have spoken out about their experiences with it, many with the eloquence and wit which tend to characterize those affected by it.
The inner lives of those of us with this illness are not commonly seen or understood, and social use of stigmatizing language (“this weather is so bipolar lately”) do harm to shared understanding of what this illness actually does.
Having gone away from and returned to sanity, I am offering this essay to document my own process of homecoming.
I aim to offer some expensive truths in hopes that they help others along the way. Sanity is one of the many forms of human stability, of the anchors we use to steady ourselves in the world. I hope my honesty helps make some sense of insanity without doing harm to that which anchors you.
It is in good and kind faith that I offer this essay, in hopes that it helps the 1-2% of people who are touched by this condition along with their many loved ones. This is not medical advice and I am not a doctor, although I would make a fun one. Additionally, none of this is a derogatory statement towards either the Neurohacker Collective nor Dr Bill Walsh. Were I in a different state of mind, those characters may have played a much different role in my narrative.
That’s the whole point…
I honestly did not believe I was after the common hedonism of “non-compliance”
Finally, after ten years of medication, I wanted to reassess the full spectrum of available treatment options for bipolar disorder — especially those aiming at its many causes, rather than just managing its symptoms.
Many of us struggle with the commitment to medicated life because it simply feels better not to take it. Once we stabilize into a medication regimen, we inevitably believe that we are ready to go without. In addition to taking for granted the stability of medicated life, I have found the gravitational pull towards elevated mood states to be especially frustrating. Oftentimes these states do yield very real and brilliant moments of creativity. But the massive caveat comes later, as the state inevitably reveals itself to be unsustainable.
Although I had most certainly gone through these common cycles of stability and the near-universal desire to wean from meds earlier in life, it is the pull towards elevated states that I must explore here.
As Kay Redfield Jamison has written, the most exuberant of us require more shielding than others. And so, again I learn that medicated life offers much of the required armor to manage myself as an exuberant person in this world — while loved ones in my life wait in worry for me to realize this perennial truth.
Hypomania is considered to be a mild form of madness. It is the state of consciousness I frequent when I go without medication. In mice, when hypomania is induced, they tend to try to escape their environment. It is, simply put, “not yet madness.”
To be clear: At no point did I reject the idea of a treatment plan, or that this was indeed my diagnosis. At no point did I take any substance at all, whether prescribed, illicit, or otherwise. I even weaned over months from all caffeine. What follows is a complete sober account of psychological baseline.
I have seen with great clarity that although it is my job to determine who writes my treatment plan, I cannot personally be the one to write it. Third-party observation and self-preservation are both requirements to manage this illness well.
This is the wicked problem of maintaining awareness between mild hypomania and peak experiences of desirable high performance: By the time the coals of hypomania are really simmering, objective self-observation becomes a full-time job. To maintain any hope of social presence requires my full-time attention, and even that is not enough to maintain steadiness. The power of seduction (and seduction of power) is too real.
My energy during mild hypomania does tend to seduce. High-key energetic states offer a sense of relief from depressive tendencies, a “view from above” so high that it appears to be the pure truth. Finally the mask of depression falls off and others are equally as intrigued by what they can see. Here may be the true self.
My intuition becomes faster and clearer than usual, and lord knows others want to see things from the perspective of heavenly-aboves. Maybe you have heard the stories of Uber’s god-view overlooking all cars at once. Power and clarity of perspective are attractive. Here is where my human condition appears to expand – for a moment.
However, if these qualities evolve into symptoms of a powerful illness of the brain, I pay for today’s seduction with tomorrow’s irritability, anger, impatience. Others count these costs before I can. I’m over here spending seduction while others are paying for irritability. There exists a speed limit to cognition and it appears to be socially-constructed, neurotypical reality.
There were three acts to this bout of hypomania
- when it was unrecognized by others or by myself
- when it became known to others but not yet to myself
- when I became aware of what others had known for months
I will explore the thin line between ambition and grandiosity, which is to say the tension between selves false and true. I will simultaneously tell the story of my shared journey west – and back east again. These two threads are inextricably woven together. I will do so in these three acts.
Without further ado,