The inky shine of my DIY manicure is pathognomonic of a manic episode.
As is my daily step count doubling – not intentionally, not because of some romanticised elation of mania, but because my short term memory is so poor I have been constantly retracing my steps, wandering from room to room driven by a purpose that evaporates as soon as I arrive where I think I’m meant to be. Constantly. Not just the odd moment of forgetfulness everyone encounters.
My inner life speeds up. Thoughts, speech. When I glance at my watch it is always half an hour earlier than I anticipate it will be.
I scrunch up, frustrated at the snail’s pace of the rest of the world.
In the early years of this illness I didn’t register that scrunching, and would inflict bruises and scratches on myself in these frustrated moments. A day or two later, I’d stare at the violent discolouration and scabs on my skin, and be completely unable to recall how they got there.
The pressure of mania feels like my own adaptation of the fairy tale ‘the red shoes’ by Hans Christian Andersen. Instead of being cursed to dance until I die or my feet are cut off, I feel cursed to keep moving and doing. The further it drags me into its clutches the harder it becomes to stop and rest. Ironically exhaustion fuels mania. At its worst I am lucky to get an hour or two with a generous handful of sedating antipsychotics, sleeping tablets, anxiolytics, and sedating antidepressants on board.
Restoring sleep helps chase mania away. To be clear (for me) insomnia borne of mania is not something that can be alleviated with chamomile tea, lavender oil, or good sleep hygiene. I need the handfuls of medication. I need an environment conducive not just to rest, but an environment so controlled it feels like a bandage around my brain when the rest of the world acts like sandpaper on it.
You may say: ‘Just stop doing stuff and rest at home.’
That would be like me saying to you the next time you come down with gastro: ‘Just stop vomiting.’
As for my handfuls of heavy duty psychiatric medications – I learnt a long time ago I experience minimal side effects from most of them. I learnt that, in the midst of a manic vortex, those medications don’t cure me, but they make the sand-papered-brain feeling bearable. I learnt that the old wives tale of psychiatric medications stealing your creativity is bullshit for me.
My creativity is devoured by my symptoms of Bipolar 1 Disorder. I expect this post won’t be as concise as I’d like. Maybe a bit clunky. There may be typos that escape me because I don’t have the capacity to run it through my usual editing loops. But one thing is certain: If I were currently unmedicated, this piece of writing either wouldn’t exist, or it would be almost incomprehensible.
And that is why I am in hospital, swallowing medication by the handful and painting my nails midnight blue.
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