I ran for student council in the fourth grade. A fifth grader stood at the podium on the day we were to make our speeches in front of the whole school. He began by saying, “If you elect me as the fifth-grade representative, I will…” at that moment the scroll he was holding in his hand began unfurling and unrolled from the podium, down the stage, down the center aisle of the multipurpose room, and almost to the cafeteria kitchen. He then proceeded to read his promises off of that scroll. The list consisted of the same things we had all promised, things we could never do: chocolate milk at lunch, longer recesses, and so on. That long scroll, though. That appearance of a neverending list! It was powerful enough to stick with me since 1976/77.
What does this have to do with me, and bipolar disorder? I have thought of standing in front of everyone I know as the list of my manic behaviors stretched out: process addiction, anger, relationship fiascos, kleptomania, etc. I would look at my loved ones, them looking at me and then the list. The list would scroll out endlessly before me until it reached the end of all eternity.
When this occurs in my nightmares, I wake up in a silent scream.
The Bipolar brain is a brain that is at one moment doing what it always does, “brain things.” Making things move, making things make its owner live, and so forth, when suddenly there is a “zap!”, a misfire if you will, and the brain is no longer doing normal “brain things.” A hijack has occurred in the brain.
I love watching high-speed chases on television. The Los Angeles news stations always break to show us the car that the helicopter is following. Always at dangerous speeds, the car is running red lights, driving up on sidewalks, sometimes even driving the wrong way on freeways.
When the car can no longer function because it has run out of gas, hit too many curbs, or has been the victim of a few too many semi-failed PIT maneuvers, it stops. Here is what sort of cracks me up: the driver gets out and tries to run!
By the time they catch him, he has racked up a litany of crimes, an endless scroll that the police captain reads from his podium. If I close my eyes I can imagine that fifth-grade kid and the unfurling scroll with his list.
If I close my eyes, I can imagine what happens to my brain when mania takes control. When I am running up the freeway, suddenly hijacked, crashing through shopping centers with a credit card and madly making decisions to start businesses and write books that never will see the light of day.
When the PIT maneuver takes me down, I find myself reading from the endless scroll, standing at my mental podium.
Blame vs. Responsibility
Looking at the things that my hijacker does, I need to take responsibility for the damage. I need to remind myself that when mania jumps in the car, it never takes a back seat. Mania always insists upon driving.
Bipolar disorder takes us out of the driver’s seat. We no longer have control of our own actions. I know that is a tough one for many people to believe, especially for those who have been hurt by me or anyone else with bipolar disorder. We not only don’t know what we are doing, sometimes we don’t remember it afterward.
When we do terrible things while mania is driving the car, blame the mania. Yes, I will take responsibility for owning the car, but I cannot take the blame. If I have been doing all of the things the professionals have told me to do, I cannot take the blame. I am sorry for all of the mess, I never want to see you hurt, but a hijacker was in full control of my brain.
How Do I Know?
I have learned how it feels when that “Zap!” is about to hit. It is different for all of us. For me, that propensity to buy a bit more online, then the inability to focus on my work. The “car” is speeding up now as I neglect the simple tasks around the house because I would rather be angry and spread that anger across the internet. Or watch TV, binge watch. I just want to do what I want to do.
I get a lot started. I have several partial blogs. If I am around people or have a chance to do things with people that I shouldn’t, I get into trouble, and I lie. I try to write my book but I never get my masterpiece done. I used to do so much when I had more to do. I used to save up all of my tasks at the office for the first couple of days of a mania, then I would do two weeks of work in about two days. It was exhilarating!
The mania still comes but it doesn’t stay long. I have tools, I try to stay self-aware, and I am not afraid to listen to the people I trust. I have people in my life, my “Team Jules” that will tell me, straight out that I am getting manic. Get people like that in your life. Really, you need them. Honest people that care, people that understand the difference between blame and responsibility.
Oh, as for the chocolate milk? Now I am lactose intolerant!