After a life-long love affair with ink and paper, Port Elizabeth’s Jocelyn Fryer is bringing to light the things that are close to her heart in her blog, Humble Pie. One of the first posts is on living with bipolar disorder
MY confession is this: I have bipolar. Two and-a-half years ago, at the age of 29, I was hospitalised while in the throes of what is known as a manic episode. It was my first, and will hopefully be my last. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it is when someone suffering with bipolar disorder experiences a manic ‘high’ – so to speak. I was never one of those teenagers who experimented with mind-altering substances, so I can make no comparison, but it is essentially a malfunctioning of the human mind.
Make no mistake, you are often unlikely to succeed in convincing someone who is behaving manically that they require medical attention. How can something that feels so incredible be bad for you? The sense of optimism and euphoria is overwhelming. The world suddenly reveals itself as a magnificent, kaleidoscopic tapestry, each thread undeniably connected to every other.
Patterns and significances begin to emerge in places wh ere before there was no meaning. If you were not deeply spiritual before, the universe now feels as if it is speaking to you directly.
In fact, it is not uncommon for those experiencing a manic episode to show symptoms of a messianic complex. I myself began to believe that, on some level, I had mystical powers, that I was untouchable. I would happily wander the streets at night, invite strangers into my home, feeling no threat to my person. During this process, your creative mind is unleashed. You feel plugged in. There is that same sense of abandon that one had as a child and has missed ever since.
It is liberating to say the least. But ultimately, you are like Icarus flying towards the sun on precarious wings of wax and feathers. It cannot last forever.
Your body has been surviving too long on little sustenance and a few hours of sleep a night. You are simply too human. Eventually you come tumbling down to earth and hit solid ground. It takes you back to its bosom and you enter the darker phase of your depression. Here you lie, and listen to the sounds of others outside living their lives, and you weep. And you weep. And then you weep some more. You long for your euphoria. You long to feel connected to your fellow human. You long to feel connected to a higher power. But there is only a void. Friends and family may try to enter the void, to pull you out of your despair, but it is a fleeting comfort.
You take your medication daily because the good doctor tells you it will help. You wonder why it does not feel like it is helping. After time, you emerge.
This is the stage where you begin again.
You try to converse with others. You try to feed yourself, to brush your teeth, to clean your hair. Now and again, you attempt social gatherings, still feeling unsettled, uncertain, insecure. Some days, you manage. Some days, you excuse yourself and return to your solitude. You are haunted by what others may think of you, if they know about your diagnosis, if they will treat you differently now that you have been labelled. But little by little you manage, and it gets easier, gradually but easier nonetheless.
The next challenge you face is that you seldom feel alive. You are talking to someone, but you do not feel engaged. You are saddened by the death of a character in a novel you are reading and yet you have no tears. You cannot remember the last time you laughed spontaneously. You are surviving, but are you living? You cannot say for certain. Will it always be this way?
I would like to say that it will not always be this way. Of course, the mood stabiliser that I take every morning and every evening ensures that I do not experience extreme highs or lows.
Over time, however, I am catching myself crying in a movie or laughing out loud at a YouTube video. I am no longer self-conscious when I talk to others. Instead, I feel deeply interested in what they have to say. I find myself enjoying music more. I have discovered love again.
I may not be the person I used to be, but the person I am is no longer unrecognisable.