Mental Mondays #6 - Mixed States

Where we left off last time, my journey out of depression had just begun. But it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride.

Mania and Mixed States

Mania and Mixed States

Remember: I am not a doctor of any kind, I am not giving medical or therapeutic advice, and I do not recommend stopping any medications which your doctor has prescribed based on the experiences I share. If you are inspired to try something I’ve tried, please consult about it in person with qualified health care practitioners before making any changes!

Once I started climbing out of depression, I started to feel normal. But almost immediately I went beyond normal. My motivation for life returned, stronger than I’d ever felt it!

Mania Sets In

I had boundless energy. I’d get up by 6 AM and go to work, I’d get completely engrossed in my projects (I had so many ideas and so little time!), and forget to take breaks or go home. When my co-workers had all left and the cleaning crew came in I’d realize it was time to leave.

Then I’d go out. If I didn’t have friends who were up for it, I’d go out alone. I’d dance and drink, possibly hook up with someone, and make it home at 2 or 3 in the morning.

I’d sleep, but my dreams were intense, elaborate adventures that had enormous significance. I remembered them in great detail. After a bit of sleep I’d get up and go to work to do it all over again.

I was reckless. I put myself in positions where I was intoxicated among strangers. I had unprotected sex with random people or friends who were not at all monogamous and who were doing drugs. I’d ride along in cars with friends who were high.

I also sought extreme sensations. I’d go to really loud, smokey concerts with light shows, inflict pain on myself (or get others to help me with that), and let myself get extremely hungry.

Hallucinations

At the same time, I got more involved with my church. I participated in as many church activities as I could squeeze in, dated religious boys briefly and chastely, and even had profound religious experiences. I was overcome with emotion during services, heard the voice of God, and saw amazing light shows when I read sacred texts or prayed.

Visions and spiritual feeling wasn’t confined to church, though. For example, once when I was driving, all the other cars on the road and birds in the sky looked to me like giant, iridescent beetles. Another time, fairies told me to get in the car and drive. I followed them (literally seeing them run on the road in front of me) 500 miles to the Oregon Caves. When I got there, I took a hike alone in the snow and had an actual conversation with a deer.

Even at work, I’d see the walls and floor breathing, as though the building was alive. Eventually, I stopped going to church, and started practicing magic instead. I felt certain I had special powers and had tapped into the pulse of the universe. I could see auras, cast spells, and communicate with spirits and deities. I wasn’t just living in reality, I had a hyper-reality going on.

The people I felt close to were people like me. Most of them needed drugs to get there, though. I had these gifts naturally!

A Mixed Episode

This was mania. But I wasn’t in a pure manic state. I didn’t feel the euphoria or expansiveness that I often get when hypomania or mania is setting in. I was also still really sad about my breakup, and somewhat depressed. So in addition to all my productivity, religious fervor, and partying, I’d have bouts of misery.

At work, this took the form of me shutting my office door, crawling under my desk and crying uncontrollably when most people were at lunch. When I was home alone I felt suicidal. I tried not to go home unless I brought someone with me or was practically asleep already.

Eventually I would get a taste of pure mania, but this time around I was experiencing a mixed state, one of the most dangerous mental states there is.

The problem with a mixed state is probably clear by now – you’ve got lots of negative, depressed thinking going on. But you also have the impulsiveness of mania; the energy to follow through on the bad thoughts; and the drive to actively escape in an irrational, self-destructive way. It’s no wonder, then, that people in mixed states have very high rates of suicide.

My mixed states don’t always look the same as this episode did. They can combine any of the symptoms of mania and depression. I’ll get to it in another post, but for me, a mixed state often starts as hypomania, then when I get thwarted in carrying out all my grand plans I get agitated, angry, and hopeless.

Mixed states are also very difficult to treat once they have taken hold. The mood stabilizers and other pharmaceuticals used for mania or depression don’t have the same efficacy against mixed states. Just like with depression, early recognition and a plan for what to do when it starts (which may or may not involve medication) is important for people heading into a state like this.

Back then I wasn’t aware of what was going on for me, though. I dove in and rode it out. It was only years later that I learned how to notice a mixed state before it was too late, and learned how to recognize delusions and hallucinations as anything other than realer than real.

Being able to choose to live in the reality most people recognize is the most important tool I have developed for dealing with bipolar disorder. More on that next week!

So far Mental Mondays has been all about me and my experience with bipolar, related mental issues, and GAPS. But I’d like to branch out. If you have a story about the connection between your (or your child’s) mental health and dietary or lifestyle changes, I’d love to help you share it! I’m open to guest posts and am willing to do interviews!

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