It can be easy to forget that our actions during a mood episode are the symptoms of bipolar—they’re not true representations of our personality and decision-making when stable. Especially after the more “outrageous” behaviors associated with mania, the guilt and shame we feel can keep us from taking stock of what we’ve done and even speaking up about it.
I’ve noticed that we don’t often share or write about our experiences with mania. We talk about our depression and anxiety. But, when it comes to mania, we keep those stories secret. Even—or especially—from those we are closest to.
Usually, I don’t know that I am in a state of mania until I’ve already gone over the top and I am coming down the other side. It begins to dawn on me as I start to feel guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, or humiliation for my actions.
Even so, it’s only when I’ve reached a point of mood stability that I can look back and clearly see what happened—the actual damage I have done.
Stable & Ready to Share
I’ve been feeling pretty stable lately. Recognizing that—accepting and settling into stability—has been a process. But now I am ready.
I’m ready to talk about my experiences with mania.
Like the time I decorated our Christmas Tree with $10,000 in cash.
For me, accepting stability is hard. It is a gradual process of realizing that I am feeling steady, then settling into it. It takes a while for my mind to process “normalcy.”
My moods often rapid-cycle: I am depressed, then something triggers a bit of excitement, and I head up to mania. Then, a day later, I’m back down again.
When I first feel as if I am no longer experiencing a mood episode, I check in with myself often to make sure it’s real. I keep monitoring my mood and state of mind, checking for anxiety, which precedes my depressions, and for thoughts about risk-taking, which come before the highs.
Stress, Triggers, and Mania
Today, I am feeling stable. Today, I thought back to my $10,000 Christmas tree. And, today, I could see it for what it was.
The year was 1996, and I was depressed and filled with anxiety and dread. My business was failing due to my actions from my undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
I was stressed, and my mind was racing. I was going broke and taking my family with me. I had been trying to sell the business to salvage something from the years of hard work.
A few weeks before Christmas, I got an offer from two people who wanted to purchase my business. This good news lifted me up, and I started rapid-cycling between mania and depression.
I was up and down, up and down, and up and down.
I was still losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The guilt and dread were just under the surface. But I was aboard a train, and there were no brakes. Soon, I was full-blown manic.
Flush with Cash
The day of the sale was the week before Christmas. Along with a check to deposit in the bank, I received $10,000 in cash.
I was broke, but I was high. I had $10,000. I was rich.
I came home, and the Christmas tree was going up. I had everyone go to the other room so I could surprise them. It was my turn to decorate the tree.
First, I put on the lights. Usually, I would then add the ornaments and the tinsel. But, this time, I took the money out of my pocket and carefully, branch by branch, I decorated the tree with $10,000 worth of $100 bills.
I had bills on every limb. Top to bottom. Front to back.
I stood back and admired my handiwork. I was so proud of myself.
Flushed with Shame
I called the family in to see the tree. They just turned to look at me. What I thought was cool, they saw as “crazy.” And they were right.
We were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. We were about to lose our house. And I was acting like a wild, immature, arrogant, ass who was totally out of touch with reality.
The Crash of Depression
The next day, I woke up depressed. I felt shame for being flippant with the money we needed to pay our bills. I was embarrassed. I couldn’t look at my family. That day, I shrank in their eyes.
This time I didn’t spend the money foolishly. I didn’t cost us $10,000. We still had the money. But it still cost me: It cost me in my standing with my family. It cost me in guilt, embarrassment, and shame that would haunt me, from time to time, for decades.
Consequences of Mania
This is the first time I have been able to tell this whole grandiose, manic story.
This is what mania does. We do ostentatious, risky things that no “normal” person would do. And then we are left to live with the consequences.
Sometimes the consequences are a quiet shame and guilt.
Sometimes they are very public.
The consequences and the pain they cause can fade with time, only to later come back with a vengeance. They never go away.
The $10,000 Christmas tree is one of my many manic experiences. It lives in the shadows as a reminder of my madness.
It visits me from time to time. Just like the madness. Which usually comes after a stable time like now.
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