Chapter Six- The bombshell
Many people have asked me what it feels like to be manic- what it really feels like. Is it similar to being drunk? Did you always feel happy? Did you feel scared? Did you resist taking your medication?
Before I became unwell, my perception of mania was that you were very much separated from reality and swinging off the chandeliers. People experience mania in different ways, and some do become psychotic and out of touch with reality. But as you know I stayed very much in the present, albeit displaying all of the bizarre symptoms which go hand in hand with a manic episode.
I have never taken hard drugs, but I've heard that mania is similar to taking speed or methamphetamine. It was a constant buzz. Every thought that sped through my mind was like a hit of adrenaline. I could feel the blood pumping in my veins and it made me want to keep moving. I didn't enjoy sitting down for long periods (including dinner time), and for the most part paced frantically around the house. I was superwoman.
Did I ever feel scared? Not often. Mostly I felt happy and excited, especially when Janet and Kent came to visit, or when friends came around for a cuppa. I felt privileged to have a mental illness that was considered to be relatively uncommon, which is so sad in itself. The mania caused me to be so naïve about what all of this actually meant.
The times I did feel scared were when the anger and the rage came flooding in. It was like being a hormonal teenager, but magnified. It rose up inside me and I didn’t know whether to fight or to run away. Mostly I did both- I would shout and rant at Nick or whoever had crossed me and then I would run. Mostly it would be to the playground at the end of the street where I invariably called my mum, Jude or Vic. Those were the times I felt scared. I didn't have any idea how to regulate my emotions and it was a truly isolating feeling, knowing I wasn’t in control. The scary thing was that no one else around me knew what to do to make it better either.
Luckily I had my credit cards taken off me as I am sure I would have a found a magnitude of ways to spend money. My Obstetrician had told me about a manic patient of hers who had thrown herself a party to celebrate her recent birth. When they ran out of ice she decided to organise a helicopter to bring some, and it landed in the school field across from their home, resulting in an astronomical bill. It sounds too bizarre to be true but that is mania in a nutshell- completely bizarre. I had also heard of a woman who had bought a new car without telling anyone and then spent thousands more adding features, such as a sun roof and gold paint job. My phone bill and massage spend up (and I can't forget my eight cardigans) thankfully pale in comparison.
When it came to medication I was a truly compliant patient. My friends will tell you I am by nature very much a rule abiding citizen, and when I am told to do something by someone in a position of authority I will do it. I was also very accepting of the fact I was manic. I would tell anyone that would listen, going into great detail every part of my experience so far. I would rattle off all of my symptoms each time I would have a psychiatrist visit, or when Kent would phone me. In that regard it would have made it slightly easier for them, as I wasn't resisting the treatment and knew I was unwell (and I could clearly relay the symptoms I was having.)
Right, let me get back to where I left off in the last chapter and the fact that I started giving away all of our worldly possessions. I suddenly went from wanting to spend all of our money on unnecessary items, to wanting to give away household items to charities. I also repeatedly tried to force items onto the carers, even demanding they try my clothes on even though many of them were a much bigger size. I'm sure deep down I wanted to help others, but truthfully the main driver was my need for recognition and desire for fame. I remember clearly formulating a plan to become the first manic woman to start a charity and to go on to raise $1 million. Yes, I truly believed that I had the capability to do that. I just needed to take the first step in the journey- which was to give away as much as I could find in our house.
I collected a huge pile of clothes, pots and pans, toys, books and appliances. I even collected ornaments and art work, many of which had been given as wedding gifts from people close to us. This doesn't sound odd in itself- plenty of people declutter and give away unwanted goods to charity. The difference in this case was that they weren't actually unwanted items. Nick did not want me to give away all of his work shirts or his favourite books. We loved our wedding gifts, and they had such sentimental value. We didn't have many saucepans or kitchen items so we couldn't really afford to give any away as we would have nothing to cook with. I also threw in the majority of our underwear. As if people in need would want our underwear. Its quite mortifying. To temporarily appease me Nick put them into bags and put them in his car to “donate”, leaving them there until I was well again. I'm sure at this point he was questioning whether I was ever going to be well again.
My other obsession was getting some cushions made for our bed. It completely consumed me. I went on at least four different outings to fabric shops, taking whoever was caring for me and whoever was visiting at the time. I have never been good at sewing or dressmaking, so I had no idea what i was looking for or how to make a cushion cover but at the time I believed I was an expert. I vividly recall going up and down the aisles again and again, getting an array of fabric swatches, and talking frantically to the shop assistants. They must have thought I was very unusual. I never did choose a fabric, and I never got any cushions made. Like most of my manic thoughts and ideas, it never actually resulted in anything.
The medication started working at around the four week mark and I started to slowly emerge out of the mania for the following two weeks. I still had carers, and some days were worse than others. One particular night I had had a complete meltdown and had been crying uncontrollably for over half an hour. My favourite carer, Liz, was on the night shift and when she arrived at 7pm I was still in a bit of a state. She sat me down on a chair and brushed my hair, while she sang to me. I had mentioned previously to her that I loved my hair being brushed so she thought of that immediately as a way to calm me down.
This memory is so clear in my mind. Every time the brush went through my hair it took some of the distress away. Her singing was so soothing. When she was finished brushing she put my hair into a french plait, gave me my sleeping pills and sat with me in bed until I felt sleepy. I wish I could thank her for how she made me feel that night. Such a simple gesture that meant so much.
The whole time I was going through this manic episode I had never once heard the word Bipolar mentioned. The maternal mental health team were focused on bringing me out from the mania, and next steps were never discussed. I did a lot of googling but could never find anything about single manic episodes after birth, which at the time I put down to me just being special and unique. It never occurred to me that it could be something else. After six weeks of intense mania, Nick and I went to meet with Janet and Kent at their offices. I was feeling so much better, if not exhausted, and we were looking forward to closing this chapter of the book.
We sat down on the mustard yellow couch in Janet's office. I'll never forget her face and her voice as she said to me “Hannah, I'm so pleased that you are feeling so much better. Now it's time to discuss the future. You need to know you have been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. The manic episode you experienced is one half of the coin. The other is depression. What goes up must come down, and this is also true for Bipolar. You have been acutely manic so the depression you will experience will no doubt be very hard”.
My first reaction was “why are you only telling us this now?”. Followed by “I am not going to get depressed- I'm a happy person. That won't happen to me”. It was devastating. The thought of becoming depressed was unfathomable and even more so the reality that I had an actual mental illness, not just an episode. It was frightening.
So I waited. But I didn't have to wait long. A few days later I woke up a completely different person. It hit me like a freight train. The depression had arrived.
To be continued.