Nine years ago, almost down to the minute, I received a call from my dad about Ray Hardin passing away. He’d been fighting lung cancer, and we knew the end was near. That didn’t keep the shock of his death from hitting me in the face.
The previous Monday, I’d had my wisdom teeth removed. Ever the procrastinator, I waited until the last possible moment to have it done. This meant moving into my dorm at Baylor that Thursday was quite the ordeal. My doctor said I couldn’t exercise or lift anything for a week.
I’d never been away from home before, except for a couple of church camps and retreats.
I spent the summer of 2011 exercising three to four hours every day, eating nothing but carrots, grapes, and chocolate milk. I dropped five pounds I didn’t really need to lose, and I was not healthy. I exercised to run away from emotional turmoil and trauma from the previous winter and spring.
The stage was set for disaster.
Away from home. Recovering from my first surgery. Unable to exercise, which was my secret to sleeping before being diagnosed as bipolar. New environment and expectations.
And then Ray died.
I went 85 hours without sleep, and I had a full-blown manic episode. I think I got a psychotic break in the package, too.
For years, I thought the biggest factor was Ray’s death and my inability to exercise that week.
As the years went by and I started reflecting on the week prior to my episode, I discovered Ray’s death and my wisdom tooth surgery were only small factors. They surely didn’t help, and they likely expedited the process, but an episode was bound to happen eventually.
It’s hard to pin down the straw that broke the camel’s back. There were so many factors.
The first several years of my journey with bipolar, I assumed my mania started the night I heard Ray had died, which was my first full night without sleep. Again, after some soul-searching, I do not believe that is the case.
The first four days on campus were full of activities and social gatherings. I’m shy and introverted by nature, and I don’t always make friends easily.
For some reason (mania), my inclination during those four days wasn’t to be a recluse in my room (my normal MO). I went out and did everything. If it was on the schedule, I did it. And I talked to people I didn’t know as if we’d been friends for a decade. I was talkative and gregarious, and honestly, probably a little flirtatious. Those big, hugely uncharacteristic adjectives should’ve been the first indicator something was wrong.
However, I was nineteen and lacked the self-awareness required to monitor and evaluate such behavior. I’m sure the flirtatious bit was a hoot to other people. At 28, I still cannot tell you the first thing about flirting. Maybe my manic brain knows something I don’t.
Back then, I also didn’t sleep much. I averaged 4-5 hours every night when I was in high school. I played sports year-around, so I never had trouble falling asleep. Apparently, those 4-5 hours were enough to keep me somewhat sane.
I’m fairly certain I was on the verge of mania for most of high school. And I’d bet good money I was already manic during my first four days at Baylor.
What these nine years have been!
Ups and downs, of course. Mostly downs at first. It took me awhile to accept the diagnosis of bipolar. But that’s a different post.
Nine years ago, I was a selfish, cocky, unsympathetic asshole. I thought I was hot stuff. I didn’t get in anyone’s face about it, and to most people, I probably would’ve seemed normal. I acted like a jerk to family most of the time, and I thought I was invincible.
My episode knocked me on my ass in every way.
My own self-esteem plummeted. I humiliated myself countless times during my episode and recovery.
I had to swallow the pill of swallowing pills for the rest of my life—probably the biggest struggle, even still.
I had to rely on others, namely my parents, for everything.
I had to set aside dreams and goals while I got back on my feet.
I had to gather the pieces socially, learning who and how to tell about my mental illness. I lost close friends because they couldn’t handle my mental illness. To hell with them.
I am so much better for it—for all of it. Some of this journey has been incredibly hard. Suicidal thoughts and ideations chief among them.
They can be exhausting, these moods of mine. But I wouldn’t change any of it.