Hi Everyone. I have bipolar disorder and a story to share. Up until I graduated high school in 2006 I never would have thought I had a mental illness. Upon finishing college at San Diego State a few years later, everything in my life was going great. I was healthy, ambitious, in love, and the world was my oyster. I took a little road trip to Santa Barbara to celebrate finishing college when my illness surfaced itself for the first time.
I remember waking up early after my first night there. I had plenty of energy despite not getting much sleep, I wasn’t hungry, and I felt great. My brain was beginning to neglect my body’s basic needs as it was experiencing a high off its own dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, three of our body’s most important neurotransmitters. The remainder of the day in Santa Barbara I felt euphoric. I remember holding my girlfriend’s hand while on the patio and crying a lot just because I was so happy. While it seemed a merited cry at the time, looking back it was an obvious sign that I was moving away from emotional stability.
When I got back home to Orange County I was feeling hyper and my thoughts were racing with grandiose ideas about my future and my place in the universe so I went to a friend’s house to explain to him how I had been feeling. While I was talking to him his face turned into what looked like a creepy old sponge and for a split second I thought there was an evil hooded figure and a dog standing in the backyard staring at me. I explained this to him, and he saw the look of fear in my eyes as I hallucinated, but having had known me for years we never thought there was something going wrong with my mind. We stayed up that night, my first night of four without sleep.
The next day, I left a get-together with my girlfriend in the evening and didn’t want to go home because I had a lot of energy. We drove to the beach and decided to drive down the coast eventually stopping at a seven eleven to talk to a homeless guy. As coincidence would have it, just as I was beginning my first ever manic experience, this homeless guy, who called himself Christopher Robin, had beautiful bright blue eyes, a full beard, scars on his hands, a cross around his neck, carried a tackle box, and had one of the most kindred spirits I have ever met asked me who I was and told me there was something different about me. I was intrigued because I did feel different. For the first time in my life I felt a seemingly supernatural surge of energy, optimism, creativity, and a slur of other positive feelings. He proceeded to tell me that he was Jesus and that I was an angel. I certainly didn’t feel human, it made perfect sense! I spent what remained of that night with Christopher Robin solidifying the basis from which my delusions would continue to develop.
The next day, I drove back to Orange County. When I arrived home at my parent’s house I told them I was feeling anxiety in the dark and how I wasn’t feeling human, and how I had met Jesus and that he told me I was an angel. Speaking a mile a minute, my level of anxiety was rising. As the evening progressed, my Dad was turning off lights in the house until I started freaking out; jumping around the house trying to stay in the light because I felt demons lurking in the darkness were tormenting me.
I went to my room shortly after feeling paranoid that my parents were going to call the police to come get me. I cut up all my government documents, credit cards; smashed my computer hard drives and put them in the trash covered in lighter fluid. I wrapped all the dark things in my room into a white sheet that I stuffed in the closet. I cut up my duvet cover to make a gold sash for a belt just like Christopher Robin had, cut the tags out of my clothes, packed a leather bag with a couple candles, a wooden cross, a knife, bible, incense, and a zucchini, all the things I would need in case I had to leave the country. I turned on all the lights in my room and pointed them directly at me, kept the blinds closed and looked up what time the sun would rise so that I would know when it was safe to leave without getting caught in the dark.
When the sun came up the next morning, I drove to San Diego going up to 130 miles per hour because I thought I was working toward a greater plan and God didn’t want me to waste time driving the speed limit. I’m extremely lucky that my guts weren’t splattered on the freeway that day. When I got to San Diego I explained to my girlfriend everything about my being afraid of the dark. I told her my new theories like how if our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and our eyes are the windows to our soul, then the Holy Spirit must be that which is visible through the iris of our eyes (also behind our cranial “temples”) where it fights our inner demons. Demons that are visible in the darkness of our pupils, who retract and are forced to hide when we look at the sun’s light; as light casts out darkness and with the help of love that is light we can conquer our demons. Bringing me back down to Earth, she pointed out the fact that I couldn’t be afraid of the dark forever and that we had often talked about facing our fears. Taking this into consideration, I asked her to drop me off at the beach in San Clemente that night so that I could remain in the dark to face my fear of the evil that was tormenting me. This was the last I would see of her in person for months.
I walked a couple miles down the beach that night, taking my clothes off after the sun set because I felt more happy and empowered being naked, a common effect of mania. I theorized that if God’s light casts away evil, God was with me in the form of the light being reflected off the moon. I walked as closely as possible to the water’s edge, praying and shouting at the devil (my anxiety) at the top of my lungs along the way. As I passed the Western Whitehouse I hallucinated that they were having a lavish party, but then realized it was only the devil tempting me to abandon my goal of confronting him. I walked holding my bible up against the side of my face, opened up with the text pointed at the trains going by as I thought their passengers were demons staring at me and I was afraid to look at them. I felt bursts of anxiety as I thought a flock of bats flying at me were inhabited by demons, shouting at them continually repeating that “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
As I continued walking I saw a red flame flickering on the beach. I thought it must be the devil or some high up demon and felt a surge of anxiety, energy, and fear through my spine. I was afraid, but I had to face my fear so I ran toward it knowing my momentum would help keep me from turning back. As I got closer the flame flickered orange and then yellow. It turned out to be a young guy about my age sitting at a bonfire pit by himself. I pried suspiciously with questions about why he wasn’t afraid of my being naked and running up to him, attempting to figure out whether he was an angel sent to help me, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After further conversation, he gave me some shorts and a t-shirt. We then walked up a trail toward the freeway where I laid in some ice plant and slept for an hour or so. I woke up and walked over the bridge across the freeway to the Carl’s Jr. at Trestles. As I was walking around barefoot in the parking lot a policeman saw me and asked my name, identifying me as the missing person my parents had reported. I remember him telling me that I should just go calmly with my parents and thinking, “Of course I will. Why wouldn’t I?” not realizing there was anything peculiar about the way I was acting. My Dad then came to pick me up after the officer called him and took me to the Laguna Beach Hospital where I was checked in under the suspicion of having bipolar disorder.
Before I get to the meaty part of my story, please bare with me for a quick biological explanation for all that was happening. The bipolar brain is characterized by an ability to release more norepinephrine, dopamine, GABA and serotonin in reaction to life’s events than is normal or necessary. So what does this mean exactly? Lets look at what these chemicals do.
Norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter most often associated with the “fight or flight” response is strongly involved in creating physical reactions. Moderate increases create worry, anxiety, increased startle reflex, fears of crowds & tight places, impaired concentration, restless sleep, and others. It can increase heart rate and blood pressure as well as create a sense of panic and overwhelming fear or dread. It is activated by a person’s detection of potentially harmful or life-threatening situations.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter effecting emotions and perceptions. Mild elevations make the environment overly stimulating and exciting. As levels increase above the normal range, our ability to focus increases to the point of being paranoid. We become excited, optimistic and energized, then suspicious and paranoid. High levels cause us to lose contact with reality and hallucinate. As though living in a movie, we may begin to experience delusions of grandeur, believing we have super powers or that we will change the world.
GABA is involved in our level of excitability. Rather than encouraging communication between cells such as dopamine, serotonin or norepinephrine - GABA reduces, discourages, and blocks communication between cells helping us to calm down. Low levels are associated with bipolar disorder mania as our brains become too stimulated.
Sometimes referred to as the happiness molecule, Serotonin has a profound effect on mood. It is released in order to help us withstand everyday stress while maintaining a cheerful disposition. However, the less Serotonin available in the brain after our stressors (or mania) subside, the more severe our depression and related symptoms can be. With low serotonin levels self-esteem and self-confidence are low and we feel we have lost our personality. Social withdraw is common and these effects reap further negative consequences… loss of job, friends, and spark of life to name a few. As negative consequences reap additional negative consequences we can spiral into a deep state of pain where thoughts of suicide seem very comforting. As relates to bipolar disorder, this depression is even further amplified when a person lets their mania get so out of control that they then suffer from shame, embarrassment, debt, incarceration, hospitalization, and damaged relationships from the things they did while they were manic and their judgment was impaired. I know this from first hand experience. It is amazing how detrimental of an affect shame can have on our wellbeing.
As you now know, these chemicals put the “disorder” in bipolar disorder. As for the bipolarity, there are two extremes, mania and depression. Mania is a state of intensely elevated mood characterized by immensely high energy, strong emotion, and euphoria to the point of being delusional. Depression on the other hand, if you aren’t familiar with it, typically involves sadness, low energy, a lack of motivation, hope, and sense of self worth and is due to a lack of dopamine and serotonin, two chemicals in our brain that once levels become depleted can take months or years to restore themselves back to healthy levels.
When a bipolar person is becoming manic, one positive event in their life can release a larger than normal amount of say, dopamine. This in turn makes the person more confident, energetic and happy, which then can make them more sociable and interested in other people, more productive and creative at work, and in many ways a more lively and active person for the duration at which the dopamine continues to be released. The problem however, is that this process can spiral out of control because as you can imagine, when we start feeling these things, we enjoy it. Having mildly elevated serotonin and dopamine levels is considered a slight shift toward mania and is called hypomania. In my own life, I often feel hypo manic. While I don’t consider it a dangerous state to be in, I do know to keep a constant watch for signs of further movement toward mania.
So when does mania end? There are a couple different ways. Ideally, mania is identified in its early stages and countered through the use of psychiatric medications designed to balance out one’s neurotransmitters. The other is when the brain has simply depleted its stores of mania-inducing chemicals, which can have devastating effects, as you will see shortly.
At the Laguna Beach hospital, I went through the standard procedure of putting a hospital gown on and letting them take my weight and blood pressure, but I wasn’t going to let them draw my blood because I knew that if I was an angel that’s how they would find out. They placed me in a room with a big, hefty, lockable door and I heard them talking about security cameras. This put me on high alert as I suddenly felt at risk of being detained. When the nurse came to take my blood I told her I wouldn’t allow it. Shortly after, the doctor came to see me and said, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is you let us take your blood, the hard way is we hold you down and take it from you.”
Already paranoid, hearing that immediately put me into fight or flight mode. As the doctor walked away, I asked my EMT escort if I could use the restroom. He said he would ask the doctor and as soon as he was fifteen feet away I sprinted full speed through the double doors to my right, opened another door to outside and threw my hospital gown into a bush. I then jumped over a fence and ran to the top of the large hill behind the hospital naked, barefoot, scared, and imagining a helicopter would be looking for me. I ran through the hill brush bumping and scraping my body and feet in the dark on my way up the hill looking for God-sent signs as I ran. As I reached the top of the hill I came to believe that God was telling me to find a car he would provide for me to flee to Mexico. As I walked through the neighborhoods starting at the top of Pacific Island Drive and continuing all the way down into Laguna Niguel, I check for unlocked car doors thinking I just had to find the right one. I started with Porsches, BMW’s and the like, hoping for the best, but then realized that God would more likely provide something a little more humble. Before reaching Crown Valley Parkway at the bottom of Pacific Island Drive, I took a right into a neighborhood to avoid the police that were searching for me and found a car that was unlocked. Assuming I must have listened to God correctly, I sat inside the car and looked for the keys. Unable to find them I ask myself what the next “logical” move was as if I were in a video game. I saw a garage door opener on the visor and hit the button. The garage door to my right opened and I casually walked into the garage and opened the door to the house completely naked, assuming God had brought me to a place where I could find rest, food, and a place to plan the rest of my journey as I had listened to him faithfully.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
When I got inside the first thing I saw was a large African-American man sitting on the sofa. Things got intense pretty fast, and he started yelling at me asking how I got into his house. I told him how God led me there but he kept yelling at me to sit down. Frightened and high on adrenaline I stayed standing until he cornered me against his couch. I jumped up onto the couch and we both put our fists up. He swung at me but I dodged it and hit him in return. Bleeding from his eye, the man relented at which point I told him I was sorry and that I loved him. I then left the same way I came in.
Once outside, I felt extremely guilty about the violent situation and realized that getting in a fight wasn’t what God would have wanted me to do. Assuming the police would arrive any moment, I ran across the street into the hill brush where I hid and crawled through the underbrush like a lion until the sun came up, thinking up new theories like how demons had to inhabit insects during the day to protect themselves from the light, but were free to roam at night, and that they were tormenting me, or how I would leave the country and spread the word that Jesus was returning through reggae music.
After the sun came up, I walked onto the back porch of another house where I put on some board shorts that were hanging to dry. I entered the house and sat in the kitchen. At this point, for some reason I had a moment of clarity, coming back into reality and realizing that I had lost my sanity. I began to weep because of what I had done and because I wondered whether I would be permanently crazy. Just then the man who lived there, a doctor, saw me, the blood on my hand, and frightened he quickly identified that my mental state was abnormal. I told him about everything that happened, and that I thought I had gone crazy, and asked him to call my Dad or the police.” The doctor called the police and then hung up to call my Dad, but the police arrived quickly and arrested me in the front yard.
As I was being taken to jail in the back seat of the cop car, I remember looking through the rear window and thinking certain cars were following me. Angels who would liberate me. I also thought that people around me were looking and laughing at me with my hands cuffed behind my back and tears rolling down my face. The officers brought me to the jail check in area and I started hyperventilating because my adrenaline and other chemicals were forcing me into a state of extreme anxiety and anticipation of a fight as I thought God was going to empower me to break free.
At the check-in counter, the jail personnel asked if I was on any drugs, what my drug history was, and whether I had any mental illnesses. I remember talking a mile and minute and answering all questions with complete honesty. I started to think that I was actually at the gate to heaven and talking to the woman at the check-in was actually St. Peter testing to see if the other men in the holding cells around me would tempt me into lying, at which point I might be ejected from the heaven that awaited if I passed this test.
I was then surrounded by deputies who forced me to the ground and placed me in a holding cell directly in front of the check in area where I would again started theorizing that I was being tested by the devil and that my girlfriend was now going through the same test. I started causing as much commotion as possible, removing my board shorts and slapping them as hard as I could against the walls and ceiling of my cell, dunking my head in the toilet and mopping the floor with my hair, shouting and roaring at the top of my lungs and believing that all I could do to help her was praise God by worship through noise and the cleaning of my cell which housed the holy spirit.
About a half hour later, I realized that from the peoples perspective in the check-in area I was a complete lunatic, and that if my girlfriend were brought in she would be tempted to lie to St. Peter after seeing me in the state I was in. I then hid behind a small wall near the toilet naked, cold, still in my delusion, and scraping evil faces out of the concrete floor with my front teeth. A couple hours later, everything seemed quiet, so I got up and walked toward the glass at the front of my cell. I hoped that the rapture had occurred and that I would be released only to find myself in heaven, but again, to my disappointment this wasn’t the case.
I first saw a nurse, who was obviously unhappy to see me again. I imagine she then called the damage control squad because about 5 deputies showed up wearing helmets and armed with Taser guns and shields, along with about 5 more in regular uniform. The deputies told me to sit down so that they could extract and take me to a new cell. I refused to sit as I thought they were going to kill me and I could still try to escape. They stuck a nozzle under the door and started filling the cell with pepper spray. I ran up to the door and put my foot on the nozzle but my foot started to feel like it was melting so I ran to the back of the cell, scooping water out of the toilet to try to ease the pain all over my body. After what seemed like thirty seconds they stopped and again told me to sit down at which point I told them “no” and stood facing them putting my arms up toward the ceiling in a gesture of praise to God. They then continued spraying underneath the door. I was running around the cell frantically suffocating and burning so I smashed my face against a mirror on the wall fracturing my nose and repeatedly slapped myself in the face in an attempt to mitigate the pain and show them how much it hurt, hoping they would stop. They didn’t stop and I then slipped on the ground and fell. As soon as I was on the ground I heard them opening the cell door at which point I jumped up to my feet and ran to the door, ramming against it with my shoulder. I was then Tazed from the front and back a total of 9 times at 5 seconds each according to my police report and knocked out cold. When I came back to my senses I was being pressed into the ground by shields and blood was dripping down my nose. I was then braced into a wheelchair and a veil was put over my head. My body was cooked inside and out and I was screaming at them continually telling them to repent for the kingdom of God was near. I was taken to the hospital where I was handcuffed to a gurney, thinking the police were going to kill me after the antichrist gave his approval. After checking my vitals and determining I was OK to go back into custody, I was returned to jail and placed naked in a tiny, concrete, brown room with no windows and just a flap in the door that they would lift every couple of hours for a quick second to make note of what I was doing. At that point, I literally thought I was in hell, and that I had done everything wrong. I questioned who I was and whether I was actually good or mistakenly evil. Nevertheless, I still believed the deputies and jail staff were demons trying to figure out whether I was an angel and I wouldn’t trust them. Every so often a nurse and a couple deputies would come and try to convince me to take some meds, but I wouldn’t do it as I thought it was against God’s instruction. After several hours, some deputies told me they were going to come in and hold me down to inject a sedative into my side if I didn’t cooperate. I finally complied, telling them to come in and give me the shot as I lay down on the ground with my hands behind my back.
When I woke up a few hours later, I was practically back to normal. The mania and delusions had ended. I felt no anxiety and no paranoia. I did however feel the weight of my new situation. Separated from my loved ones and ashamed of the way I had acted around them. Stuck alone inside a white cell in the psychiatric ward, I didn’t talk to anyone I knew for about 4 days and I couldn’t see anyone from my cell except for the jail doctor for a minute each day and the people who slid food through the slit in the door. To make things worse, in addition to my shame and inability to reconcile with the people I love, my brain felt completely depleted of any trace of any chemical that I needed to feel anything but pain, shame, failure, and depression. I hurt so badly that after I couldn’t cry or moan any longer I prayed my life would be over. I was in custody for 2-1/2 months altogether facing multiple felony charges and was one of the lucky few that got ankle cuffs attached to a waist chain and handcuffs behind my back every time I was transported to-and-from court or to a new cell in a different jail module.
I must add that I was tremendously blessed to have the support of friends and family throughout this period in my life. I never went a Saturday or Sunday without someone coming to visit despite their having to arrive at the jail around 7am only to wait up to a couple hours to see me for 20 minutes. I was blessed to have an amazing girlfriend who drove hours to do the same, wrote me letters several times a week, and did her best to comfort and restore me back to normal after I got out. Not to mention all the people that wrote letters to the court on my behalf attesting to my character and the unexpectedness of what happened. Also my parents, who did everything they could to support me, comfort me, and help me to become educated on my illness, by far the most valuable thing that I have done.
Unfortunately, despite all of this, after getting out of jail, I was severely depressed for about a year. It was a struggle just to wake up and make it to a park where I would then again lay for hours. In addition to depression, I now had pending criminal and civil court cases to deal with. The criminal case ended up in a misdemeanor battery charge and felony assault charge, two convictions that would obviously not help my career. I had to raise and borrow $32,000 from friends and family in order to pay my criminal attorneys, one of which was a great man who did a wonderful job. I raised and borrowed an additional $18,000 to pay restitution to the victim, but nothing to my civil attorney, a family friend who asked nothing in return for his work. He was such a blessing and also did a wonderful job. I also had to pay for a 6-month court-ordered outpatient rehab due to my manic behavior although I had no substance abuse problems and three years of formal probation.
As you can see, my life was turned upside down, but looking back, this experience has only made me into a better and stronger individual. I know that I will benefit from it for the rest of my life and have a better perspective on coping with pain, and empathizing with others. I was also given a reason to share this today.
Enough for my sob story now, I want to give you some good news. As of today my convictions have been reduced to just a misdemeanor due to my good behavior on probation for 4 years, and it can be expunged by next year. I am working a great job at a great company, and both my current and past employer know about my diagnosis but accept me for who I am. I was blessed with a for-certain diagnosis early on in my life, and given the tools and means to educate myself on the physiological aspects of how bipolar affects my body and mind, and developed tremendous self-awareness. In addition to the benefits I have reaped from having this experience, I now also see that there are many benefits to having bipolar disorder in general.
Being bipolar gives us the opportunity to experience emotion to deep extents. It helps us empathize and relate to other people suffering from depression or mental illness and accept people for who they are because we are so thankful for those who do the same to us. In my personal opinion, for those who are undiagnosed or un-medicated, the obligation to deal with an emotional roller coaster makes them extremely good at fighting depression, negative thoughts, and maintaining a positive outlook on life. I am inspired by others with bipolar disorder such as Winston Churchill, Kay Jamison, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Edgar Alan Po, Vincent Van Gogh, Teddy Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, and Virginia Wolf that have accomplished amazing things.
Despite these people, in case you didn’t know, there is still a negative stigma attached to bipolar disorder and mental illness today. Many of us suffering from mental illness don’t want others to know about it because to employers we can seem like a risk, to boyfriends or girlfriends a lot of emotional stress, to family and friends unstable and exhausting, and the list goes on. To make things worse, because of the negative stigma of both having an illness and having to take psychiatric medication, we try to white knuckle it. We would rather be in denial or ignore the fact that our brains are different so that we can continue pretending to be “normal” and fit in. What we often fail to acknowledge is that like diabetes, or high blood pressure, our illness is a physiological issue. Just like diabetes or high blood pressure can be treated with medication, so can the chemical imbalance in our brain. Unfortunately however, thousands go untreated because the negative stigma keeps them from educating themselves or taking medications that could help them a lot. If we could eliminate the negative stigma associated with mental illness we could prevent a lot of pain and suffering for both the mentally ill and those around them. Mentally ill mothers and fathers could do a better job raising their kids. Crime and danger to the public (as in my situation) could be prevented, not to mention homelessness, hospitalization, incarceration bullying, and ostracism. Those suffering from depression could know that they are not alone and that it isn’t their fault, consequently preventing many suicides, the third leading killer of people of ages 15 to 25 in the U.S. Friends could understand what their mentally ill friends are going through and learn to trust and cherish them as they themselves become self aware of their own minds and bodies also. Trauma and pain could be prevented for the mentally ill and the people who love them, and people like me could enjoy a life without shame or feeling that there is something wrong with them that they have to hide. They could learn to be proud of their mind and wear their heart on their sleeve in turn helping others do the same, embracing true connectivity and acceptance of others as everyone has their own issues. In my own life, I got fed up with believing that being bipolar is a weakness. Sure, I’ve had experiences where I never heard from a girl again, or was estranged from friends, but as the saying goes “those who care don’t matter and those who matter don’t care.” I have decided to live a shame free life, 100% proud of who I am and if others don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. All people should be able to experience the benefits and joys of a shame free life.
"I hope one day you get to know a bipolar person who enhances your life with their abundant energy and enthusiasm, who you can empower with your love and acceptance of them" - Me
Thank you for reading.