Analyzing My Manic Episode
Final exams began about a week or two after my winter break. I prepared for those exams as if my life depended on it. It was almost literally “eat, sleep, study” every single day; no time for a social life. But there was one exam I wanted to pass more than anything! It was my only class I had with the native French speakers. My other classes were with French language learners, like myself, from all over the world. But this class I practically had to beg to be part of. I wanted to prove to myself I could hack it. Besides, the added challenge would help me improve my French.
The exam was scheduled for the sixteenth of January. It was a text commentary for a history class. I woke up before sunrise that day and walked to the university. On my way back, I knew a tremendous weight had just been lifted from my shoulders. By the seventeenth of January I had finished all my final exams. There was little left to do but choose classes for the upcoming term and begin to “officially” make the most of my time in Montpellier.
I sent a generic email to my friends and family on January 21st, 2003 under the heading: The Boiling Point. To express my anger and frustration, I described my preparation for final exams:
…I had my exams, one in particular which loomed over me as if to say not passing it would mean the end of the world. So I confined myself to my room and to the library for the next two weeks except to go to class. I went through 400 or so years of human thought as if it were a mystery to be solved…After cramming my head full of dates, philosophers, and events, I landed at the same conclusion as always – technology and the construction of society have all changed, but the hearts of men haven’t. They are still greedy for money and power and will do what they can to suppress other ideas for the end result of this [greedy] goal…More on this in my upcoming book….…I’m angry, frustrated, and confused, but just having these emotions will get me nowhere. I gotta do somethin’ ‘bout it! They may have put this bird in a cage, but she’s not going to stay there. She will fight. She will be free.
My friends, 6 months is not enough. One year is not enough. Nope. It’s all just beginning.
In my time between finals and the new semester, I began organizing my memories in a kind of scrapbook. In the beginning of the scrapbook, my writing is short and concise. But towards the end the writing almost overpowers the photos. The book is not finished. It represents a mind that was too unhinged to have any real control over its creative endeavors.
On January 27, 2003, I wrote another generic email in which my delusions of grandeur are clearly revealed.
I have registered for the next semester, fitting all my classes into the grand scheme of mine, which won’t be completely revealed for another 20 years or so when I am a little more than the legal age to run for president of the United States of America…
However this week I’m on vacation. Ah, but no, I’m not going to travel to any far off lands. I have a lot to learn and do here (the unwritten part keeps it flexible because I’m still young, my ideas change frequently). Once more, it’s a beautiful day today! So beautiful, in fact, that I can wear my summer clothes again and you know what I feel like doin’? I feel like dancing!
Living alone, isolated from other humans, served only to encourage the mania. I wrote my emails at a nearby internet café. There was an hourly charge to use the computers, but I didn’t care. Being able to write something to several people at once was an amazing technological advancement and I intended to make full use of it! January 29, 2003, I wrote the following email:
I just wanted to inform all of you that I’m a little hesitant to turn my cell phone on because there’s a lot to do this week and, much as I hate writing this, I’m not sure if I have much time for a social life…
…this is my main project, among other things, to organize my photographs in a journal, in English, so that one day, when I’m not around to share the stories, at least the memories will last…
I forget the name of the writer who said it, but it is said “the pen is mightier than the sword.” I don’t know if any of my words inspire any of you, but I know that if anything lasts, it’s the written word and, if anything changes people, it’s our ability to pass on our knowledge to others in hopes that it will cause them to think….
As my illness progressed, the other symptoms of mania became more apparent. I wrote about the flight of ideas and loss of sleep yet was never aware of anything wrong with me. How could there be anything wrong? I was absolutely brilliant! and the people to whom I sent emails were responding with such overwhelmingly positive feedback they actually encouraged the madness.
January 31, 2003
I cannot sleep. I’m tired and its two in the morning and I cannot sleep. I’m not sure if it was my neighbors fighting next door or simply the waves of thoughts running through my head. Perhaps it was a combination of both….
January 31, 2003
Subject: Knowing who you are
…Something strange happened to me in the wee hours of the morning this morning. It doesn’t often happen, but when it does, you have to make the most of it…
When I woke up, my head was so cluttered with thoughts that I couldn’t go back to sleep. What’s worse is that the sun hadn’t risen yet and, when I checked my clock, it was 2 AM. I tried to force myself back to sleep thinking, if I don’t get my rest, I won’t be able to function normally tomorrow. But I just couldn’t and thus grabbed pen and paper and wrote….
Another important factor in my mania was the presence of a spiritual belief system. After my grandma died, I started to read my Bible daily and went through the entire New Testament. I had also been attending a Pentecostal-style church in Montpellier and really enjoyed it. For the first time in my life I was part of the minority faith and, through the strength and courage I saw in the believers from France, I felt genuinely compelled to renew my own faith and, quite literally, be re-baptized.
On the Sunday morning of February 2nd, 2003, my need for sleep continued to decrease giving me enough time to walk to church instead of taking the tram. Before I left, I wrote in my journal while listening to music by Christian singer/songwriter Twila Paris. I wrote with unwavering certainty:
God has been shaping me in every aspect of my life, even when I didn’t see him. I believe so strongly today that I am willing to die. I know what those words mean. I’ve been trembling all morning long because of it. God has been speaking to me. Let the continuing days of my life be lived as a testimony to this conviction.
I returned from church, charged with emotion and ran my fingers across the photographs of friends and family I’d taped to my wall. Then I felt something I’d never felt before or since. I felt a fierce trembling throughout my body and my mind immediately registered it as the presence of God. So I reached for my journal on my bed where I’d left it and quickly sat at the table and began to write. Scarcely had my shaking hand begun to put pen to paper when I lost control of the pen and dropped it. Then I felt a gentle yet powerful force push me toward the ground. There was no audible sound aside from my uncontrollable sobs and the Twila Paris song The Time is Now, but just the same, I felt a message impressed in my heart that somehow conveyed that God was both loving and powerful and that he was with me. Of all the distorted thinking resulting from stress, depression, and mania, this is the one portion I’m still hesitant to discount as delusional or a hallucination. But, I digress.
This was the turning point. As if I were heading straight to my own martyrdom, I began preparing to leave Montpellier. And yet, unconsciously I’d observed a malady within me and noted it in my journal. That very same day, I wrote my final email from Montpellier.
February 4, 2003
I’m starting to become ill, but it is my hope that, whether it is a passing illness or something worse, it too can be used for God’s glory.
February 4, 2003
Subject: That which is worth dying for.
A lot has been happening in my life that many of you won’t understand right away, but I pray that someday you will. If you had asked me to write this 3 days ago, I would have been too afraid. The spirit which speaks through me is not a spirit of timidity. It’s a power stronger than any nuclear weapon and deeper than our minds can imagine. It penetrates people’s hearts in ways that we cannot understand, even and always speaking in love and gentleness…
…What I wrote you is not normal. People do not automatically put all their emotions and thoughts on the line so that the world can see them…
…I’m not here to start a church or to tell you to go to mine. I’m also not telling you that this is an easy choice. In my life I will be called names and laughed at. I may be beaten for what I believe, thrown in jail for not being silent, tortured, or killed. But this does not matter to me anymore. The same God that gave others strength to endure as given me the same strength….
I wrote my final journal entry from Montpellier a day later. By February 6, 2003, I’d been admitted in the psychiatric hospital.
In the haste of my final day in Montpellier, I tossed my passport into the river, symbolically shedding my nationality and becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom. I tried to enter the church to be re-baptized before I left, but the doors were locked. Fearful of being caught and forced to stay, or worse, to be sent back to the US, I tossed my cell phone into a vacant lot. I went back to the apartment one last time, packed a small backpack with changes of underwear, some perfume, an extra shirt, some water, an apple, and, most notably, a Bible. For a brief moment as I took my last descent down the apartment stairwell, I thought of saying goodbye to my neighbor who was playing guitar and singing. But decided against it thinking he would only try and stop me.
The journey from Montpellier to my final destination in Thuir, France (near Perpignan), is its own story. It involves walking, hitching a ride, and ultimately being discovered by the border police near Spain. It was traumatic but could have been far worse.
My first two days at the psychiatric hospital I discovered there was little to do but wait. So I wrote two letters to my “Brothers and Sisters in Christ” as if I were on equal footing as Paul of Tarsus, the first Christian missionary and author of most of the New Testament. But anyone who’s been raised in the Christian faith can see how theologically unsound the writing is, not to mention my fractured sentences. I was almost thoroughly convinced the apocalypse was at hand, the anti-Christ lived in the United States, and my parents had immigrated to England. I thought I was being held in the hospital by the “enemy” and, after refusing my first dose of medicine, I was quite certain the forced injection I later received was a lethal injection and waited patiently through the night for God to take me “home” to “heaven.”
The medicine I was given was a strong anti-psychotic that quickly took the edge off my manic episode and, although, it still took me a significant amount of time to accept my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, it is now abundantly apparent to me that I have, without a doubt, suffered from full-blown mania.