The Glorious Highs and Dismal Lows of Life Without My Bipolar Meds

A manic episode is like a frenzied bukakke party in my head, and I'm all the participants at once.

|
May 31 2016, 12:00am

Illustrations by Ashley Goodall

When I was five years old, my dad gave me a VHS copy of Robin Williams: Live at the Met! "I think you'll like this," he told me. "It's the guy from Aladdin." I did like it. I would sit for hours on end laughing hysterically as jokes about cocaine binges and Ronald Reagan flew over my young head. It wasn't the jokes that appealed to me. It was his energy. Robin Williams projected an effervescent madness—this rapidity and obsessiveness that even as a five-year-old I recognized in myself. Recognized and liked.

Of course, as a five-year-old, I never knew Robin Williams claimed he took cocaine to "calm himself down."

It's 20 years later, and I'm standing on a street corner berating some people I'd met earlier in the night. "Hey, yes wow, the whole Trump thing is mad of course, but who wants to see me rhyme all the nations of the world?!" I then burst into a rapid fire rendition of "Yakko's World" from Animaniacs, ignoring their baffled faces as I reel off Latin America's countries in rhyme. It's a quiet night for them—some wine, maybe a beer. They've just seen me down six cocktails and a bottle of red. I'd also insisted on buying everyone a bubble tea. Extra large.

That's when I realized he's back: Manic Patrick. He's ditched the meds and is back in town, knee deep in rhyming slang, alcoholism, and sago balls.

Of all mental illnesses, I find bipolar the murkiest—and the one that I have the most complicated relationship with. I hate the term "bipolar." I much prefer manic-depression as I feel the two words bounce off each other so truthfully. Manic. Depression.

As a guy who likes to write, a manic flip is both a blessing and curse. A close friend recently told me that "talking to you is like having 100 tabs open in Chrome." When manic, there are a million associated lines darting around my head at once. In this pinball mindscape, odd connections are made, and I can pluck-out some shiny bits to form my art and identity. But it's hard to police, and in the grip of an episode, it's hard to want to.

But having 100 tabs open at once takes a toll on my browser. It lags, and it crashes. Catherine wheels spin out. Roman candles explode. And unless it happens in my sleep (which it often does), I can feel the flip coming. The transition to exhausted depression after a week or more of manic madness (it used to be months) is intense and debilitating. For every day of hyperactive reverie, there's a day in bed almost completely immobilized. I can feel the muddy cogs of my brain churning and, eventually, calling it quits.

Likewise, after depression, there's a day or two of stability, then suddenly there'll be a blinding lighting-strike CRACK, and Manic Patrick is back, baby! It can feel like an unfunny version of The Nutty Professor (for example, The Nutty Professor 2.)

I grapple with the destructive relationship I have with my manic self. "He" can feel like a super power. My social anxiety all but disappears, and I'm filled with this crackling confidence. I can control a room. My imagination hurls into overdrive. I haven't ever found a drug that's close to the purity of a truly manic episode. It's like being in a police chase that won't end—a constant five stars in GTA Vice City.

But of course, I run over a lot of metaphoric pedestrians. Manic me is an alcoholic, sexaholic, kleptomaniac, shopaholic, and foul-mouthed bully. Light banter turns to brutal eviscerations with the flip of a coin, and people are left hurting with no idea what they did wrong. I've burned a lot of bridges without even knowing.

I call the brashness the "Larry David Effect." When it's on, I have the gall to say anything to anyone: be they my girlfriend's parents, my boss, or my teacher. Naturally this leads to a lot of "fuck you, Larry David" type scenarios and a lot of whacky sitcom-style "adventures."

I once leapt onto one of those floating-glass party cubes in Perth's Swan River. Another time I gatecrashed a stranger's 21st and wrote a stream of abusive notes in the guest book.

A big part of mania is megalomania. Van Gogh is often cited as the archetypal manic depressive. Imagine the kind of self-obsession it takes to cut off an ear and mail it to your crush. The solipsism is both appealing and appalling.

A manic upswing is like a frenzied bukakke party in my head, and I'm all the participants at once. But in the wake of that egotism are a lot of ruined relationships and abandoned projects. And there's no feeling more poisonous than crashing and lamenting my inability to achieve the manic self's impossible desires.

A manic upswing is like a frenzied bukakke party in my head, and I'm all the participants at once.

It took my girlfriend's help for me to treat my bipolar seriously. I started regular treatment four years ago.

Things are muddy on meds; I can't remember names or faces. I struggle to remember yesterday. Free-associating is like pushing out a particularly thorny turd. I'm groggy and exhausted. My creative process has changed: I tell close friends that writing on meds is like relearning language. Like training wheels, except one of them is shaped like a triangle.

That's why I gave them up.

And it's so hard to stay medicated when there's a whisper in the back of the brain, telling me I'm a golden god. "Ditch the meds you brilliant bastard," it coos. "Let's hitch to fuckhead city! Cause face it, you ain't never had a friend like me!"

Follow Patrick Marlborough on Twitter.

Stories