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December 5, 2014
Pebbles, Potholes, and Perspective
Fighting the Good Fight against Symptoms (part 2)
by Sarah Hancock

Last time I shared with you my recent experience with both “positive symptoms” of schizophrenia (doctors say “positive” because they are symptoms that are an addition to a normal human experience — not because they are good and fun) and mania. Here is the rest of the story.

I’d been up for 36 hours and knew I had to turn off my mental engine — I just couldn’t.

At about 2:30 a.m., I lay awake in bed, brain ever alert — a ticking bomb. Refusing to do anything that would cause myself to stay awake, I fought the urge to give in to Facebook or games. In fact, I left my phone in the other room. I didn’t want to spiral further into mania.

One of the problems with mania is that it does weird things to the perception of passing time. Since your brain is smacking around like a racquetball hit by a player on steroids, it seems you can think about more than 100 things in a minute. The longer you’re awake that becomes 150 and then 200 in a minute. It just keeps getting faster and faster.

Is it any wonder that people living with prolonged extreme mania make no sense?

At first it’s creatively productive and then it spins into ridiculous “creativity.” For example, I have sketches of inventions like prosthetic limbs for snakes and personal water filters for fish (so they could just pop them in their mouths and enjoy a day frolicking in the sand at the beach, or even learn to drive), all of which made perfect sense at the time.

After lying there for another hour or so I called my insurance’s mental health crisis line. Surely they could have some insight into resolving my insomnia. The guy on the line told me that I should really do some exercise. He preferred yoga. He then went on a 30-minute diatribe about yoga and how I should try it.

My thought, how in the heck is that going to help me right now? I mean, I could take up yoga. I’ve done it once in a class I found bitterly boring — too much to think about in the silence of stretching.

Oddly, this crisis line guy didn’t allow me to speak a word edge-wise. I think he was more manic than I was. When he paused for a breath, I found myself breaking out my counseling skills.

I complimented him on the journey he’d made to find such a meaningful form of exercise that worked for him. I reflected back to him his yoga insights regarding muscle tension and blood flow. I asked him a couple more open-ended questions (since he was obviously a wealth of knowledge) and then I summarized all he said and hung up the phone.

I wasn’t a mental centimeter closer to turning my mind off. I knew one thing was certain: he loved yoga.

As the sun started peeking over the canyon near my home, I knew with certainty that I’d been up for 48 hours, and my brain’s chemical malfunction was severe. If I didn’t stave it off, things would quickly and exponentially get worse. I needed sleep. It was the only sure-fire way to rein in the mania and let my brain recoup.

Because my brain was in such a ravaged state, I completely forgot about my WRAP plan. Had I remembered, I could have used one of my action plans to nip the mania in the bud. Instead, it just kept winding the spring. We all know what happens when you overwind a spring. Click. Nothing.

I picked up that phone again and frantically filed through my contacts, searching for someone else who might know how to help. I texted three of my professional colleagues who also live successfully with bipolar disorder.

Two texted back that they wanted to help in any way possible and the third called me directly. By that time my husband was awake as well, since he’d never seen me really manic, he didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.

I put my colleague on speaker phone so he could get a better idea of where this was going. Mania is more than insomnia. Mania’s neurochemical components can’t be reversed by taking a warm bath or listening to soothing music.

My manic thoughts spiraled into catastrophizing (taking everything to the worst possible outcome as though it’s already happened). Basically my brain was telling me that my mania was going to get worse. I’d end up involuntarily committed somewhere. I’d lose my job, leaving me unable to meet the family financial needs and get left by my husband because he was scared of me.

Gratefully, my coworker’s calm serenity helped me ease those fears. Acutely aware of the serious situation, she reminded me of the importance of staying in the moment, focusing on the here and now, providing me with ideas (deep breathing, journaling, taking a cleansing morning walk) to counteract the flight of thoughts.

Although each idea was geared more to relaxing in general, not in getting me to sleep, relaxing is in obvious forerunner to sleeping for most people. Her anxiety for me, although hidden, was felt in her since desire to help me. We closed the conversation with her promise that she would check on me every two hours throughout the day.

I also texted my old social worker/nurse and wished her a “good morning.” I never text her, and I had certainly never texted a random greeting at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. She called me back instantly. I put her on speaker phone so my husband could hear her response and better understand this situation growing desperate.

First she wanted me to go straight to the ER, but after discussing things with her, we decided to hold off a bit more to see if I could fall asleep in the next 12 hours. If I couldn’t, I promised I’d check myself into the hospital.

We discussed the meds I was taking. At that moment I had a flash of memory that in my WRAP plan my doctor and I had constructed an emergency dose of medication to take in cases like this one. I told her about our plan and she instructed me to do it. She said that she’d call back in 6 hours if she hadn’t heard from me.

My husband realized that I should not go to church. Instead, I needed to treat this like a serious illness — because it is one. I saw the fear and worry register in his face.

I took my emergency dose; I was asleep within 30 minutes. Eight hours later, I woke up. My sweetie reported that both my social worker and my colleague kept their word, checking in regularly. He noted that they were both relieved, which eased his concerns as well.

That night, I took my normal dose of medication and went to bed at 8:30, waking up ten hours later. I felt like myself again. With clarity restored, I headed off to work as though nothing had happened, grateful I wasn’t in the hospital. I cannot stress how without my resources, I would have or at least should have been hospitalized.

After four assists, Sarah sinks a three-pointer — just under the buzzer — for the win.

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