You’re updating your resume again. You have the urge to write down under accomplishments starting from A to Z: Alcoholic (recovering), bulimic (recovering), cutter (recovering), drug addict (recovering), etc. Or, you want to throw in there, “Has managed, with the help of doctors, chemicals, and family, to keep bipolar disorder from ruining life and the lives of others.” These are your only real accomplishments. Sure you have a college degree, you are living independently, you have diverse job experience, and, as your mother once told you was her wish for all of her children, you are a competent member of society. Still all that feels insignificant compared to the debilitating challenges you have overcome. Those which remain hush-hush, no-no, and other hyphenated repetitions of monosyllabic words.
Stories like this.
Mania can be just as deadly a state as suicidal depression. Mania is addictive. It is fast and painless and through your periphery you see these streaks of bright color because you move through the world with such rapidity that all around you are these blurs of watercolor. I always heard of manics talking miles per minute, coming up with these harebrained schemes for making money or becoming rich, famous, or how they might defy the laws of physics and rob nature and fate, cheating death. Starting a shitload of “projects” and never finishing them. I also heard their sleep was erratic and sometimes nonexistent.
When I was manic I stayed awake for days straight and when I did sleep it would only be momentary. One time I had been awake for about two days and was driving to visit a college friend a couple states away when I began getting drowsy. Pulling into a strip mall parking lot, I turned off the car. I left the keys in the ignition, turned the radio to a low hum to establish background noise, and I put my seat back and closed my eyes. When I opened them again my hands were on the wheel and I was sitting up, the back of the seat still reclined. I was driving along a road in a residential area. No strip mall in sight. Immediately, I became soaked with a sweet, sticky sweat as I blinked and tried to understand what was going on. I pulled into a driveway to turn around and figure out where I was. It was impossible for me to figure out how something like that had happened and frightens me to this day. Turning around and heading back the direction I had come from, I clocked my distance on the odometer until I find my way to the strip mall parking lot. I had travelled .7 miles. In my sleep. Behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
The awful part is it wasn’t the only time it happened. A little more than a year later I went to sleep in the place I was living at the time and woke up a few miles away from a diner I had been going to for about two months each day before work. I was parked on a cul-de-sac, the car was running, my pants were at my ankles, and my left hand cradled my limp private parts. What woke me up was a man taking his dog for a walk. He was peering into the driver’s side window talking and trying to get my attention. This excursion had been quite a bit further, but since I decided coffee and eggs were in my best interest, I didn’t formally track how far I’d driven. Besides, I knew the area and the trip. That morning I had unconsciously driven roughly 16 miles at 4am to deliriously try and rub one out in front of four sleeping households.
Manic stories, man, I’ve got a boatload of them. And for most of them, like this one, there’s no explanation for what happens in them. That “not knowing” echoes the confusion that surrounds the mentally ill and those who know little about what it’s like to suffer from mental illness. That sleep-driving is frightening to me. It should be frightening to you, too. Stories like those need to be heard, not swept under the comfortable rug of normalcy.