January 13, 2013 by Kara Nichols
If my calendar is correct, it’s been almost two years since my last hospitalization. I don’t remember much about it. If you’ve seen A Beautiful Mind, you know the movie is about a brilliant but asocial mathematician accepts secret work in cryptography, and how his life takes a turn to the nightmarish. While I’m not brilliant, nor a mathematician, however I have suffered the nightmarish.
My episodes have been different each time. In 2001 I thought I was dating the antiChrist. Then I had 8 years of no hospitalizations. I still had manic moments and deep depression but nothing serious enough to cause hospitalization. 2009-20011 I was put in the hospital for mania about 7 times. Once I believed Bono was my friend and he was going to get me out of the hospital. Another time I thought New York City was going to blow up, this was a few months before 9/11. Certain words came alive and it was as though Jesus himself was handwriting me notes while I was locked up in the mental ward. I scanned magazines, my Bible, and anything for clues to what my mission was to be. Sometimes I flirted with other patients, mostly I watched VH1 so I could listen to music and color pictures that I thought for sure would go for money at some point. Makes me smile to think I actually believed that. I just want to go back and pat myself on the head. Poor, poor suffering girl.
Like Alice falling down the hole after a rabbit, I too struggled with reality. I would fantasize about grand weddings, a successful writing career, a home of my own. Those desires would be amplified when my mental illness would stir inside of me. Suddenly my life would have a new purpose. I’ve believed I should open a day care; give away everything I own; travel the country collecting other people’s stories of mental illness — all the while being followed by invisible paparazzi. I’ve been put in handcuffs twice. I have cursed out nurses a few times. I deeply disliked my father and mother. I believed I was a saint.
Now imagine having all of those experiences only to wake up one morning and have it disappear. The joke was on you the whole time. Reality is a brutal awakening. A handful of pills and a few weeks later I’m just boring Kara Nichols. In most of the cases with these episodes I was left out of a job, dumped by fearful men, forgotten by friends, having gained weight because of meds, and the unnerving thought that I couldn’t trust my own brain. Suicide would become tempting. Studies have shown that 25 to 50 percent of people with bipolar disorder (manic depression) attempt suicide, which is much higher than average.
I admit there is beauty in the madness. Purity in the breakdown. I’ve written some of my most interesting pieces while manic. I have definitely felt the most love and excitement and spiritual while in a manic phase –doesn’t even come close to what I feel when I am “balanced.”It’s like being high all of the time with a side of paranoia.
I’m not ashamed anymore. I see myself as a survivor of a serious brain disease. Every door I open could be the route back to madness. So I take my medication faithfully. I get enough sleep. I eat well. I laugh as much as possible. I exercise. But sometimes it’s just out of my hands. There’s nothing I can do to prevent it. The strings are there and I’m a puppet led around by a dark and mysterious beast, or an angel, away from the real world and into the stuff of story books.
Let me just say – God bless those of us who have depression, bipolar, or any other mental illness. There’s nothing worse than being deceived by your own mind. I mean, really, if you can’t trust your brain to keep you safe, what – and who – can you trust?
Part of me feels like I need to prepare, that I am due another stint at the hospital. But actually I haven’t felt this well in years. I guess erring on the side of cautious is the smart thing to do. It’s been said that with age, people who are bipolar have manic episodes that become more and more frequent. Which scares the shit out me because I can’t catch it early. That’s what makes it crazy. If I know I’m acting crazy, then I’m not really crazy. I’m always the last person to find out when I’m acting out of my mind. There are some clues at times but I’m usually too much wrapped up in my own little universe to see them.
God bless the families and friends of those who have a mental illness. I know it sucks. And it’s hard to know how to be supportive. Especially if the person comes off as ungrateful and combative. I urge you to equip yourself with knowledge about your loved one’s illness. Maybe go out of your way to show love and compassion even if they don’t technically deserve it. Because that’s what I needed most all of those times I was released from the hospital. Thankfully my family and a few friends have been there for me. Although we never really talk about my illness outright, I know individually they care in their own way. How horrible my story would be without my family’s help. Without a doubt I would be one of those homeless people talking to themselves on the sidewalk begging for loose change. I am so thankful they didn’t give up on me when the rest of the world, including friends and a fiancé, left me in the dust because they couldn’t handle me.
Reaching this two-year mark of being mania free is huge. I may throw a party in May. It’s good to be alive and out of the hospital. I am thankful to my Heavenly Father, who never left my side during times of sickness or health.