Damn, that was a long shift. In my eyes anything that involves only one cigarette break in 12 hours qualifies as an act of torture. But still, the job is worth it and it’s the only thing that keeps me sane some days. Ironically speaking.
Still, 12 hours, three emergency responses, two admissions and a rather well-dodged right hook later and I am sitting on my Harley ready to ride at (cough) 30mph all the way home…
I knew, however, that the pressure was building in my head. I have always been notoriously bad at moderating my stress levels. I could sit there full of front on top of 883cc of chrome and fury looking the personification of chill, but have you ever seen a pressure cooker go? It’s spectacular.
Bipolarity, or bipolar, for the regular non-Stephen Fry class of illness, is something I have managed for seven years. However, it was painfully apparent to anyone from the age of 12 that it was a little more than pre-teen attitude. I’m not sure what gave it away first; the multiple suicide attempts, self-harming or the Goth attire. The latter I still rock by the way.
My mental health ‘quirks’ had been managed by a nice dose of lithium for the majority of this time, and quite to the contrary of what Kurt Cobain said, I wasn’t so happy that I’d found the friends that were in my head. But 1600mg of lithium helped gag those bastards.
I’d come to accept some inevitabilities about my diagnosis, and while I will never be one of those writers that likes to define an illness by its negatives, it sure isn’t always a walk in the park. A stroll in a shit-filled minefield, perhaps.
I’ve found ways of making my illness work for me, in the most part. Hypomania? Or as I call it, get that damn housework done. Hyper-sexualised? My man is in for the best sex since he left the army.
But there are some symptoms I’ve experienced during mania that I’m less capable of making light of. And before I tell you my secret, I ask you to imagine something.
Think of the person that scares you most in the world.Now personify this by 1000, distort their face and insert them into the forefront of your mind. Your worst enemy is now inside your head, trying to strike nothing short of cold, unadulterated fear into you. When are in your house alone and you catch glimpse of a twisted face in the darkened window. Or perhaps when you are on your Harley Davidson in a Tesco petrol station, watching the scene of a 1940s air raid fall down around you.
My secret? I see things that I know are not real.
So as you may have gathered, my perfectly 30mph ride home was cut unduly short when my petrol gauge started blinking. Thankfully, work was a short but picturesque jaunt across what was called the old ‘toll road,’ a road where if you didn’t die by driving off the sheer cliff edge or collide with a tree from the woods on the other side, your reward is the sunny sights of good old Weston. Aren’t you lucky?
As I recall it now, I don’t think I can even remember pulling up at the fuelling station, but I know that a familiar sensation hit me. The smell and texture of cotton candy being wrapped around my 6ft frame, head to foot.
Then the heavens opened. Bombs were smashing through nearby houses close to the train station, blowing apart bricks and sending furniture splintering into the air. The smell of ignited fuel and soot filling my lungs like a sonic wave of sensation. There were five women running towards me, through me. One with her expensive-looking white leather clutch bag and cream pillbox hat tarnished with a mixture of ash and blood. Troops ran towards me making no effort to hide the terror they felt, running away from the hellish scene that was unfolding right there, on Tesco’s forecourt.
I took a second to compose myself. While my brain obviously thought that my local fuelling station was the most appropriate place to relive the terror of a World War Two air raid, I was, however, feeling somewhat less patriotic.
I knew what I was seeing, smelling and living in front of me wasn’t settled in my ‘fixed reality.’ My mind was trying to relieve some of that pressure by spilling it into an unwanted ‘unseen stimuli,’ but at that point in time I wished it wasn’t in front of other evening commuters.
I knew if I re-enacted the battlefield my mind had created then I would receive more than just concerned looks from bystanders. So I opted to pay at the kiosk so I could go and get something strong-tasting to jolt my mind back into gear. Strong sensations I have found often work when mind is in turmoil.
During that ride home I realised something that I hadn’t processed fully previously. My reality was never going to be the same as most people’s. I will see sights that are implausible and impossible all at once, smell things that never existed and taste things that will never be tasted, and occasionally there will be the things at the window.
But while these things may be harrowing for some, for me they build up an insight into an illness that not only do I live with, but so do many of my patients. After all, what kind of justice would I be doing them if I didn’t learn from my own quirks and experiences?
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