I Think I Might Be Jesus: Inside a Manic Episode

It’s pretty commonplace to hear people use the term “bipolar” flippantly, in a way that would not be considered acceptable for other forms of mental illness or Neurodiversity (e.g., it is no longer acceptable to call someone “retarded” or use “autistic” as a description of a Neurotypical (NT) individual who is quirky or has unusual interests). People describe the weather in Texas as bipolar, because it can shift from sunny and warm to cold and hailing in a matter of hours. When someone suddenly changes moods, they are described as having a bipolar moment, when really there was probably just some stressor that caused them to quickly devolve into a more negative state of mind. These casual references to a very serious, dangerous, and many times, debilitating, mental illness lead to misconceptions about what bipolar disorder (both type 1 and type 2) looks and feels like.

When others don’t understand what you are going through, they don’t know how to help you. When they don’t know how to help you, they get frustrated with you, which does not feel good and can lead to isolation and a transition to the other “pole” of bipolar disorder: depression. Being bipolar can sometimes feel like being stuck on a runaway train, headed for a head-on crash, when suddenly, you stand up, and jump on a runaway train headed in the other direction, also headed for disaster. It feels like the ground is moving with frenetic speed under your feet and all you want to do is step off the train and feel your body’s equilibrium stabilize.

A Crash Course in Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is also called Manic-Depressive Disorder by some professionals and in older literature. In my opinion, the traditional label paints a much clearer picture of what goes on in the bipolar brain. Essentially, a person with this mental illness lives with emotional lability, which means that their mood is not stable and reactive to natural stressors and joyful moments, but rather cycles between low, self-hating depression, and the exhilarating and transcendent highs of mania. Below I will describe each of the phases of bipolar disorder: depression, hypomania, and mania

Depression

Almost everyone feels depressed at some point in their life. Even people with incredibly positive personalities and mental fortitude can be thrust into depression when a loved one dies, when they are terminated from a job, or when they lose a close friend or cherished pet, etc. This kind of depression is situational or contextual and will begin to abate either with the addition of a fairly low dose of an antidepressant, processing with the help of a professional or empathetic friend, or as a result of the passage of time and new opportunities for happiness.

Clinical or pathological Depression is most likely a genetic condition that is “turned on” at some time in late childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. For me, it started as a feeling of “un-reality”, where I couldn’t seem to connect to the universe in a way that felt genuine or authentic. If you’ve seen any of the Matrix movies (especially 1 and 4), the feeling Thomas Anderson has about the artificial nature of his existence before he is pulled from the feeding pod and into the real world became my reality my during my senior year in high school. I was in a very rigorous academic program called International Baccalaureate, or I.B., but the stress had never impacted my ability to do well. Suddenly, in the fall of my senior year, I began to have a strong feeling that I was living in a fake world, and that I could no longer touch the sense of self I had previously felt. I began to cry a lot, and when I tried to explain my sense of the world not being real to my parents or the Pastor at my church, I was either taken to a doctor (by my parents), or told to pray harder (by my Pastor).

What I was experiencing was the beginnings of what will be a lifetime battle against the lies Depression (from now on Depression refers to clinical/pathological, not contextual/situational depression; “Big D” v. little “d”). Depression is really a liar. Your brain starts telling you awful things about yourself. I had thoughts like: “I’m worthless”, “I need to be punished because I am a bad person” (this kind of thinking can lead to cutting or other self-harm behaviors), “I deserve to die”, “My parents couldn’t possibly love me because of how horrible I am”, and/or “Everyone would be happier if I wasn’t around”. Of course, there are only a minuscule set of circumstances where others would actually wish another person dead, and most certainly not their family members.

Depression looks like a person sleeping all day, crying suddenly without the ability to explain why, “brain fog”, suicidal or self-harm ideation, and lack of joy in life. Depressed people will stop engaging in things that previously brought them happiness. Depressive episodes can last for very short periods of time, or may be treatment-resistant and last for years.

The point of this blog is to describe Mania, so I’ll leave Depression behind now that you have a clearer picture of “Big D” Depression.

Hypomania/Bipolar II

Have you seen the movie “Limitless” with Bradley Cooper? He takes pills that give him the ability to accomplish anything he puts effort into and he feels no stress, even though he may be spinning many plates in the air at the same time. Hypomania feels like that. In fact, it feels wonderful. You need less sleep to feel fully rested and your brain is buzzing with good ideas. You remember your entire schedule without writing anything down and every project you begin is finished expertly. You receive tons of positive feedback from authority figures and peers. Your work is near perfect. Everyone comments on how “amazing” you are. It’s great.

Hypomania is a highly addicting condition and can lead to resistance to taking mood stabilizers. Many of the most successful people of our time and in history have likely had Bipolar II and are able to reside in hypomania for extended periods of time. They still must have Depressive episodes to be diagnosed with a Bipolar disorder, but they are often resistant to taking antidepressants and mood stabilizers because they are worried it will dampen their enhanced abilities or creativity.

Bipolar II can be very dangerous because it can present as a very talented and hard working person having periodic Depressive episodes. When a psychiatrist first evaluates a person who will later go on to be diagnosed as having Bipolar II, they will likely misdiagnose the patient with Depression, and that can be precarious. Antidepressants work on the Serotonin receptors in a person’s brain to keep them from passing the postsynaptic cleft and being wasted/depleted. Unfortunately, in a Bipolar brain, an increase in Serotonin can push one into a Manic episode. As my very smart friend Courteney told me, “The fastest way to figure out if someone is Bipolar is to give them an antidepressant”. Any form of Mania (Hypomania or true Mania) is dangerous to a person who is currently Depressed (this duality of Depression and Mania at the same time is called a “Mixed Episode”), as it leads to risky and impulsive behavior. As you may have intuited, rash and impulsive thinking while in the throes of deep Depression often leads to suicide attempts. That happened to me a long time ago, before I was correctly diagnosed. It is a very traumatic thing to go through a suicide attempt that was not actually planned or intended. It is also, of course, traumatic for one’s family and friends. For all these reasons, Bipolar II is one of the more dangerous mental illnesses to have. At 23, I was diagnosed with this disorder. After the birth of my first daughter, because of my psychotic break, I was diagnosed instead with Bipolar I (see below).

True Mania/Bipolar I

I know several people who have done psychedelics, like “magic” mushrooms. They describe feelings of being able to look beyond the veil of reality to what is truly around us. They talk about feeling deep vibrations that connect them to other people. True Mania kind of feels like that. 

It is very common for people who are Manic to have what are traditionally called “Delusions of Grandeur”, which means that they feel that they are incredibly important, maybe even divine. Feeling like a divine being, or even Jesus or God himself, is a pretty typical delusion. I met people in the hospital who believed they were the second coming of Jesus and would walk around in public, blessing strangers and giving them flowers.

For a few weeks, I was convinced that I was the second coming of Jesus, and that I was ushering in the end of the world. I made nonsensical social media posts that I believed would “break the internet”, leading to the end of human existence. I remember my mom driving me past a church that said, “We are bearing witness” (it was a reference to the upcoming Christmas holiday). When I saw that, I KNEW that my divinity was confirmed and that soon I would come into my power. I also began to believe that our next door neighbor, who, in fact, has a pretty high security clearance in his field, was actually a Nazi and was hiding the bodies of Holocaust victims under his house. I got a massage and began to believe that I was in Heaven and that my masseuse was an angel. At one point, when a good friend was at our house, I suddenly believed that the Purge film was really happening, and I needed to smudge our entire house with sage to prevent us from getting brutally murdered. It was certainly bizarre and very frustrating for my family and friends who were trying to bring me back down to Earth.

Mania is also very dangerous because one of its symptoms is lack of inhibitions. Very conservative men and women will suddenly start have illicit affairs, unprotected, or public sex. Manic people will spend their life savings on expensive and unnecessary items. Sometimes, tragically, Manic people will think they are able to fly and will jump off buildings. Other risky behaviors like driving too fast, spontaneously getting tattoos or piercings, or making unwise investments can occur during a manic episode. Many people lose their jobs during a Manic episode or when they come back from FMLA.

A Personal Account of a Manic Episode: Mania from the Inside

Some of the bizarre things that happened to my brain and my behavior during a true manic episode are listed below:

  1. I think the world is ending and the apocalypse is near. I may or may not be causing the end times, and I may or not be a female reincarnation of Jesus, but I am definitely touched by the divine and have powers others can’t perceive.
  2. Other manic people ask me if I am a robot or other being of artificial intelligence because I still have a highly educated way of speaking when in a full manic episode
  3. I feverishly write poetry, both for myself and for other patients.
  4. I start to police hospital staff about the negative, undignified way they treat patients having anxiety attacks or other, difficult-to-control episodes.
  5. I write long, official complaints about issues with the psychiatric facility like: they don’t offer sufficient snacks in the middle of the night, they shame patients for being disruptive during panic attacks, and that the manual said we could have deodorant, but now that was against the rules (this was due to the occurrence of deodorant ingestion at the sister facility). I then inform the nursing staff of my issues and log formal complaints with the facility,
  6. I laugh too exuberantly, talk too quickly and too loudly, and join my Manic “friends” in talking about scintillating (when Manic) topics like, “Who was I in my past life?” Or, “Heather, are you actually a robot?”
  7. I write down funny things other patients say, draw with the tiny golf pencils (the only writing/drawing instrument we are allowed to have when not being directly observed). I

As to the 7th point, I recently found my hospitalization journal from my Manic episode in 2018 and have decided to share a bit of what was going through my head at the time.

When I am stressed and in the mood to draw, I obsessively draw eyes (typically the left eye and typically a female eye). I do this without looking at a model. It is the only thing I know how to draw without a visual.
This poem was written in response to my feelings of helplessness being bound by the rules of the facility. When I got loud and happy, I was reprimanded harshly by annoyed staff. When I appeared sad or stressed, I had to speak to a doctor. None of my feelings were treated as valid or acceptable. The poem is copied below for better visibility.

*This poem appears unfinished. I couldn’t find any continuation in my notebook

No, Heather

I come to the counter softly,

Submissively.

All I want is a pill to make my stomach work again.

I have hope

Because I have explained my past trauma.

I have explained how I need to be spoken to me when you need to deny me.

I need to be told the why of your “No.”

In a kind and understanding voice.

But,

Sometimes your “No” is hard and smoldering,

Like the end of a brand.

“You need to step back!”, you bark, but that doesn’t explain the “Why”

“It’s an emergency. Sit down.”

But I feel faint,

And I don’t want to fall,.

This cracks me up. Someone told a Jehovah’s Witness joke. Apparently, Dawn was not amused.
Above: quotes I collected from the very kind and funny other patients having a mental health crisis.
Above: handwritten poem written while hospitalized. Below: Poem text.

Conclusion

It turned out I wasn’t Jesus, or a robot, or neighbor to a Nazi mastermind. I was just really, really sick.

If you can relate to any of the above descriptions of Mania, and Bipolar Disorder in general, and are not already being treated by a psychiatrist, please find one ASAP. One benefit of Covid-19 is that medical professionals are much easier to access, as their appointments have primarily shifted to being a telehealth model. Get your brain chemistry sorted out so you can deal with natural stressors in a typical, healthy way.

If you care about someone who may be acting in a Manic capacity, perhaps send them the link to this post. Or, go to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)’s website and/or Psychology Today’s list of providers and look up a practitioner that meets the professional preferences and insurance restrictions of your loved one. Sick people don’t have the bandwidth to do the mundane work of choosing the right doctor. Your family member or friend may be offended if you point out their manic behavior, but if you can get them a telehealth appointment with the right provider, many Bipolar people will accept help.

This world is deranged enough without having to deal with delusions that you are God or an incessant “need” to throw away your savings on unnecessary things.

Ask for help. Accept offered help. Offer help for others.

As the Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Post by: Dr. Heather K. Gonzales (@drheathergonzales)

Published by drheathergonzales

I'm kind of a mess, but I'm trying to make it work. I will bump into that thing that no one else sees. I am probably being too loud right now. You should tell me so I don't embarrass you or hurt your ears. Are we going to eat Thai food soon?

3 thoughts on “I Think I Might Be Jesus: Inside a Manic Episode

  1. Heather, thanks for this brave, candid and honest insight on what Bipolar truly is. Thanks for educating me about this serious condition. This is an amazing article.

    Liked by 1 person

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