remember when?

Just a few things I have done during manic episodes:

  • Picked up a 5-gallon bucket and started beating it with a baseball bat until the bucket was in tiny pieces scattered across the lawn.
  • Slapped myself across the face and punched myself until I was sore and bruised all over.
  • Surprised my co-workers by taking a half-used can of whipped cream and spraying the contents directly into my mouth, in full view of management.
  • Tore apart several computers and worked on them all night just before the family returned home to find parts all over the house.
  • Bought a drum kit.
  • Drove to the beach and started screaming at the waves, sincerely hoping one of them would drag me out to sea.
  • Stayed up all night cracking the password to my wife’s computer, then going through her files and blog posts.
  • Bought a girl a bra for a birthday present, then actually gave it to her.
  • Urinated off a tall bridge into a lake.
  • Shouted obscenities at an inappropriate moment during a band performance.
  • Drove over 110 mph in the Blue Bomber (my old Chevy Impala).
  • Almost drove in front of a truck with suicidal intent.

I love these trips down manic memory lane. I’ve done some pretty stupid things over the years, and I know I was manic at the time, but hey, no excuses. The times I feel guilty about are where I could have hurt someone else.

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all about beth

I was having a crappy time as a brand-new adult, and college life in Reno was not treating me very well. I was in the middle of a deep depressive spiral, as usual saved only by music. Then Beth arrived in my life, and things changed dramatically. Unfortunately, Beth was in the wrong place at the wrong time, because my bipolar was causing collateral damage before I even knew what it was.

Beth was one of those strange people who seem to be a hundred years old in the body of a young person. Some people call that an “old soul”, and maybe she just kept her experiences from a previous life. Apparently she inherited a little bit of crazy from her mom, but I didn’t see it at the time. She had ruffled brown hair bleached almost blond from surfing in Santa Cruz for the past few years, and a laid-back personality formed by the sun and waves. She had lived with a guy previously, but they broke up when she came back to live with her mom. She was mysterious, carefree, and easy to like. I was instantly attracted to her.

A girl from my high school also went to school in Reno, and she lived in my dorm building. We weren’t close friends, but she invited me out with her and her roommate Beth. We went out as a group of 6 people, but very quickly it became a 4+2 scene. Beth and I talked to each other most of the evening and basically ignored the others. We laughed, we flirted, we played keno at Denny’s. I have no idea what we talked about, but even with my bad luck and lack of experience with females, I could tell we liked each other. We ended up crammed together in the back seat of someone’s little deathtrap car, and at one point we just started holding hands. I looked at her fingers laced in mine, then looked at her face; we both shrugged and laughed a little and decided to go with it. When the night ended and we got back to our building, she gave me a quick kiss and a promise to see me again soon.

Finding a new girlfriend is a great way to beat depression.

She was the first girl I ever had sex with; I knew she was experienced, and she knew I was not. In the minutes after losing my virginity, she found a shirt in her closet and casually cleaned herself with it. While doing so, she told me a strange story about a Central American tribal custom. When a couple first has sex, the woman keeps the rag that was used to clean the man’s sperm. If he mistreats her or breaks his promises to her, she can have vengeance by burning the rag; the custom says that the man’s testicles will shrivel and become useless for the rest of his life. “I’m keeping this shirt,” she said somewhat seriously, and that was my first inkling that she might be a little bit crazy.

I didn’t know that I would be the crazy one who blew up everything.

We had fun for a few weeks. We spent lots of time together, as much as conflicting schedules would allow. We didn’t have any specific plans, we were just young people enjoying a new relationship. But in the meantime I wasn’t sleeping, my grades were tanking, I was extremely stressed, and I didn’t realize I was heading toward a manic episode.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I now know I was in that dysphoric mania I have become familiar with over the years. I was freaking out about something, and Beth knew there was something wrong with me. I remember we were arguing, although I can’t recall why; I know there was this sudden, desperate urge to run away. She was crying, asking me to stay and talk things out, but I was telling her some stupid reason why I needed to go. Finally I just turned and went down the stairs and out the door to the parking lot. As I got in the car, I could see Beth sitting on the fourth floor stairs, watching me through the window, and I hesitated for a moment.

I still wish I could have that moment back, a moment where I wondered if she was right and I was fucking crazy, a moment where I briefly thought about going back to her and letting her help me, a moment when I could have stopped repressing feelings for once and be genuine with someone. But I wasn’t mature enough yet. I wasn’t ready.

I started the car and drove away.

My instinct was to head for the mountains, as usual, the place I felt most at home. Escaping the desert and reaching the forest, I headed for the highest point on the old highway. I was still upset and out of control when I parked at the top of Donner Pass and wandered through the granite boulders and silvery evergreens. I kept walking without a destination, climbing up ledges and struggling to maintain my footing on the rocky landscape. Running out of breath and energy by this time, I found a large flat boulder and just sat there in the moonlight. I was home, in the trees and rocks and stars, and I could just lay back and let the calm return to my hyperactive brain. I stayed for a couple of hours before I started to get cold. I don’t know how I found my way in the dark, and I blew out my flip-flops on the way, but somehow I made it back to the car without falling off a cliff or being ravaged by a hungry bear.

By this time the manic energy had passed, and as I drove back into town I felt like crap about what I had done. I knew I had been stupid and immature, and I had really fucked things up as usual. I wanted to apologize and try to put things back together. Now I understand that I was scared to let someone new get that close to me, that I was afraid of being hurt, and that I sabotaged everything because I felt like I had to push her away so she could earn my trust by coming back. In hindsight, I know how fucked-up that logic was, but at the time I simply wanted to fix what I had undone.

The next day when I knocked on her door, Beth’s roommate told me she had gone for a few days without really explaining why, so I left a note for her. On the fourth day, Beth answered the door, and she pointed me toward the stairs. She stared at me with the saddest look. How do you think that made me feel, she asked. She said she needed time away from me to figure out her feelings, and she would let me know. I saw her again three days later when I showed up in front of her classroom. We talked only a couple of minutes and hugged, but I knew there was no going back to what we had.

I never saw Beth again.

There was a note under my door a few days later. It turned out she was making bigger decisions than just the fate of our relationship. She was failing a couple of classes, and instead of staying she decided to move back to Santa Cruz. She said it wasn’t my fault, but I made her decision much easier. She might have loved me, and she might have stayed for me, but she didn’t feel like she could trust me. At the time, she was probably right.

the manic road trip of 2004

One of my undiagnosed manic episodes centered around a road trip in May of 2004. I was sent to training course in Las Vegas by my employer at the time, and instead of flying there, I decided to drive our trusty van 2000 miles. Driving has always been therapeutic for me, as have the Sierra Nevada mountains. I had been in a severe funk prior to taking the trip, so I thought a long drive through beautiful scenery would be a great pick-me-up.

I drove through Sacramento to Lake Tahoe in snow, then south to the tufa formations of Mono Lake. I climbed a cinder cone and visited an obsidian formation in the forest near Mammoth Lakes. I couldn’t sleep that night, due to cold and excitement, so I ended up hanging out at an all-night gas station. At first light I headed for the Bristlecone Pine forest in the White Mountains, then continued through the desert to Vegas.

After my last day of training, I won about $250 in the casino, then I couldn’t fall asleep (still slightly manic). I checked out of the hotel and went to the old downtown casinos at 2 in the morning, then took off for home at 4am. I started falling asleep while driving through the Nevada desert; the song “Time” by Pink Floyd probably saved my life by waking me up when the alarm bell sounded. I drove straight through to home in about 21 hours, stopping at Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks, and being dangerously tired on the way.

I didn’t have a crash or a spiral after the trip, more like a slow letdown. After having a great experience, returning to the everyday world was deflating and depressing. I returned to work, wishing I was in the mountains again.

I’m glad I took the opportunity to get away by myself for a few days when I really needed it. I will always have the memories and the photos of that trip, and it reminds me that even in the middle of a chaotic time in my life, I was able to have such an enjoyable experience. However, I made some poor decisions during the trip. Who lets a manic person loose at a casino, and why was I climbing granite outcrops in Yosemite? I could have lost a lot of money, I could have fallen off the rocks and died, and I could have fallen asleep while driving and killed someone else.

At the time, I wrote:

I think the trip was in general the most uplifting and healing time of my life. Right when I really needed it, I got the opportunity to be alone in the landscape I love so much, to take some beautiful pictures to look at later, but more than anything to just let the pressures and demands and negativity just slip away … feeling the beauty in the landscape and in the forest that honestly I think many people can never feel … I was exploring everything – forests, valleys, plants, small furry creatures, large outcrops of basalt and tuff and obsidian, volcanic craters and peaks, joshua trees, lizards and cactus surviving at 10,000 feet, 4,000-year-old trees, earthquake faults, tufa deposits, glacier-carved canyons, alluvial fans, rain shadows, playa lakes, microclimates, glacial erratics. I was so unafraid and content and free, I actually found it safe to let myself talk to people … At those times it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says, you are simply enjoying life in that moment.

[When I arrived in] Las Vegas, I had a little anxiety episode … After the beauty and solitude of the natural world, [it] was quite a shock to me. That feeling passed soon, but it was interesting to me how shocking it was, letting me know that I was totally immersed in the escape mode of my trip. I walked the Strip, looked inside a few places, but really returned to feeling alone, detached, and invisible while I was there. … I could have done stuff with other people attending the class, but I didn’t feel comfortable, I just wanted to be alone.

I will eventually post some photos of the trip so all 3.2 of you readers can see some of my favorite places. [here’s the link.]