“I have to get all the termites off me!” I screamed wildly to my landlady when she came to check on me in the shower. I was scrubbing various body parts with a scrub brush, soap, bleach and peroxide. I had been in my bathroom for at least an hour, furiously attacking invisible bugs trying to worm their way into my body. I’d used the shower upstairs for 30 minutes prior to this. Looking back, I remember having fits in several rooms about the imagined bugs. I ran back downstairs at one point to the comfort of my own shower. Upstairs I’d used a long, hard scrub brush I found somewhere in the house. I felt like I was making progress in ridding myself of the tiny ‘invaders’, every time I saw residue on the bristles. Now I know that residue was my skin that I systematically scraped raw. I say that I imagined things, yet I’m not sure how much was in my mind, and how much was real. My bipolar episodes are like that sometimes. It can be hard to tell.
Downstairs in my disheveled bathroom, my landlady peeked in the doorway confused and concerned, as I attacked my body frantically. But she backed out of my room to give me privacy. I wondered why she wasn’t upset that I had bugs all over me. “Maybe she just doesn’t care about me.” I thought sadly. I resumed the frenzied scrubbing and washing, ignoring how it stung my skin and eyes. It would be a long night; one that ended with me in the local emergency room.
This was the scene in my house a few weeks ago, when I had a break with reality. I’ve started to remember bits and pieces of what happened. But I don’t know if I’ll ever remember everything, and maybe that’s for the best.
This was my most recent episode with bipolar disorder. I want to tell the story for World Bipolar Disorder Day, as I am now healthy. It helps with the recovery process for me. And it helps for others to know what people like me go through.
I don’t remember everything from that night, but I remember calling the police for a second time that week. This time I told them I had bees crawling out of my head and termites crawling out of the floor. When my landlady heard this, she was horrified. She watched the paramedics place me into the truck with a sense of bewilderment and sadness. That night in the emergency room, I was treated for an allergic rash on my neck and was kept overnight for observation. My landlady called me repeatedly to check on my progress. She wanted to know what had made me see the things that no one else could see. I was too ashamed to tell her I’d had a bipolar setback.
I should have gone to inpatient and received treatment for my episode, but I didn’t. I only received treatment for the allergic ‘rash’ on my neck. When I got home the next day, my landlady told me she was going to replace the floor in my room to make me feel better. As I’m typing this, I’m writing with my feet resting on a shiny new wood laminate floor, thanks to her. And the rugs have been thoroughly cleaned as well. And I haven’t seen any bugs since that night.
In hindsight, I wish I’d told the truth about what had really happened. But I’m scared to let people in. I’m scared to get the help I need. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to open up fully and tell my doctors what happened to me. But for now, I’ll just heal from my rash and move on. Bipolar disorder is complicated. It has a lot of layers. World Bipolar Disorder day is a day when I can experience solidarity with so many others. For now, it’s enough. And for that, I’m grateful.