Last Sunday I went with my mom and a friend to see the movie Cruella. I really enjoyed it, but what struck me most was her descent into madness, because I found it so relatable. As she rises out of the madness, she says to her closest friend, “I went a bit mad. I’m sorry.”
Let me repeat her words to you, readers. I went more than a bit mad. I’m truly sorry.
Last summer I experienced my first bipolar manic episode, and it lasted off and on for a few months. If you read this blog from about June through August, you would have witnessed my descent from sanity into madness. If you’re still here, I’m genuinely grateful to you for sticking around. Unfortunately, not everyone did. I deeply miss the beloved friends I lost due to my madness and the poor decisions I made and hurtful things I said during that time. Some things needed to be said; most did not.
The biggest issue those friends had was my denial that there was anything wrong and that I was, in fact, extremely manic. I felt so good and I couldn’t believe that was due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. I felt more powerful, beautiful, and happy than I’ve ever felt in my life. I experienced sexual attraction for the first time ever. I fell in love. Hard. And I believed I was being called to effect true change in the world and in the Catholic Church. I believed I was powerful enough to do so.
And the thing is, much of that is and was true. I am grateful for having experienced such confidence in my own beauty and worth. I’m glad I fell in love. It is good that I finally recognized that I am a sexual creature. And I am called to effect change in both the world and in the Church. We all are.
But then the empowerment I felt, the elation of being so supported and loved by my physical friends and my online community, meshed with panic over the way some individuals online attacked me for coming out as queer and witchy, and the overwhelming feelings of it all triggered real mania. Only a few friends recognized it for what it was; even my therapist did not realize I was presenting signs of bipolar until very late. Too late, I suppose.
Madness is many things. My experience of it, as one friend remarked, must be similar to what it feels like to be on psychedelic drugs. I was euphoric. Until I suddenly wasn’t. Suddenly, euphoria exchanged itself for psychosis, paranoia, and a complete break from reality. I tumbled down a rabbit hole into wonderland, and for weeks I lived in my imagination. I believed I was the second coming of Christ. I believed everyone else was, too, but that they hadn’t realized it yet. And theologically, this is somewhat true. Each of us is baptized as Christ, and we become His body and blood when we receive him in the Eucharist. We are Christ to one another. But for me, this took a hard dive into extreme literalism and a belief that I was being called to save humanity.
I wasn’t. The real Christ already did. My job is to love, and be loved in return (thank you Moulin Rouge).
My imagination went wild. I believed I could fly my car and that I could rewind time. I believed so many fantastical, beautiful, truly mad things. Things that could indeed exist as true in the realm of magical realism and fantasy. But not in our world. I was too mad, too lost in literature and philosophy and theology and my own imaginative mash up of it all to see that.
But it was a fascinating experience. Much of it I regret, I wish had never happened. But that was outside my control, I remind myself. And some of it, as I said, was truly lovely.
But then I was left to pick up the pieces, and that involved spending time in more than one psych hospital and an extended stay in rehab. When the madness ended, a deep, suicidal depression took hold, and that lasted from September until March of this year. My psych meds were adjusted over and over again; I’m so grateful that my doctors finally struck the correct cocktail.
But still, the experience left me profoundly empty. I lost all sense of identity. The words that meant so much to me last summer–Queer, Catholic, Witch, and Writer–no longer mean much of anything to me. I know there are pieces of all of them still lurking inside me somewhere, but I haven’t been able to tap into their power or depth.
I am still picking up the pieces of my shattered life, a little bit each day. My therapist has been encouraging me to resume writing, since I haven’t done much at all since last summer. And that’s why I’ve written this, to let you know I’m still here and, miraculously, still alive.
I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote last fall when I was in the hospital, bereft of hope and feeling.
“The Mad Ones”
We are the mad ones,
Said the hatter to the cat,
But all the best ones are
The only ones are we,
The mad ones,
For fiends like Kerouac—
Did you ever stop to think
How tiring it is to be one
One of the mad ones?
It gets old fast
And you get old faster
When you trip through life like
Poe and Edgar
And all who care to know
That you’re of the Ones known
As the mad ones
That must be why we band together
And, once upon a Depression,
Because then we don’t get so laughed at
For we love to laugh
But being the spectacle for the un-mad got old long before we did.