Photo: Richard Gere portraying a man with Bipolar Disorder experiencing a manic episode in the 1993 film, Mr Jones
By Jason Miller
Some people with Bipolar Disorder refuse to take their medication because they prefer the illusion of limitlessness and invincibility afforded by mania to the relatively humdrum reality of a stable life.
While I must admit, manic episodes are one hell of a fun ride, they are like jumping on a bullet train despite knowing that the brakes are out and a steel reinforced concrete wall awaits at the end of the line. Mania is the most exhilarating experience I have ever had, but there is ALWAYS a devastatingly painful crash at the end -coupled with a disturbing wake of destruction left behind.
Since 1993 when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I have had two major manic episodes. And I had one that was pre-diagnosis. I have myriad war stories, major physical and emotional battle scars, two near death experiences, three psych hospitalizations, multiple failed marriages, dual addictions to self medicate, a host of people and institutions whom I emotionally or financially damaged, and much more.
Yet despite all of the chaotic and traumatic events in my 53 years, the irony is that the episode that nearly destroyed me occurred after I had learned Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, after years of therapy, after multiple years of external stability (job, marriage, parenting), and WHILE on medication.
In retrospect, based on what I have learned over my last 10 years of solid stability and sobriety that is undergirded by deep involvement in 12 Step recovery to supplement my other modalities of recovery, I recognize that there can be a very thin line between stability and mania.
Bipolar Disorder is a severe mental illness. A disease of the body’s most complex, and arguably most important, organ. And it has a strong potential to be lethal to the afflicted and detrimental to those around them. Therefore, it’s essential that I remain diligent and vigilant in my recovery practices.
My final boarding (God willing) on the mania train was when my third wife and I divorced in 2007. During our 10 years together, I had established a career, was actively parenting my three sons (2 from a previous marriage), got some financial footing, was reasonably mentally healthy, and was happy to be with her. Unfortunately, the demise of the relationship was primarily my responsibility. I didn’t want the marriage to end, but she had every reason to walk.
That threw me into a depression with a dose of suicidal ideations that hung over me like a dark cloud for several months. One of my teenage sons was living with me every other week, which meant that I had a lot of time with just the four walls around me and the increasingly dark, negative, and distorted thoughts in my head. Trust me. You wouldn’t have wanted to be in there alone.
Being the survivor that I am, I found yet another maladaptive coping mechanism to add to my arsenal. Despite having been married three times, I had almost zero experience or confidence in pursuing women. So I set out to learn and to be effective at it.
Before I knew it, I had profiles on three different dating websites and was in the mix. My insidious descent into hell had begun.
In a relatively short time, I was dating frequently and growing quite comfortable with all aspects of it. Over the course of two years, I had three relationships that lasted for over four months, one that involved a woman moving in with me with her two children, and one that resulted in an engagement and buying a home together.
Meanwhile, I was writing a popular Leftist blog that was becoming increasingly focused on the Animal Rights Movement. My fiance with whom I bought the house was vegan, so I switched from vegetarianism to veganism.
The tides of mania and near psychosis were rising so slowly that the disaster and doom they were delivering evaded my consciousness.
As time passed, I dived deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. I established connections with some of the most radical people in the Animal Rights Movement. My writings on my blog started supporting the Animal Liberation Front, a direct action group that the FBI has labelled as a domestic terrorist group.
Eventually, the above ground members of the ALF tapped me to become a press officer, receiving encrypted messages from ALF members who had committed acts of sabotage or vandalism against institutions that caused animal suffering (real or as perceived by the ALF) and publishing them on a public website to support their efforts.
I started the first and only radical animal rights group in my city, which further served to fuel my increasingly delusional belief that I was an instrumental figure in a group of people that was protecting and saving the most vulnerable among us (animals) from cruelty and suffering.
In my increasingly manic state that was moving closer and closer to a psychotic break from reality (despite taking my medication, continuing to see my therapist -lying to her and ignoring her, and maintaining the window dressing of stability -holding down my job and continuing to parent my son every other week), my mental health continued to spiral.
With the Animal Rights group that I started, I waged a six month campaign to stop a local deer cull in a popular park. Our efforts were insanely tenacious and included putting up 2 billboards, weekly protests at the park for all 6 months, temporarily shutting the park down with a group of us stopping traffic at the entrance with a banner that read Death Park, petitions, presentations of multiple alternative plans to manage the deer population, shouting matches at the park board meetings, me personally delivering a deer head to the park commissioner’s office to represent all the deer that were to die, multiple interviews on local TV stations, articles published in the local major newspaper, two instances of coverage on national media, and me filing an injunction to stop the cull and arguing it in court. All to no avail, as they moved forward with the cull anyway.
Yet that only served to pour gasoline on the fire. After those Herculean efforts -all carried out while working full-time, parenting and blogging nearly every night- I became increasingly untethered from reality. I was sleeping an average of 2 hours a night. The sleep deprivation alone was enough to wreak havoc with my psyche.
Because of my overzealousness the park officials had put a restraining order on me. Of course I had violated it and was arrested. Because of my collaboration with the ALF, an FBI investigation ensued.
Unsurprisingly, my personal life began to unravel. In my increasingly manic state, I ran up over $150,000 in credit card debt. My relationship with my fiance became increasingly contentious and contemptuous. I met a fellow radical Animal Rights activist on Facebook and within three weeks, I was flying to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to meet her in person. We were married three days later.
That presented a significant problem. I still had a fiance in the house we had bought together back home.
Understandably, a pretty viscous battle ensued, but after a couple of months, I was left with the house and my new bride.
A toxic brew of mania, borderline psychosis, grandiosity, and paranoia was coming to a full boil. My paranoia manifested itself in a stock pile of food, a small arsenal of guns and ammo, and a pair of mean pit bulls (one rescued from fighting rings), as I prepared to go into lock down and battle the FBI, the police, and the extreme right.
Meanwhile, my activism continued, despite the one year’s probation I got from my arrest and the ongoing FBI investigation. My local group and I rebooted and launched a campaign against a local University facility that used animals for research. However, my mental health and personal life had disintegrated to the point that the effort turned out to be sloppy, hateful, and, in retrospect, quite pitiful.
Internally, I was still flying high. In my grandiose, skewed perception of reality, I was a heroic savior of animals and one of the leaders of an edgy Leftist movement. Yet the sad and painful reality was that I was just one of quite a number of people who lived on the fringe of society who were willing to commit hateful, bizarre acts to push their extremist views on others.
The bullet train of my manic episode (and near psychotic break) had already hit the unyielding and unforgiving wall at the end of the line. The inertia of my unbelievably obstinate fantasy was just keeping me in a temporary state of inertia.
Finally, the dam burst, releasing the overwhelmingly fierce current of reality. It knocked me off my feet and came close to drowning me.
Having abandoned my wife of a few months and annulling the marriage, having cut off all of my family except one son, having burned bridges with nearly everyone I knew, and now, mostly alone, facing what appeared to be irreparable damage, I crashed emotionally. It was as if I had been dancing on a high wire to a fast tempo tune, the music stopped suddenly, and, with no rhythym to guide my feet, I slipped, hitting the ground so hard that my fragile psyche shattered, scattering everywhere like jagged little shards of broken glass.
I was shocked right out of my manic state and plunged headfirst into the grim reality at hand. One that left me in a nearly constant state of dread, anxiety, remorse, resentment, and self pity that persisted for months as I dangled by the thinnest of threads.
That is the end of this part of my story; my story that wasn’t; and that isn’t; over.
My hope is that this unhappy ending will serve as a cautionary tale to those who take their Bipolar Disorder or their mania lightly.
While I eventually found the additional tools and support that I needed through 12 Step recovery (to augment everything else I do) and have enjoyed a 10 year period of stability and sobriety, Bipolar Disorder, mania, and a near psychotic break devastated my life and the lives of others with the ferocity of a nuclear explosion. And they damn near killed me twice before.
Please be careful out there, fellow sufferers.
Addendum (tools that keep me stable):
Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
A Higher Power of My Understanding
Taking With Fellow Sufferers
Reading Recovery Literature
Practicing the 12 Steps
Good Sleep Hygiene
Suiting Up and Showing Up
12 Step Meetings