Hyper-religiousness in Bipolar II
Written and illustrated by Georgie Blewett
Bipolar Disorder is more than mood swings. To debunk common misconceptions and Bipolar Disorder, in the next few pages Jackson and Georgie illustrate what it is like living with Bipolar I or II, respectively. They delve into the religious aspect of hypomanic/manic episodes, and how higher powers manifest themselves in these elevated states. Accompanying their stories, they have each illustrated what these episodes look and feel like to them.
I have Bipolar II, meaning I have mood episodes. I teeter back and forth between “hypomanic” and depressed. For me, depressive episodes mean staying in bed all day, skipping class, eating too much, or not eating at all. Hypomanic episodes, however, are a blessing and a curse.
The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) classifies a hypomanic episode as a “distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least one week” with three or more of the following:
(a) Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
(b) Decreased need for sleep (e.g. feels rested after only three hours of sleep)
(c) More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
(d) Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
(e) Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
(f) Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
(g) Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g. engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).
That is just a lot of mumbo-jumbo just to say I don’t need sleep, I talk too much, I’m fascinated by mundane things, and my self-esteem is through the roof. In my hypomanic episodes, there is often a huge increase in goal-directed activities; I love taking on leadership roles. I’m fueled by a vision and an energy. But it isn’t a comfortable, good-night’s-rest energy. It’s a do-it, do-it, do-it, do-it, do-it, do-it energy. I’ve heard people say they wish they had hypomanic episodes, but imagine not needing sleep and getting almost too much stuff done! I acknowledge the silver-linings, but I feel so isolated. I am never on anyone’s level. I’ve been sober for five years, because being on that level on top of a hypomanic episode is too intense – dangerous even.
In these episodes, my thoughts won’t stop racing. They bounce off of each other in my head and get so loud I can actually hear them. Sometimes they sounds like instruments. I’ve come up with some pretty catchy songs. But sometimes they just sound like people screaming.
My Direct Connection to the Universe
Two years ago, I ran out of mood stabilizers before I had a chance to get more. My panic was manifested by a fear that running out of medication would result in my demise. I find that when my anxiety peaks, it reaches a threshold that forces me to do something, to get my life together. This anxiety manifests as a small motivation, and when it gains momentum, snowballs into my hypomanic episodes. Finding myself without a way to medicate myself, I prayed to G-d.
At that point in my life, I had abandoned religion and the idea of “G-d”, because I could not fathom that G-d would allow such pain in my life. Yet, after years of rebelling against the Church and organized religion, there I was, praying to G-d. Praying that I would find strength to go to class, find the will not to take my life after all the medication finally metabolized.
It was powerful, this prayer. The words popped into my head; a voice told me that I don’t need to abandon a higher power even if I have qualms with the hypocrisy of the church, or the patriarchal way of calling a higher power by “Him” and our “Lord”. I felt G-d in that moment. She was in my room. I asked Her what I needed to do to survive. She told me I needed a temple, a shrine. Things around the room caught my eye. Everyday objects like books or pencils told me that they were the ways I could drag myself out of the depression. G-d herself told me to lay them in a way that means something. It all made sense to me. I cleaned dirty clothes from the floor, made my bed, and took a shower, washing away weeks of depression. I didn’t need medication for another year.
Currently, I’m back on mood stabilizers, but a minimal dose. My therapist and I have decided I’ve been stable for nearly half a year, which would mean I can start the termination process of my sessions. I know how to avoid episodes outside my window of tolerance, either too high or too low. However, they’re not completely inevitable.
In my elevated episodes, I pray. I pray all the time. I pray in the car, at the beach, while I’m dancing. I dance just to pray. And prayer overwhelms me in these moments. I think of everyone in my life. Best friends, family, Leviathan team members, the sailing team, my housemates, all my exes, all my oppressors. I cry and cry, but I pray over everyone I know and what I hope for them. I’m filled with the overwhelming belief that they will all be taken care of because of my prayer. When life goes in their favor, I know that I manifested their well-being. In these episodes I feel this deep connection to the universe.
The human experience feels a bit like a game to me. It looks like a chutes and ladders. Decisions are dice rolls. Ladders are upward mobility. The universe tells me how to navigate the system. I know how to roll the dice to get to the number I want. The way I hold myself, how I carry intention, how I portray compassion, how I take risks are all calculated by the universe. In these episodes, everything is a sign; coincidences do not exist. When I follow the universe’s advice, it’s impossible to land on a chute. However, in this elevated level, I can’t credit any success to myself. I am not human – I am energy. I become aware of the atoms moving around me and I am soon diminished into other atoms. I become the Universe’s instrument, not sent here as a second coming of Jesus, but close. My purpose is to bring peace into the world, through the universe in my human body.
In these episodes, I become frustrated that the universe does not have a direct connection with everyone. I cannot fathom why people don’t see the right answers or understand that we are all embraced by eternal love and light.
My Life as a Dichotomy
But my life is a dichotomy. As soon as I settle back into my base level, my faith disappears. I become critical again. Anxiety overwhelms me in my come-downs because I don’t know what I mean for the Earth. Obviously I am not the second coming of Jesus. Obviously my thoughts and actions cannot control the well-being of others. The Bible on my desk and the rosary above my bed become ironic artifacts that I use to spite G-d because I hold a grudge against Him (sorry Mom and Dad). It’s impossible to wrap my head around why I hold such a radical contrast in these states, but I think my brain is just wired that way. All I can do is ride the wave.