Unmedicated

Written and illustrated by Jackson Patrick-Sternin

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.

This is my experience prior to getting on medication for Bipolar I Disorder.

For me, enduring a manic shift is a similar experience to the swell of effects after ingesting a psychedelic drug. The first noticeable effect is a subtle lift in mood and energy. Even after experiencing dozens of cycles, I rarely recognize this as the beginning of what it is. After spending a few weeks below water, this lift is welcomed. The experience of this stage, for me, is one of great relief. Your flight has been stuck on the tarmac for what seems an eternity, but the engine is rumbling back to life, and everything might be okay. You might well arrive at your destination, when for a long time the trip itself seemed an impossible endeavor. Your flight is heading towards the runway.

The second stage comes soon after, when the shift becomes great enough that I’m forced to recognize that I’ve escaped that depressive trap only to start towards the next. Though I realize this, I do my best not to assign it any value. All I want is to savor that sweet sense that everything is okay – more than okay. I feel I have the opportunity to thrive in this new headspace. I’ve been lifted from a dismal state. I’m edging on divine. At this stage, I convince myself that I deserve to experience this and the highs it will progress to. My selective memory at this time excludes the severe consequences that inevitably come with full blown mania. Even the word “mania” doesn’t necessarily cross my mind. I’ve been operating, likely for weeks, absolutely blinded by anxiety and depression. I’ve paid my emotional dues. I’m owed this. Your flight is speeding down the runway.

My thought processes start to truly warp, speed up, and become more and more urgent and disjointed. I write, I make art, I take up one or two or six new hobbies. My mind feels as elastic as when I was a child. I absorb information in droves and experience a fluid flow of creativity that had so recently seemed impossible, and I know it will again soon. I must make the most of it while I have it. I’m owed this. Your flight has lifted off.

Somewhere there is a shift to a third stage, but I cannot say where. This is the stage at which the experience becomes incredibly difficult to describe, much like the peak of a psychedelic trip. I’m blinded now by an overwhelming sense of purpose and divinity. Reality loses definition. There is a very thin barrier between the fantasies I have about myself, the world around me, and that which I believe to be true. I’m the hand that will mold the world and restructure it in my image. I feel I am achievement embodied, absolute. I can do anything and I will do everything. Your flight has reached peak altitude, the sun has dropped below the horizon, and the controls are rapidly breaking down.

In my unmedicated life, there is a fourth stage. At some point in the third, the wrong substance would be ingested, and then would come oblivion. There’s nothing to describe here; I don’t remember any of it, I just know it happens and later find out what occurred. The engines have failed, controls dead, you’re plummeting to the earth encased in a black void. I’d lose days, weeks, or however long before the coin flipped and depression once again took hold. Sometimes I’d sober up immediately in these depressive periods, often not. More likely, I’d switch from stimulants to good ol’ fashioned booze until self loathing became overwhelming enough to push me to abstain until the next shift.

I don’t know what stopped me from seeking medical help for so many years. Maybe the stigmas surrounding mental health and substance abuse, maybe my own pride, maybe my head was just never straight enough to take concrete action. I do know that my life since being on medication has been immeasurably better. The lack of control an individual with bipolar disorder has over their disposition, emotional state, and to an extent, actions, makes for a confusing, desperate, exhausting existence. You can only experience what your brain is currently wired to experience. I feel comfortable writing this, because I wish I’d read something in the same vein in the years I went unmedicated. I had no idea anything was wrong with my mind; I thought others experienced the world in more or less the same way. Maybe I took more drugs than other kids. Maybe I had more ambition than other kids. Maybe my life was just harder. Regardless, I believed most people shared these seemingly hardwired ups and downs. They don’t, and I didn’t have to, and I don’t anymore. For that I’m incredibly grateful; it was far from guaranteed that I’d make it far enough to experience the relative serenity that I have in my life today.

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