Bipolar disorder is known for its severe mood swings, mania that can electrify one’s world and the inevitable plunge into the deepest depths of depression. Both phases come with their own set of symptoms, all of which can be debilitating in their own way. As someone with bipolar type 1, I’ve gone through the highest highs and the lowest lows, symptoms like mania causing me to spend a ton of money and depression causing me to isolate from my friends and family for days at a time.
The scariest symptom I’ve experienced through all of this has been the extreme insomnia and sleep deprivation that can occur during the manic phase. It’s also a symptom I’ve seen far too little about. So now, I’d like to talk about one of the scariest times of my life, my manic journey through sleep deprivation.
Days 1 — 2: I’m feeling great. I can do anything. Mania has clearly set in, but I welcome it. I feel in control of everything, though that’s the furthest thing from the truth. My mind is racing, seemingly full of new and exciting possibilities. Time to buy clothes! Time to work on some new drawings! How’s my old junior high lab partner doing? Let’s find out! Are those tweezers? Why are they in my room? Well, might as well pluck my eyebrows. And shave my legs. Ew, the drain is a little clogged. I guess I will clean my whole bathroom! Then the house! Hmm… you know what would be cool to put in my living room? A salt lamp. Time to head over to Amazon and buy one! And omg, how cute is that coloring book? And the recommended gel pens? That’s such a steal! Totally buying!
Days 2 — 3: My lack of energy is making this mania hard to deal with. Maybe buying those ingredients and elegant decor for the sugar cookies I wanted to make was a mistake. Eh, I’ll make them some other time. Probably not. I shouldn’t waste it… let’s just do it!
Twenty minutes pass.
Wow, what an interesting article on gardening in the paper today. I think I want to start gardening. I’ll go tomorrow and get stuff. Jeez, what’s that smell? Smells like something is burning. My cookies!
Around this time, my mind is going. I am forgetful, sluggish, still manic but don’t want to be anymore. I just want to sleep but literally can’t. Nothing works. I’m starting to get bored.
Days 3 — 4: It’s 8 a.m. and Target is just opening. I’ve been in the parking lot since 7 a.m., but don’t remember how I got here. I walk inside and buy some gardening supplies. I leave with three more bags of random things. I should not be driving because I am not fine, but my brain tells me I am. I see no less than three cars on the road that are pure hallucinations and don’t exist at all.
Related: 15 Lies People Tell While Manic
I make it home somehow, throw the bags down and abandon all hopes of cultivating my brilliant garden. I have no motivation anymore. I go on Facebook and wonder who Billy is that messaged me. Oh yeah, my lab partner from middle school. What does he want? Oh, I messaged him first? I have no recollection of that, but I might as well reply.
“Hey Billy, I’m so glad you own thet awskm business you always wandfes..cosieuwubwkcoiajwbwjjwiw.’”
It’s been an hour. I am staring blankly at the screen. I’m in a dark room and think it’s night. I am confused to see it is 3 p.m.. I try to make sense of my surroundings but can’t. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know why the doorbell is ringing and Amazon packages have shown up. Why are there four coloring books? Whatever. If I’m lucky, I eventually pass out and all of this ends. If not…
Day 5: This is the longest I’ve ever gone without sleep. I have no concept of anything anymore. I don’t know what day it is, what time it is, I can’t remember if I showered or ate anything or even if I took my meds. What does it matter anyway? I wish I was dead. I am actively hallucinating. I know they are hallucinations but they’re just so real. I reach out to touch what I think is a Venus fly trap, but Mario-sized. It’s a piranha plant. I am inches away, my hand almost touching this creature. Why isn’t it trying to eat me? I blink and it’s gone. Well, it’s not gone. I just realize that it was never there: it is a standing lamp.
I pull myself up the stairs and crawl into my bedroom. I get in bed. I can’t do this anymore. I’m counting sheep. I’m talking to myself. I’m crying. I’m laughing. Hours pass, or maybe just minutes. I can’t tell.
Sleep finally comes.
I wake up 16 plus hours later and am so confused. There are multiple bags from Target on my floor and an unopened package from Amazon. I don’t know what they hold and I don’t care. I’m just praying I didn’t overdraw my bank account this time.
Life slowly gets back to the way it was, but three months later it happens again. It’s the third time in eight months.
It stops when I finally seek out proper help. With medications and therapy, this symptom continues to get better. I hardly ever get manic anymore, which I don’t take for granted. The scariest nights of my life are now just a hazy memory and for that I am thankful. It’s hard for me to share, but I hope my journey can help someone feel less alone and know that help is out there.
This piece originally appeared on Quora.