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Lost in the Wilds of Mania

You must recognize mania before you're manic.

Every time I enter a new mood state, it feels as if I'm exploring an uncharted land where no one else has ever ventured. I stubbornly resist labeling the change, because I don't want to admit that I'm not in control of my emotions anymore, that I'm in the grasp of my illness. Often I'm well into the mood before I allow myself to acknowledge that, oh yes, this must be mania or of course, it's depression talking.

Mania especially takes me unawares. It starts out as pure happiness, with all my senses attuned. I stroke a peach and marvel at its soft furry fuzz, which delicately brushes against my upper lip as I bite into its flesh. I hear the whispering rustle of leaves and am thrilled by the thought that even trees hold conversations. I watch the whorl of water as it drains down my sink in ever-diminishing, ever-perfect circles. Nothing escapes my notice or wonder. I live like a child, taking his first bite of birthday cake. Sugar, sugar everywhere; it dances on my tongue.

I don't want to tell anyone I might be manic because I'm afraid someone will take it away. This is a serious problem, because after that first glorious flush of hyper-connection, I start to lose touch with reality. Sensations turn into saboteurs. The trees talk too loudly. The peach fuzz feels like a hundred tiny needles stabbing at my lips.

By the time I finally admit that I'm manic, I'm too high to care about coming down. If other people resent my mood, that's their problem and not mine. If my doctor tells me I'm courting danger, I feel nothing but contempt for him: clearly he's afraid of his own sensuality, too much of a coward to expose himself to the perils of a peach.

By then I'm convinced that every thought I have is the first one of its kind. It must be recorded, it must be known, and the urge to communicate it NOW is nearly overwhelming. I talk faster and faster to try to capture some of the brilliance fleeting through my brain. But no matter how quickly I scribble them down, my ideas refuse to be penned. They pulse through my veins and pump through my heart and spill out of my mouth as gibberish. Their wisdom, I think, is not of this world. Perhaps there are other places, other times, other people, that could hear me and understand.

It may sound like a lonely thing, to be a universe of one. In fact, it's rather marvelous, because I alone govern that universe and it must bend to my rules. If I want to careen along the curves of Pacific Coast Highway, it's for me to say how fast I can go, and not some stupid sign. Nor am I impressed or intimidated by the black-booted motorcycle cop who manages to catch up to me. "I have to get home to write something down," I explain, quite politely if too quickly, to him. Because he's not part of my perfect world—what fool would bring a policeman to paradise?—he doesn't get the urgency and doesn't care that the idea is now running ahead of me and may never, ever be caught. I've lost more epiphanies to policemen than I care to admit.

It doesn't seem strange to me at that point to egg the mania on, to try to reach that last spot of sky that's been just outside my grasp. Higher, further, faster, more: I'm on a sacred quest. Out comes the tequila, to fuel my mission. Drink deep and be desperate, I tell myself, and when things start getting blurry on me I remind myself that I'm the only person I know with true vision. I see what others only imagine. I know what others only suspect. If I just drink deeper, the whole sky will be mine.

You can dance only so long on the head of a pin before the angels get jealous. Something is bound to smash into you, and knock you off your balance. In my case, the echoing slam of a jail cell door is a sure-fire sound of sanity, whether I feel like being sane or not. And then it does get lonely at last, when I realize that it's another DUI and I can't manic my way out of this. All my bravado comes shattering down, and I'm unable to move in any direction without stepping on a shard of glass.

And still—I hear the call of mania, despite all I know of its treachery. Few have gone there and fewer still have lived to tell the tale. But the world isn't peopled only by me, no matter how hard I try to believe that it is. I trample on everybody I love in my mad race to catch up to myself. However tempting it may be, I have to resist the call. "This is mania," I have to say. I must name it, and name it early, to stop it from taking its full demon shape. I must kill it before it kills me.