There it is…the switch is flipped. The all-too-familiar buzz is back. I recognize it now, but I used to not know what it was. It starts out as a low tone and sort of quiet, just an underlying sound in the background of my thoughts. It’s also a feeling. It feels fast and under pressure pushing me ahead in my thoughts. The buzzing increases in volume over several days. It’s like a 1960s television has been switched on and the tubes are warming up slowly over many hours inside my head.
I am propelled by the static as it grows increasingly faster and the tone raises higher. I know what’s coming now. I’ve caught on. I’m excited to see where it brings me. What crazy adventure I’ll go on while it’s here. Sometimes it’s been a literal adventure going places I’ve never been, meeting new people- everyone is a friend, dancing all night, drinking all day and oh the crazy sexcapades. It’s been a real trip.
It’s also a ride in my brain. Thoughts go wild and fast, I can barely keep up. Amazing ideas and creativity, wild colors take shape and I wish I could paint…I mean well. I have painted. Painted posters, canvasses, rooms, walls, sidewalks, furniture- anything I could get my hands on. I have painted for hours only stopping to eat (barely) and pee. I have dreamt up projects and imagined my images in the Smithsonian on display “A Peek Inside the Mind of a Maniac”.
I’ve come up with schemes and plans; I’ve written them down on paper with an intensity that breaks pencils. Numbers are my favorite. I calculate all kinds of things. How many leaves are on a tree, how long it would take for the tree to lose all of its leaves if it lost x amount of leaves per day. How many minutes I would need to work to make a million dollars; if I worked 40,000 hours how much money would I make. The formulas go on and on. It all seems so important at the time. Nothing can break my concentration, I am a woman obsessed. Some of my obsessions have been craft projects. When my kids were little I made- as in dreamed up, drew the pattern, found scrap fabric sometimes from other clothes, cut out the pieces, sewed the costumes together for all 5 of them the week of Halloween on practically no sleep and very little food. I’ve obsessed about cooking. I’ve made pot pies- turkey and chicken- until I had so many my family couldn’t eat them all. I made dozens and it was all I cooked for those 2 weeks. I gave them away just so they didn’t go to waste. I have an ongoing project of trying to find “the best of…” Whatever the product of my obsession is at the time. It’s been cinnamon rolls, black licorice, ginger ale, lip gloss…just in the past 3 years or so that I can remember.
I had a job once where I was a recruiter and I was really good at it. It took my entire focus. I had to get the numbers. My whole life revolved around this job, meeting every challenge and rising above my team mates. I was encouraged to keep going, to do more, to bring more. I was driven and did everything that was put before me with intensity and purpose that went well above the typical person that does good work and meets goals. I ultimately lost that job as I unraveled. No one saw the mental anguish I felt or the fact that I was locked inside my own mind. I couldn’t see it from the inside and from those on the outside I was being rewarded for my efforts. It was a devastating loss because from everything I could see and was being told I was doing everything right. I never saw it coming. It’s what happens to people with an invisible disease or mental illness. The assumption is that we are exhibiting behaviors because it benefits us somehow. The reality is absolutely the exact opposite- there is no benefit, it is actually detrimental to us, and our families and friends. Losing the job was maybe one of the best things to happen to me in retro site, it got me away from those that were encouraging my behavior and allowed me to listen to those that truly loved me and wanted to help me.
I get irritable and really cranky if anyone tries to break me away from my obsession. I scream and rage throwing things and running away. I’ve thrown dishes, laundry, trash, raw chicken, shoes, makeup…anything I am holding at the time my rage peaks. The static is at an all-time high in these moments. It’s all I can hear. I can’t even hear my own voice which makes me scream just to hear myself think. I only know I’m yelling because I have begun to recognize the feel of my throat and vocal cords or because Bob tells me I am yelling, otherwise I have no idea. The pitch is deafening, and the pressure makes my heart race. I feel like I am on an adrenaline high. I am easily frustrated by the speed at which someone talks if I think they talk too slow or their mind lags behind mine in their comprehension of what I’m saying. It infuriates me.
So, this last time I started to hear the buzz I didn’t know it until I was several days in. It was loud already. Looking back with a clear mind and the ability to be rational I know when I was at the peak of my trip. I was lying in my bed and I could hear voices talking in a room in my house. I thought maybe they were in the office, at the front of my house, down a flight of stairs, and through two closed doors. But I could hear them whispering and mummering. They were making plans and if I laid there as still and as quiet as I could I might be able to make out what they were saying. I tried to decide if they were dangerous or had bad intentions. But they just kept whispering and I could almost make out their words. I laid for hours listening to them whispering from all the way across the house and on the first floor while I was in bed on the second floor at the back of the house with two closed doors between us. I wasn’t scared. I decided they were having a meeting and didn’t want to wake me up but that in the morning they would tell me what they talked about.
My senses are on full speed. I notice the smoothness of the sheets except for the piece of fuzz under my foot that feels like a lump and keeps me awake. It makes my back hurt as I lay twisted to keep it off of my foot. I wonder if it will wrap around on of my toes cutting off the circulation? As I drive shapes turn into animals up ahead and jump out from the sides of the road. I jump and scream as the lion runs out of the bushes in front of my car, I veer off the side as he disappears again. Colors have never been so vibrant, and they have personality and meaning, I can feel them. I feel larger than life. Like I’m trying to fit into a really small cramped space. My thoughts are big and bold and fabulous and can’t be contained by my ordinary compact life. I can smell objects that others don’t know exist. I remember one time getting into a friend’s car and I was repulsed by the strong smell of mustard- I like mustard, but this was strong. I asked her why her car smelled like mustard, but she had no idea what I was talking about. I demanded she pull over because I was sure she had a napkin or food wrapper with mustard on it. She pulled over and the only thing I could find was an unopened mustard packet under the back seat. I threw it out.
I wish I could say that all of this was fun. Don’t get me wrong sometimes it is over-the-top fun and exciting. But other times it is a burden. I wish my mind would just slow down and that I could think before I reacted. That I wasn’t so susceptible to following the noise, the buzz, the static in my brain. Sometimes I wish I could just get a break from it. It would be nice to have more control to turn it on when I wanted it and off when I didn’t. But it’s not like that. It has control not the other way around. There are times when all of this is going on and I’m sad and depressed, sometimes tormented. The noise feels like panic and I go into survival mode. I can go to bed one day and not be able to face the next day. Thoughts of dread and hopelessness run rampant in my mind. My focus becomes thoughts and feelings of horror. I get amped up but not in a good way. I feel incredibly guilty and worthless especially when I realize I have hurt someone (but can’t necessarily stop either even when I try). I have been known to cry uncontrollably about whatever I am obsessing on. When the pie dough is too dry, I have crumbled onto the floor, oddly symbolic, in complete despair and anguish feeling as though I have let everyone in my family down because my pie dough is inedible. I go to bed for hours or days crying but unable to sleep or escape my own mind.
That’s what happened this last time. I felt sad but was hearing the buzzing and could tell I was gearing up for another trip. I began drinking more, getting buzzed or drunk several nights a week. My senses were heightened, colors were brighter, but I was crying and not wanting to get out of bed. We had made a change in my meds and I had forgotten it. Bob noticed the change in my mood and asked how I was doing. I fell apart knowing that someone else saw what I felt. It was validating, and I was relieved that I wasn’t losing my mind- or I was but he caught it. I called and left a message for my doctor. He called in a prescription and I started taking it. I circumvented what could have been a completely disastrous episode. Within a week I felt incredibly better and by two weeks was back to my “normal”.
I tell this story because many of you that read my blog know me. You know I may be strange or weird in my own way, but I am harmless and for the most part just like you. That’s mental illness. That is exactly what it looks like. Most of the time we blend in. But know that just because everything looks okay from the outside doesn’t mean we are keeping it together on the inside. We aren’t just those in mental hospitals, although I have spent my time there. We have families and friends, we drive cars, we shop for groceries right beside you, we hold down jobs. We hold ourselves to standards and we are morally sound. Mental illness is not what you see in movies. It’s me.