Paranoid and Delusional Walks On a Sheet of Paper: Bipolar Disorder
I’m yelling at an empty room, having paused for a few minutes from communicating telepathically with several beautiful young women in the food court. God speaks through me, explaining that midnight is the judgment hour. Periodically I flex my muscles in the mirror. A coworker passes through to smoke a cigarette on the outside balcony while I’m projecting, through the window and out to the world, the qualities of those worthy of Heaven on Earth. She seems not to notice me. Nonetheless, I ensure secrecy through mind control. Soon enough I won’t have to hide anymore. God’s plan will be known to all, and I won’t have to share my wonders in empty rooms.
The previous Monday morning — it was early April, sunny and brisk — I had buried myself in a desk by the back window of my women’s studies class to exchange ideas with the voice in my head.
During the several weeks preceding, I had never felt better. I was running two to three miles a day, talking excitedly with friends and co-workers, and convincing myself that whatever I did, it was for the best. Then that morning, walking behind the business college to my 11 a.m. class, everything changed. I was feeling especially happy, even more than the day before. Each task I had to complete seemed wonderful. The very idea of disappointment disappeared. Class would be an opportunity for learning and debate. The gym would strengthen my muscles. Work at the dining hall would just be talking to friends and flipping burgers. And later, when I would run the dark streets of campus until my lungs burned, my mind would chase wonderful ideas, built from memories of the JC Penny catalog, a decade of cable, a few years of free music and a bare understanding of the Bible. I examined my schedule, and my delight concerning it, and decided there must be some reason that what irked me last week or last month flowed over and around me like a stream today. Nothing piled up and turned to anger. Homework, fights with my girlfriend, long lines at work – all served the greater purpose of forming a better, stronger, smarter, happier person.
Suddenly, thinking about all this, I stopped walking to class. A thought quickly morphed from insane possibility to concrete reality: I wasn’t just some college student with newfound contentment. I was a vessel for an ancient plan, one that had miraculously chosen me as the centerpiece for Heaven returning to Earth. Could it be true? I asked myself as I stood on the path, other students streaming by. And then, just as easily as the wind blew and the campus existed, God began speaking directly to me, through my own inner voice. It was true. I was the 21st century Jesus, and there was much to learn.
At the back of the classroom I was unusually quiet. I asked myself and answered myself a stream of questions. Why me? Because I was an average young American. Why now? Because the world needed fixing. How would I succeed? With faith, love and patience. Later, never running low on questions, I would ask when my book would be published, when I would become rich, how many women I would have as God on Earth. The answers were always satisfactory, even when vague, because though they were fashioned in my own voice, I had learned the truth of an old saying. My conscience was God’s way of communicating with me. It just happened that he was speaking more directly with me than with anyone else, and I would grow more powerful by the day.
I’m running on full now, always. Sleep is an obstacle, and the less I sleep the more I can write, read, talk. The more pleasure I can experience. Everything I decide, everything I feel, everything I think, becomes true. When I try to pick the electronic lock on the resident assistant’s office door to get money for drugs and prostitutes and I can’t, I am not discouraged. In fact, joy buoys me so much that I go outside in the early morning and talk to squirrels; I’m even grateful for the fruitless hour spent trying lock combinations because of the lesson God has given me in patience. I passed the test. My faith grows. At the grill in the dining hall I debate disinterested coworkers about the meaning of life. As days pass, I grow more critical, explaining to friends their flaws, and how to fix them. I say inappropriate things; make inappropriate sexual advances; promise people cars and money; fight with my girlfriend, saying that I can’t explain why I’m better than other people. I can’t tell her, not yet, that I’m weighted with this immense secret, which I’m bursting to share. It’s on the edge of every sentence I say, waiting to explode from within me. But I’m scared too, of the consequences, and so I obey, for now, when God explains that I can’t tell anyone, not until the time is right.
The clock strikes midnight on Sunday and nothing happens. It’s OK though, because my other self in Heaven doesn’t want a bunch of people to die by cosmic judgment. I’m only in favor of violence in situations where it amuses me or my manhood is in jeopardy. I shouldn’t be so flippant. It’s just that there is a lot on my shoulders right now. I’m dealing with my entire family being here, not to mention my girlfriend sitting in the waiting room and an impending visit from a social worker. I don’t want to be here right now. I really don’t — though I will admit it’s refreshing to share my life with complete honesty. I’d rather be standing on top of some tall mountain. Preferably Mauna Kea, on the Big Island of Hawaii at sunset. Or anywhere high and important, golden and lush. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s not here, in a sterile hospital that questions my values and decides whether or not to lock me up. My God, so much has happened. It’s hard to imagine that everything will come true, but maybe tomorrow, or when I’m 33 and Heaven comes to Earth. There’s so much to be done between now and then. A book to be published. But first it must be finished. And so I’m thinking about the book, and how rich it will make me, when a gray-haired man, thin and observing, walks into the room. Everyone else leaves and I think, for one second, that maybe it will all end soon. I hope it doesn’t though, more than anything I hope it doesn’t.
My first day at Butler, I walked around with a wide grin, barefoot, making friends with everyone. By the end I grew annoyed by the large schizophrenic woman’s random screams. A lifer, no doubt, in Rhode Island’s state psychiatric system. Near the end I grappled with others’ psychosis as much as my own. At the same time I was trying to recover enough from my delusion to go home, I was convinced that I could help even the most depressed. I would try to work out Dave’s problems, Sam’s problems. Everyone’s but my own. Though the doctors and my family would show me pamphlets, explaining to me that believing you are God is a common delusion among sufferers of manic episodes, I still fought the truth. Life is hard when you’re just a person. So I told myself that I’d be Jesus again someday. I told myself that so I wouldn’t break down and cry, because I had the most beautiful promising thing in the world and then they strapped me down and told me it was wrong.
When I finally left the hospital and was on those awful flattening drugs, I was in a state that was much worse than the manic high, and later, the depressive low. I was suffused with false energy, and also with false delusion, which is much the same as genuine delusion, only you are conscious of what is real and what isn’t, and you force yourself to believe the unreal, even when you know the facts of the situation. That period of false delusion is so sad that when I look back on it I either want to cry, laugh horribly, or punch myself in the face. Life gave me a punch to the face then, so that I wouldn’t think I was God, when I knew damn well I wasn’t.
Here’s the kicker though. The false high was so enticing – with remnants of the extreme joy, energy and supposed omniscience and telepathy of the actual thing — that I forced myself into it outside the hospital. Part of this was a natural gradual receding; losing the delusion of being God is not like reaching the end of a vast cliff, where on the other side, far below, is your regular life waiting to embrace you. Rather normalcy comes in fits and spurts, and you fight it as much as you welcome it. The other part of the phony delusion was an attempt to maintain that incredible energy despite a tired brain and medicine that I took because I really didn’t want to be that crazy son-of-a-bitch guaranteeing everyone cars and money and Heaven on Earth. But it was tempting. So I smoked a joint, tried to write like the Devil. After a while I hit a final peak and was God for a night, but it wasn’t the same. Physically I had the energy that let me run for miles, but my mind was slowed by lithium. I made a lousy, boring God and there were no signs of The Plan, no connection with power above, only a fake delusion that faded in the morning, when I awoke quiet and sad.
Text-book definitions of bipolar disorder go only so far in reconciling the effect it has had on my life, and so instead of books and medical journals, I am drawn to the ocean for answers. The ocean will always be with me. I want to live by the sea; to wake in the morning and dive into the water before I eat, before I write, so that the shock of the cold wears off and its part of my soul.
Like the ocean, no matter how far I travel from my manic episode it stays with me. It remains at the back of my mind for self-criticism, for moderation, and as an example of the world’s strange beauty. I know that I am not God, and never was, but those several weeks, convinced of and then toying with the idea, showed me the extent to which I can experience joy, and how deep sadness can penetrate. The delusion does not wholly disappear with medication and therapy. It persists like the sea, as a place for meditation. I picture my madness as the froth of receding waves, damp residue marking their passage on the sand.