By Ryan Heffernan
Ryan Heffernan is an mental health author, writer and social media influencer. His latest work is an acclaimed bipolar memoir, Clown & I.
Ryan says he is not an expert, a formal advocate or a success story. His battles are ongoing, and he is just one man telling an unfolding story. Here’s just one ordinary week in the life of a mentally ill man.
Mental illness is a hell of a thing. Changes a man, truth be told. Kills some too.
Ten years since I was diagnosed with a supercharged brand of bipolar disorder, I personally know this to be true. The highs in mood are divine, the lows are bleak, lonely and often fatal, especially for men. This week there was no sign of depression. Instead I rode the lightning edge of mania where my mood flew high, energy levels were so potent I couldn’t sleep, my sex drive was off the chart, and everything around me looked like some kind of technicolour movie from the 1940s.
Everything is possible in mania.
I was electric. I felt The Surge. It’s like a high wind hits me deep in the chest, races out my back forming something that feels like wings. Goosebumps arrived on my arms and raced down my legs. My speech was rapid and creative writing ideas arrived like raindrops. In this state I simply knew I was born for big things. All tell-tale signs. My beautiful Essex princess is also a wonderful guide and she told me flat that I was on the brink of an “episode”…
Today at 5am, my eyes flicked wide and looked like dinner plates. Exercise is great for mental health, they say. I hit my backyard weights supersetting for an hour, then took a five mile run that did nothing to slow me down. My appetite was non-existent. I ate nothing. Again I wrote. For nine straight hours knocking out 4,000 words, most of which were shit, and will go nowhere but the digital bin. The eight poems I wrote weren’t too bad.
At 12pm I knew I was physically wrecked but no matter how tired, I knew mania would win over the physical every time, so I dropped my daily mood stabiliser meds and antipsychotics. Sleep came. Antipsychotics will knock a “normal” person out for 12 or more hours. But I am not “normal” and at best they would give me four or five hours sleep when I’m manic.
I awoke at 5am and looked at my long and lustrous Essex beauty laying next to me. I was instantly overcome with lust. When manic, some people with bipolar disorder experience something called “hypersexuality”. I do. So I bit down hard on my lip as I leaned in to consume my girl whole. It was all cheap white wine, sweet skin, heat, sensuality and sweaty sheets for the entire day and night. Eventually my girl, herself a carnal beast, tapped out, unable to carry on with the sexual onslaught.
I went back to the keyboard drunk on love and booze, but nothing was coming, so I reluctantly took more meds and lay down next to my girl, this time to sleep for a few hours.
Rising in darkness. More weights, another run. No food. More wine. I had an appointment with my psychologist, Sally. Sally is good but there is little anyone can do for you at this point but yourself. Impulsive behaviour is hard to avoid. It’s like watching yourself race forward doing things you have no control over. Like seeing your life through a point of view camera. Try deciding to take more meds when you’re manic and you feel like a Greek God who can summon storms and wrestle rattlesnakes. It’s similar to knocking your best mates back for a Friday beer when you’ve had three pints already. It’s counterintuitive.
I skipped the meds and decided to become a domestic god instead. First I cleaned the house. Every last bit. Hoovering, mopping, dusting, mowing, watering plants, washing and hoovering the car, and grocery shopping. By 12.30am the home was pristine and I was batch cooking stews for family dinners. By 2am I relented and the antipsychotics and mood stabilisers were doing their job.
Up at 4.30am feeling rested. By now I’m in people mode. A reclusive writer evolves into a man who finds beauty in all people and things that exist around him. I’m talking fast and making friends. My new bestie is the 74-year-old lady I met on my run. But it’s a close call for who is my favourite. I also exchanged numbers with the young Indian guy at the convenience store who sold me cigarettes and more wine. I hung out with a local homeless man who tells me he is bipolar too. I believe him.
Back home I couldn’t sit still and my mind was racing so hard I couldn’t type. Ideas had no time to formulate before the next one bashed the last one out of the way. All was gibberish. I gave up and decided I’d work on my grand strategic plan to break into filmmaking. Six sheets of butchers paper later, I had devised outlines for five complete feature films. Hollywood won’t know what hit it when me and my Essex princess turn up. My bipolar symptom of “grandiosity” had me convinced.
Creative projects in place, it was time to mobilise. You can’t manage five films on your own. This requires a team, and I knew just the crew. I hit the phones at breakneck speed, selling my ideas to potential investors, producers, directors and people with filmmaking equipment.
Most of them were listening intently, some were trying to escape me. In the end I had silver-tongued most into genuine expressions of interest. I just needed to send the paperwork. My Essex princess wasn’t nearly as sold on my ideas, or my decision to mobilise. She could see I was trying to pull down a bull, when I only had room for a steak. She demanded I take high doses of my meds to sleep the manic down. I triple dosed and went to bed at 11pm.
I woke at around 7am which was a good sign. By the time I’d taken a shower I started to feel the mood rise, but just a little. I opened the fridge thinking it was a good time to get my regular eating back on track. My stomach had shrunk and I could only manage two small tins of sardines and a cup of coffee.
The coffee jolted me back to the keyboard. But my brain was cloudy and damaged from the manic. Negative thinking was kicking in and the magical colours drained to a blue-grey. Inexplicable sadness slowly began to settle and my seemingly eternal optimism cracked. My Essex princess could see it and took me for a walk for a pub lunch. We spent the afternoon lazing in bed, spooning, and I made the hard decision to go even harder on the meds again to finish the manic off entirely.
The truth arrived. This was a good manic, without too much damage to my relationships and work. All I had to do was slow that bull down, along with those film projects. Yet the chemicals in my mind were in tatters. I sat on our patio with my Essex princess and we watched the grey clouds roll in. Two days ago they were a sparkling gunmetal grey. Today they are simple flat grey promising only gloom.
My thoughts focused only on how bad the next week might get.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter with @clownandi.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.