On the ambulance ride to the hospital I believed the paramedics were recording me for an anti-drug campaign so I lied and told them I had taken LSD. Paranoia is a common symptom of mania. I lied to the doctors again upon admittance, repeating the claim that I had taken drugs when I had done no such thing. When the nurses changed shifts in the middle of the night, I was questioned again. This time my answers changed. I will always be grateful for the awareness of those nurses that evening. I am a terrible liar but mania made me very clever, very convincing. I was put in a wheel chair and wheeled into H2, Stanford’s psychiatric unit. I often wonder where I would be today if I had been released still experiencing full-blown mania.
I stayed at Stanford’s H2 ward for 3 weeks. I remember a thirsty man who had had a tracheotomy. I was a foot away, ready with a Dixie cup full of water, when a nurse stopped me. I explained the other patient suggested the man needed water, and I was going to help pour it down his throat (I didn’t comprehend this would kill the man). My sisters remember watching me circling passages in my Bible and taking frantic notes in the margins, finding hidden messages and codes. They also tell me I ate a lot of ice cream sandwiches.
In the meantime many things happened: I missed competing with my water polo team at UCSB, I missed classes, I missed my friends, I missed Christmas, I missed turning 21 and celebrating with my friends. Though I did share a handful of Starbursts with my suicidal roommate.
After my release from Stanford I continued to experience symptoms of mania and was admitted to El Camino Hospital (my psychiatrist later informed me this is typical as a single “episode” of mania can last for months). Still experiencing the typical symptoms of the illness, I fell in love with another patient who I believed to be a real, Italian prince after he invited me to have New York pizza smuggled into the psychiatric ward by his Italian parents. We played basketball and my new regiment of drugs was numbing, almost in a good way.
There are many stories from my hospital days, all of which I remember with clarity. I returned to my college campus (a year later) almost as a new person, befit with a whole new perspective on life. Including a new tradition of counting pills, trying to drink O'Doules, tracking nutrition, and making sure I got enough sleep among monitoring other triggers. Being diagnosed with Bipolar I gave me immediate insight to the type of person I needed to become. Creativity aside, those who also suffer from mental illness must know the same – our roles in life are defined, only in part, but undeniably so, by the regiment we must keep to remain in the safe zone. That place of functionality and, hopefully still, some resemblance of our creative selves before.
In December I will celebrate 9 years of coping and surviving mental illness. For years I have walked with NAMI but this year I have chosen to organize a triathalon, serving the same goal: to fight stigma against mental illness and celebrate life. If you're interested in participating or donating, please read the fine details below.
To join me, please register for the December Challenge sprint triathalon via Eventbrite at: https://christiesdecemberchallenge.eventbrite.com
All donations will go to NAMI - the largest grassroots organization which educates, promotes and provides services to aid those affected by mental illness. ( http://www.nami.org. ) A receipt copy will be shared publically upon final amount donated.
Donations are tax-deductible. NAMI is a 501(c)(3) organization and can also be identified for tax purposes with their EIN #43-1201653.
Thank you for donating.
P.s. My story does not end after being released from the hospital! Mental illness is chronic, meaning it lasts forever. Managing symptoms with tools and the support of our local communities, family and friends is absolutely crucial to recovery. Those who suffer from a mental illness, if they are lucky enough to get treatment, undergo countless efforts to retrain their brain and rebuild connections – both physical ones and social. My own mental health story continues with therapy and therapists, outpatient therapy sessions, support groups, prescription changes and challenges. Your donation to NAMI, through donating to me, will support those suffering from a mental illness and will be an awesome step to eradicate the stigma that exists against our type of brain chemistry. I appreciate any amount and thank you!