Sleepless highs – Part 1

This story documents about eight days in November 2014, where I experienced my first true episode of mania. Due to the level of detail I go into, I felt it necessary to break it up into two blogs. This is the first one.

Things went pretty well after that. I attended my cousin’s wedding, I reconnected with Uni friends, and went on a road trip to Berlin to watch the world cup final. I started back at University in September, moving into a new house and ended up finding a girlfriend. Things were certainly looking up for me. I was also playing a lot of rugby this term, getting picked regularly for the first team and consistently playing well. The course was fun, and I found time to balance work with going to the gym, as well as seeing my friends and girlfriend. Again, like with what happened in 2012, I put this brief encounter with darkness at the start of Summer right to the back of my mind. I didn’t really discuss the events with anyone, and if I did, it was with very little detail.

It was what happened in a particular week in November of my second year, in 2014, that affects the way I live to this very day. It was at this point in my life where I first made contact with a mental health crisis team.

Throughout the course, we get to choose, or are assigned extra projects to take on for a week, to up to eight weeks, depending on what year you’re in. My project in second year involved a week of research as well as a 1000 word write up. This seemed like a fair task at first, as I had a full free week to start my reading, to plan the essay and to write it up, fully referenced.

Things did not go to plan.

For some reason I felt more happy than usual. My thoughts seemed clearer and I became more chatty with people. I got easily distracted and lost focus on the task at hand. My thoughts, slowly but surely, starting getting quicker, and it became difficult to process one simple task without thinking about fifty other ones at the same time. My sleep was steadily deteriorating, but I felt rejuvenated when I woke up.

On the Wednesday of that week I got very little work done, to the point where all I had come up with was a title for the essay. Afternoons, of course are dedicated to sports, and I had been picked for the first team. Brilliant. What’s more was that my mum had planned to visit me for the day, and had come to watch the match. This was a rarity as she very much hated, and still does, hate seeing her ‘boys getting hurt’. I remember being very aggressive and very vocal during the match . I was excited, not only because we were winning the match, but also because I hadn’t seen my mum in two months. I was also excited to break the news to my mum that I had a girlfriend.

In the evening, we went for a meal in town. I remember on the way in feeling a great deal of empathy with my mum. I was listening to her issues with having to put up with my dad and younger brother’s boisterous behaviour at home, and comparing it with my own attitude to some of my housemates’ behaviours. I felt like I was the mum in a house of guys. I had hadn’t been able to do this so easily in the past. To be able to relate to someone on such a level, almost to the point where thought I knew what they were thinking and feeling. The meal was lovely, and our mother-son catch up felt nice and accomplished. Later that evening I attended the annual rugby bonfire social. I drank a lot of alcohol. However, I felt incredible, and I felt confident, strong and unstoppable. I was what people would describe in the social context, as ‘on form’.

Getting out of bed the next day was not an issue for me. I was a little tired, a little parched, but I didn’t have a headache. Slowly but surely my thoughts returned to the pace they had been previously in the week, if not slightly quicker. I assumed that this was a straightforward reaction to the stress of working under pressure with an essay due in Friday. I waltzed to the library with a big grin on my face. “I beat the hangover!”, I thought. I spent the whole day focusing on my essay; writing, reading and analysing each specific research point and putting it in the context of my essay’s agenda. I only went home to eat dinner and rest for an hour or so, and then back to the library I went.

That evening my brain was firing on all cylinders. The only diversion from my stress was the pure relaxing tones of my iPod’s ‘chilled playlist’, consisting of artists such as Simon and Garfunkel, Tracey Chapman and Fleet Foxes.

“Oh my God. I’ve got it!”, I thought. “I’ve actually got it!”. I’d had an epiphany.

Having just recently finished a couple of weeks of lectures on Virology and Immunology, I was completing a a respective feedback form, and I had thought of a way that could potentially better improve the teaching. It was to do with incorporating physical 3D models of viruses, antibodies and their respective receptors to help tactile learners better understand the ways in which our immunity works. I immediately emailed the two Doctors who delivered the lectures, with my ‘bright idea’. I didn’t stop there. I emailed my parents, my project tutor for that week, and the director of years 1 and 2, insisting that they heard about my idea that would ‘change the way immunity would be taught forever in medicine’. Retrospectively, I was completely manic. Looking back at the emails I sent in early November 2014, they were quite eloquently written, however very excitable and aggressive. I genuinely believed that if I somehow failed at medicine, I could pursue this idea as a business model and make millions from it. I was deluded. I also believed that my intellect at this point in time was similar to that of Einstein, Shakespeare and Mozart. These were delusions of grandeur. I was not well.

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