For those who do not experience manias, sometimes their only exposure is through television. Bipolar characters on various shows and films who are typically hedonistic, loud, alarmingly bright, and constantly moving. Now, there is nothing wrong with being any one of those things when you are manic. But, as with most visual media, these behaviors are usually romanticized. Saturated in pastel to neon tones. Out of focus shots to show how outside of themselves the sufferer is. fast motion shots of those in a drug haze. And those soft colored scenes of said manic person running away from home with no destination in mind.
For when I’ve wandered, the hues were much more diluted, acidic, and muddled in with each other.
I never had a destination or any idea as to how far I was going. The distance was immeasurable. Those nights (and yes, it was always at night) were never romantic for me. It was always the beginning of an inevitable crash that would take my every fiber and nerve down with it gracelessly and, at times, callously.
The first time I left home, it was fairly innocent. I was 17 and in the throes of my first manic episode, though as I was undiagnosed, I had no idea what was going on with me. I thought it was the start of insomnia, so I treated it as such. At the time, I lived in a New England village named after fairy tale characters. We were experiencing a snow storm, and it was falling at a rate of a few inches an hour, so, at 2 am, I pulled on my boots and coat and exerted this restless energy filling my bones by shoveling my families driveway. I was still restless and, while mumbling to myself, I moved on to our neighbor’s driveway. Then to their neighbor’s driveway. And before the sun rose, I had cleared my whole block of snow riddled driveways so the damp asphalt was showing in contrast to the white lawns. To my dismay, though, I was still filled with vibrating, maddening, energy. Once I got home I crawled into bed, boots, and coats still on, and laid awake until my mother exclaimed: “Who shoveled the driveway?!” hours later.
As I aged, the manias became more powerful. It wasn’t just energy anymore, it was delusions, paranoia, and psychosis flooding me now. I turned 18 only a few months prior, and after a brief hospitalization and misdiagnosis, it all only got more out of hand. Once autumn hit, I was in a tailspin yet again. I only remember bits and pieces from this time. I remember going to parties and binge drinking, even though I loathed alcohol. I would keep my friends awake with me all night to their complete displeasure, speaking of how the universe was conversing with me directly. I could be eloquent here and tinge all of this with a poetic description of a time gone bad, but in reality, it was just a god damn mess.
The urge to wander this time was stronger. It had a pull that yanked me far enough into its orbit that I left my family home at 3 am without my phone and, to my mother’s dismay, without a note. You lose time when you’re manic. It becomes abstract, distant. I lost some of my memory too. I remember watching my feet walk on grass, then gravel, until finally meeting sidewalk. I only remember entering the college town due to the relentless glow of the 24 hour Dunkin Donuts. I was absent of a phone but was armed with my wallet. I gave money to strangers, had lavish ideas of stepping on the train station platform and going to upstate New York with now only $50 in my pocket. By this time, I had traveled 5 miles by foot. I got a coffee that I drank black while simultaneously hating coffee, and kept walking.
By the time I numbed out and slowed down some, I was 10 miles away from home. I dropped my remaining money in a creek (I have zero explanation for this action to this day, and I am still bitter about it) and absolutely no way to get home without trekking back on foot. Again. I sat on the sidewalk near a busy road and waited. Convinced someone would hear my thoughts and rescue me from a small walk that turned into an accidental journey.
My parents did, eventually, locate me. My mother huddled me into the car as tears stained her face with kisses to my forehead and cheeks. I laid across the back seat of the old car, limp-limbed and frozen, and slept for the first time in days. About a week later, sedated and filled with nicotine my mother provided, I was on a ferry to Connecticut where I would experience my first long term hospitalization that would save my life. Where I would finally have a name for this ticking time bomb in my head that constantly forced distance on me.
None of these moments were beautiful or endearing. None were electric or engrossing. Each was a grave risk to my health and survival as a young, severely ill, queer person. I don’t look back at these times fondly or through rose colored glasses. A pang of sadness pulsates through me as I visualize a young, scared, sick kid always trying to get away from what lived inside of them. And my heart aches for him, still. For when I wandered, I was always lost.