I think my experiences with sleep are pretty typical right until I got into college.
At College of Wooster, I experienced my first hypomania as a freshman. It is often an electric feeling of euphoria, seductive and arriving with a difficult price tag. Hypomania, for the uninitiated, is best described as
“Just what we’ve hoped for, just what we’ve wanted, but it may not be exactly what we need, like a sweater ordered from a catalog that doesn’t fit quite right. We love the looks and how it feels, but it just doesn’t match the rest of our emotional wardrobe. The gift of hypomania, enjoyed while it lasts, ultimately must be returned.” (Shoutout to International Bipolar Foundation for that nugget.)
The problem with running headlong into that in school is that you typically seem pretty similar to just about everyone else: risky, sexually charged (yet frustrated,) silly, thousands of ideas in your head all the time. I knew something was wrong when the paranoia increased, but I kept it hidden (so I thought lol.) I left that school for an HBCU, citing a discomfort with the whiteness of the place. Really, I was afraid of everyone all the time.
By the time I got to Virginia State University, I was sleeping seven hours a night. I’d wake up in the morning fearful of communal showers, breakfast in crowded cafeterias, and interactions with just about everyone. I learned when meal times were least crowded and would show up, sometimes so early or late that I would be the only person there. After a while, I could go three or four days without speaking to people. Even in class, I would say so little that professors stopped calling on me. Slowly, paranoia became a pseudo-productive partner that filled a void where other human beings had been. I could write a paper without outline or works cited (hyperfocused as fuck) but had real difficulties handling conversations that lasted longer than ten minutes. I would go to my room and obsess about what I said, or didn’t say.
Then, a friend I had a huge crush on at College of Wooster died. I withdrew and stopped doing things that I liked. I practically disappeared on campus and failed my first semester. I cried a lot in private. In public, I got pretty good at faking it. The weird thing was that the depression (now part of what I know was a mixed state) couldn’t override the paranoia. I wasn’t paralyzed by my sadness as was typical… I was just looking over my shoulder hoping no one would notice how sad I was. The paranoia told me to stay up later and focus on whatever I could find online. I settled into Democracy Now and old kung-fu movies.
Paranoia ate sleep, so I got down to five hours but woke up feeling better refreshed than I had before. Conversations got easier and more fluid, but I thought about them more often. I started speaking more in class and even having casual conversations with people. I made friends. At night, I had more time to do research for homework but I was also in chat clients much more. I spent a lot of time on mIRC trading bootleg movies and music. I read two to three books a week.
When I got down to four hours, I felt like a superman. I no longer noticed the obsessing and the paranoia had consumed a lot of my sense of self-awareness. When I talked, it felt like I was making a grand pronouncement. It seemed like people hung on my every word. High on myself, I stopped sleeping. That next semester, I got incompletes in every class. I would later fail most of them.
The last year and a half was a blur that is a mix of real event (direct actions, presenting at the Holocaust Museum) and things that could have been crash dreams (did I really get asked to leave school?) had while drunk and/or high. There were plenty of things I did well and I really do have fond memories of that entire period. Some of the people I met during that time became real friends. I’m grateful for all experiences, altered states or no. It is what has made me myself.
But I can’t front.
I’m pretty pissed off that I spent nearly eleven years outside of a diagnosis. I’m furious that because our society can’t stand the frailty of human thought that my condition wasn’t treated. I struggle daily with blaming other people or myself for not doing something. The only thing that brings me back around is acknowledging that it is 2017 and the drug that I take every day is only three or four years old. Understanding what happened to me — what is still happening every day to other people — seems arcane to many smart people, even now. Mysterium tremendum inside a skull cavity.
Buried in that anger and resentment is also all that hypomania, I think, waiting to come out and dance all over my well-constructed, meticulously cared-for flower bed of mental acuity. Together, mashed up to pulp and shaped into a figurine, it sometimes feels like another identity that I suppress every day with drugs and parlor tricks. I know that the pulped figure is there because when I slept pre-CPAP, I tasted blood and battle in my dreams.
The scene reminds me of old Mars pictures, lots of red rock and unfamiliar starry skies. I (we?) would be standing on the bleeding edge of a sharp cliff, watching with anticipation as an intense battle raged below. The dream felt so real that I could hear the clanging swords and smell the smoke from bonfires and boiling tar. I could taste the spraying blood as people were cut in half or run through. When I was ready, i would fling my body off the cliff. Sailing through the air, approaching what felt like terminal velocity, I would scream… but not in horror. I apparently was having the time of my life.
These dreams would come in 2006 in my garbage filled apartment in Nashville where I slept in a tent.
These dreams would come in 2008 while living with my soon-to-be wife.
These dreams would come in 2010 when I contemplated quitting my job in frustration and confusion.
They stayed with me through a hospitalization and three campaigns, including the one where I nearly lost my mind completely. The only thing that pushed the dream down is a CPAP machine and my life has been bizarrely rewritten as a result.
Recently, on a work trip to Miami, my power supply for the machine was misplaced after a change in rooms midstay. I admittedly panicked, checking CPAP.com for replacement adapters and generally just freaking the fuck out. It was found the next day and I was just fine… but the night I didn’t have it I (of course!) had a 3D IMAX version of The Dream that was so real, my shirt was soaked with sweat and I had to brush my teeth and eat mints all day long to get the coppery taste of blood out of my mouth. It had been waiting for the moment… and there it was.
Now I know, years later, that I sleep to reset the clock. I fear missing a day or an hour, overblown or not. Sleeping apparently does more than keep me alive and functioning. It keeps the other (real?) me — the electric me — from waking up. I wish I could tell you that this ends with a peppy “we will win” conclusion. I have no solutions to this puzzle. All I can do is rest well and hope that when my electric me comes out, he will at least be pointed in the right direction.