Manic Religious Conversion

by Bryan
(Montrose, CA)

I don't have much of a story, because despite being clearly Bipolar, I have never ended up self-destructing. I have never attempted suicide, ruined my financial situation, been arrested or committed, or anything like that, so my story is definitely not a dramatic one. It seems that whenever I'm at the brink, fate or luck or what have you diverts my attentions and intentions towards something constructive, or at least not destructive. Of course, my depressions and manias have resulted in strange behavior, ruined relationships, impulsive life decisions, difficulty achieving my goals, and things like that, but somehow it has been a mostly personal struggle, and I'm grateful for that. However, with so little attention drawn to my condition I have also had little support from my family and friends. Instead, I have always sort of instinctively turned to the world's great religions and philosophies and nothing has helped me deal with my condition more than this kind of soul-searching.

To step back, before my manic episodes started, I was depressed for a few years after college. Through the course of the lowest lows of depression and contemplating suicide I wondered what to make of the feeling of resignation I had. In truth, the only thing that prevented me from killing myself was a sense that something was missing from my experience so far that would make life possible if I could just figure out what it was. All around me was life; life continuing on in the people, the plants, and the animals, and coming in and out of existence forever and ever.

Meanwhile, I had become familiar with both the Tao Te Ching and the Gospels through various readings, and had understood them academically, but they didn't really touch me. I couldn't derive from them the peace I wanted to feel. At some point a couple years ago, however, in spite of being on a powerful anti-psychotic and possibly due to a caffeine overdose, I launched into a manic episode in which all of a sudden I understood on a visceral level what both of those works were trying to say, and not only that, but that they were saying the same thing in different ways. I was forever changed in a moment, and I become intensely religious, not in terms of any one religion, but in a general sense. For the first time ever, I felt myself to be a manifestation of something beyond mere existence, a piece of an eternal puzzle called God - not God the Creator, but the God that transcends language and experience, existence and non-existence. For about a month, I was manic but overwhelmed with love and joy, and I thought it would never end. During that time I wrote many, many songs, journal entries, and letters trying work out and explain how I felt. I stopped taking all of my medicines, because I realized that nothing was wrong with me. I realized that my depressions and manias had been a problem only because I thought they were a problem; they were a problem because other people said I shouldn't be so depressed or I shouldn't be so impulsive.

In fighting those feelings that came naturally to me I was catching hold of them in order to try to dissect them and 'figure them out' instead of letting them pass through. Indeed, I realized that my emotions and my thoughts, good and bad, are actually out of my control and that they will pass and drift and change like the clouds in the sky in spite of me. The question I asked of them was 'Why?' instead of 'When?'; feelings come and go mostly of themselves without demanding an explanation, and in trying to explain them you keep them in your midst instead of letting them leave you alone.

Feelings, no matter how intense, are their own explanation. Trying to control them or change them is futile and results in an intensification of the confusion and pain associated with them. Eventually, after about two months of being 'high on life' and in a state of bliss pretty much constantly, I finally returned to a more neutral state, but the spiritual understanding I developed during this manic period changed me forever. I see and appreciate life (and death) in a completely different way than I used to, and that most people I encounter still do. Sometimes it's lonely because the people I love most may never understand how profound their existence is, how valuable they are, and how glorious life in the world truly is. But I made it an activity of mine to try to show them, not by preaching and explaining as I had during my fateful manic episode, but by subtler means: leading by example, small encouragements, and dropping hints that their lives are much more important than they realize. I never went back on my medicines. To be sure, I still have intense mood swings, both manias and depressions, and sometimes I lie in bed for days wishing for death, not because I'm overwhelmed with sadness, but because I feel 'done'; done acting out existence, done playing the game, and I'm ready for a rest. I am not afraid of death because I know I've been dead before, before I was born, and it is nothing to be afraid of. But this always passes, and I rejoin the game and enjoy playing it that much more.

Sometimes even a manic state happens and I glimpse again with remarkable vision the truth of life. Yes, it all passes, everything in life comes up, it happens, it stays for awhile, and it passes away. But the fact that it happens at all instead of not happening is truly a gift, and that is the point. There is nothing wrong with us, because our purpose is not to add value to our lives, but to realize our lives are valuable simply because we've been given the chance to live. So, as we make good decisions and bad ones, break hearts and have ours broken, eat or starve, kill or save lives, we are just as the trees growing from deep within the ground, just as the clouds drifting through the sky, and just as the stars spattered across the night sky. We don't look at those things and criticize anything about them, they are perfect, and for the same reason we can't look at ourselves and say we are not just how we are supposed to be. Finally, looking at the world this way, I can't wait to see what happens.

Ben's Comments:

This is a beautiful account of your experience, and your spiritual journey. It's a shame that an individual's spiritual breakthrough's should ever be discounted or pathologized because of a medical diagnosis - a label. You've been fortunate to be able to walk in both worlds and remain balanced. Not everyone can do this. But I applaud your courage. It is very inspiring.

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Oct 25, 2012
Thanks from me, too.
by: Steve

This is the first thing I've read that comes close to my experience. I am 65 and have been clinically depressed for over 15 years, ever since my mother died. Meds helped me get over my initial severe depression. In the last couple years, as I felt less depressed and could function better, I didn't feel that the meds had any effect on me anymore. So, I asked my doctor to wean me off of them. Towards the end of this period, though I felt there was no change in me, my wife turned from being very supportive to antagonistic. I sank into deep depression, thought about dying, and was hospitalized. Aside from giving me and my wife a respite from each other, and allowing me to socialize with the other patients, the hospitalization did nothing for me but to get me on a different anti-depressant that had terrible side effects on me. In previous years, I didn't want to socialize much, but before my hospitalization I registered for a couple of courses that really interested me. Participation in these classes opened me up socially and in thinking independently. I began growing. My social work therapist kept encouraging me to "put one foot in front of the other" and was sympathetic. I began to stand up for myself, say what I thought politely, and not allow others to treat me with hurtful slights. As I liberated myself, I expressed myself more, became much more active, and did not depend on my family as much as I used to. They saw my growth as becoming selfish. My concern for them did not diminish. My brain was more aware of the world around me and I was making more connections. My insight was increasing. I asked my doctor in early July whether I had become manic. He assured me that the changes in me did not qualify as becoming manic. It wasn't until Sept. that he declared that I definitely was. He wanted to take me off my meds, that I had started taking again at my wife's insistence, so I could return to depression. A state he preferred for me, because he thought he could handle that better. He is no longer my doctor. My attempts to explain myself and my insights were originally rejected by my family. I stepped back, became less preachy, initiated less interaction with them, and wouldn't allow them to make unreasonable and unreciprocated demands on me. Some of them are coming around, since everyone outside my immediate family tells them how highly they think of me. I am looking for a doctor who will help me stay at the moderate level of mania that I enjoy. I have a better relationship to God. I am learning to cut back on some minor excesses. I call myself a freshman manic. I have enjoyed mania now for 5 months. I am not happy about my relationship to my nuclear family, but I love to have fun in everything I do. Life is absurd, but I enjoy the good and even some of the bad.

Feb 05, 2012
Thank you Bryan
by: Michael

Thank you for going into so much detail about your experience and the depth of understandings and realizations you had. You have a lot of space (detachment) on the ups and downs, lives and deaths of life. I commend you for this. I am not completely fearless of dying, but i am getting closer and it is quite liberating. I am happy for you Bryan! This powerful religious (spiritual) conversion is leading you to truly greener (Divine) pastures. I encourage you to keep going deeper and deeper towards Divinity on a daily basis (as best you can anyway) in this lifetime. When you are reborn you will pick up where you left off which seems to be headed towards Intermediate/Advanced. I am in the Beginner/Intermediate stages myself but am deepening my own commitment to Loving God/dess and my spiritual practices. As for your beloved family and friends who do not quite know how to relate to you or to support you in your discoveries/understandings. Just love them the best you can knowing that most of them have not and may not in their lifetime have an awakening experience of any magnitude. Of course it's 2012 now so all bets are off! Love your attitude... be well Brother, Michael

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