Highs + Lows: John’s Story

Editor’s Note: This story has a slightly different format from the usual. It is a two-part story reflects both sides of bipolar disorder, with its extreme highs and crashing lows. Step into John’s shoes for a while and understand what it was like for him back then. We are very encouraged to know he is in a better state today, and living victoriously in recovery. 🙂 Thank you John for generously sharing this personal narrative with us all. 

The days of mania

By John L.

This is a true account of my story. I chose third person because I like the distance it offers; furthermore this was in the past and my life does not read like this anymore. There are two parts to my story, part one is on manic days and part two on depressive days, to represent the two extremes of my bipolar condition. Needless to say, anyone with knowledge of this condition understands that episodes of either extremes are usually not common.

“I got a feeling! Woohoo! That tonight’s gonna be a good night…”

The track was blasting off the speakers of the club. He had been drinking whisky since late afternoon. It was now 4am and the last few people in the club made their way out. However, John still had so much energy in him, he was pulling out all the stops on the dance floor. He must be inebriated after the copious amounts he drank, but the effects of alcohol could not slow him down.

After being shown the door, John reluctantly made his way to the baggage counter to pick up his four shopping bags. While waiting for the cab home, he realized he still wanted to party but he could not think of anywhere open on a Tuesday morning. He refused to take the first two cabs. Throughout the day he had been uneasy because people were talking about him and the group of people queuing behind him at the taxi stand were definitely talking about him. However, he took the third cab because three was a good number. When the taxi reached his home, he generously tipped the driver —$50.

John had not slept the last two nights. As soon as he got home from work the night before, he watched the entire series of The Lord of the Rings on DVD. When morning approached he called in sick and decided to paint the town red; he started with shopping.

He went straight to the Apple store and bought another iPhone. He already had one in blue and another in green but he thought that a white iPhone would do nicely to match the black blazer he had on. The shopping did not end there. It continued for another six hours before the first pub opened.

Back home from the club and after his shower, John began to look through the four shopping bags. It consisted of things he did not want. But what he wanted that night was Sarah, one of the attractive shop assistants who attended to him that day. He spoke briefly to her but managed to get her number. He decided to call her. After numerous rings, a half-asleep voice answered.

“Hello?”
“Hi! It’s me.”
“Who are you? What time is it?”
“John, don’t you remember? I met you today. It’s 5:15am. I was hoping we could meet for lunch during your break…”
“I’m sleeping. Don’t call me at this time again! In fact, don’t ever call me!”
He was annoyed that she could be so rude as to hang up on him.

John thought that this period was his most productive time at his job since he stopped taking his medication the month before. He hated his meds because they made him sluggish and felt the veil of blurry haze over his emotions. But this was furthest from the truth: his absenteeism from work had been the chagrin of his bosses.

Later, in that week he got fired from his job. He had stopped sleeping altogether, and maxed out his credit cards. He was $40,000 in debt and out of work. The people who were talking about him were talking about him more intensely even when no one was around. John could not stop pacing and lost 5 kg in that week. He felt someone nudging him.

“Huh? Where am I?”
“Mr Lim, you’re at Changi Hospital, the doctor will see you during his morning rounds today. You were asleep most of yesterday. Have some breakfast, the doctor will see you soon.”

The doctor explained to John that he had had a manic episode. Reassured him that his condition would stabilize after several weeks if he diligently took his meds and lived a balanced lifestyle of exercise, healthy diet and sleep. Nothing special any doctor would not advise a patient to do, but for John after his episode he understood the importance of his doctor’s words.

During the first week in hospital, John felt like burying his head in the sand: he was filled with remorse, guilt and embarrassment. As the weeks passed, he began his journey of managing his condition under the kindness and care of the medical staff. It’s going to be a bumpy journey of an interesting life.

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The days of depression
By John L.

Lying in bed curled up in fetal position, John felt as if the clocks had stopped. The rivers had run dry. Nothing mattered. John had switched off his mobile for a week—he was not even sure if his phone had connectivity because it had been three months since he paid the bill. He switched off his phone because he did not want to hear from people demanding payment.

He had been unemployed for the last six months. He had to decide between having lunch or dinner these days as he could only afford one meal a day; breakfast was clearly out of the question. His rent was due in two days. He had run out of people he could call to lend him money. He was out of options. Only one choice remained: suicide.

He had too much time on his hands to think. Thinking is dangerous when one is on the slippery slope of depression; it leads to rumination and negativity sets in.

The best thing to do is actually to stop thinking and do something to break that cycle of thought.

He could do something as simple as going for a walk or even calling the Samaritans to find out what help was available. Calls from a public phone were free but he could not see how talking could help him when he might be homeless in two days time. His landlord had already told him off when he was late for rent the month before and said he would be evicted if it happened again.

John had options he did not know of and resources to at least help him get through each day. But in his state of mind, he could not see them. All he could think of was the worst case scenario. He did not know about the options. If he had known he would not have taken all those tablets—all 120 of them—two months of prescription tablets at one go.

It was the chicken or the egg story again: which came first, his depression or his financial problems? Was it his mental health condition that led to his current state, or was it his lack of motivation, drive and self-discipline to hold down a job? Does that even matter then when he already popped all those pills? The only thought running through his mind at that time was the resignation that it could not get worse than death. Death would free him from his torment.

John started feeling drowsy and weak. He knew the tablets were kicking in. Suddenly, he was gripped with fear—this time he didn’t want to die anymore! He was frightened; he changed his mind in that moment death knocked at his door. It was the middle of the night, but he called out to his landlord. He had to shout several times before his landlord heard him and called for an ambulance.

John was very lucky to be alive without any permanent damage to his organs. When he was in the A&E, he was given activated charcoal and a cathartic as the doctors said that the medication had already been absorbed and it was too late to do a stomach pump.

John found that out the hard way that suicide should never be an option. His landlord felt sorry for him and told him he did not have to pay rent that month. The social worker at the hospital shared with him all the real options he had, like seeking help from a couple of organizations for small funds to see to his daily needs. She mentioned that even if he were homeless, an organization would house him.

The reality is that there are always options, but when one is suffering in depression the body (biochemical) and mind (psychological) simply cannot see beyond the blues.

John’s circumstances did not change dramatically in the months that followed, but with a different approach—seeking holistic treatment and being better informed—he knew he need not suffer in isolation. Through this potentially fatal episode, he found out that it was always darkest before the dawn.

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