Opinion

I’m sleepy and overwhelmed. I’m in a London hotel room, at the start of a four-day trip that’s too cheap to pass up. I am 25 years old. There are assignments to complete graduate courses and exams to complete my middle school teaching career. I brought work with me, and there are short papers everywhere.

Although airplane seats convert to beds, I lost sleep on an overnight flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. This worries me about insomnia. Will it make me manic? For people like me with bipolar disorder, a trip can lead to mania and the only cure is sleep. To sleep, I need medicine. I don’t have any. I stopped taking it a few months ago because it made me gain weight.

I’ve been here for two hours and I need to go to bed when I hear a knock on my door. “Be ready in 20. Pub is hitting.” My traveling companion glances into the room. “What are all these papers?” I told him I would be ready. I’m wearing tight jeans and a black sweater. I look in the mirror and feel amazing. I’m beautiful. Am I really beautiful? Or am I arrogant and overconfident?

The next day, my middle school friend Lorenzo, his mother, sister and I, who made the trip together, make the most of London. We board a red double-decker bus, take photos in a red phone booth, and watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

I try to sleep at night but I can’t. Instead, I work. The pile of paper seems to multiply. On the second day, riding through the London countryside, I overheard Lorenzo speaking to his mother in Italian. I think: Why do they speak Italian? Is there a problem? Is this a code?

I know that being severely manic can cause the brain to spin a web of conspiracies and make connections that aren’t there. But I don’t ask myself whether I am manic or not. His mother must be an illegal immigrant. We are going to smuggle her into America. I am very scared.

I am sure his mother is not a citizen and the British police are on us. At Marine Life London Aquarium, Lorenzo is studying the map. I walk, but I cannot understand. Neon colored roads are changing and merging into one another. Me, “How are you supposed to know where to go when the lines are moving all over the place?” i say.

Lorenzo turned his head. “Nothing moves on this map. Danielle, are you okay?” Suddenly I have a realization. Lorenzo is pretending. The map is not moving. He’s trying to tell me that his mother isn’t a citizen, and he’s looking for a way to sneak out of here so she doesn’t get picked up by Interpol.. I decided to keep quiet and leave him, his sister and his mother.

On the plane home, I believe we are the biggest story in the world, if not America. All the passengers on the plane are journalists writing a story about how we can get Lorenzo’s mother into America.

Lorenzo begged me to sleep. I leaned my head against the small, cool window and tried to sleep, but the second I closed my eyes I heard the journalists’ computers clicking away. They all write about me and Lorenzo’s family. The sound stops as I open my eyes and crane my neck to catch the action. These journalists are cruel and stupid..

Back home in New York, even though the immigration issues are zero, my paranoia persists. In the car, Lorenzo asked me if I had taken any medicine. “Shut up,” I say, the radio must be jamming. I heard a helicopter and I’m pretty sure Lorenzo’s green VW was broadcast on every TV station like OJ Simpson with his white Ford Bronco. I picture reporters reporting on the story of how two middle school teachers treated an illegal immigrant who had smuggled himself into the United States from Italy via England.

Lorenzo pulls into the hospital parking lot and tells me to wait in the car. I’m so afraid of being caught on camera that I roll myself into as small a ball as possible and keep it under the glove compartment.

When Lorenzo leaves, I tell him that I’m afraid of the cameramen and reporters. The beach is clear. I feel safe walking in the emergency room. I talk to a psychiatrist. He asked if I had been diagnosed with a mental disorder. I tell him I have bipolar. He asked me about my sleep and decided I should be hospitalized.

I was relieved because I knew from experience that hospitals were secure and there was no way for journalists to infiltrate. I don’t know how Lorenzo got this doctor to agree to see me, but I won’t ask. I saw Lorenzo hug me and cry before being taken to the room. He should be worried about his mother and these journalists.

In the hospital, he gives me 40 mg Zyprex. That’s a lot of Zyprex. I will sleep. After four days I realized that my mind had invented the whole story. I’m two weeks in and I’m on a very strong medication that I stopped months ago. I have two more weeks of recovery before I’m cleared to go back to school. I sleep late every day, taking 12 or 14 hours each night. During the day, I feel foggy and unclear. I can’t read, and it’s hard for me to even follow the plot of TV shows.

When I got back to work, Lorenzo told me that some teachers would ask what was wrong with me. He says they think I am taking drugs. I told him I was taking drugs but it was not illegal. I will explain my diagnosis and why I am so sick.

“I’m so glad you’re safe now,” he says.

But I am not really well. I feel like a zombie.

I see my doctor every four weeks, and each time he lowers the dose of Zyprex, until I am completely off it. Three months later, he held the old standard for lithium, which dates back to 1949. I don’t feel like I’m off lithium, but every manic episode is followed by a depressive one so I still have some energy and I’m excited. My bed all day, every day. At some point, I will have to be treated for depression again, but my stay is less than a week, and I can go back to work right away.

In the two decades since that psychotic break, I have never been off my meds again. And I’ve never had a manic episode as severe as London’s. Since then, the last thing I do before bed is open my bedside table drawer, pull out a green Monday to Sunday pill box and swallow the health pills inside.

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