Despite the airplane seats that convert into beds, sleep eluded me on my nightly journey from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. I’m worried about this insomnia. Will it make me manic? For people with bipolar disorder like me, traveling can lead to mania, and the only antidote is sleep. I need medicine to sleep. I don’t have any. I stopped using it a few months ago as it caused me to gain weight.
I’ve been here for a few hours and I must have been asleep when I heard the knock on my door and opened it. “Be ready at 20. We’re going to a bar.” My companion is looking at the room. “What are all these papers?” I shrug and say I’ll be ready. I wore tight jeans and a black sweater. It looks and feels great in the mirror. I am amazing. Am I really amazing? Or am I manic and overconfident?
The next day, my colleague from secondary school Lorenzo, who put the trip together, his mother, sister and I are making the most of London. We board a red double-decker bus, take pictures in a red telephone booth, and watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
I try to sleep at night but I can’t. I work instead. The paper piles seem to be multiplying. On the second day, while boarding the London Underground, I heard Lorenzo speaking Italian to his mother. According to me: Why do they speak Italian? Is there a problem? Is this a code?
I know that being severely manic can cause the brain to weave webs of conspiracy and make connections that aren’t really there. But I no longer ask myself if I am manic. His mother must have been an illegal immigrant. We’ll have to smuggle him to the USA. I am scared.
I’m pretty sure her mother wasn’t a citizen and the British police were after us. Lorenzo studies a map at Sea Life London Aquarium. I’m walking but I can’t understand. Neon-colored routes change and blend into each other. “How will you know where to go when lines are running everywhere?” I say.
Lorenzo turns his head and fucks. “Nothing moves on this map. Danielle, are you okay?” I have a sudden awareness. Lorenzo pretending the map does not move. He’s trying to tell me that his mother isn’t a citizen and tries to find a way to sneak him out of this place so he doesn’t get caught by Interpol.. I decided to be quiet and follow him, his sister and his mother.
Flying home, I believe we are the greatest story in the world, if not America. All the passengers on the plane are reporters who wrote the story of how we smuggled Lorenzo’s mother to the United States.
Lorenzo begs me to sleep. I leaned my head against the small, cool windowpane and tried to sleep, but as soon as I closed my eyes, I heard the reporters’ computers rattling. They’re all writing about me and Lorenzo’s family. The sound stops when I open my eyes and lift my neck to catch them in action. These reporters are cunning and cunning..
Back home in New York, my paranoia continues despite zero immigration issues. Lorenzo asks if I took drugs in his car. “Be quiet,” I say, because the radio needs to listen. I hear the sound of a helicopter and I’m pretty sure Lorenzo’s green VW is aired on every TV channel, as is OJ Simpson with the white Ford Bronco. I imagine reporters describing how two middle school teachers smuggled an illegal immigrant from Italy to the United States via England.
Lorenzo walks into a hospital parking lot and tells me to wait in the car. I’m so scared of being caught on camera that I find myself curling up into a small ball as much as I can and waiting for him under the glove compartment.
When Lorenzo comes out, I tell him I’m afraid of cameramen and reporters. He tells me the beach is clean. I feel safe enough to walk in the emergency room. I’m talking to a psychiatrist. He asks me if I have been diagnosed with any mental disorder. I tell him I’m bipolar. He asks about my sleep and decides that I should be hospitalized.
I was relieved because in my experience I know that hospitals are safe and there is no way any reporter can get in. I don’t know how Lorenzo agreed to admit me to this doctor, but I’m not asking. Before being taken to the unit, Lorenzo hugs me and I see him crying. He must be worried about his mother and these journalists.
At the hospital, I was given 40 milligrams of Zyprexa. That’s too much Zyprexa. I am sleeping. Four days later, I realized that my mind had made up the whole story. My stay lasts for two weeks and I am discharged with much stronger medication than the ones I stopped months ago. I have two more weeks of recovery at home before I’m cleared to go back to teaching. I sleep late every day, I get 12 or 14 hours every night. During the day, I feel hazy and uncertain. I can’t read and even have trouble following the outlines of TV shows.
When I got back to work, Lorenzo told me some teachers had asked about my problem. He says they thought I was using drugs. I tell him I do drugs but it’s not illegal. I explain my diagnosis and why I got so sick.
“I’m so glad you’re okay now,” she says.
But I’m not really good. I feel like a zombie.
I see my doctor every four weeks and every time he lowers my dose of Zyprexa until it stops me completely. Three months later, he prescribes Lithium instead, an old standard that has been around since 1949. I don’t feel out of it when it comes to lithium, but since every manic episode is followed by a depressive episode, I still have very little energy and have been waiting for a long time. my bed every day, every day. At some point, I need to be re-admitted for depression, but my stay is less than a week and I can get back to work right away.
In the twenty years since that psychotic attack, I have never gone off my meds again. And I’ve never had such a severe manic episode as in London. Since then, the last thing I do before bed is open the nightstand drawer, pull out my box of green pills Monday through Sunday, and swallow the mind pills hidden inside.
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