139: This Is What Mania Looks Like

139: This Is What Mania Looks Like

Today’s episode showcases a story by student Danielle Huggins. Danielle’s story shows what happened when she got off her medication for bipolar disorder. This story is the best example of show and tell EVER! We ask you, why do you read and listen to stories: to be taken into another world or to find yourself in the story?

Danielle told a story on Episode 105: Teach Us Something We Don’t Know. That episode was about her experience with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). If you haven’t listened to that episode, definitely check it out.

Danielle Huggins is a former middle school math teacher with a masters degree in literacy. She is currently a stay-at-home mom, a student of Writing Class Radio, and an avid kickboxer. Danielle has a Facebook page called My Life As a Bipolar Mom. You can also find her on Instagram @bipolardanielle. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.

Writing Class Radio is hosted and produced by Allison Langer,  Andrea Askowitz, and Zorina Frey. Audio production by Matt Cundill, Evan Surminski, and Aidan Glassey at the Sound Off Media Company. Theme music by Justina Shandler.

There’s more writing class on our website www.writingclassradio.com including essays to study, editing resources, video classes, writing retreats, and live online classes. Join our writing community.

For $25/month you can join our First Draft weekly writers groups. (Tuesdays 12-1 ET and/or Wednesdays 6-7pm ET). Write to a prompt and share what you wrote. For $125/mth, you’ll get 1st draft and 2nd Draft. Each week three people bring a second draft for feedback. Join the community that comes together for instruction, an excuse to write, and most importantly, the support from other writers. To learn more, go to www.Patreon.com/writingclassradio. Or email andrea@writingclassradio.com for Zoom link. First session is FREE.

A new episode will drop every other Wednesday.

There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other, than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?


Andrea Askowitz 00:00:00
I'm Andrea Askowitz.

Zorina Frey 00:00:01
I'm Zorina Frey

Allison Langer 00:00:03
I'm Allison Langer, and this is Writing Class Radio. You'll hear true personal stories and learn how to write your own stories. Together, we produce this podcast, which is equal parts heart and art. By heart, we mean the truth in a story. By art, we mean the craft of writing. No matter what's going on in our lives, writing Class is where we tell the truth. It's where we work out our shit. There's no place in the world like Writing Class, and we want to bring you in.

Andrea Askowitz 00:00:31
Today's episode is by student Danielle Huggins. She writes about having a severe manic episode and how she's learned in the 20 years since then to always take her medication for bipolar disorder. So, listener, do you read or listen to stories because you want to see yourself reflected, or do you read and listen because you want to escape your own reality? We talk about that later in the show. Wait.

Allison Langer 00:00:58
We also talk about Show and Tell, and I think that's the story that we're going to share with you today. Danielle's story, is the perfect example of Show and Tell and how important it is.

Andrea Askowitz 00:01:11
Danielle Huggins told the story already one other time on this podcast. It was episode 105, and it was called Teach US Something We Don't Know. That episode was about her experience with electroconvulsive therapy. If you haven't listened to that episode, definitely check it out. Episode 105.

Zorina Frey 00:01:29
Daniel Huggins is a former middle school math teacher with a master's degree in literacy. She's currently a stay at home mom, a student of Writing Class radio, and an avid kickboxer Baboon. If you guys want to learn more about Danielle, she has a Facebook page called My Life as a Bipolar Mom. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children. We'll be back with Daniel Huggins'story after the break.

Allison Langer 00:01:54
All right, we're back. I'm Allison Langer, and this is Writing Class Radio. Here's Daniel Huggins reading her story. London mania.

Andrea Askowitz 00:02:03
Did dorina say, we'll be back with Daniel Huggins?

Zorina Frey 00:02:06
I said it earlier.

Andrea Askowitz 00:02:08
Say it again.

Zorina Frey 00:02:09
We'll be back with Daniel Huggins story after the break.

Allison Langer 00:02:12
We're back. I'm Allison Langer, and this is Writing Class Radio. Here's Danielle Huggins reading her story. London mania.

Danielle Huggins 00:02:21
I am under slept and overwhelmed. I'm in a London hotel room at the beginning of a four day trip that was too cheap to pass up. I am 25. There are assignments to complete for my graduate courses and tests to grade for my middle school teaching job. I have brought this work with me, and there are short stacks of papers everywhere. On the brown carpeted floor, on the rusty colored bedspread, and on the tall wooden dresser whose top drawer doesn't quite close despite having airplane seats that turned into beds. Sleep eluded me on the overnight trip from JFK to Heathrow. I'm worried about this lack of sleep. Will it make me manic for people like me with bipolar disorder. Traveling can lead to mania, and the only antidote is sleep. To sleep, I need medication. I don't have any. I stopped taking it a few months ago because it made me gain weight. I've been here a couple of hours and should be napping when I hear a knock on my door and open it. Be ready in 20. We are hitting a pub. Maria glances beyond me into the room. What are all these papers? I shrug and say I'll be ready. I put on tight jeans and a black sweater. I spend 15 minutes curling my shoulder length hair in the mirror. I look and feel amazing. I am gorgeous. Am I really gorgeous, or am I manic and overly confident? The next day, Lorenzo, my middle school colleague who put the trip together, his mother and his sister Maria, and I make the most of London. We ride in a red double decker bus, take pictures in a red phone booth, and watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Each night I start off trying to sleep, but cannot. I spend my nights working. The piles of paper seem to multiply. The next day, Lorenzo, Maria, Mrs. Costa and I are on the London Underground. I hear Lorenzo speak to his mother in Italian. Why are they speaking in Italian? Is something wrong? Is this a code? I know that being severely manic can cause the brain to spin webs of conspiracies and make connections that aren't really there. But at this point, I no longer ask myself if I am or am not manic. I am beyond reason. His mom must be an illegal alien. We're going to have to smuggle her back into the US. I am terrified by the last day. I am certain that Lorenzo's mom is not a citizen and that the British police are onto us. At the London Aquarium, Lorenzo is studying a map. I walk over, but I cannot make sense of it. The neon colored roots are shifting and merging into each other. I say, how are you supposed to figure out where to go with the lines moving all over the place? Lorenzo turns his head and cocks it. Nothing is moving on this map. Danielle, are you all right? Suddenly, I have a realization. Lorenzo is pretending the map isn't moving. He is trying to tell me that his mom isn't a citizen, and he is trying to figure out a way to sneak her out of this place so she doesn't get picked up by interpol. I resolved to be quiet and follow him, his sister and mom out on the plane ride home. I believe we are the biggest story in, if not America, the world. All the passengers on the plane are reporters writing up the story of how we're smuggling Mrs. Costa into the USA. Lorenzo pleads for me to sleep. I lean my head on the small, cool window pane and try to sleep. But the second I close my eyes, I hear the click clacking of the reporter's computers. They are all writing about me and Lorenzo's family. When I open my eyes and crane my neck to catch them in action, the sound stops. They are cagey and slick, these reporters. Back home in New York, despite zero immigration issues, my paranoia persists. In his car, Lorenzo asks if I took any drugs. Be quiet, I say, since the radio must be bugged. I hear a helicopter and I'm sure Lorenzo's green VW is being broadcasted on every TV station, just like OJ. Simpson with his white Ford Bronco. I picture reporters relaying the story of how two middle school teachers smuggled an illegal immigrant from Italy via England into the United States. Lorenzo pulls into the parking lot of a hospital and tells me to wait in the car. I am so scared of being caught on camera. I curl myself into as small as a ball as possible and wait for him underneath the glove compartment. Going to the hospital must be part of a plan to not get caught. When Lorenzo comes out, he asks me what I'm doing down in the well and I say I'm afraid of the cameramen and reporters. He tells me the coast is clear and I feel safe enough to walk inside the Er. I talked to a psychiatrist. He asks me if I have been diagnosed with any mental disorders. I tell him I have bipolar. He asks about my sleep and decides I need to be hospitalized. I have been in a psych ward before and am relieved because they are so secure that there is no way any reporters will infiltrate. I don't know how Lorenzo got this doctor to agree to admit me, but I don't ask. Before being taken up to the unit, Lorenzo hugs me and I see he is crying. He must be worried about his mom and these reporters. In the hospital. I'm given 40 milligrams of Xyproxa. That is a lot of Xyproxa. I sleep. After four days, I realize my mind fabricated the entire story. My stay is two weeks long and I am discharged with medication much stronger than those I quit. I have an additional two weeks of recovery at home before I am cleared to go back to teaching. I sleep late every day, getting twelve to 14 hours each night. During the day, I feel hazy and unclear. I can't read and even find it difficult to follow the plot lines of television shows. When I go back to work, Lorenzo tells me some teachers are asking what is wrong with me. He says they think I'm on drugs. I tell them I am on drugs, but not illegal ones. I explained my diagnosis and why I got so sick. He says, I'm so glad you're fine now. I am not really fine, however, I feel like a zombie and even after working for a month, there are times when I am in front of a class writing math examples on the overhead projector, and all I want to do is lay my head on it and go to sleep. I see my doctor every four weeks, and each time he lowers the dose of Xyproxa until he takes me off it completely. After three months, he prescribes me lithium instead, an old standard having been around since 1949. In the two decades since my psychotic break, I have never gone off my meds again, and I have never had a manic episode as severe as the one in London. Since then, the last thing I do before bed is open my bedside table drawer, take out my Green Monday through Sunday pill box, and swallow the sanity pills kept inside.

Allison Langer 00:09:26
If this isn't the best example of show and tell I have ever read and heard, I don't know what is.

Andrea Askowitz 00:09:33
I was thinking I wrote something down, like where she said, I am gorgeous. Am I really gorgeous or just manic? And then I wrote Allison Langer this. She's looking in the mirror and she's seeing herself gorgeous, but then she's in her head. Yeah, I was going to ask you if you love that. And I wrote Allison Langer in head. I wrote that love.

Allison Langer 00:09:58
You can say, say, say. But showing throughout the entire thing what she's going through brings us in, in such a big way.

Andrea Askowitz 00:10:07
I know, because she workshopped the story in second draft that she made that decision consciously and she tried it different ways. She tried just telling the story where she just commits to the paranoid fabrication as listeners in our class, the whole class was like, wait, but why is this happening? Because she knows that she's manic. I love the way it finally came together. I thought that she made the right choices.

Zorina Frey 00:10:41
Yes, she did a really great job of bringing us into her reality. It was like, Wait, how did I get here? Is this for real? And it was just so seamless that it made me go back to the beginning to figure out where that turn was. And it was so slight. I originally thought the turning point was when the narrator felt that the mother was not a legal citizen. To me, that's when the stakes got raised. But really, it was that point when she looked at herself and questioned her beauty, her worth, who she was. To me, that's when it started.

Andrea Askowitz 00:11:27
It even started before that, actually.

Allison Langer 00:11:29
I think it started yeah, right at the top. And I thought that was beautiful because the whole thing goes chronological. There's never too much backstory because I love that structure, when you kind of start with the present and then go back. But she just started when she was 25, which is also amazing. And then she says that, I'm worried about this lack of sleep will make me manic for people like me. And I love that part for people like me with bipolar disorder, traveling can lead to mania. And the only antidote is sleep. And to sleep, I need medication. I don't have any. I stopped taking them a few months ago because they made me gain weight.

Andrea Askowitz 00:12:05

Allison Langer 00:12:05
Stakes right there. We know exactly what she's going through and why.

Andrea Askowitz 00:12:12
We know the danger from the top. Yeah. I thought she did the best job. Grounding. We know what, we know where, we know when. I mean, it's so seamlessly perfectly done. And then she does show us the mania right away. Zarina when she's her friend comes in, she's like, what are all these papers? So she's hinting at it.

Zorina Frey 00:12:36
Yes, she is.

Allison Langer 00:12:37

Zorina Frey 00:12:37
I'm looking at it all over again. I'm like a minute.

Allison Langer 00:12:41
Well, this is our second or third time seeing it, so we've had a moment to process, and I think what happened?

Andrea Askowitz 00:12:47
Well, and I actually worked with her on it a lot in second draft, and it just shaped up.

Allison Langer 00:12:53
Sometimes we missed the details to be able to then talk about them. But what happens is it laid the groundwork in our brain, so we subconsciously just kind of knew what was going on. And so, right when the mirror scene hits, you got the paper, then the mirror scene, by the third time, you're kind of being hit over the head. It's like, oh, shit, this woman is screwed.

Andrea Askowitz 00:13:13
Yeah, she's going down. But I actually thought that what the narrator did was she amped it up first. It's like, what are all these papers? Whoa, I look gorgeous. Am I manic? And then I am gone.

Allison Langer 00:13:28
And she says it the fuzzy lines.

Andrea Askowitz 00:13:31
Oh, yeah. When Lorenzo is pretending the maps not moving. God, she just rationalizes. So we are so in her head. Amazing.

Allison Langer 00:13:41
Wait, Lorenzo is not pretending the map.

Andrea Askowitz 00:13:44
That's her logic. Yeah. She's like, oh, I figured it out. I have a realization. And we think her realization is going to be, Fuck a manic. But no, her realization is she goes deeper into her paranoid story right there, and she just amps it up. Amps it up. When she's in the car, crouching down. Even when she's in the hospital, she still thinks this is Lorenzo's plan. It's crazy to smuggle his mom.

Allison Langer 00:14:15
I mean, this is just a brilliant display of taking us into her world, because we don't know if you're not bipolar, manic, or whatever, you have no idea what goes on. And this is such a good description.

Andrea Askowitz 00:14:29
Yeah, it's amazing. And then at the end, what do you guys think at the end? The end is like, three months go by. To me, the end is really real. So, three months goes by and all she wants to do is lie down. She tells the rental she's really not better. She's better, but she's not great. And then two decades goes by, and she ends on this beautiful scene where she's opening up her little green pill box and she's swallowing her sanity pills.

Allison Langer 00:15:04
What's cool is that this perspective is had she written it a decade ago or two decades ago, it might have a different perspective because she may have been more scared or maybe the details of, like, other incidents or it would have been in here. But what's important is that she's got this perspective that we as readers, when we read, in the two decades since my destinycotic brain, I've never gone off my meds again. And you're like, there's the story. So you've got the situation right? Girl goes off her meds and goes on a trip and freaks out. But the story is, stay on your damn meds. It might be a good thing, right?

Andrea Askowitz 00:15:46
That's the public service announcement here. She learns that she has to stay on her medication. That's why I think this story is so important. Yeah, I'm so thankful for this story. I had no idea what it looks like, what it feels like, what someone's thinking who's having a manic episode. I'd never heard it before.

Allison Langer 00:16:08
The other thing I think is interesting is that we think, oh, mental illness or mental health or something. Oh, that's for other people who are crazy. Well, it isn't your body betrays you. It is an illness like any other illness. We would never say that about somebody who had I don't know what what's a disease that we're all diabetes.

Andrea Askowitz 00:16:28
We always compare mental illness to diabetes, actually, because people have there's a stigma around taking medication for a mental illness, but there's no stigma around taking medication for diabetes. No one's going to be like, wait, what are you doing? Putting that insulin in you?

Allison Langer 00:16:43
Yeah, no one no.

Andrea Askowitz 00:16:44
Another thing that I love about this narrator is she doesn't seem concerned. She's not concerned about the stigma. She's like, this is my world. This is my life. This is the way I've learned to cope. I really hope that stories like this, like, bust open the whole stigma around mental illness. Me, too. Especially for people in our generation, I think younger people. The stigma is so different. There isn't a stigma.

Allison Langer 00:17:06
You know how people used to whisper cancer? Now it's like therapy.

Andrea Askowitz 00:17:11
No, not anymore.

Allison Langer 00:17:13
I hope not.

Andrea Askowitz 00:17:14
Maybe in our generation still a little bit. I'm talking about old people, like in their 50s. But Serena, you're not in your 50s.

Zorina Frey 00:17:21
Not that far behind. I got to tell you guys, the reason why I didn't catch this so early is because I know people with bipolar disorders and mental illness, and some of my best friends have gone through that.

Andrea Askowitz 00:17:38
Of course. We all do.

Zorina Frey 00:17:39
So when she says things like, oh, I forgot my pills, and this is going to make me manic, that still doesn't really click because it's like I've seen it before. At least I thought I did. And so for me, what makes this story so captivating is just how severe it got and how I was seamlessly brought into that world not realizing that it was that bad, because we go through this whole thing of like, oh, I'm crazy. That girl, she's so crazy. You're so crazy.

Andrea Askowitz 00:18:17
Yes. Is that what you thought she meant when she was like, oh, am I going to get manic? Did you just think she was saying it? Like, am I just going to get crazy?

Zorina Frey 00:18:25
To a certain degree. But again, I do know people have been diagnosed. I mean, there's levels. That's what I'm saying. Like, there's like, oh, this is so crazy. And then there's people like, oh, I need to take a Xanax because I'm about to fly. So I'm not thinking that this is such a severe case even for people that I know who have been diagnosed and they're taking different types of pills. This story here is like, the reason why people why mental hospitals more should exist, right? But, yeah, there's just so many different levels of it. I wasn't ready for where she was going to take me, and that's why I caught it at her looking at the mirror and wondering if she's gorgeous. And I think the reason why I caught that is because I've also looked in the mirror and question, am I cute today? I don't know that type of thing. And so that's where I was able to identify. And so that's what even made it even scarier, because it's like, okay, now I'm identifying with this narrator who has a condition of what's real. And so that's what made the journey even more so surreal. Right.

Andrea Askowitz 00:19:42
Were you scared?

Zorina Frey 00:19:43
Well, I'm scared. It's not the word, but it was like, whoa. It was kind of jarring because it's like, here I am, I'm able to identify with this person who has a severe mental illness. So that makes me like, wait a minute. So it just makes me wonder, like, let me check my reality.

Andrea Askowitz 00:20:02
Well, I was going to ask you guys and I think this question is really interesting right now because I was going to ask you guys, do you read because you want to be taken into another world, or do you read because you want to see yourself reflected in characters so that you feel like kind of not alone? And it sounds like in this case, Serena, it's both.

Zorina Frey 00:20:24
I pretty much tried to escape reality. That's how I started reading, because my reality, I felt like, was sucked. Going into another world, whether it's magical or just another somebody else's stuff, as long as it wasn't my own, is the distraction. And I think that's what made this jarring, because it kind of like when you can relate too much, then it's like you're not really being taken away from reality. You're actually being grounded into another type. Yeah, exactly.

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:00
Alison, what about you? Do you read to escape reality and be taken into another world? Or do you read because you want to see yourself in stories and feel less alone.

Allison Langer 00:21:09
I think when I read fiction, I look to be taken into another world and just escape. But when I read nonfiction, I think I want to listen and read to understand myself and those around me. So that's more for me.

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:27
That was a diplomatic answer.

Zorina Frey 00:21:30
Poetry. I read that to find myself. But the other stuff is a total distraction.

Andrea Askowitz 00:21:37
I think that the reason why I'm hemming and hawing at the question, even though I'm the one who asked it, is because I feel like it's self centered. My answer is not cute. But I do think I read fiction and nonfiction and get an exciting joy out of connecting, even with characters who seem so different than me. I think it's both. And I actually think that in every story, that's done really well. And I've said this, we've talked about this before on Writing Class Radio. You don't have to have been through a manic episode to connect with this narrator or to connect with the story that's told well. If she touches you on a human level. And I do feel that this narrator yeah, I haven't been through what she's been through exactly, but I still see myself in her, and not because I look at the mirror and say, like, hey, do I look cute? Because when I look in the mirror and I think I look cute, I believe myself. I do. I feel like, oh, yeah, I look good tonight. And I don't think it's because, what? I can look in the mirror and sometimes not look good, but when I look good, I'm like, yeah, but anyway, why do you say that? I like to connect with the narrator. That's why I read.

Allison Langer 00:22:54
I just think the story is amazing to anyone, so I think everyone should read it. Whether it applies, you feel connected to it or not because it may connect you to somebody else. So it helps us understand those around us, and I always think that's a great thing.

Andrea Askowitz 00:23:08

Allison Langer 00:23:09
Thank you for listening, and thank you, Danielle Huggins, for sharing your story. Writing class. Radio was hosted by me, Allison Langer, Andrea Askowitz and Serena Fry. Audio production by Matt Cundill, Evan Surminski and Aidan Glassy at the Sound off Media Company. Theme music is by Justina Chandler. There's more writing class on our website, writingclassradio.com, including stories we study, editing resources, video classes, writing retreats, and live online classes. Join our writing community by following us on Patreon. For $25 a month, you can join our first draft weekly writers group. You have the option to join me on Tuesdays, twelve to one Easter time.

Zorina Frey 00:23:50
Or Me Zorina Frey Wednesday, six to 07:00 p.m.. Eastern time.

Allison Langer 00:23:56
We'll write to a prompt and share what you wrote. If you're looking to take writing to the next level for $125 a month, you'll get first draft and second draft in second draft. Each week, three people bring a second draft for feedback.

Andrea Askowitz 00:24:08
And some of the stories are so good, they land on our podcast. So many of our second draft students are getting their stories published all over the place, like Huffington Post and Mother Magazine, and I can't even keep track.

Allison Langer 00:24:22
So join the community that comes together for instruction, an excuse to write, and most importantly, the support from other writers. To learn more, go to patreon dot com slash writing class radio. A new episode will drop every other Wednesday.

Zorina Frey 00:24:37
There's no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has a story. What's yours?