The biggest loss after I was diagnosed was my poetry. Before my diagnosis, I wrote a lot — I filled a ring binder with it. Two inches of verse, mostly free. Then I stopped because I believed that going to readings and writing it made my condition worse. And I believed that I lost the ability to write it. I did not stop, but my output was meager and sparse. One poem a year. Some years I wrote nothing. But a part of me yearned for the truth and beauty of a fine image. So last spring, I conducted an experiment. Thanks to a psycho-stimulant that gave me a renewed ability to focus, I cautiously began to compose free verse and haiku. To my joy, I did not explode into mania. I was not writing long intense blogs as had been the signature of my mania and I did not lapse into consequent depressions. So I have begun thinking: If I can handle poetry what about spirituality? Could I attend a church without turning into a prophet? Could I handle being a member of a congregation and not its priest? So I have been contemplating where to go, what denomination suits my temperament. That is the next signpost.
My mania feels like a fishing line pulled taut to the breaking point.
My depression feels like I am that same fishing line let to fall in a curled mess and tossed to the bottom of the sea.
My mania feels like omnipotence — the power of God — channeled through my neck, my spine, my limbs, and my eyes.
My depression feels like my failure to be of any effect, like I have botched things up, crippled animals, alienated friends, brought evil into the world.
My mania feels like I can do great things, that I have a destiny that will change the world — bring peace, soften stone hearts, make people live in harmony.
My depression feels like a hole that sucks in everything good, that is no place to hide from despair.
My mania gives me energy to glide up the last spine leading to Everest’s summit and dive without a bathyscaphe to the bottom of the Challenger Deep.
My depression makes me stay in my house dreaming dark dreams.
My mania makes me love all humankind — especially women — and spark with anger if the purity of that love is questioned.
My depression makes me the lover of my pillow, my sheets, and my blanket, a friend of the curtained darkness, the noises of the day, and the deep emptiness of the night.
I am not the target audience for this book.
The book is written for primary physicians who find themselves in the position of prescribing psychiatric medications. That purpose can be seen in the distinctions drawn, throughout, between the sorts of psychiatric conditions that can be managed by a primary physician (such as prescribing antidepressants) and those for which referral to a psychiatrist is recommended (such as psychotic depression).
Still, though the book isn’t written for patients or family members as such, its clear, simple presentation makes it a useful reference for those patients and family members who want to get informed about their medications. We purchased a copy to bring to our support group meetings as a reference.
The book is divided into chapters that cover different conditions (e.g. bipolar disorder) or topics (e.g. enhancing medication adherence). There are tables showing the clinical mechanisms and dosages of different medications, decision charts for selecting the appropriate medication for a condition, and descriptions of how psychiatrists decide on their treatments, from when someone with depression may get referred for therapy alone and when medication is needed, to which medications are appropriate for which symptoms. Case studies discuss how a psychiatrist may adjust treatment depending on the response of the patient.
It’s a good book that can help take some of the mystery out of why your psychiatrist may be making the decisions he or she is making.
There are a couple of people who sometimes respond to my threads who don’t like it when I say we shouldn’t be calling people mentally ill just because we don’t like them or act in ways that we don’t like. I think it is time for me to outline what is required to make a diagnosis:
- You have to be trained as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. (Most “experts” or the “peanut crunching crowd” are not.)
- You have to have actually examined the person. This goes beyond watching them on television or reading about them in magazines or newspapers.
- You have to use proper diagnostic criteria.
- You must be neutral. Most of the pseudo-diagnoses that I have seen fail magnificently on this score. In my experience, progressives are the worst, but this does not exonerate others including conservatives.
- You must have the patient’s welfare in mind, not an opportunity to insult.
- You must avoid stigmatizing people with mental illness who are not anything like the person you are diagnosing. E.g. By saying that terrorists are mentally ill, you are implying that people who are mentally ill are like terrorists. (Research shows that people with mental illness are less likely to be violent than the normal population.
Medication. Once you have been on it for a little while, you begin wondering if you need it. Some — like me — fiddled with the dosages. Others stop taking it at all. Those with an artistic temperament, especially poets, don’t like seeing their most valuable kind of intelligence stripped away from them so that exercising their craft becomes harder. Because Art is more important to them than their relations with their families and friends, they step boldly beyond sanity and give themselves over entirely to their illness — until life becomes unmanageable.
It is understandable why people seek to go back to mania, particularly those of us with an artistic bent. Personally, I found writing poetry came easily to me. I not only had the focus, but I also had the sense of association that one needed to choose words to convey specific, charged meanings. If I had had a lover afflicted with the same, my output of love poems would have been enormous.
We all think we are brilliant in mania, but a great many manic artists are at best banal. A few like the poet Robert Lowell needed mania to keep an edge in their poetry. Others like Shelley sought out doctors to get help quelling their mood swings. These famous names — along with that of Vincent Van Gogh and many others — tempt some to
Touched with Fire steals its title from Kay Jamison’s classic book of the same name. (Jamison isn’t mad. She appears as herself in the movie at one point, desperately trying to set one of the characters straight on the issue of whether to take his meds or not.) It tells the story of two young people who meet while locked up in a psych ward. Like many such relationships, there is a wind storm of shared stimulation that transcends sex and common love.
They are bad for each other. They sneak down into the basement of the ward in the middle of the night to talk, write, and make art together. This nightly rendezvous makes them wildly orbit each other, like two Kuiper Belt objects stuck in mutual admiration. When they are separated, they grow wilder at first, then crash into depression, their bodies digging out craters of morbid, energy-less, angst. When they get out, they stop their meds again and head out on an extended road tour which nearly costs them their lives when he drives their car into a river.
Both Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby deserve praise for their portrayals. She is the intellectual, the one who retains the ability to reason while he is the wildman who chants rap. It is Holme’s character who eventually sees the light; Kirby’s cannot resist bipolar disorder’s attraction. Griffin Dunne puts in a great performance as Kirby’s much maligned father whose bipolar wife abandoned the family. He and Holmes’ parents show part of the damage that unrestrained mania can have on families. Kay Jamison is a surprise appearance, as the goddess to who Kirby and Holmes turn when they must confront their mania. It is clear who understood Jamison’s message better in this confrontation. Jamison is often portrayed as an apologist for medications by anti-psychiatrists, but here she makes the case that too much medication is a bad thing and cites her own experience.
Touched with Fire gets it right. Nowhere have I seen the excitement of mania so brilliantly exhibited. We’ve needed films like this just as we have needed the recent Infinitely Polar Bear and Homeland because they tell the truth about us and show that we are human. We are not Jasons — we are children of the light.
If you miss it in the theaters, rent the dvd.
I heard the song only once. It was the end of the quarter crunch at my college, and the computer center was crowded. The fact that we all had to go to a computer center with mainframes to get our work done, I know, dates me. I remember the song, or half remember it, partly because the tune was catchy, and the words just repetitive enough to be memorable, but also because the occasion was unusual. Many times I had listened to some other student sing and play guitar, in one or another living room or bedroom in student housing, or when the coffee house had an open mic night. Never before or since did I hear someone sing and play in the computer center, sitting right beside the terminal where we entered ourselves in the queue for computer time. As the queue was long, I got to listen to the whole song.
I don’t know whether it was a song by a professional artist, that I only heard the once, and can recover, if someone else happens to recognize the words I have remember, or whether it was a song composed by the student who sang it, perhaps now forgotten by nearly everyone else except the singer. I’ve half remembered both. There’s the song one of my college roommates loved, “Wake Me Up Gentle,” which I’ve recovered once I found someone else who knew it. But there’s also a snatch of lyrics that I still remember from a guy I knew in high school:
And it’s hey, hey, I’ve been in the night,
Looking for a brighter view of life.
I’ve been in the middle, when I should be on the side.
Time and again I’ve changed my aims,
And find myself on old St. James,
To see what I can salvage from what washes in the tide.
And there’s another that I half remember that was written by a college friend:
Leslie, can your guitar come out and play today?
It seems to me it gets a little lonely,
Sitting there in your chair.
Leslie, can your guitar come out and play?
This song might be one of those. It was, I would say, a passionately “one day at a time” song, and I am reminded of it often when someone says some version of that phrase. The first verse began, “If only I can make it through today,” and I remember some of the rhythm of the rest of the verse, but not the words, because a single hearing is rarely (only once, really) enough for me to learn a song. The second verse began, “If only I can make it through this week,” and the next line, perhaps, “Maybe then the future won’t look quite so bleak,” or something of the kind (that was definitely the right rhythm. And so it built up to the conclusion, “Still, I think I’ll try to make it through this life, if only I can make it through today.”
If anyone has ever heard of the song, and can fill in my memory, feel free to let me know. If no one else knows it, I have half a mind, someday, to write my own version of the rest of it, just so that, when it comes to mind, I can have a whole song running through my head rather than less than half a song.
I realized I haven’t blogged in about a month. Where have I been?
I discovered an app called periscope. It lets you live stream and talk and others can type and chat. The few people who have came to my “scopes” are pretty shy, so I feel like I am talking to myself, but it is fun.
In the news:
There was a recent study on marijuana use and health
Teen marijuana use not linked to later depression, lung cancer, other health problems, study finds
Study contradicts some prior marijuana research
“Chronic marijuana use by teenage boys does not appear to be linked to later physical or mental health issues such as depression, psychotic symptoms or asthma, according to a new study.”
One of the researchers stated:
“We wanted to help inform the debate about legalization of marijuana, but it’s a very complicated issue and one study should not be taken in isolation,” Bechtold said.
MentalHealthJustice.net (has twitter and facebook pages) is collecting videos of people’s stories with mental illness.. They can be about 3-5 minutes
Janet Frame endured eight years as a mental patient before she went on to become the poet laureate of New Zealand. She was misdiagnosed. While she was incarcerated she underwent electro-convulsive therapy without anesthesia and was lined up for a lobotomy until her doctor learned that she had won a prestigious literary prize and took her off the list. This movie is the story of three periods in her life. Her time in a mental hospital is the second.
I would guess that social anxiety and, perhaps, depression were the demons that afflicted Frame. She would hide in corners. She failed at her work as a teacher. When two of her sisters died, she crashed into a frozen despair.
If Angel at My Table is accurate, Frame was most certainly not schizophrenic. An early scene in the second part of the film shows her riding to the hospital in a car with two women who are severely impaired by their illnesses. She stands out as unafflicted by whatever is troubling her fellow passengers. Things were done to her while she was in the hospital just because they were the latest treatment. Her mother desperately signed the papers for the lobotomy: if Frame had been trapped in a mindless system, we would have lost a great author. Fortunately, a doctor noticed in time and helped her win her release.
I never know whether or not to open links to articles on how to deal with someone like me. I have problems with it from the get go. I am an individual, not one size fits all. I feel like i am being talked about without my input.
I recently braved reading:
4 Ways to Find Out If Your Partner Is Using Their Depression as an Excuse for Controlling Behavior
She then lists four things controlling/manipulative people sometimes do. You don’t have to have depression to do any of these things:
Do They Make You Spend All of Your Time with Them?
Do They Threaten Suicide When You Have Disagreements?
Do They Make You Feel Responsible for Their Mental Health?
Do They Trivialize Your Problems in Comparison to Theirs?
Keeping you to themselves is common in abusive relationships
I had an ex-boyfriend with no diagnosis threaten to commit suicide if I didn’t get back together with him
Many co-dependent partners worry their partner won’t be okay if they leave.
I don’t think trivializing others problems is solely something done by the mentally ill
I really don’t like the title or premise of this article. It could just be signs you are in a controlling/abusive relationship.
I do think there are some topics in this article that could be good for family members.
We are taught to take all mentions of suicide seriously. But, what do you do if it seems manipulative? I don’t know and that would be more meaningful for me.
How do you leave someone with a mental illness (or other condition) when you worry about how they will be on their own?
I felt the author used a provocative title/subject to grab readers
I identified with the wife and mother. Partly because she was, like me, the wife of a man with bipolar disorder. But also because she was the kind of person I think of myself as being, a bright, competent woman who pulls things together to be the provider for her family. Any time I doubt my other wifely abilities, I can tell myself that, after all, I’ve done pretty well for us as the family breadwinner.
For the mother (played by Zoe Saldana) in Infinitely Polar Bear, though, providing for her family means trusting her chaotic, bipolar husband (“totally polar bear,” as his younger daughter describes him) can pull it together to care for their two daughters while she relocates from Boston to NYC to get the education she’ll need to provide a better life for her family.
As that bipolar husband, Mark Ruffalo shines, displaying an entirely believable mix of chaos, love, and hard work as a father pulled toward sanity by the need to keep it together (take the Lithium, put away the booze) for his two daughters. His enthusiasms and his battle with household clutter did remind me of my husband.
But this is a movie that focuses, not on the journey of the patient, but that of the whole family. You can see the wife, on her last reserve of patience as she gets her husband’s ecstatic 3am phone call announcing that he has completed a costume for his daughter, and realizes that he is manic again. And you can see her in warmer moments when she remembers why she loved him in the first place. And you can see his daughters’ loving but often embarrassed relationship with their father, as the film honors the way he pulls himself together to be the best father he possibly can without sugarcoating the experience of being the child who wonders, if I move away from dad, will he still take his Lithium?
On the whole, it’s an upbeat story, one in which love does triumph and dad does come through when he’s needed. And one I’d definitely recommend.