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.
This is the text of a speech I delivered on September 22, 2016
Twenty two years ago, when I was almost thirty six, I woke up one morning and said “Lynn, I’m sick.”. I had been in bed for weeks. I’d lost my appetite. We made an appointment with the psychiatric department at Kaiser Redwood City and by the end of the following week I was on Prozac.
Prozac was amazing stuff: I was cured the next day. My psychiatrist was surprised but because i had never told him about my other symptoms — the irritability, the paranoia, the rapid speech, that time in college when i had gone up to San Francisco with my girlfriend and come back with my girlfriend and they were two different people — he let things be. In time, our insurance changed, so I came under the care of a nice gentleman in Menlo Park who also had no clue about my other symptoms so he made no changes. Then we moved down here and I found a new psychiatrist who also made no changes because I never told her about my other symptoms either.
Then one day the Prozac stopped working, so she changed me over to Effexor. I found myself in a burning darkness. Two things happened. First, an editor was taking forever to get back to me on a story. Second, I overheard Lynn saying something about me to her sister. My irritability merged with my despair. I went for a walk in Whiting Ranch, called a friend — who found my anxiety funny for some reason. So I texted my last will and testament to Lynn, making special note to leave some possessions of my father to my nephew and asking her to be sure to be sure to get my poetry published after my death. Then I sat down on a sycamore log, studied my veins, and prepared to bread my glasses.
My cell phone rang. It was my psychiatrist. “Are you all right?”.
“No,” I whimpered. She told me to go down to South Coast Medical Center. Lynn picked me up and drove me to Laguna Beach
After spending several hours in the emergency room getting my chest x-rayed because I was wheezing, they took me down to the behavioral unit where I left Lynn at the door. They took away my shoelaces and my glasses, then showed me my room.
I came out after an hour. “I am diabetic,” I yelled. “I need my blood sugar medicine!” I can only imagine what was going through their minds — “this guy was brought here because he was preparing to commit suicide and now he wants the medicine her takes to keep himself alive” — but I am sure they took careful notes.
The next day when i went to group i was the happiest person there. Everyone was miserable except for me who was laughing at the fact that he had attempted suicide and lived to tell about it.
After group, I waited around until I was called into a consulting room. A psychiatrist joined me there. He took a few minutes to read over the notes the ER doctor and the nurses had made. Then he looked at me and asked in a very gentle voice “Had anyone ever told you that you were bipolar?”
And that is when my recovery began.
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.
I think it is important to make a separation between ourselves and the disease. This, I think, is a state of mind more than anything else. I give mine a name — The Beast. Sometimes The Beast is ravenous and chews on my rib cage; other times it is rabid and tears out the sinews of my self control. I do my best to tame The Beast and part of that taming is taking my meds. But The Beast is only part of what makes me, me. I feel that The Beast, properly leashed, is part of the “essential and precious character” of my person, but not the only one to be acknowledged, reviled, or celebrated.
Hello all, this is drunk Quinn. But don’t discount me now- I have some things to say and being drunk shouldn’t turn you away. I want to explain myself, my drug use and bipolarity. Specifically I want to discuss self control.
There are two opposing parts of me. It is slightly difficult to explain. I am both very in control of myself and very out of control. I am incredibly impulsive, I can’t stop myself in many situations, but if there is one thing I cannot stress enough is that I know exactly what is happening and the consequences of it.
Tonight I went out drinking with my friends. I was essentially a “third wheel” but this is my little group of friends- just the three of us. I don’t have any friends I hang out regularly with until I met them. I talk to a few people but we never hang out. These friends I actually hang out with. And tonight, we went drinking at this pub.
I had been there before. I had to drive and I had class early the next morning. I figured just one drink would be fine. I was wrong. After they closed I had to sit in my car for quite a while until I was “safe” to drive. I had one drink, a Mai Tai, and I was gone. It is rare that I get that drunk. I learned though. That drink at that pub will do a number on me.
Many people in bipolar support groups counsel the newly diagnosed not to feel shame for things they did while they were in episode: it was the disease that did it, not them is the reasoning. This cleaving of the self, I think, does not help us get a handle on the illness and its effects on others in our life. In fact, it strikes me as downright irresponsible: you never have to make amends for anything you did.
Denial of the damage we cause is linked to this exculpation due to mania. Some say that making amends has nothing to do with apologizing. Warped logic causes it to mean nothing more than admitting to yourself what you did without making restitution or apology to those we harmed while addicted or in the throes of mental illness. I find this cheap recovery and I am suspicious of anyone who flaunts it.
Recovery from bipolar disorder is almost like a religion or an ethical system. Certain devotions must be part of our lives if we are to recover our balance.
- I shall hold myself accountable for all works of my body and my mind including those which I wreak when I am in episode.
It is important, I feel, not to separate the illness from ourselves. We did the things that happened while we were in episode. There was no second soul seizing control of our bodies. Our mind is a stream that flows continuously, sometimes over rough ground, sometimes in placid stretches, and sometimes over cliffs. We own all these states of our being.
Everyone seems to have a friend who has been helped by medical marijuana. When my wife had chemotherapy, we had it as a backup in case the anti-nausea drugs did not work for her. Glaucoma is a disease with medical research backing the effectiveness of medical marijuana. But the medical marijuana industry goes beyond what is proven by science. It welcomes those who use it for many other diagnoses despite the absence of peer review studies. In other words, if you can get a doctor or a nurse practitioner to write you a script, you can get high legally for any disease you can name. And the worst of the lies medical marijuana prescribers and retailers let fly is the lie that marijuana helps the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Here is my full disclosure: First, I do not oppose legalization of marijuana provided it is regulated at least as well as alcohol. There need to be laws governing its sale to minors, bans against driving under the influence, etc. But other than that, I have no problem with seeing it available as a leisure drug. There’s considerable evidence that the liquor industry does not want this, but alcohol is worse than cannabis in some regards. Second, I have smoked marijuana. Here is where my strong feelings about the subject come from. When I was in college, I was talked into toking by my peers. They did not force it down my throat, they did not blow smoke into my lungs, they did not deceive me in the sense that they told me things that they knew were not true. I started using the drug by my own choice.