You moved in when I was very young, shoved me into your corner, made me cry and when I cried you caused the kids to laugh at me, taunt me saying “Don’t cry Joel.” Sister Annette told me to buck up, to learn to be a man and hold the tears back. Damn you and damn her. I couldn’t say it at the time. Two years of living under the threat of her ruler, but the taunts were worse, hurt worse. The more they called me names, you and my parents reasoned, the stronger I would become but this practice was flawed. I played alone or with other losers. My mother criticized my choice of friends, calling them slow, hinting that they were retarded. Even among them I lived in a shell and the kids continued to wear at my head, trying to produce the streams of salt water they loved so much to see. I don’t know what brought you to make a home in my head. I don’t know why you made me sensitive to the twist in their voices. Was it the arrival of my two cousins who stayed for a year? If it was, you stayed beyond a year, brought me suffering. I looked at Jesus and wondered what was worse: crucifixion or this hell I was going through? If I was on the cross with Him, it was an absurdity.
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.
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.
Travel is one of the greatest dangers facing someone with bipolar disorder. The majority of medical evacuations from overseas happen when someone enters a manic or a psychotic state. I am no stranger to these issues: I have noticed that when I cross the country to attend DBSA conventions, the combination of the excitement of the convention and the messing up of my sleep cycles — especially when I am compelled to wake up earlier — often conspire to pushing me into a slightly manic and obnoxious state.
So when we made plans to visit my brother-in-law in Senegal, I took the time to confer with all my doctors but especially my GP and my psychiatrist. In addition to the necessary shots such as typhoid and yellow fever, we bought medical evacuation insurance for me. I also discussed my plans at length with my psychiatrist, particularly since I would find myself not merely in one different timezone, but four — Salt Lake City, Paris, London, and Dakar. Together, we hatched out a plan which involved my taking an extra tablet of carbamazepine while I was gone. Two days before my departure, I began taking the increased dose — two first thing in the morning, one with dinner, and one at bedtime.
Not even the hint of mania afflicted me. I kept my temper, didn’t laugh too much, kept my bearings, and didn’t engage in compulsive spending. We stuck to our plan in London and Paris, not doing too much in a day and always discussing our expenses as we went along.
When I came back, I felt so good on the new dose — who in their right mind misses the rages? — I asked my psychiatrist if I could stay at that dose. She let me under the condition that my drug and white blood cell levels were closely monitored at least in the beginning to be sure that they didn’t destabilize me. Four months after my trip, I continue to do well.
If you live with bipolar disorder, you can learn this from my trip. First, talk to your psychiatrist and consider raising your dosages of your mood stabilizer. Second, take pains to adjust your sleeping schedule. For two weeks before I left, I starting setting my going to bed time an hour ahead of when I usually woke until I was getting up at Paris time, about mid-afternoon. When I arrived at Orly, I felt fine. When we arrived in London that evening, I went right to sleep and woke up shortly after dawn. I wore a sleep mask and ear plugs to minimize disturbances. I used an alarm clock to wake myself and it worked. I jumped out of bed and I enjoyed each day. My regimen kept my mind stable. My sanity never wobbled.
People in mania are known for flights of fancy and the rapid association of ideas. Of all the forms of intelligence that we may possess, it is only the ability to recognize analogies and build associations that suffers when we go on mood stabilizers. I think it can be a mistake for outsiders to believe that this ability leads to wild, random, and unusable linkages in our mind. I find that my ability to write poetry — meaningful poetry — suffered after I started taking lithium; I lost insights. Of course, many other more negative traits like my irritability, grandiosity, and racing thoughts disappeared so I consider it a net gain.
The things we bring back from our adventures in mania land aren’t all rubbish. Poets such as Shelley and Byron depended on their manic states to generate compelling material. Some scientists have conceived startling new concepts. Isaac Newton is a classic example of a maniac whose insights transformed the science of his day and enabled him to revolutionize mathematics with his invention of calculus. The trouble comes when we try to bring our insights back from the fine and private place of our sickness.
William Knowland’s Flatland — which was written to explain the difficulties inherent in Faith — presents a useful allegory for our struggle to explain what we have found. Imagine a two dimensional figure, say a square. Imagine that it is you. Your perceptions are limited to two dimensions, so while you can make out one dimensional figures such as lines and points, you cannot appreciate three dimensional ones. If you were one dimensional, squares would appear as lines to you. Angles and other aspects of the square would invisible.
I have been trying to discern if I have been in a low grade depression or not. It can be tough to recognize these borderlands. The signs can be subtle. While I do not have negative thoughts coming at me and trying to carry me off on the backs of lemmings flooding over a cliff, I have found it harder to complete tasks and sleep less than 11 hours a day. If I am not in a depression, I am very near one, I think.
Two things in particular seem to be helping at this point. The first is my Vyvanse. The second is exercise. Vyvanse is known for raising people out of funks. Exercise is a remedy that I have used for a long time. But it only helps when I am gasping at the surface of that great ocean of drowning. So if I am down, it is not very far.
******TRIGGER WARNING: Anorexia somewhat and EXTREMELY GRAPHIC SELF HARM******
DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE EASILY TRIGGERED BY SELF HARM ESPECIALLY IN GRAPHIC DETAIL.
You have been warned.
This is probably the single most important story in my life. It led to a cascade of events: hospitalization, my correct diagnosis of bipolar, getting kicked out of school, and finally getting the real help I needed.
It was 6am when I finally asked my ex-boyfriend for my knife back. We aren’t on speaking terms and we are clear that we can never be. We’re either together or not. And together is awful, dangerous, addicting, full of love, full of hate.
Today I see him to get it back, so I stress out about it of course. I overthink what I will wear. I felt the need to show him how much my appearance has changed, how much I have changed. Both of which are major improvements.
Should I go laid back in my cute dorm-room college girl get up all from Victoria’s Secret? Or should I go with my traditional assemble which people describe as “edgy” because its boots and leather jackets and what not?
It has been bothering me for a few years now. The surge in young teens who seem absorbed in mental illness.
I first noticed it after I’d had my iphone for a while. Probably over a year after (I was 18 when I got it). I’d been diagnosed when i was 17, and was probably 19 when I noticed. I was on instagram when I got the random desire to see if there were posts about mental illness on there.
And what I saw horrified me.
Kids as young as 12 were posting horrible photos. Typically it was just the cliche depressed quotes over and over again. But there were also photos of other things… there was “thinspiration” where people would post skinny girls who were their “goal” look in terms of thinness. And then there was the pencil test to determine if you really are thin or not, so people posted pictures of those. And pictures of thigh gaps. But I can’t relate to eating disorders, never had one and don’t think I ever will. Then there were ones that flooded my search and were even triggering to me- self harm photos. They were everywhere. I was horrified.
A few weeks ago, I took a survey by Marya Hornbacher, author of Madness: A Bipolar Life, which probed my feelings about mental illness. She has written back with more questions. Here they are with my answers:
Do you consider mental illness a chronic physical disease? Please explain your response.
There’s no other explanation for it. I have tried willing myself into better moods or trying to stop my impulsiveness, but they were just too massive a problem for mere force of mind. It was like trying to prevent my cold from generating mucous or insisting that my pancreas produce more insulin. I tried, believe me, I tried to stop the tidal wave of emotions that consumed me but they kept rolling over me and I drowned. When I stopped seeing it as a character flaw and began treating it as a disease of my brain, I got on medications. While my nasty habits didn’t vanish overnight, the moods that drove them achieved a halcyon state in which I was not thwarted in my efforts to change. Just as my heart medications lowered my blood pressure, so, too, my mood stabilizers calmed me.
I have to rebut these when they are said by family members, fellow patients, and random members of the public. Every one of us who lives with the condition has heard some if not all of these time and again. You might even have a few of your own to add. You may note that I don’t include “It’s all in your head” (though the issue of faking is covered below). It is all in my head! Bipolar disorder is an organic brain dysfunction and the brain resides inside my skull. So I don’t count that a myth, just a misapprehension of the truth.
Here are my twelve most common myths:
Bipolar disorder is just something psychiatrists made up so that they can get rich.
Not too long ago, a Fox Radio commentator told a caller that she had been duped by her psychiatrist. They just made it up to get your money, he told her. She begged to differ but he was having none of it. Even when he was forced by his employer to apologize, he equivocated.
There are a few things wrong with this belief. The first any person with bipolar disorder can tell you: the highs, the lows, the paranoia, the hallucinations, and the delusions are all too real. Physicians have observed the disease in patients since the time of Hippocrates. And patients have suffered, suffered mightily.