Marya Hornbacher Again

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.

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The Progress of My ADD Treatment

Diagnoses come to me long after the illnesses have wrecked my life. I received the label of “Attention Deficit Disorder” a few months back when I asked to be evaluated for it. My psychologist passed the information on to my psychiatrist who put me on Vyvanse.

I like to say that my mood-stabilizers put down a floor that allowed me to put up a house based on healthy changes in my life. Vyvanse created doors and windows that let air and light into the rooms.

The effect of the medication was apparent on the first day. I accomplished many tasks that I had been putting off and kept the motivation going for the rest of the week. When I started running out of things, I looked around the condo and found others to do. I compiled a list of future projects.

One by one, I checked them off and added more.

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Twelve Myths About Bipolar Disorder

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.

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Review: Rethinking Positive Thinking

Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation by Gabriele Oettingen

I don’t know how many times I have listened to people in support groups declare that they have decided to apply positive thinking to their lives and then watched them crash and burn. People declare all kinds of objectives for their affirmations. They will lose weight. They will master their drug problem. They will control their anger. They will grow rich. Money will come to them without effort. They will find a millionaire and marry him. They will find a fabulous new job and leave all the cares of the old one behind them. Some goals are realistic. Others are simply fantastic.

Studies show that plain old positive thinking drags people into a depressive rut. Oettingen cites the example of her work examining the attitudes of East Germans versus West Germans. East Germans spend a lot of time thinking positively. They see themselves as rich, as coming into opportunities of a lifetime which change their life situation for the better. But they still end up at bars trying to drink their melancholy away, and they never get anywhere with these plans. West Germans set reasonable objectives, put in the work, and succeed. Even though their goals are less grandiose, they are happier than their former Communist counterparts.

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Random story time!

One day an incident between my mom and I sparked something like mania in me.

I was offended that she still felt she had control over me, so I was determined to move out. And not just move out, but completely erase any trace of me in the house. I wanted my bedroom to become a guest room, so that there was no returning.

In that time I spent hours cleaning my room, throwing anything and everything out that wasn’t necessary. I got rid of a lot of junk, which was good in the long run. But I also knew I’d have to get a job to support myself since I knew my parents wouldn’t pay for an apartment- and I didn’t want them to either.

I went out shopping for clothes to wear to interviews. I did end up buying a very nice outfit- which was another good thing because I did end up wearing it to an interview that got me a job (months later).

Another weird thing I did was completely shut everybody out of my life. I told my then-boyfriend that I couldn’t talk to him at all. I didn’t contact anybody, I barely spoke to my parents. I was in auto pilot.

I tore down half my posters, only half because I was manic. I was in this… trance. Where everything I did was to move out and distance myself from my parents.

This phase lasted about a week before I suddenly became very tired and realized I wasn’t capable of supporting myself and going through college at the same time.

It was an interesting week, I’ve never had a similar phase. It did end up with good things- cleaner room, clothes for a job interview.

But it also left things half done- like the posters that took me months before I put new ones up. This phase was about a year and a half ago, at least (I don’t remember exactly when, it must have been when my school suspended me because I didn’t have any school obligations keeping me from my task). And it is only now that I threw out one of the posters I torn down.

I just remember the productivity was through the roof and then it collapsed all at once.

I guess I’m remembering this because I’ve been cleaning my room. And also because I kind of want to move out again… but I know there’s no way that’ll happen anytime soon. It won’t happen for years. And plus, when I did live alone, it was a bad time for me. I would talk to myself, which is understandable but it disturbed me a little. It was just weird and I realize that it’s good I’m not alone. I need people around to keep me in check. If my boyfriend and I broke up, I’d be able to go back to cutting. If I lived alone, it might turn into a very very severe problem again. I know I’d be drinking a lot, maybe abusing my prescriptions more than usual.

I’m in a good situation right now and I need to stick with it. I just wish that my life was different in some ways.