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.
When I am manic, I get things done. That is as long as I am not running to the top of the inside stairs and down again seeking something that I cannot remember. Then it is The Great Eater of Time. My depression helps me to see what projects I have taken up that are pointless wastes like the schemes of making a million quickly by stuffing envelopes at home. I can detect what is rigged: I will not spend hours trying to win games that cannot be won or spend money on hobbies that I will never get around to finishing. I have ships in a bottle that I have not pulled the rigging up. I bought these in hypomania.
Depression has a wisdom about it, bitter at times, with a predictive power and insight into the motives of some men and women. I do not trust certain people when I am in depression: This often proves a smart thing.
Then there is the stillness that comes, a beautiful blue film that falls gently over my consciousness calling for silence and appreciation of the moment. If I shut down the voices that hector me for a moment, I find the peace that the racing thoughts of mania do not permit. I may feel fatigued, but I am not agitated as I am in a mixed state. Depression is a better place in the mind than mania or the vicious mixed state.
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.
When one takes aim at a system of privilege, some jump to the conclusion that you hate the people who stand to gain from that system and have no compassion for their struggles. Caregivers can make it hard on themselves and on the patient. They give twenty four hours a day seven days a week looking after people in severe episode. They neglect their own health. They grow weary and cross from all their over-involvement.
Our DBSA chapter feels that caregivers need their own place where they can talk about their issues and we have provided one. We do not tell them what they can and can’t talk about. We do not ask them to support certain laws or advocate for changes that they do not want. We don’t have a patient monitor the group to be sure that they act according to some unbearable standard of political correctness — people need to vent. We shelter them from people who may have an ax to grind (I have heard about other groups where caregivers were roasted over hot coals by angry patients) and who don’t appreciate how hard it is. We encourage them to talk to peers who know what it is like. We always ask them how they are feeling when they come to our patient-family support groups, reminding them that they, too, are important. We feel that their mental and physical health is as important as the patient’s and we tell them so.
I’ve been hit with some innuendo from some online caregivers who imply that I don’t care about the mentally ill. What I believe they are really saying is that I don’t care about caregivers. I do. It aches when I see a caregiver overburdened and I do my best to relieve that. Many have been the times when I have had a couple in a group and told the patient that she or he needs to realize that her or his manic state of mind is creating an extremely stressful environment for her or his spouse. How does this make me a foe of caregivers? I think much of the misapprehension stems from my opposition to Murphy’s Law, which I have explained at length elsewhere. It scares caregivers to hear me talk about sane privilege– just like it scares white people when we are talking about black people — where we who live with mental illness are left out of decisions about our treatment.
A few months ago, a spokesperson for a “mental health advocacy organization” likened support groups to appendectomy patients performing surgery on one another. I said nothing at the time, but the remark and all the errors it entails have led me to consider how my support groups help me.
The claim that support groups seek to replace medical treatment is erroneous. DBSA South Orange County, like many other support groups of its kind, has issued a disclaimer indicating that our peer-run support groups are no substitute for a doctor’s care. This fact by itself defeats the glib assertion made above. We don’t try to cure people of their depression or their bipolar disorder. There are people with better skills for doing that than we.
What we offer is a safe place where people can talk about their struggles with the illness. Doctors and therapists know how to treat, but they don’t know what it is like to undergo treatment. They don’t encounter stigma. They have not experienced the catastrophic loss of community that can happen when one is diagnosed with a mental illness, when friends and family members run away.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes I don’t notice changes in myself. They come on gradually. I don’t think of them until someone mentions it.
People have been telling me for awhile that I seem less anxious. I have been able to give presentations, start conversations, some things that might not seem like much but have been hard for me in the past. I even took part in a podcast once.
I was telling my therapist that I have had trouble with some physical things like fingerprinting (for work) or mammograms where they have to position you. I get tense and the more I am told to relax the worse it gets. Today. I had a mammogram. i warned the woman that I have had trouble in the past, but 1, 2 3 she was able to easily take the pictures.
I also told my therapist I have these brief periods when I feel at peace, happy out of the blue. She thinks I am finally starting to come out of a depression. That my meds are working on anxiety and depression. I really hope so.