…living with Manic Depression takes a tremendous amount of balls…
I heartily agree.
Considering the number of blog posts and articles I’ve read over the years, I’ve found that while some were from members of the Psychological community, mostly what I came across were cries from the brave, afflicted souls reaching out to connect -- to be heard while struggling to tread water in the tidal wave of what I consider to be the biggest run of bullshit that modern POP psychology has yet to offer. I am constantly horrified by what these poor people are put through in the name of “mental health.” The constant flow of experimental narcotics, well-intentioned but sadly misguided family members, selfish, unsupportive partners, uncompromising work environments, therapists who can barely grasp the concept of what you’re going through – the list goes on.
The bottom line here is, if you are Bi-polar, the deck is stacked greatly against you. Especially when you consider the paternalistic philosophy that is the keystone of psychiatry and unfortunately, the public perception at large, which is: “Persons with mental illness cannot make decisions on their own.” That can be true, but not always and not for everyone. And let’s be honest, if you are reading this, you are at least capable of surfing the internet, which makes you relatively high-functioning, ergo you are most likely not a legitimate candidate for much of what Psychiatry prescribes. So, after careful thought, I decided it was high time to take my turn at the pulpit and offer up a different view on what it is to live with Bipolar disorder.
So consider this other side of the coin then, a letter straight from the front lines…
Hi all. My name is DeROSAart and I’m emotionally disturbed.
Or, in lay terms, I’m an artist.
For most of my life, I thought that what and how I felt was normal like, this is how it is. Get a fucking grip, kid. I’d look around me – everyone else seemingly well adjusted and functional and think; “How do THEY deal with this shit? Why can’t I?? Is it supposed to be this hard???” My family was no help. They’d tell me to just get over it or change the subject or interrupt me by saying something stupid like: “You don’t know what real suffering is! Why, when I was your age blah, blah, blah…” leaving me feeling like a jerk for even opening my mouth. So, by the time I got to high school, I just stopped talking about it.
I sketched. I read anything about everything. I wrote letters to people I’d never meet, tie them to balloons and watch until they disappeared into the sky. I wrote short stories so I’d have something to draw. ANYTHING to drown out the incessant hum lurking just under the surface of my thinking. Racing or “intrusive” thoughts, they call it. Whatever it is or isn't, my head never shuts up and it was often a bit more than I could take.
At times, it’d get so loud that out of frustration I’d cry in the shower, holding my head, feeling like it might split open or, at other times, I’d just blast some hard-core punk or speed metal and scream myself horse. Years later, I’d discover that radio static, if I adjust the volume right, cancels it all out, granting me the sweet relief of actual and total silence. But until then, I did my best to keep myself distracted with as many art projects as possible.
For the most part, that’s still how I maintain.
At any rate, I had my art, I had my intellect and no one could ever take that from me. It’s how I got through high school, how I survived my rather unfortunate childhood and naturally, how I got into art school -- my ultimate goal.
The plan was to hit the ground running. I was working at a deli early mornings and doing classes from nine to nine Monday through Friday and working as a bouncer on weekends and sleeping on Sundays. Occasionally, I did an internship or some kind of independent study before, towards the end, taking a year and a half of pre-med (unofficially) just so I could get in front of a cadaver. I figured, if Michelangelo could do it, so could I. This would then give me a master’s tactile, one-on-one understanding of human anatomy, which was/is important because understanding and exploring the figure helps me understand people which allows me the chance to feel connected. All of this happened in four short years. I simply can’t imagine WHY I was so frustrated all the time or why, during that last year, I felt so overwhelmed...
Needless to say, at twenty four and within just days after graduation, it dawned on me that I hadn’t considered what to do AFTER art school. It was right then when my life caught up with me and everything came crashing down and I completely freaked out. It got so loud in my head and I was moving so fast that I thought if I didn’t do something quick, my brain would blow a synapse and start leaking out of my ears and I’d just drop dead right there on the street so, I checked myself into a crisis clinic.
Thus began nearly five years of my life that I will never get back.
I tried doing things by the book. “These are professionals,” I thought, “Surely they can help me.” So when they offered to medicate me, I didn’t argue, didn’t complain. I simply smiled and gratefully took my meds. Lots and lots and lots of meds that Psychology assured me would help me be just like everyone else. The way they talked, you’d think I’d stumbled into the Emerald freaking City. Truth is, the meds didn’t make my problems go away; they just made it so that I didn’t care about them anymore.
I don't care who you are or what you say -- THAT'S NOT HELPFULl!
I imagined myself strapped to a spinning wheel with psychiatrists blindly throwing pills at me like darts or knives, just to see what might happen. Well, as it turns out, the meds fix one issue by replacing it with another, so then they’d give me another pill to combat the new issue created by the first pill but then the two pills together would react and create yet ANOTHER issue that required..? Anyone..? Another damn pill!
For instance, I once took a combination of pills that evened me out, yes, but also gave me symptoms not unlike Parkinson’s disease. I’m told that if I had continued on this regimen, the shaking and twitching could have become permanent. How awesome is that? There were blackouts and lost time. Hallucinations and paranoia. I took Depakote, Lithium, Seraquil, Lamictal, Lorazapan… others I can’t recall… three times a day, every day. Literally THOUSANDS of pills passed through my body. My doses had to be constantly adjusted because my body’s natural sense of self-preservation kept adapting and fighting and it takes around two to four weeks to feel the full benefits of the medication which meant that for the most part, I was a slobbering, incoherent drugged out ZOMBIE.
Good job, Psychiatry.
I was drowning and everyone that came to watch kept throwing me bricks. I could barely hold down a job. I gained a ton of water weight, had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, was borderline diabetic and developed a stammer. I was a “danger to myself and others,” they’d tell me. I should go on permanent disability or look into assisted living or hey, how about electroshock?
Oh yeah, Electroshock. Can you believe they still do that barbaric shit?!? It’s called Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT by those who still think nuking your brain is a good idea. It was suggested to me during the second week of my third stint “on the ward” by the head psycho and quite frankly I feared for my life. He told me I had an equal shot at either (A.) being “even keel” for six months (the goal), (B.) getting stuck manic for six months which was unsettling because, as it happens, I have three to five levels of mania: “Life of the Party,” “Super Irritable Pissed off Guy,” "Mister Productive," "Captain Amazing" and “Tasmanian Devil on crack” or (C.) getting stuck in a life-threatening depression for six months. I didn't like my odds so I said; “You first, buddy.”
He didn't think I was very funny...
* I've since read a great deal of literature about this “treatment” and half of it seems to contradict the other half which tells me that someone, somewhere is trying to pull something. Admittedly, I am more inclined to believe those who refer to themselves as “shock survivors,” than members of the FDA looking to justify their income. To further back up my commentary and so you won’t think that I’m just completely talking out of my ass, the British medical journal -- Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, reported: “Until recently there appears to have been a general reluctance among psychiatrists to admit that ECT could cause memory or other cognitive problems that are severe, persistent and disabling.” it's on par with anti-depression medication that MAY cause suicidal thoughts. Can anyone else see how fucked up this is?
Seriously, if you are at all considering any sort of treatment, PLEASE -- do the research before making ANY decisions. *
Where was I? Oh, right. In the end, whether they did or did not help me, one thing was becoming very painfully clear – I couldn’t create anymore. As mentioned, I have racing, intensely intrusive thoughts that tie into the PTSD (unfortunate childhood, remember?) This means that I can think about ten things at once, clearly, all the time and at a thousand miles an hour.
I am SUCH a brilliant multi tasker!!
There’s always a show going on in my head like a filmstrip with no sound. I can see these images on the paper or board or whatever in front of me and the work comes. I can look at a problem – any kind, and find a solution without necessarily knowing how or why and trust that it’s right, because it always is -- but not while on meds. It’s a side effect that I suppose was never considered when the drug lords first started their marketing campaign, but remains what you’d call a “deal breaker” for me. When I would complain -- and believe you me, I complained, I was told that I would learn to adjust and that maybe there was something else I could do instead..?
Really? That's your solution, fuckface?? Find something else?
There IS nothing else because who I am and what I do are the SAME THING.
Five years. Gone. POOF.
I was suicidal only because the meds took away my ability to create art and with it my identity and personality. Not being able to create, in turn, took away my ability to emote so now and then, I would go numb and whenever that happened, I would cut myself… small gashes on my thighs, on my arms and across my chest… it was the only way to tell if I was still alive or not. And if I wasn’t, did that mean I was in Hell?
For quite some time I honestly thought I was.
Periodically, I would have what I considered a moment of clarity: a day or two when I felt like myself. This usually happened within the week before the Doctors would adjust my dosage or want to try out the new drug of the month. Anyway, it was during one such moment where I considered the following: Is this right? Am I being helped?? Is being so medicated that I can’t even identify what I’m feeling at any given time let alone express it – normal??? When it was pointed out to me that I had a learning disability, I wasn’t drugged. I was taught a new way to learn. I adapted. Well, how is “emoting acutely” any different? Why can’t I just be taught a new way feel? Also, the drugs were apparently killing my liver like I was drinking a fifth of alcohol a day, so there was that.
I didn’t have to think too long about what I should do and after a moment or two of making sure I was sure, I went into the bathroom and flushed my pills down the toilet – where they belong, told my therapist to go fuck himself and went cold turkey.
Now, I’ve never done hard drugs but I have seen those anti drug movies where the guy gets locked in a room and goes through a freaky violent withdrawal. That was me. I did that. For two weeks, I locked myself in my crappy apartment and shook and pissed and threw up and spazed out and collapsed into a fetal position and dropped like thirty five pounds and at the end, after the smoke cleared, I got up and found that -- for better or worse, I was me again.
Shortly after that, I did a couple of months of an out patient program I had heard about where I was mixed in with drug addicts and alcoholics and schizophrenics and learned the delicate art of self awareness. That’s the trick I’ve learned to living with and managing Bi-polar disorder – self awareness. No amount of pills or electro-induced seizures can do that for you. I started charting my moods, recognizing my “triggers” and figuring out what I was feeling while I was feeling it and why and then channeling my emotional peaks and valleys so that I could use them to my advantage.
Now when I get Manic, I get busy. I draw. I Paint. I write. I clean the house and check things off my to-do list. I go to the gym... I find this is especially helpful in taking the edge off my mania, making it WAY easier to manage. This is particularly true when the aforementioned mania is the irritable "pick a fight" kind and not the "life of the party" kind. As a manic, I get more done in an afternoon than most people do in a WEEK.
Disability my ass!
That unfortunately leaves depression, which – as I’m sure you can guess, is much, MUCH harder to deal with. What seems to work for me is getting out of the house. Be around people. Distraction is the key word here. I’ll ask myself; "What am I so upset about?" If there is no logical, reality based reason – because sometimes, depression is a valid and justifiable emotional response -- it must be chemical and therefore, irrelevant. So, I focus on something else. Anything that can keep me busy until the storm passes. And besides, one doesn’t get into the MOMA if one first can’t get out of bed, right?
This isn’t to say however, that I don’t have bad days, because I do. Most mornings, I wake up wondering if today is the day I finally lose my grip once and for all. It’s a nagging fear held-over from the numerous therapy sessions of what seems like a lifetime ago. What can I do but take it as it comes, one day at a time? In the meantime, between my scheduling and routines and my art and a healthy, consistent diet, I continue to function. No meds, no electro-induced seizures – just me, unfiltered and unashamed. A successful, professional, RESPECTED artist and educator. With an MFA. Winning.
True, it can be a little much. There are times where the only thing playing in my head is my bitch mother telling me again and again what a worthless piece of shit I am and how nothing I do is ever good enough. There are days when I believe that, and days when I don’t. Fortunately for me, I met and married a remarkable woman whose fortitude, patience and continued willingness to better understand what being Bipolar actually entails, inspires me to work a little harder at staying in the moment and keeping my focus.
How is that possible you ask?
Well. Not too long after I went "rogue," I happened across a study done on Omega Fatty Acids. They’re meant for your heart but they also benefit your general organ health, help clean the blood, lower your cholesterol, etc., etc. but what caught my attention was apparently the only side effect: “Natural mood stabilizer.”
I figured what the hell and immediately started taking three or five of those 3-6-9 complex jobbers a day, everyday and holy crap whaddya know, it fucking WORKS.
I still cycle, but my peaks and valleys stretch out into easier to navigate bumps and dips and thus far, I’m winning at kicking major ass consistently for close to 17 years.
Felicia: 1, mainstream psychology: 0.