During the last several years, as some of you know, I've been once again experimenting with plunging into the depths of hell known to those with jangled minds, depressions, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. Severe episodes such as I've just been through, a 3 year ordeal I'm amazed I survived, are like an endless wandering through a bardo, one's own private hell.
By the time an entire cycle has passed, a person who once seemed stable can be in a hopeless muddle, desperately seeking a way of of the confusion and fear that have dragged them into a chaotic mental state where it seems that there is No Exit.
What is mental illness? To quote Lana Castle from her excellent book Bipolar Disorder Demystified:
Mental Illness involves behaviors, thinking and perceptions that fall outside the bounds of what a particular culture or society perceives as "normal." They produce extreme moods and behaviors, confusion and chaos, faulty memories and perceptions, desperation and hopelessness.
Because mental illnesses also produce physical symptoms and other verifiable symptoms in the body, they're also clearly medical disorders. By bringing your brain to a normal state, treatment can greatly improve your life."
As you might imagine, I was very happy to hear that my life might be improved, as I was about to be swept out of my home along with yesterday's (and the last 26 year's) trash -- and me with no logical brain. Late in life I have come to recognize that having an untreated and unrecognized mental illness can add a lot of spice to one's life -- if you really, really like your life dramatic and HARD.
I don't, but it's been that way anyway. I've been reading more mental health literature when I'm not gnawing my fingernails and wondering what to do with my particular situation. Logic is not my friend. When I was skimming through Ms. Castle's book, I noted a list of horrible things that can happen to you if you wander around with an untreated mental illness (there are a shocking number of people in our country doing just that, and the current political movement to slash the Government safety net for our brethren will only make matters worse). These risks include, and once again I quote from Ms. Castle:
- having your spouse or significant other get fed up and leave you; (not yet!)
- having your family disown you; (many family breaks; I am quick to stomp off in a huff)
- having your friends desert you; (my mate and I feel toxic-unclean-no fun)
- becoming socially isolated (oh LORD yes)
- missing work and getting fired, or missing school and getting expelled; (disabled can't work)
- having massive financial problems; (yes, yes, yes - no heat, no money for mortgages)
- becoming dependent on underfunded government assistance; (we're trying!)
- developing or worsening a substance abuse problem (I did that in the sixties)
- winding up in jail; and (NEVER)
- becoming homeless and living on the street. (a few steps away)
Thanks, Ms. Castle, for painting that very true-to-life picture for what can await those who never quite grasp that there's something wrong with them, and it's not their fault! For so many years I didn't have a clue, even with a living breathing diagnosis in 1988 of "familial bipolar disorder" I didn't GET it. I remember thinking -- "well, it's not like it's 'manic depression' or anything serious!!"
But it WAS serious and has ruled big chunks of my life in the worst possible way. There are a lot of us out there -- walking around without a clue. If you think ANY of this has any relevance for you, do some reading, get out and talk to some people. Life CAN be better.