Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bipolar Disorder - What a Long, Strange Trip it's Been!

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 one's own private hell realm.

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 fine 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 condition.

To my complete shock I saw that I was right on track for the worst of it - note my commentary besides each possibility!  And I'm not alone -- there are an  extraordinary number of people in our country suffering silently until they harm themselves or others -- including our veterans --  and the current political movement to slash the Government safety net for our countrymen (after protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 %) 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! no more party invitations!)
  • becoming socially isolated                (oh LORD yes)
  • missing work and getting fired, or missing school and getting expelled;  (first breakdown in college; had to quit)
  • having massive financial problems;   (yes, yes, yes - no heat, no money for mortgages, even food)
  • becoming dependent on underfunded government assistance; (we're trying!;postID=7892602939108406101trying!)
  • developing or worsening a substance abuse problem            (in the sixties)
  • winding up in jail                           (NEVER)
  • and becoming homeless and living on the street.   (barely escaped - thanks to my family)
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 "manic depression" and it WAS serious and has ruled big chunks of my life in the worst possible way.  As I said earlier, there are hundreds of thousands of us out there walking around suffering quietly (or not!) and horribly without a clue.  If you think ANY of this has any relevance for you or anyone that you love, look into it, and do some basic research.  

You might discover things about yourself or a family member that resonate with you, and you could be able to be of immense service to that person.  You could save a life.  Life CAN be better, though it might not feel like it's possible.  With bipolar there is a natural beginning, middle and end to the cycle, which can sometimes take years.

Mental illness is a dangerous condition because you cannot escape your brain waves, and those brain waves can be doing all sorts of negative things, causing you to hear voices, feel paranoid, want to die -- it's such an "in the closet" sort of illness,  and your reality becomes based on faulty wiring, so to speak.

Fortunately modern medicine has come up with a host of different, more sophisticated drugs for those living with mental conditions, and I urge you -- if you or someone you know is moody, secretive, despondent -- there are many signs -- see if you can get some dialogue going.  Somebody might need some professional help.  No stigma, no shame -- just help.

I would also argue that a combination of deep Pranayama -- ancient Hindu breathing practices to oxygenate the brain -- combined with meditation does help.  However I would also admit that my capacity to engage those practices ebbs and flows depending on my capacity for discipline -- which ebbs and flows too!
I've been thinking about this sort of thing lately as Patrick and I have thrown ourselves into the Buckelew Center in Marin for people with brain disorders, learning disabilities, etc.  It's quite something, really, to find yourself dealing withs a great tonic for false pride, let me tell you!  But - - I've got a feeling I've found a place where I can be of real service to real people, and I've been lonely too long.  It's time to take the thorn out of my own foot -- to allow myself to be healed -- and get back on the Path.  Love to you all from the 'wood.