mental illness issues
(timeless thoughts from a psych patient)
It is a stupid, cyclical life that I lead. I just keep going round and round the insanity-go-round, the mood-go-round, the crazy-go-round. It’s said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Welcome to my life.
One of the truly horrible things about a lifetime of bipolar, hypomania, depression and mental illness is that you’re always left wondering, is this depression the last depression? Is this my brain and my mind’s breaking point? Is this the depression I end with suicide?
Others Wonder if This is the Time You End Depression with Suicide
And worse, people around you, in idle moments, might wonder if this the last time they’ll have to hear you sobbing on the phone. Is this the last time they see your depression? Is this the last time they have to be scared for you?
Ah yes, a mental illness reality that is a treat for everyone.
I do wonder about the depression that leads to suicide. I don’t tell anyone I wonder about this, and if they ask, I tell them not to worry (and they shouldn’t, there’s no point) and deftly assuage their concerns. I can do assuage fears; it’s one of my powers. If I did, in fact, kill myself tomorrow their worry today would have done nothing other than ruin their dinner. No need to do that.
The Idea of a Last Depression Troubles Me
And still, I find the idea of the last depression and the suicide troubling.[push]There is still some vague hope that refuses to die that I might actually do something useful with my existence. OK, I admit, it’s unlikely, like I said, it’s a vague hope. (Yes, I am aware that I’m useful here and there, but somehow between the crazy and the crazy meds, nothing feels meaningful.)[/push]
There really is no logical reason to stay alive, other than to say, perhaps, there will be plenty of time to be dead later, so there’s no point in speed up the process any.
There is a biological trait that all humans have, the desire to stay alive. Self-preservation, and then of course procreation, is the drive of all life. This is a biological necessity, obviously. Suicide is like a 12-car pile-up during the drive.
I mean if I plunked a bunch of life forms on a planet, I would make sure they had a vested interest in staying there too. After all, I did go to all the bother of putting them there in the first place.[pull]Yes, I’m aware people are built to prolong life, not to end life. It’s instinctual.[/pull]
Suicide is the opposite of this driving force, of our instincts.
(Of course, murder is pretty opposite too, and people do that all over the place.)
My Instincts Don’t Want Me To Die
This explains my illogical hesitation.
But people defy biological urges all the time. In fact, it’s pretty much what a society is designed to do. So even though surviving might be the most ingrained biological imperative, it certainly can be ignored. And no one ignores a biological imperative like me. I left my humanity in my other lifetime.
If you’re feeling like you might hurt yourself get help now. You are not alone. It gets better.
Author’s note: This is a piece of writing. Not to worry.
People with a mental illness feel alone.
Depression makes you feel alone. Depression makes you feel like you’re the only person in the world that feels the pain and sadness that you do. Depression brings about negative spirals of thinking that convinces you that there is only darkness, nothingness and that you are utterly alone in the world. This loneliness is a symptom of depression.
Bipolar makes you feel alone too. Bipolar makes you think you are alone because no one else experiences the highs of mania and the lows of depression. Then there’s loneliness with schizophrenia thanks to the rest of the world unfairly thinking you are violent and dangerous. And there’s dissociative identity disorder convincing you that you are alone and that no one on the planet is as “crazy” as you.
In short, mental illness makes you feel alone and like there is no one else like you in the world.
Last week I wrote an article on Breaking Bipolar at HealthyPlace on what it’s like to be considered a “high-functioning” bipolar. On how somehow this convinces people I’m not really sick. On how lonely and exhausting it is to fake normalcy at work, to fake normalcy socially, to fake normalcy out in the world. This behavior allows me to fake a life, and work, and communicate, and to live in spite of the fact that I am shattered the moment I walk through my apartment door. “High-function” should be renamed to “High-Acting-Function”. (The Academy can simply mail the Oscar to my house.)
And in response to this article I’ve received many comments about feeling alone that are just like this blog comment:
“thank you thank you thank you. You put into words what I have been trying to think out loud for decades.”
And then there is this blog comment:
“[snip]It’s comforting to hear that I’m not alone in this. I’ve been feeling like a freak for years. Thank you.”
Writings about Mental Illness Remind People They Aren’t Alone
The comments above are actually ones I get from people all the time. I take great pride that my writing is able to affect people in this way. If all my writing ever does is help people realize that they are not alone, that they are like so many, that there are thousands of us out there, that they are not “freaks,” then my writing is worth it.
Human beings feel like freaks. Human beings feel alone.
Every teenager in the world, right now, feels like a freak. Every one of them feels alone. Every one of them feels like they are unique and no one understands their pain. (Teenagers are just like that; remember?) There is something about the human condition that convinces us we are alone, at least, when we’re teenagers. I have found that even those who talk about mental illness have a hard time truly expressing what it is to have their mental illness. It isn’t their fault. Their brain is sick. And they need their brain to express themselves. It’s a catch-22.
But when we grow up we come to learn that there are many people like us. Hoards of them. We learn we are not alone. There are people like us everywhere. Unfortunately people with a mental illness often do not have this experience. People with a mental illness often do not know another person with a mental illness as no one wants to talk about having a mental illness. No one wants to talk about being alone with depression or bipolar.
People with Mental Illness are not Alone
It doesn’t matter if you’re depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic, or anything else – I can guarantee to you with all the certainty that tomorrow the sun will rise, that you are not alone. All the scary feelings of mental illness are the same feelings that someone else with a mental illness has too.
- People think they are alone because they self-harm – many people self-harm. I have the scars to prove it.
- People think they are alone because they are suicidal – many people feel suicidal at one time and get through it. I have the scars to prove that too.
- People think they are alone because of psychotic, delusional or irrational thoughts – pretty much everyone with a mental illness has these thoughts to some degree.
Whatever you’re scared of, whatever your secret, whatever keeps you up at night, whatever is harming your life, you are not alone.
The one thing to remember is this: as much as you are hiding from the mental illness monster in the dark, so is everyone else. People don’t want to talk about their pain and suffering. The mentally ill often can’t even find the words to talk about their illness. But just because you haven’t heard the story doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That idea that you’re alone? That is a lie. That is a lie your mental illness is feeding to you. Don’t believe this lie.
I, Natasha Tracy, professional crazy person, tell you this: you are not alone. Period.
Just how suicidal are you? OK, admittedly, it’s probably not the best idea to fixate on this question, especially if you are depression or suicidal, but in point of fact “being suicidal” doesn’t mean just one thing. Being suicidal exists on a scale. But how does one quantify how suicidal you are?
I can feel the post-depression-bounce-back hypomania beginning in my brain; not in my body, only in my brain. Hypomanic symptoms started yesterday evening. Things started seeming clear, perhaps just a little too clear, and certainly a little too fast. Bipolar fast. Gospel music (yes, oddly) played in my head intermittently while I guided an old tourist couple to the park, I drafted my upcoming novel, planned a conversation, and I investigated the fallen tree branch in the middle of the baseball field. Rapid fire thoughts, hypomanic thoughts, took over.
So here it is, 2011. Yes, a new year. People are full of hope, resolutions and motivation for change.
It should come as no surprise that I, the bipolar, the depressive, the philosopher, the writer, am not.
Resolutions & Hope for the New Year
Most people, mostly wrong people, think that they can seize this moment to change their life. People think that this arbitrary moment of existence somehow means that they can make their lives better.
Silly, sill them.
Resolutions & Disappointment for the New Year
The new year really means silly promises that people don’t keep and then are disappointed about by February 1st, if they’re lucky enough to last that long. Anyone still losing weight, going to the gym, reading more, quitting smoking, reducing debt or volunteering like they promised last year?
Resolutions & Hope: New Year, Same Bipolar
So my problem, the thing that really sticks in my craw, is this: if your average person can’t be expected to keep a New Year’s resolution, what chance does a crazy person have?
I’d say, very little.
And it’s not so much that I don’t understand the odds against me, or bipolars in general, because I do, but I think in the case of a person with bipolar or a person with depression, the whole idea of a New Year’s resolution is really just an invitation to disaster.
As I’ve mentioned, people generally feel bad when they fail at their New Year’s resolution. I don’t really think they should as it was an unreasonable thing in the first place, but they do. And I know myself, I know my bipolar, I know my depression and I know that my mental illness will take the failure of a resolution, which I’m destined to face, and make it seem like the end of the world, the end of my worthiness, the end of my life.
Because depression looks for any excuse to make me feel bad about myself. Depression looks for an excuse to cause pain. And depression doesn’t need a reason at all, so give it one, and just see how aggressive it can be.
Don’t Let the New Year Goad You Into Creating a Depression
So the moral of my little writing is this: don’t create an opportunity for depression to beat you up. Give yourself a break, give yourself a hug and don’t bother with silly promises that are flights of fancy anyway.
Because as I see it, just fighting my bipolar is like quitting smoking every day. And that’s more than enough of a resolution for me.
(If you want to see some New Year’s resolutions I think are decent for a person with a mental illness, check out my writing: New Year’s Resolution for the Bipolar at HealthyPlace.)
I get contacted now and then by people who want me to link to them or advertise here. Well, that’s just not what I do. I’m pretty fussy about linking to external sites. I have certain expectations for my own content and most people don’t meet them. It’s nothing personal; I’m just snobby that way.
Patient Corps Wants Your Strengths
That said, today I was contacted by the site Patient Corps. This site is dedicated to bringing forward the talents and skills of patients to help each other. The site is advertising-free (kudos for that) and run by Erica Shane Hamilton who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and wrote a dissertation on coping efforts of women with chronic pelvic pain. She is driven to offer patients a way to give back. There is even research supporting the health benefits of volunteering.
In her own words:
You’re sick and maybe you barely have the energy to get out of bed. Why should you volunteer your time to help others?
You have something to give, even when you are flat on your back, even when you are feeling great despair. You always have something to give the world.
You do have skills and talents. You have passion and compassion. You understand what it is like to suffer and your experiences with suffering can help others in the world to suffer less.
By volunteering, you reach outside of the world of being sick. You may be tired of being ill or in pain. You may want relief from the stress of thinking about your illness/pain and trying to find a cure. Patient Corps offers you a way to connect with other patients and other people. You are not alone.
Causes You Can Support
Erica provides information on her site about a variety of causes and the ways you can help. Even if you only have two minutes, she has ways you can help. Patient Corps causes include:
- Helping other patients
- Reducing poverty
- Improving human rights
- Protecting animals and the environment
- Reducing discrimination against people with disabilities
It’s inspiring that she’s dedicated this site to recognizing the strengths of those with illness instead of their weaknesses. And I have to echo her sentiment; we can all do something to help others. So, go visit her site, check out its dedication, select a cause you’re passionate about and volunteer a few minutes of your time. Try it. You might like it.
Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. – Andre Gide
I have heard about every possible cure or treatment for bipolar disorder; being a public figure, people contact me frequently to tell me what I should be doing to treat my bipolar. In no particular order, this involves:
- Magic pills
- New age treatments
- Books containing the secret to happiness
(Not to mention all the people who contact me simply to complain about what I write and how I feel. Lovely people those.)
And what I have to say to every one of these people is this: you have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.
Oh yes, I know. Some of these people are well-meaning. They still have no idea what they’re talking about. People over and over mistake anecdotes for evidence. Even worse, people mistake third-hand stories for evidence. Oh yes, the sister of your friend’s piano teacher got better after seeing Mr. Joe? Sign me up for that nonsense.
And keep in mind any web site expounding grand magical success stories isn’t necessarily accurate or honest. If these claims are not actually backed up by medical studies, stories of success are nothing more than simply that – cherry-picked stories.
Profiting from Bipolar Disorder and Mental Illness
Honestly, I’m tired of giving these people the benefit of the doubt. I’m just going to come right out with it: these people are trying to profit from pain and desperation. They know that desperate people will do anything to get better, no matter how wacky. They are trying to profit from you. They are trying to profit from your illness. I do not like these people. I do not like these people at all.
Promising Cures for Bipolar Kills People
I have said it before and I will say it again, random, unscientific treatments kill people. It’s not about taking mass amounts of vitamin C, it’s about that fact that someone is taking vitamin C instead of getting real treatment. I don’t really care if you want to think black is white, pray to a god, drink carrot juice daily or have your aura cleansed; what I care about is that you get actual treatment too.
But Wait, Aren’t You Trying to Profit from Bipolar Disorder?
Well that’s the sticky question now isn’t it? Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I make money from what I write. Yes, I’m trying to get a book published. But the difference is this: I don’t make any wild promises of cures. What I promise is my writing, nothing more, nothing less. People are free to regard or disregard it as they choose.
Bipolar Disorder Means Questions
I don’t claim to know The Truth. I claim to ask questions. I try and assimilate what we currently know about bipolar disorder, the brain and what I know about myself and synthesize it into a coherent form. I don’t know why I’m bipolar. I don’t know how to fix bipolar. I consider the human brain and the human psyche to hold some of the greatest mysteries of our ages and I’m attracted to those mysteries. I’m a philosopher. Like all philosophers I’m driven by questions that can’t be answered. I’m OK with that.
(I’m also driven to write for a host of other reasons, but they are off topic at the moment.)
Don’t Believe The Truth About Bipolar Disorder
In short, if you believe nothing else, believe this: someone who claims to have the answer to bipolar disorder is either greatly mislead or is selling something.
There is nothing for bipolar disorder except hard work and treatment by reputable health care professionals. It’s not snappy, it’s not easy and it’s not a cure, it’s just the way it is.
I have explained to many people, many times, that bipolar is existence at the ends of a spectrum. It’s not that your average person doesn’t get sad, or happy, or devastated, or related, it’s simply that they do not experience these emotions so fully, so much of the time. My bipolar problem isn’t the existence of these emotions, simply their intensity, their duration and their frequency.
All this bipolar emotion makes people look at me strangely. I know. But oddly, someone it seems not only loves me in spite of bipolar but even finds reasons to love me in the bipolar, because of the bipolar. Love.
Music and Bipolar
Music can fillet me. Songs that mean nothing to me can draw tears because I find the melody tragic. I really feel, from the bottom of my soul, saddened, depressed by the order of random tones or impassioned lyrics. The song itself could actually be expressing something happy, but something in me perceives it as heartbreaking anyway. I have to be very careful about the sounds I expose myself to.
You’re Too Sensitive. (Yes, I’m Bipolar.)
When my heart breaks it shatters into a million pieces each aching and bleeding through my body. And to some extent it is always broken from the pain of my everyday life.
Drowning in Emotion
The thoughts and the descriptions and the ferocity of emotion makes it impossible to take a deep breath. I gulp tears instead of air. Brackish water enters my lungs and I feel myself drowning. I feel myself drowning in tears and blood and sobs and screams; each one daring me to let go and stop thrashing against them.
My Bipolar Life Lives In This Anguish
And it is no surprise at all that others can’t stand next to that. Couldn’t if they wanted to. It will drown them too. Or they will stop seeing the water and the pain and pretend I’m bobbing along like everyone else.
These emotions, these extremes, these jagged edges, these razor shards are not one of the best aspects of my personality. They are roadblocks to fitting in with the others. The people around me. Joining the world. Being human. I know I live in another place, in another time where people can’t go. I know. I try to hide it. I try to build a human shell around me for all those I pass by, and then I crumble when I walk through my door and sob and spin until the next time I have to interact, tiringly, gluing back the pieces of my outer shell. So tired. So exhausted from pretending to be some part of me that other people can understand.
I Love You, In Spite Of, Because Of
Oddly in a tiny world in the dark with bleeding tears, broken shields and vulnerability I am loved, I am honored and I am cherished anyway. Cherished and bipolar. In this place I understand that it isn’t actually in spite of all unresonablness and extremeness but actually because of it. Because it is part of me. Because in amplification and anguish and terror and blades there is a messy, complicated, folded, person worth loving. Somehow these parts of me that bring endless pain and steal life are somehow beautiful. They glisten in their purity. There is nothing more human than pain. There is nothing more human that suffering. There is nothing more human than love.