Why Live with the Sadness and Pain of Bipolar Disorder?

I was very sad. Very upset. About something that happened in my real life. I was anxious, sad, scared, angry and upset. But as with so many things, there was no resolution. Things just left in the air. Left to stab. Left to scathe. That’s the pain of life I suppose.

Because I was ignored. As per the usual. It is quite possible, and in fact likely, that the person is angry and thus ignoring me. Again, such are humans.

I Hate Being Ignored. I Find it Painful.

So all the upset, turns to self-hatred, turns to deep sadness, turns to pain, as it always does. And so I pressed the sadness down. From my head to my throat to my chest and into the pit of my being where all the sadness lives. Where the sadness haunts me every day anyway. Just another drop in the ocean.

I have a thing about that. Being ignored. A neurosis. Comes from childhood. No one listened or cared about my feelings growing up. When asked for my opinion it was immediately discarded when given. The question was asked simply to tick off a box in the good parenting manual. Apparently, there was no tick box for listening or considering. And being crazy, I still feel like no one is listening to my feelings. Which is only partly their fault. I fail to communicate the need for consideration and acknowledgment. I only partly think that my feelings matter and that they should be listened to.

Literature Makes Me Sad. It’s Painful.

I don’t read books. Yes, I know this is a sin against writers everywhere, and people are generally shocked when I say it, but I don’t read books. I realize that one only improves one’s craft by seeking out better craftspeople from which to learn, but it takes a lot to capture and hold my attention if I’m only doing one thing at once, and you can’t read and surf the internet like you can with TV. And with books I often find myself thinking, I write better than that. I see all the flaws in the writing, and it takes a lot for a book to overcome such scrutiny. It can be done, certainly, with great suspense or a compelling narrative, it’s just hard. For the record, I feel similarly about movies. It’s rare that a good one is made. Someone, somewhere made the rule that anything worth reading or watching will make you want to kill yourself. I wonder what the turnover is like at the Academy, having to watch so many every year.

And of course, any book considered good is called “literature”. (Although when I say it I say lit-tri-chur in a British accent. Literature sounds too stuck up to be a party to.) And, as with Academy Award Winning movies, literature must be long, slow, boring and depressing.

So while I know that literature is good, and that there are amazing writers producing such works, I can’t bring myself in the slightest to be extra sad, extra depressed for 400 pages.

However, yesterday I picked up a book and it turned out to be right in my wheelhouse, which is almost unfathomable.

It’s The Echo Maker by Richard Powers.

The Echo Maker

It’s a story of a man who is in a severe car wreck and suffers brain damage. After weeks of rehab, he can finally speak only to reveal that he thinks his sister, who has been by his side every moment since the accident, is not his sister. He thinks she is a replacement of some sort. An actor or a robot put there by some conspiracy and he keeps asking to see his real sister, idolizing her and not understanding why she doesn’t come and see him. [pull]This is a real syndrome called Capgras, Victims suffer the delusion that people close to them, generally family, are replacements. Paranoia is typically present so the person thinks others have been doubled as part of a conspiracy.[/pull]

Capgras, I believe it’s mostly a psychiatric condition and not typically produced by injury, but in the book it is and is thus a medical mystery.

There is an additional mystery in the book where an unknown person leaves a cryptic note by the man’s bedside just after the accident. The note suggests there is some kind of relationship between god and his survival.

A portrait is painted of this man – he is tortured by his brain. It bring no end of upset to him thinking his sister is a double, and then he thinks his dog is, and his house. He thinks he’s surrounded by a giant web of lies and he doesn’t understand any of it other than the people around him keep trying to tell him that he isn’t right in the head, which he doesn’t believe to be true. [push]The man, being in complete torment, absolute pain and wants to know why is there, and not dead. I know the fucking feeling.[/push]

He feels the note is his only connection to something real and outside the control of whatever is duplicating his life. And so he says of its author, “This guy knows. Knows why I’m still alive. Something I’d like to learn.”

Life, Sadness Doesn’t Have a Plan

In the book there is intimation that there is a greater plan at work, but in real life, there isn’t. No one left a note by my bedside the night I went made saying that I was meant to do something. And in spite of the “grand design” folks, I’m fairly convinced there is no plan. Yes, I know it’s convenient in books and in religions to say there’s one, but I’m pretty sure in real life there is no such thing. We as humans want there to be one, which is why people diehardedly insist that there is. We humans are meaning-makers.

Pain is a Lack of Meaning

We want there to be meaning even when there is none. Brain damage is actually an excellent example of this. When cracks appear in the brain the mind fills in the missing bits to create meaning. People who have known those with memory loss know this to be true, and is a feature of Capgras. One of the reason’s people think the person is a double is because while they recognize the person in front of them to look and sound and act just like the person they know, they have no emotional feeling that it is the right person. And so the individual with Capgras fills in the background with the concept of a “double”. This is more logical and provides more of an explanation than anything else. They are making meaning out of what they perceive even though their meaning is patently false.

sad girl with bipolar

Bipolar Disorder, Mental Illness is Pain

I have looked for meaning. I have tried to figure out why I’m here. I’ve tried to figure out why I’m sentenced to live in pain and suffering for a lifetime. I’ve come up with answers. Meaning. But none of it sticks. Because I know the truth. I know so many fucking truths. The truth is we’re here to be here. Eventually I’ll be dead, and somewhere else, but until then I’m here. I deeply wish there was more to it than that. But there isn’t. Really. Think about it long enough, look at the empirical evidence. I always come back to dying babies and starving children in Africa. There is no fucking plan that any intelligent being could come up with that would involve starving a child to death. There just isn’t.

And Still I Ask, Why Live a Life of Sadness and Pain?

And still I’m forced to wonder why I get to live a life of pain. I have to wonder why there is a failed implant in my chest, and years of therapy and doctors resigned to my fate. I have to wonder why I’m so broken that people don’t want to be around me when the rest of the broken world seems to get along just fine. I have to wonder why I’m driven to pump out millions (yes,1,000,000+) of words into cyberspace to people I will never meet. Oh how I desperately wish there was a secret note that I could flash all over town until someone finally tells me what it means. The magic angel keeping me alive. The one that insists that no matter how much I cut or how many drugs I take I just won’t die. Stupid angel.[pull]Humans are all designed to procreate and thus have a biological need to create an environment in which their offspring to flourish.[/pull]

I know that there are things we do in life that touch other people. Things we do, things we say. Yes, some of these things are helpful for other imperfect, meaningless creatures. That’s something. You try to leave the planet better than you found it, because… well, I have no idea. Biological imperative I suppose. It’s Darwinian. But not really meaning any more than dogs who bury bones for later and yet never dig them up.

I’ll get to the end of the book and maybe change my mind. You know, because 450 pages will overrule 32 years of life. Could happen, I suppose, but unlikely.

(Regardless, however, great read. Gets a little bogged down in crane metaphors here and there and occasionally the delusional thoughts don’t quite ring true, but still, great. First author in a long time to which I felt like writing a fawning letter of admiration. But I suspect he likely has a drawer full of those already, what with nine novels behind him and being a Pulitzer Prize finalist.)


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.



Join the conversation → Add yours
Get Your FREE EBook

Get Your FREE EBook

My newsletter contains mental health news and research, speaking engagements and more. By subscribing, you'll get access to a FREE eBook on coping skills.

Thank you for subscribing. Look for an email to complete your subscription.