Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘bullying’

A Bipolar Child

I suppose I was a bipolar child. I don’t really know, but I assume I was, because now I’m a bipolar adult.

I think I was more of a depressed child, which actually makes sense, since I have bipolar 2, with depressive episodes far outnumbering hypomanic ones. There were some times, though, when I would laugh loudly and inappropriately in class, triggered by a word that reminded me of something funny I’d read. There were times I’d walk around with a village-idiot grin because of some minor accomplishment like winning a live goldfish at a school fair.

Depressed child with toyBut mostly I remember misery. Tears. Loneliness. Hysterics. Confusion. Isolation. Hurt. Despair.

I’m fairly sure my depression wasn’t reactive, mostly, although parts of it surely were. The bullying, betrayals by friends, not understanding social conventions – all these were things that could easily make a person depressed, regardless of brain biochemistry.

But by and large my life was what would be considered pretty damned idyllic. I had stable, loving parents, a comfortable home in the suburbs with good schools, all the food I wanted, and as many toys as I could play with. I had a sister and a neighborhood full of children my age, but I remember being perpetually lonely. I had a good education, but looking back I realize that my illness prevented me from getting the most from it. There was no sexual or physical abuse or neglect. No one close to me died or suffered major trauma, at least until I was in high school and my parents suffered illnesses. Even then, they did a good job of keeping life as normal as possible. At the time we never felt it was a tragedy. It was just something we got through together.

That just leaves endogenous depression. Or at least the depression half of bipolar disorder. I remember one day walking home from elementary school and thinking, “All these houses look so pretty, but the people in them aren’t all happy.” It was somewhat of a revelation to me.  I had several major meltdowns, which I’ve written about before, and hundreds of smaller depressive episodes (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-6J). I had nervous twitches and tics, and was prescribed Valium for them.

During my high school years, it was suggested that perhaps I ought to go to the school district’s psychologist. (This was probably during the episodes of inappropriate laughter in class.) My parents, who were not really familiar with mental illness and psychiatry, asked me if I wanted to go. I didn’t. I probably should have, although back then – the seventies – it’s fairly unlikely that I would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, of any type. I might have gotten some help for the depression, though. They might have taken me off the Valium.

Like most lonely and misunderstood kids, and perhaps most depressive children, I found my salvation in books. They were friends, distractions, instruction manuals on how to survive, food for my emptiness, a place to lose myself when the world was too much with me. By and large it worked, at least as well as anything could – a self-prescribed and self-regulated form of instinctual bibliotherapy.

These were not books on how to make friends, or ones that promised to teach a child how to cope with emotions. They were for the most part pure escapism. Fantasy and science fiction, mysteries and adventures, literature and bestsellers – a complete mishmash of classics and trash. Those were my doctors, my therapists, my Prozac, my mood stabilizers.

I look back now on myself as a child – mentally disordered, undiagnosed, untreated – and wonder how I survived  as much as I did.

If I were a child these days, would I get the help that I needed then? Would my parents recognize that I was not just odd and unhappy, but mentally ill? Would I have been diagnosed properly? Medicated properly? Counseled properly?

With all that needs to go right and all that can go wrong during the process, it feels like getting help for a bipolar child certainly was – and perhaps still is –pretty much of a crapshoot. I made it through, but I hope it’s easier for a kid like me these days.

 

The Answer to Bullying

“Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up; it has serious long-term consequences,” says Stephen Luntz in an article, “Study Finds Bullying Affects Mental Health More Than Child Abuse” [http://www.iflscience.com/brain/price-bullying-measured].

Well, duh.

But wait. Look at that title again. “Bullying Affects Mental Health More Than Child Abuse“?

Yes. That’s an accurate headline, not just clickbait.

“Our results showed those who were bullied were more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who were maltreated,” says Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick in the article. “Being both bullied and maltreated also increased the risk of overall mental health problems, anxiety and depression.”

He adds, “It is important for schools, health services and other agencies to work together to reduce bullying and the adverse effects related to it.”

Again, duh. Easier said than done.

And how big is the problem? A CBS News poll reports that most Americans reported being bullied at some point while growing up http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbs-news-poll-majority-of-americans-were-bullied-as-kids/. Only 41 percent report never being bullied.

“Just” 10 percent said they were bullied “a lot.” That’s still a lot of children who are bullied a lot.

I know I was. And I’m willing to bet that many of you were too.

So what’s to be done?

Well, we know what doesn’t work.

Telling those who are bullied:
“They’re just joking.”
“Learn to take a little teasing.”
“You’re too sensitive.” (my personal favorite)
“Learn to fight back.”
“Get used to it.”
“Just ignore it.”
“What they say doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t let them see that they hurt you.”
“Laugh it off.”
“Handle it yourself.”
“Try to make friends with them.”
“Give them what they want and they’ll leave you alone.”
“Don’t give them what they want and they’ll stop.”
“Stay away from them.”
“Stand up to them.”
“Get your friends together when they’re around.”
“Tell your parents/teacher/principal.”
“Take karate lessons.”
“Avoid the second floor bathroom (or wherever).”
“Grow up.”

(If you have any other favorites, let us all know in the comments!)

Look again at that list. They are pieces of advice to the VICTIMS of bullying on HOW NOT TO BE BULLIED. What’s wrong with this picture?

Feminists and their allies have begun questioning the advice given to women on HOW NOT TO BE RAPED. Instead, they say, the focus should be on teaching men HOW NOT TO BE RAPISTS.

http://www.ifyouonlynews.com/feminist-issues/10-rape-prevention-tips-that-are-guaranteed-to-work-image/

And apparently, this approach is having some success.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2013/01/08/rape-prevention-aimed-at-rapists-does-work/

Of course, bullying is not rape; the analogy breaks down quickly. But both are about power and “the other” – asserting dominance over someone who is different.

In bullying, that difference can be real or merely perceived, and can be literally anything – weight, height, intelligence, socioeconomic level, race, ethnicity, popularity, clothing, sex, gender, hair color, disability, athletic prowess, speech, preference of superhero. The criteria for who is a victim seem completely arbitrary, because they are. The victim is the other, someone who is by definition different.

Is it fair, or even reasonable, to tell victims to alter whatever it is about themselves that makes them different? It can be soul-killing to have to pretend you are not smart, not poor, not gay, not Muslim. It can be impossible to pretend you’re not short, don’t have a disability, are good at sports. And why should victims have to, any more than women should never go out alone at night or never flirt?

We need to start teaching kids HOW NOT TO BE BULLIES, not how not to be bullied.

Some specifics, like this:
“If you think another kid is gay, ignore it.”
“If someone is not as popular as you, so what?”
“if a kid in your class dresses funny, don’t say anything.”
“If it’s not fun for everyone, stop.”

Or this:
“Don’t hit people because you don’t like the way they look.”
“Don’t joke about people who don’t enjoy it.”
“Don’t call people anything but what they want to be called.”
“If someone is unhappy, don’t make it worse.”

Or this:
“If someone is smarter or less smart than you, form a study group.”
“If someone has less money than you, do things that don’t cost money.”
“If someone is always dropping her books, help pick them up.”

I’m not an educator or a child psychologist – just a former smart, scrawny girl with weird hair and poor eyesight. In other words, bully-bait.

Maybe my ideas won’t work. But what we’re doing now sure doesn’t. That poll I mentioned earlier suggests that bullying is actually increasing, despite all the attention the topic is getting. Generalities like “All people deserve your respect” and “Celebrate differences” and “Be-kind-keep-your-hands-to-yourself-no-hazing-no-fighting-no-name-calling” aren’t getting the job done.

Bully culture is well and truly entrenched in our society. To change that, we need to change the culture – if for no other reason, to head off all those mental health problems waiting up ahead for bullied children.

Who’s with me?

The Myth of Closure

For some reason, it’s called “closure.” But for some wounds there is no such thing. And for some of us – those with emotional and mental disorders – there is no way to achieve closure.

Take, for example, the invisible injuries I experienced while living with Rex (a pseudonym), for a year in college. He was a master of intermittent reinforcement, the trap that keeps abused women (and men sometimes) from getting themselves out of the situation to someplace safe. He was never physically abusive, which I have vowed never to put up with (and to this day haven’t), but verbally and emotionally, he was, well, a veritable artist of psychological bullying.

Here are just a few examples.

When he was unhappy with me for some reason, he would sigh and glare. I swear he could sigh and glare even over the telephone. And when I would freeze up and not be able to think of any word that would make things better, he said my silence made him want to kick me.

I slept in the car on the streets of Buffalo if there was a late-night party he wanted to go to. It was out of the way to take me back to where we were staying.

When I was responsible for feeding guests, and botched it, he said I had tarnished his honor.

He took the decision to tell my parents about our relationship out of my hands, ripping apart the face-saving fiction that I was renting a room in his large house. After I left, I even sent him money to pay the supposed rent.

When I asked him to go to couples counseling with me, he said, “Are you sure? The therapist and I could have you declared a danger to yourself and have you put away.” At the session, he tenderly held my hand and asserted that he just wanted to get help for me.

So what does this all have to do with mental health? I certainly wasn’t mentally healthy when I met him, and was a basket case by the time I left. When I was immobilized, I was not embracing his projects with “alacrity.” When I was insomniac, only his cat comforted me. When I was in the Pit of Despair, everything was All My Fault.

So what do people tell you in cases like this?

Look how much you learned from the experience. And I always reply that the lesson wasn’t worth the price I paid. All that I want to keep from that time are a few dear friends.

Forgive and forget. I can’t do either. The memories have faded over time and seldom give me flashbacks anymore. (The dreams still come.) As for forgiving? He’s never asked for it and never would. I’m sure he doesn’t think he did anything that needed forgiving. If that makes me a hard-hearted bitch or a bad Christian, so be it.

That emotional abuse happened, and I can’t forget it. It was my first serious relationship and I left chunks of my soul and most of my barely existent self-esteem in that house on the hilltop. I had failed – at the relationship, at meeting my parents’ expectations, at so many things. I felt I was the one who needed forgiveness and spent much of the following years repeating incessantly, “I’m sorry.”

Let go of anger; it will only hurt you. When I first left, I didn’t feel anger toward Rex. I felt a lot of other things, mostly directed at myself. But I didn’t recognize or own my anger until much later, after lots of therapy and the good kind of love. Now that I realize I was (and am) angry, it feels wrong to think of him without feeling that. The things he did were wrong, and it is not irrational of me to still believe that. I earned that anger. It is part of me now. I can lay it aside to the extent that I don’t have revenge fantasies, but that’s about all.

So, closure? Not a chance. Saying as Oscar Wilde did, “Living well is the best revenge”? That’s more like it. Even learning to live well has been an uphill battle. I’m still struggling with the definition.

The wound may scab over, or it may continue to trickle blood at times. Some of it may even form scars. But take my word for it, the wounds are still there. They never really close.

Surviving High School (and Reunions)

I’ve only ever gone to one of my high school reunions – the 25th. Now the 40th is nearly here.

I was terrified then. This time is not as bad. I don’t have the energy or the attention span to get all worked up about it. Will I go? Probably not. It’s like the Tower of Terror at DisneyWorld – I did it once and I’m glad I did, but I have no desire to do it again.

My difficulties with the reunion even made the local paper. I went to a high school friend, Mary, for advice. She was quite helpful. She also, with my permission, wrote about my panic in her newspaper column.

Here’s what I told her: “Over the last quarter century I’ve confronted and dealt with a number of pieces of my past and tried to make my peace with them. High school, however, is not one of those things. I’m afraid I’ll have flashbacks.”

Mary did note that “Janet had more reason than most to be apprehensive. While I had been actively ignored, she had been, at times, actively picked on – one of those kids too brainy, too head-in-the-clouds, to comprehend how to navigate the social firmament.”

Pretty close. Except that I wouldn’t have called it “actively picked on.” High school was merely another part of the continuum of bullying and harassment that I experienced from childhood on. In high school no one threw literal rocks at me, but by then they didn’t have to. I was conditioned to cringe.

The head-in-the-clouds part was also not entirely accurate. As I walked through the halls between classes, my head was down and my nose was in a book. I was trying to perfect my “invisible” act and practice that advice that the bullied always get – “just ignore them.”

And I wouldn’t call the social milieu in high school “the firmament.” Just sayin’.

I did go to the reunion, though. I got my hair done for the event and told my stylist to make me look “successful and sane.” She replied, “Oh, no, here comes the wish list.” “At least I didn’t ask for young and thin,” I pointed out.

I went, taking along my husband and telling him not to leave my side. I’m sure the husband came as a surprise to most people there, proof that I had at least managed to navigate that particular social firmament. And if my hairstyle did proclaim some degree of sanity, that was likely a surprise as well.

I survived. My big insight: “Not everyone hated me.” I should have known that already, since I had friends like Mary and a few others I’m still in touch with. But old fears die hard.

Mary was much more philosophical: “In adolescence our images are refracted through so many distorted lights – the way we see ourselves, the way everyone else sees us, the way we fancy everyone else sees us. What mattered was that we could all talk face to face, as adults, as equals, as friends.”

She may have been right, though “Not everyone hated me” was, in its way, a major alteration in my outlook and pretty much as far as I’d gotten by then in my continuing struggle to come to grips with my life.

Things have changed a lot since then and so have I. Now I realize I have nothing to prove, and no need to try.

Those Who Will Not See

Yesterday I shared a post on Facebook that I thought was awesome. Here it is, so you can contemplate it too: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/01/30/share-schools/

The comments I got on it were things like “Wow! Brilliant!” and “This would have changed my life.”

A friend posted exactly the same essay, and here are some of the responses he got, interspersed with comments I made.

COMMENT: Wow, a math teacher that does not understand how game theory works. That is kind of sad.

COMMENT: It should be noted that the premiss [sic] of revenge is that 1+1=0.

 ME: Why are you debating game theory? This is about the human heart.

COMMENT: If she’s optimizing to prevent a low probability event, she’s making the same mistake add the TSA.

ME: Summarize in no more than three words what this essay is about. Kids. Loneliness. Ostracism. Help the hurting. Pay attention, gang. The point is zooming by somewhere overhead. The TSA is irrelevant to this.

COMMENT: I think that people who think that by mining a lot of data and then look for correlations they can detect who’s being abusive are…naive at best, dangerous at worst.

ME: I’ll take naive over uncaring any day. A teacher that cares is way more important than the TSA, NSA, and all those TLA* people. I’m leaving now before I say something that will get me banned. [The poster blocks or bans anyone who engages in ad hominem or other abusive attacks.]

COMMENT: This is a single teacher data mining, yes. The NSA at least has some experience in doing it correctly…

Of course, there were other people who responded to what the post was really about, but I was appalled at the number who skipped right past the topic in favor of showing off their erudition instead of compassion.

Admittedly, I’m a professional nitpicker, and I have sometimes been guilty of the same thing – ignoring the content of a post to go after incorrect usage of “literally,” for example. But my God, the relentless refusal to address the topic, even when it was pointed out repeatedly, and not just by me, that they were discussing Something Else Entirely. With rants so long they were essays themselves, and links to articles on the NSA and how to avoid being arrested. (The thread included comments on profiling as well.)

I have been a victim of bullying, etc. So have many of the people who commented when I shared the essay, and when they passed it along. So have many people who tried to get my friend’s comment thread back on topic.

And so, too, I suspect, were at least some of the people who nattered on about statistical analysis and all the other extraneous matters. I cannot imagine them going through school without getting taunted, threatened, or beaten up for being a “smarty-pants,” “brainiac,” or “know-it-all,” or some words less polite. And I suspect that those people are in MASSIVE denial, still trying to build themselves a shield of words and facts and statistics and analysis and theories and showy buzzwords.

I would tell them (if they would listen, which they likely wouldn’t) that this strategy Won’t Work. I know. I’ve tried it. Again and again. And yet again.

What is that definition of mental illness? Oh yes. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So what’s the point? The topic, as it were? I may be crazy. But by that definition, so are they. And I’m getting treatment for it, not reinforcing myself with a feedback loop. Oops. Did I just get pedantic and jargon-y? I’ll stop now and apologize.

*TLA = Three-Letter Acronym

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Nutjob

I was depressed even as a child. I may have been manicky too, but I don’t remember that. Unless you count the anxiety. (I had weird fears – for example, that someone might toss a lit cigarette out of a car window just as another car with a leaky gas tank went by and there would be a huge explosion and fire. Stuff like that.)

I won’t say that bullying caused my mental condition, because I now know that brain chemistry is the more likely culprit. But bullying certainly made it worse.

In addition to the usual taunts about “cooties,” my appearance, and my complete cluelessness about social skills, I was singled out because I was smart and liked school and didn’t hide it.

As I look back on it, some of the bullying now seems extreme.

There was the boy who chased me around the playground, threatening me with what he claimed was a hypodermic needle.

There were the kids at the bus stop who threw rocks at me while I tried to pretend it was a game of dodge-rock. Never being good at sports, I came out of that episode with three stitches in my forehead. I don’t know which upset me more, but by the end of it all, I was hysterical. And not the good, funny kind.

And there was my best friend and the birthday party. The party was for her younger sister and all the attendees were about that same age. My BFF and I were supposed to be supervising, I guess. But while I was blindfolded, demonstrating Pin the Tail on the Donkey, she kicked me in the ass. Literally. In front of all those younger kids.

This resulted in what I now realize was my first breakdown (meltdown, freak-out, whatever you call it). Naturally I ran home sobbing, and spent nearly a week curled in a fetal position, alternately crying my eyes out and going numb. I stayed like that until I saw my mother crying. Then I got up, went down the street and yelled at the (by now former) BFF for indirectly making my mother cry.

It’s a wonder I’m not a spree killer today. But we’ll go into that some other time.

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