Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘mental illness’

What God Gives You

There are two expressions, common in “inspirational” memes, posters, and the like, that rub me the wrong way.

One is “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” I addressed that one in a post (https://bipolarme.blog/2014/11/10/suffering-and-train-wrecks/) roughly seven years ago, and now I’m ready to tackle the other.

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

Let’s take a look at the premise. It implies that God gives us all our trials and troubles. Already, I have problems with that. Perhaps God is love and the devil gives us trials and troubles. Perhaps neither God nor the devil is involved, and life gives us trials and troubles. Perhaps even we give ourselves trials and troubles. It strikes me that these are equally valid propositions, though many people favor one or another.

At the heart of it, though, is the fact that there are trials and troubles in our lives, whoever or whatever gives them to us, and we must handle them. Wherever they come from, they will not be more than we can handle, the saying states.

The evidence of our eyes, and perhaps our own lives, says that this simply isn’t true. Plenty of people encounter (or have given to them) more than they can handle. Think of the homeless mentally ill. Are they able to handle what they’ve been given? The woman with her third miscarriage? The veteran with catastrophic injuries? Sure, some of them face their conditions bravely, but others don’t, and they’ll never make the news as “inspiration porn,” the uplifting stories of people who can and have overcome their afflictions, which is predominantly what we hear about in the media.

The fact remains that some people do receive more troubles than they can handle. There are serious mental illnesses that have no treatment. There are injuries and horrors that leave a person scarred inside and out. There are troubles that are so bad they contribute to death by suicide. In these and other cases, someone or something (or simply life itself) has given certain people more than they can handle.

The premise behind the saying, however, is that God never gives YOU more than YOU can handle. What I’ve said doesn’t mean there is no hope – only that it might come from a source you don’t expect. That might be the same God who ostensibly gave you those trials. It might mean another person, or a group of people, or a society can help you with what you need to make it through.

It’s not necessary to leave it all up to God to solve these problems. And it may be that we cannot rescue ourselves. But perhaps we can be that person, or one of those people, who can help someone whose troubles are more than they can handle by themselves.

I won’t argue whether it is because of the grace of God that other people help. But the original saying, in all its simplicity, is too simplistic. I believe that troubles and trials come to us from somewhere in the world, not from God, and people in the world are ultimately the ones who can help us handle them.

I’m not trying to deny the actions of God in the world. I’m saying that we must do our part to solve these problems too. Donate to a good cause. Volunteer to help. Listen to someone who’s hurting. Even just buy a box of cookies from a Girl Scout. Let’s make that “you” an “us.” God (or life) never gives us more than we can handle – together. (Note: Don’t even get me started on “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not even in the Bible. Go ahead and look. I’ll wait.)

And why is this post in a blog on mental illness? Because that’s one of the things that some people can handle and others can’t, whether it was God or genetics or brain chemicals or trauma that gave it to them.

Bipolar Questions and Answers

Have you heard of Quora? It’s like a crowd-sourced online question and answer center, where anyone can ask questions on practically any topic and request an answer from a specific person, or leave it up to whoever wants to answer.

I’ve used it myself for answers to questions about Ireland and about gardening. But since my Quora “credential” says that I have bipolar disorder and have written two books on the subject, I get questions about bipolar (and other mental health topics), usually several a day. Some I can’t answer. Some have already been answered. But I answer a couple every day. I consider it part of my goal of spreading information about mental health wherever and whenever I can.

Here are some of the types of questions I’ve been asked and how I answered them. Maybe they’ll help some of my readers as well.

What is the best medication to take for bipolar?

This one is the question most commonly asked, and it is easy to answer. I don’t know which medication is right for you. Only you and your psychiatrist can figure that out, basically through trial and error. It may take a while to settle on a med or combination of meds will work for you with the maximum effects and the fewest side effects.

I am thinking of quitting my meds, as I don’t feel I need them anymore or am having bad side effects.

DO NOT DO THIS. There are dangers in going cold turkey, not the least of which is withdrawal symptoms. Work with your psychiatrist. She/he can help you decide whether it’s a good idea to quit a medication. If going off a med is a reasonable idea, your psychiatrist will help you do it safely, most likely tapering off on the med you are on and possibly ramping up on a med that works better or has more tolerable side effects.

Besides, meds for bipolar are supposed to make you feel better – but it’s not a one-time thing. You have to keep taking them to keep feeling “better.” And if you go off a med and then decide to go back on it, it may not work as well.

Would bipolar disorder be eradicated if everyone came from a loving, stable home?

Sadly, no. While bipolar disorder may have a genetic component and may run in families, it can affect any person in any family. I had the most stable, loving family you can imagine, and here I am with bipolar 2.

What causes bipolar disorder?

The jury’s still out on that. Some people will tell you the cause is genetic. Others will say it is caused by deficiencies or overproduction of chemicals and receptors in the brain. Still others will say that trauma, especially childhood trauma, can cause bipolar disorder. Personally, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it could be any one of them, or any combination of the three.

How do I help a family member with bipolar disorder?

First, you may be able to help them manage their disorder. In the early stages, you can perhaps help them find a psychiatrist, drive them to appointments, pick up their medication, and so forth. Be supportive. Tell the person that you love them and hope they feel better soon. (They may not respond to you at the time, but later they will remember who stood by them and helped them.)

You can also help by helping the person practice self-care. Provide an environment that contains the things that comfort and help ground them – comfort food, soothing objects such as blankets or pillows, favorite scents, or even stuffed animals. Encourage them to bathe or shower and facilitate that: Have clean towels available and clean clothes or pajamas ready to wear. Make sure there is soap and shampoo handy.

For persons in the manic phase of the illness, you can accompany them when they go out, try to help keep them centered on projects at home, try to help them when it comes to overspending or other reckless behavior. Again, remind them that you love them and will be there for them now and when they feel better.

How do I deal with a narcissistic, bipolar boss?

You can’t know that your boss really has a personality disorder or a mood disorder unless you have read their medical files, which is illegal. They may have narcissistic traits or change their mind frequently (which is not the same as having bipolar disorder). You basically have two choices: Put up with it or quit. You will not be able to change your boss’s behavior.

I’m afraid my parents will find out I have bipolar disorder.

If you are underage, you can probably not hide it from them. It’s not a good idea to delay treatment until you are of legal age, though. You can ask your family practice physician to recommend a good psychotherapist or psychiatrist. You can ask your school counselor to help you find help. There are telephone and text hotlines. The best bet may be to talk to your family about it, in a quiet, low-stress environment and explain what bipolar disorder is and why you believe you have it. Their responses may surprise you.

Will I be bipolar for the rest of my life?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Bipolar disorder is not a disease like cancer that can in some cases be cured. It’s more like diabetes or asthma, in that you will have to live with it, cope with it, and have treatment for it, most likely for the rest of your life.

But it’s not a thing to be feared. If you have the proper support, such as therapy and sometimes medications, you can live a fulfilling, “normal” life, and accomplish many if not all your goals. I have bipolar disorder and have completed grad school; have a loving, stable marriage; own my own home; and do paid work. You are not tied to a future of despair or fears or bad effects.

Keep trying.

Why CBT Isn’t for Me

It’s been suggested more than once that CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, might help me with some of my problems, including “depression, anxiety disorders, marital problems, and severe mental illness” (bipolar disorder, in my case), according to the American Psychological Association (APA). And I understand that it’s helped a lot of people, including some in my position, with some of the same problems I have. If it works for you, that’s great. I’m not saying that no one should ever use it or that it’s a rotten form of therapy.

I, however, dislike the premise of CBT and have never felt comfortable trying it. Here’s why.

One of the basic tenets of CBT is that the client’s thinking is faulty and the therapist helps the client to discover how and where. Then they work together to pinpoint the faulty thinking and replace it with healthy behaviors, or at least less destructive ones.

Again, according to the APA, “CBT treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns” and examine “what is going on in the person’s current life, rather than what has led up to their difficulties.”

When I first got into therapy with the counselor who has helped me the most, what I needed was not someone to convince me that my thoughts were faulty. I had worked hard to reclaim my memories, validate them, and recognize that they really were damaging events. I would resist any attempt to undo that work by invalidating those memories, and my attempts to understand them, as “faulty.”

Despite all the times it has betrayed me, I think my brain is the most powerful weapon I have in moving forward, but that does not include denying the past or brushing it aside in favor of what the APA calls “learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in light of reality.” Evaluating the memories and the thinking associated with them is a large part of what has helped me most, but calling them “distortions” would not be helpful. I needed to reclaim those memories and understand the feelings, accept them for what they were and how they changed my life, and then go on to rebuilding a new life – not one free from those memories and feelings, but one that validates them as part of my lived experience.

The methods used in CBT discomfort me as well. The idea of “homework assignments” and role-playing my future interactions does not appeal to me. I have gotten on much better with good ol’ talk therapy (and medications) than I believe I could with body relaxation and mind-calming techniques.

My problem largely involves confronting my memories and not denying them or downplaying them, but learning how to live despite having them in my past. It does me no good to deny a train-wreck as “faulty thinking” or to dismiss it as part of my past. Owning it as part of my past and realizing what it did to me is much more helpful. Validating my feelings and reclaiming my memories, then moving beyond them, is what I need. My therapist has helped me do that, without ever once suggesting that my thought patterns are faulty. We’ve worked on coping skills, sure – but never based on the premise that my past doesn’t affect my present or future.

CBT is also said (by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to be a short-term process (which I’m sure the insurance companies love) or one that can be carried out without a therapist guiding it. To me, this smacks of the “think away your troubles” idea. If I could have, I would have, without the help of long-term talk therapy.

My therapy has been a long and often painful process, but never one that attempts to make me think that my memories are invalid and that my progress will come by admitting that. Talk therapy is hard work, and I don’t believe there is any shortcut to mental health. Even now, after I have largely ceased therapy, I sometimes need a “booster shot” when my problems become overwhelming. Again, this comes from recognizing that my problems are real and that thinking them away rather than hard work is not the answer.

I am sure that people will tell me that I have misunderstood CBT, what it is all about, and how it is practiced. They may have many good experiences with it. But I don’t want to take a chance on a form of therapy that denies my reality and dismisses it as “unhelpful thoughts.” I need my reality heard and validated and examined. I need depth and breadth of therapy that recognizes my “train wrecks” and to what degree they have left me wounded. I need coping mechanisms that acknowledge my past as part of what going forward may mean.

I don’t trust CBT to do those things.

Anxiety, Fear, Panic, and Phobias

I’ve heard it said that you know when you’re a problem drinker when your drinking causes you problems, whether of the emotional, legal, financial, or several other varieties.

Similarly, I think anxiety, fears, panic, and phobias are problems only when they cause you problems.

Let me unpack that a bit.

Phobias are considered to be a type of anxiety disorder or panic disorder. For example, social anxiety is sometimes defined as social phobia. Everyone has anxieties. Many people have at least one phobia. And most people can avoid these triggers with little or no effect on their daily lives. There are habits they can cultivate to avoid the things that make them anxious or phobic.

For instance, someone with acrophobia, a fear of high places, isn’t usually incapacitated by a stepladder, and can fairly easily avoid standing on cliff edges, rotating top-floor restaurants, and hotel rooms over the first or second floor. (When the anxiety/phobia extends to fear of flying, or aerophobia, the person can limit or eliminate air travel from their lives, usually without much difficulty.)

Crippling phobias, however, are generally classed as mental illnesses. My panic around bees (apiphobia) does not rise to that level; I would call it an anxiety reaction or a panic attack, not a phobia. It usually only manifests as bodily stiffening, tremors, and immobility, and pleas for anyone in the area to shoo away the offending insect. (I once took a beekeeping class to try to get over my phobia. Big mistake. Didn’t work.)

Agoraphobia (fear of unfamiliar environments or ones where you feel out of control), however, can be socially and psychologically crippling. The Mayo Clinic says that agoraphobia “can severely limit your ability to socialize, work, attend important events and even manage the details of daily life, such as running errands.” (Technology has made these constrictions less onerous, what with doorstep delivery and Skype.)

Anxieties as a symptom of mental illness are harder to define. While some anxieties have triggers, others simply don’t. “Free-floating” anxiety comes on unexpectedly, like the depressions and manias of bipolar disorder. This doesn’t mean that the anxiety isn’t real. It certainly is. It just means that the anxiety has no identifiable cause such as high places or bees. It is simply (or not so simply) a panic attack, which the Cleveland Clinic says is “sudden, unreasonable feelings of fear and anxiety that cause physical symptoms like a racing heart, fast breathing, and sweating. Some people become so fearful of these attacks that they develop panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder.” They add, “Every year, up to 11% of Americans experience a panic attack. Approximately 2% to 3% of them go on to develop panic disorder.”

Sometimes I have anxiety that is attributable to triggers, such as financial difficulties, which are relatively easy for other people to understand. Who wouldn’t be anxious when the bank account is dry and a bill is due?

Other times, free-floating anxiety or panic simply descends on me, with nothing that triggers it. It’s an awful feeling, like waiting for the other shoe to drop when there has been no first shoe. Like a cloud hovering around me with the potential for lightning bolts at any time.

The thing is, I don’t know how to get rid of my anxieties, fears, or phobias. There are desensitization procedures that are supposed to work by getting one used to the trigger gradually. (I think that was my idea behind taking the beekeeping class. One of them, anyway.) There are antianxiety medications, including antidepressants and benzos, designed to take the edge off, if not remove the anxiety. (I take antianxiety medications. I’m still afraid of bees. Not that it affects my daily life much, but I’m never likely to visit that island off Croatia that’s covered with lavender.) For phobias, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), as well as exposure therapy, has been recommended. This is usually a short-term procedure, according to the Mayo Clinic. But I have an aversion to CBT.

Still, despite my therapy and medications, I have to live with my anxiety and phobias. I’ve probably not reached the point where the anxiety causes me severe problems, like bankruptcy, though I have been known to overdraw my checking account on occasion and run my credit card up too high. These, of course, are signals that I may have a problem or am beginning to have one. It’s something to explore with my therapist, anyway. Maybe she can suggest ways I can deal with my anxieties before they turn into more significant problems.

When Depression Doesn’t Go Away

Back in the day, I suffered from treatment-resistant depression. (This was likely due to the fact that what I had was actually bipolar 2, but never mind that for now.) My psychiatrist prescribed me medication after medication, but none of them worked, or at least not for long. We got into a seemingly endless spiral of trying one drug, adding another, weaning me off one drug and ramping up another, then another and another.

Some of them just plain didn’t work. Others had intolerable side effects, from vivid horrible nightmares to making me feel like I was about to jump out of my skin.

All this went on for certainly months – maybe years. (Memory problems were one of the many intolerable side effects.)

Eventually, my doctor reached the correct diagnosis, and then there were months of trying medications that were targeted for bipolar disorder instead of plain depression with anxiety. Again, nothing worked, or didn’t work adequately.

Nowadays, there are non-pharmaceutical methods of coping with treatment-resistant depression, including ECT (better known as electroshock), TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), and ketamine treatment.

I never had any of these treatments, since my psychiatrist and I finally worked out a drug combo that brought me back to balance, with only minor tweaks in dosage over the years. Nonetheless, I’ve become interested in the alternate means of dealing with treatment-resistant depression, and here’s what I now know. (If you want a patient’s own experience with ECT, TMS, and ketamine treatment, look up Kitty Dukakis or read some of the Bloggess’s posts.)

ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, is what used to be known as shock treatment. For a long time it went the way of prefrontal lobotomy, stigmatized as a cruel and harmful procedure. The portrayal of ECT in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and then the movie of the same name were major influences in terrifying the general public, leading to a nearly complete disavowal of its use.

It’s making a comeback, though. The theory behind it is that electric stimulation of the brain will shock the brain back into normal functioning. The American Psychiatric Association notes that it is now performed under anesthesia, with medical personnel attending the procedure. They report improvement in 80% of patients.

(ECT is the alternative treatment that I was ready to try when none of the drugs prescribed for me proved effective. Then my doctor wanted to try one last drug, and that was the one that did the trick.)

TMS, or transcranial magnetic simulation, is described by the Mayo Clinic as “a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression.” It’s also called rTMS, or Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, because more than one treatment is generally needed. The theory is that the magnetic pulses stimulate areas of the brain involved with mood control and depression. It doesn’t cause seizures or require anesthesia. The exact mechanism of how it works isn’t really understood, but that’s true of many other treatments for depression, including medications.

Harvard’s Health Blog reports that rTMS helps about 50% to 60% of people who did not respond to drug treatment “experience a clinically meaningful response.” They do note that treatments, “while encouraging, are not permanent,” which is true of many other forms of treatment.

Ketamine is the newest of the treatments for treatment-resistant depression. Ketamine was once known as a “party drug” called “Special K,” described by the DEA as “a short-acting anesthetic with hallucinogenic effects.” As a treatment for depression, however, it is thought to “enable brain connections to regrow,” according to scientists at Yale. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists notes that ketamine “is not a first-line therapy for psychiatric disorders,” but then, neither are ECT and TMS.

Ketamine can be administered via nasal spray, but for psychiatric purposes (including to treat bipolar disorder and PTSD) it is often given as a series of infusions. An article in The Lancet says that “Ketamine is thought to act by blocking … receptors in the brain.” Another article by doctors at the National Institutes of Health comments that ketamine “has a robust and rapid effect on depression, which was seen immediately after the administration of ketamine and sustained at the end of 1 month.” Repeated treatments are generally necessary.

I don’t know about other patients and doctors, but after years of drug therapy not working, I was ready to give almost anything a try. ECT was next on the list, and the only likely alternative, as TMS and ketamine were not available at that time. I’m just glad that now patients and their doctors have more options when depression resists drug treatment and “talk therapy.” And I hope that even more alternatives become available for people with depression who are desperate to find a treatment that works for them.

Across the Spectra

Most often when “the spectrum” is mentioned, it’s the autism spectrum that springs to mind. There’s good reason for that. Autism affects varying people in varying ways and to various degrees.

But there are other conditions, disorders, and traits that vary across a spectrum as well: right brain/left brain, introvert/extrovert/, depressed/manic, and many others. The one I’m most familiar with, of course is the depressed/manic spectrum (or in my case depressed/hypomanic), but I’ve recently been reading about the other spectra I mentioned.

The first thing to know about spectra is that no one is fully at either end of the spectrum, or at least not all of the time. Think of a spectrum as the weight gauge on an old-fashioned scale at a doctor’s office. Most people’s weight tips the scale at somewhere other than the middle, and if they are all the way to one end or the other, the clinician moves the weight and starts over until the pointer rests in between the two extremes and the heavy weight falls somewhere between either end.

So, to use myself as an example (the one I’m most familiar with), when I am stable (properly medicated), I am close to the middle of the depressed/hypomanic spectrum, with the “weight” perhaps listing just a wee bit toward the depressed side. During depressive or hypomanic episodes, I slide toward one end or the other. No one is either all depressed or all hypomanic, though it feels like it at times, and people don’t stay at one end or the other all the time, except perhaps for the unmedicated person who has never had proper treatment and self-care.

Then consider the right-brain/left-brain scenario. When this theory was first proposed, it associated various traits with one or the other side of the brain. Type-A, energetic, risk-taking, mathematically oriented people were said to be left-brained, while shy, creative, language-loving, and risk-averse types were said to be “right-brained.”

This theory was extrapolated into the real world. Naturally, society at large was judged to be left-brained and that was deemed the better thing to be. These people got things done – businesspeople, politicians, scientists, and the like. Artists, writers, and other creative types were said to be right-brained, and not well adjusted to the left-brained society. There was even a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which tried to harness that hemisphere in pursuit of artistic accomplishments and getting left-brained people in touch with their other “side” for a while.

Whenever I’ve taken one of those sided-ness tests, though, I almost always come out somewhere near the middle. What does this mean? I suppose either that my corpus callosum (which connects the two hemispheres) is particularly robust, or that I partake of both natures to some extent, more or less, and at different times. For example, I am mostly a stay-at-home reader and writer, but I am also a closet science geek, and like foreign travel, considered a risk-taking pursuit.

The same with introvert/extrovert (which seems to me to overlap considerably with right/left brainedness, and indeed with depressive/manic). I prefer to stay at home and pursue quiet activities like reading and writing, but I also enjoy going to science fiction conventions, which are known to be rather people-y. I can also tolerate moderate sized gatherings such as parties and book signings, as long as they aren’t filled with loud noise such as screaming children.

What I’m getting at here is that most scales are fairly useless and most people are somewhere in the middle of them, partake of both ends, and slide back and forth to some degree. I suppose there are people who are all one or the other, but I don’t know many and probably wouldn’t find them very interesting if there were.

Mental Illness or Autism?

The other day I inadvertently created a firestorm on facebook. Someone posted: Question: What makes schizophrenia a mental illness and autism not a mental illness? Answer: Politics, advocacy, and marketing.

I didn’t understand the thrust of the post, so I asked a question: “Are you saying that autism should be classed as a mental illness or that schizophrenia shouldn’t be?”

Then the floodgates open. There were over 100 responses to the post, of which mine was just one. They ranged from “autism is not a mental illness” to “autism is a form of mental illness” to “autism is a developmental disorder” to “schizophrenia and autism are both neurodivergent conditions.” Few, if any, seemed to address the original question of politics, advocacy, and marketing. (I have no knowledge whether any of the responders were medical or other professionals; persons with one or the other diagnosis; or family members of those with the, let’s call them conditions for now.)

Some people responded that the term “mental illness” should not be used, because it was inaccurate, or stigmatizing, or both. They found the phrase “mental illness” offensive. “Mental disease” was suggested as a better alternative, though for the life of me I can’t see much difference between them. To me, “illness” and “disease” mean basically the same thing. One can go down the rabbit hole here. Is MS a condition or an illness or a disease or a disorder? Is a broken leg a condition? It’s certainly not an illness – unless it gets infected – or a disease. Someone said that mental illness implied a permanent condition, rather than a challenge that can be treated. My bipolar disorder can certainly be treated, and is. But it is also a permanent condition.

Some of the phraseology that was most often used to define autism were neurodivergent, neurological condition, developmental disorder, neurological condition that often presents with mental illness like anxiety. But neurodivergent was also used to described schizophrenia, which was sometimes linked to brain anatomy and genetics. Some classed them both as “disorders of the brain.”

Others pointed out societal or functional differences or other definitions – schizophrenia can be used in court for a “diminished capacity defense”; autism is listed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, considered by many the gold standard for definitions and symptoms of mental illnesses); the age of onset for autism is three, or three to 18, while schizophrenia is usually diagnosed at 18 and over, but not always; autism used to be called childhood schizophrenia; schizophrenia is caused by over-pruning of the neurons, which disrupt the normal growth of the brain; ASD could be a result of disruptions in normal brain growth. Someone pointed out that with both autism and schizophrenia, there are different levels of severity.

Various books and articles were cited. Challenging questions were asked: Do those who insist that autism is not a mental illness think having a mental illness is shameful, whereas having autism is not shameful or perhaps is not an illness at all. Others considered treatments: Medications can help with mental illnesses but are not generally prescribed for autism. People with one or the other condition do not qualify for treatment.

And some responses were entirely cryptic: B careful what you wish 4.

But back to the original post. I think the poster was trying to say that the autism community did a better job of spreading the word about the condition and thereby defining it, in this case as not-a-mental-illness.

And it’s true that – whatever you think of them as an organization – Autism Speaks has gotten the word out about autism. They excel at awareness (of themselves as well as autism). They organize huge charity walks. They have numerous TV commercials. Their puzzle piece symbol – again, whatever you think of it – is for many the easily identifiable graphic that says, “autism.”

Mental illness, whatever you prefer to call it, does not have that same kind of presence in the public eye. For one thing, there are so many different conditions that it’s hard to choose one to spotlight. Depression seems to be the condition-du-jour. The conversations around it are that anyone can have it and there is help available, which is all well and good. But the vast majority of these messages come from people who are selling or associated with medications or call-a-therapist lines – money-making operations. Nor do the ads always get depression right, many making it seem like no worse than a mild hangover.

SMI (serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) are only now entering the public discourse, and again, mainly for advertisements of drug treatments. The ones for schizophrenia seldom discuss any symptoms of the disorder – they just show a happy person playing a guitar or some such desired outcome. They don’t convey much about the condition of schizophrenia, its symptoms, how it affects families, or much of anything else.

As for other psychiatric conditions, there is much silence. PTSD is discussed, but only of the “wounded warrior” variety, not the kind that can result from other traumas. Anorexia/bulimia, OCD, social and generalized anxiety, narcissism, and the whole spectrum of personality disorders get little to no screen time.

There is growing discussion about things society – and especially first responders – should know or do about people with psychiatric conditions, but those are largely at the talking stage and a few pilot projects. When the subject hits TV, it is usually triggered (sorry) by an individual incident and is more likely to involve unorganized protests rather than coordinated efforts to address the larger problem. And at times, it seems that no one is listening.

Especially to the people with “forgotten” mental conditions – those that don’t have drug treatments or celebrity proponents or coordinated responses. It’s not that I think autism doesn’t deserve the attention it gets – though clearly there are more discussions to be had around the subject. I just sometimes despair of getting attention for mental illnesses.

But to go back again to the original post, mental illness and autism are two different things that cannot be easily compared. But it is true that autism, at the moment, has an organization with a loud voice behind it. Mental health, not so much.

Jenny’s Back!

Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) is back with a new book to accompany her wildly successful Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy, plus the coloring book that I can never remember the name of.

Her new book, Broken (in the best possible way), which debuted at #3 in the New York Times, takes Jenny’s weird and out-of-the-ordinary sense of humor and adds more laughs, as well as more serious material.

I haven’t counted how often she talks about vaginas and “lady gardens,” but I bet someone will. And f-bombs abound. (Hardly surprising, since the most requested way for her to sign books is “Knock, knock, motherfucker!”)

Note: If you’re at all a sensitive soul or offended by certain types of language, steer clear of the chapter on “Business Ideas to Pitch on Shark Tank.” It’s raunchy even by Bloggess standards, which means it’s beyond simply raunchy. Of course, if you were a sensitive soul who objected to certain types of language, you probably wouldn’t have picked up this book in the first place.

Jenny’s previous book, Furiously Happy, dealt a lot with struggles against depression and anxiety – Jenny’s own and other people’s. The new book goes into those subjects in more depth, including a personal narrative of using TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to deal with her treatment-resistant depression. There’s even a picture of her using the device.

She also reveals her own “really serious and raw stuff” – experiences with avoidant personality disorder, imposter syndrome, ADD, OCD, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, anemia, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. So be ready for a bumpy ride.

There are also sweet, sad, funny chapters about her family, and especially how they are dealing with her grandmother’s dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. And there are chapters that are not sweet, funny, or sad, where she rails against insurance companies and their unhelpful (to say the least) ways. These chapters and passages, I am certain, nearly every reader will identify and agree with.

And, lest you think this is a complete departure from Jenny’s funny stories, rest assured that there is plenty of what Jenny herself calls her “baffling wordsmithery,” including times she lost shoes while wearing them, dog penises and condoms, attic vampires, arguments with her husband Victor, embarrassing moments shared with other people (those who inadvertently say IUD when they really mean IED, for example), roller skating monkeys, dubious beauty treatments, the perils of being an editor, the perils of cooking and cleaning, taxidermy (of course), and high school proms.

As for the title, a broken lawn ornament (not Beyoncé the chicken, thank goodness) leads Victor to explain the Japanese concept of kintsugi. According to this practice, philosophy, or art form, broken ceramic items such as vases or teacups are repaired with a fixative mixed with gold powder, which creates something new, stronger, more artistic – and beautiful at the broken places, a theme which runs throughout the book.

What sets Jenny’s books apart from other humor books and from other books on serious illness, especially serious mental illness, is her ability to connect – both readers to herself and readers to each other. Her humorous chapters are over-the-top funny and many evoke a sense of “Yes! Me too! That could/did happen to me!” Jenny even includes instances when people have shared their own stories of faux-pas with her and by extension, with all her readers.

Her serious chapters are educational, descriptive, and occasionally searing. She tackles tough topics with fortitude and forthrightness, educating as well as illuminating. Far from being a textbook on serious mental illness and chronic illnesses, though, her stories bare the truth and present the subjects powerfully. They give hope and understanding as well as connection.

Connection. That’s Jenny Lawson’s superpower.

Laughing Out Loud

There’s nothing funny about bipolar disorder. In fact, one of the ways that I know I’m having a spell of bipolar depression is that my sense of humor flies out the window. Nothing brings a smile or a laugh – not my husband’s awful jokes. Not my friend Tom’s silly songs. Not a funny movie like Arsenic and Old Lace.

I have been in a spell of depression for a little while now. As I mentioned last week, part of it may be reactive depression. But here’s the thing. Reactive depression feels the same as bipolar depression. You have the same sense of misery, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, anomie. But you know what caused it and that it will end pretty soon, relatively, unless you tip over into a true depressive episode, which can last a lot longer than that.

But yesterday I laughed. And that was a good thing. It didn’t pull me completely out of my depression, but it let me know that escape was possible, and maybe even starting.

It happened like this:

My husband and I were sitting on the couch, watching TV. I was not enjoying it. Then a commercial came on about “man-boosting” pills that increase testosterone. It promised everything: strength, leanness, stamina, and outstanding performance in the bedroom.

Dan turned to me and said, “Hey, honey. Maybe I should try some of that. Improve my performance in bed-woo-woo-woo!

I turned and looked him straight in the eyes. I said, in a solemn, deadpan voice, without a trace of a snicker: Woo. Woo. I never got to the third Woo because we both dissolved in giggles. And it felt good – not only that I could laugh, but that I could make him laugh. Just thinking about it made us laugh all over again.

Today I am back to feeling overwhelmed, if a little less miserable, but still functioning on some kind of level. I don’t think my depression is over with. But for just a moment, I saw a ray of hope. Yes, it was over something stupid. Yes, I delivered the line with a flat affect. No, I didn’t know it was going to be that funny. I even thought Dan might be offended that I was making fun of him. But the important thing is that we both laughed. 

What I’m saying is that laughter, by itself, is not a cure for depression, however much the memes and the positive thinkers tell you that it is. But if laughter happens to you, it at least reminds you that the depression will end sometime – maybe quicker than you think. The giggles are building blocks that will help you climb up out of your hole, or at least see that there is a way out.

That’s a lot of philosophizing about two words (or syllables, really), and I’m not sure the magic would happen again if either one of us said Woo. But I am taking the memory of that moment with me, for whatever strength it can give me and whatever amusement will stay with me when this depression ends.

How Depression Sneaks Up

I had a blog post all written and ready to go. It was about my fluctuating moods and my writing, and how they affected each other. Some of what I wrote is still true. The depression I suffered during my early years and the exceedingly depressive poetry I wrote during that time allowed me to learn something about how poetry works and something more about how depression works.

I wrote about how hypomania affects my writing, and that is still true. Hypomania pushes me to do my writing, even when I don’t feel like it. In fact, at times it pushes me into doing more writing than I can probably handle. Case in point: This week I wrote three samples for a work-for-hire outfit when I should have been writing or at least outlining my WIP (Work In Progress), a sequel to the mystery I have already written and have been sending around to agents.

And last night, that’s where I hit the wall. I figured out that I have sent out about 180 or so query letters and gotten only the most minimal results – rejections that said I had an interesting premise that was not right for them. Most, though, have received plain rejections or the dreaded “no response means no.” I am now second-guessing myself and everything about the manuscript.

Last night, the depression caved in on me. I spent the night in bed, not sleeping except for nightmares, and not wanting to get up in the morning.

Because my identity is invested in being a writer, though, I did get up (late), sent a few more queries, and got to work on rewriting my blog posts, which I had determined were wretched. In the blog post that I abandoned, I had pontificated about how keeping a schedule kept me going with all the writing projects and various other work I do. 

I had also crowed about my relative stability and how that was helping me keep that schedule, which was supposed to be keeping depression at bay. I found out that I lied. The fact that I have maintained functionality for some time did absolutely nothing to prevent the depression that hit me.

Admittedly, this is probably a reactive depression, with my lack of success being the trigger. The thing is, it’s awfully difficult to tell apart from endogenous depression. In fact, I have known the first to melt into the second. At first you have a clear cause that would depress anyone, then you find it clinging to you long after what would seem to be reasonable. (This is subjective, of course. What is the “right” length of time to be depressed over 180 rejections?)

What’s left? Self-care, of course. Trying to sleep if I can, and squeezing in a nap if possible. Eat something, even if it’s only some guacamole and chips or a bowl of soup. Take my meds religiously. Try to cling to that schedule even when I don’t want to.

But the truth is, I’m running out of agents to submit to. I’m running out of energy to try. And I’m running out of the frame of mind to keep me functional. I’ll be okay, I know, but it may be a long, hard climb. 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: