It started rather quietly. In my youth, I became an avid reader of Reader's Digest, mainly because it was the most interesting thing to read at my grandparents house, and I was quite an avid reader. I don't recall the exact day, but I was caught up in my "totalitarian governments are just waiting to take over the US!" (brought on by the effects of 1984 on a young, somewhat impressionable mind, who still didn't quite have a hang on the idea of allegory and metaphor that an adult would), and wandered across an article on Prozac. I don't remember what exactly the article said, but I was not going to take psychiatric drugs. I wasn't going to allow anybody to fuck with my mind, no sirree.
It's funny what happens in a life.
I'm going to talk about what was the second most important day of my life after being born. It might move to third when I get married, but right now, it remains. Because it was on Wednesday, November 19th, 1997 at about 10:30 in the morning, that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And every single day since then has remained a struggle to fight against my own head.
For those of you not in the know, bipolar affective disorder is better known as manic-depression. I *am* manic-depressive, it is as much a part of me as any other part of me, I'd guess. And yet, it's not-me at the same time. It's a complex thing to explain, and an even more complex thing to feel. It batters at my relationships with people, and eats away at all that is important to me. And it comes with a horribly tainted stigma. There are people on my friends list who are going to read this and say "Mental illnesses don't exist! You're just being dramatic!"
It is those people whom, at times, I wish I could toss a crippling load of depression on and let them try to work their way through it, while *I* got to laugh that mental illness doesn't exist, and that if they would just 'think happy thoughts, it'll go away!' I want to watch them look at everything through black coloured glasses; I want them to wrestle with the existential questions and the never-quite-leaving thoughts of suicide. I want them to watch in horror as everything they once loved to do becomes a struggle, and I want them to realize that there are days when getting oneself out of bed is an accomplishment to be praised as much as climbing Everest.
Most of all, I want them to understand.
I want those people who are living in the closet with their friendly mental illness to be able to say to the world that they have that illness, and that there is *no* shame there. For having a mental illness is much like being gay or transsexual, and coming out of the closet changes what people see. But just as a gay person dreams of the day when his orientation isn't going to matter, I dream of a day where the state of my biochemical transmitters doesn't matter, that the condition is just as treatable and normal as insulin-dependent diabetes or any other chronic but manageable condition. And I want people who are having problems to seek help without the fear of forever being branded insane or crazy. I want a stay in the mental ward of a hospital to be just like any other hospital stay.
(That last paragraph is kinda funny knowing two things, a) that being gay was considered a mental illness in the '70s and b) that one needs a 'technical' diagnosis of some DSM category to be eligible for sex-change hormones and surgery. But the point remains. We're all friends in this closet.)
But that's just a dream. And dreams have an awful way of not being reality. And the anti-psychiatriy movement gains followers, and I don't understand, it seems to me that, like Ward Connerly's latest ballot initiave, it would mask the problem and not solve it. Psychiatrists are no more evil than any other group of people, honestly. Yeah, there's some bad apples, but it's made up for by folks like the doctor that coordinates the campus bipolar group, which I regret not being able to go to this semester because it's a safe place.
Life has a way of being ironic, because in order to be even somewhat productive and stable, and a plesant girlfriend for zibblsnrt, who gets the worst of my depression phases because he's the one that's dealing with it, I have to take those psychiatric drugs I was so scared of. And while I know if I'm on my meds or not, 'cause I'm the one that has to feed myself the damn things, he can tell by simple moodstate, and what I'm saying and doing. And he says there's a noticiable difference in me when I'm on my pills as opposed to when I'm not. I'm trying to get him to write about what it's like to date somebody with a major mental illness, because he knows so much about it from dealing with me. That and I think it would be generally enlightening for everybody. He's better at seeing what it looks like from the outside, whereas I'm sitting here trying to remember what I was feeling a week ago. I know I was horribly depressed, but I couldn't tell you the particulars.
And that's how I got started down this track in the first place, is the way campus mental health works. There's too few psychiatrists for the load of patients (and keep in mind, many mental illnesses are diagnosed in the college years), so the first line is going in and talking to a counselor. This was freshman year, maybe it was just adjustment issues. So I saw him the whole year and left in May with a supposedly clear bill of health. (I remember commenting to tanesmuti at the time that I had 'graduated from therapy'.) But when the depression came on with a vengance the next October, I luckily managed to get an intake with the therapist I'd talked to all last year, and he said something profound.
He said, "When you're up, it's like you don't remember that there's a down. And when you're down, it's like there never ever was an up period." And he agreed to make an appointment with the psychiatrist.
My first psychiatrist...well, I suppose he was just doing his job, but he wasn't a very good psychiatrist. I presented as depressed (and I was horribly depressed at the time I saw him, both a combination of biological and situational depressions combining to make a huge mess). My mom had suspected manic-depression, and I brought up the possibility and he said, "Have you ever had thoughts that you could walk out in front of a car and not get hurt even if it hit you?" And I said no, because my manias involve a *different* disconnect from reality. With that one negative, he decided I couldn't be bipolar and gave me the choice between Prozac (which makes you hyper), Paxil (which makes you sleepy) and Zoloft (which is in the middle).
Thinking back on it, having me make a choice like that was stupid, and the sign that he wasn't the greatest of doctors. But it doesn't really matter now. Because when you feed a manic-depressive anti-depressants without a stabilizer, they go through the roof into a very manic state in next to no time flat. Wednesday I took my first pill, by that Saturday, I was being driven to the hospital in an ambulance because I was passing out. (zibblsnrt, tanesmuti, aris_tgd, and anybody else that hung around #tjab in October of 1997 might remember this incident.)
And when I showed up at my doctor's office two weeks later for my next appointment, I was in a 180 moodwise. Which caused him to reevaluate. We decided to give it two weeks to see what happened, which led us to November 19th, 1997, and my official diagnosis as manic-depressive.
And I've rattled on like this to let you know that most manic depressives don't go shooting up schools, or running over people, or having inappropriate sexual relations with their second-grade students. (Inappropriate sexual relations in a manic stage, I can go with, but *second-graders*?) I'm your typical manic-depressive. A bit screwed in the head, yeah, but on the verge of getting a master's degree.
Stigmatize me, but have the guts to say that I'm not ill to my face, please.
four in the morning
crapped out, yawning
longing my life away
I never worry, why should I?
it's all gonna fade
--Paul Simon, "Still Crazy After All These Years"