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Posts Tagged ‘Kay Redfield Jamison’

“A few observations about the complexity of an illness that is so much a part and parcel of one’s temperament.  But most importantly [about] the role of love in recovery.  Love as sustainer, as re-newer and as protector.”:

Jamison-An Unquiet Mind“After each seeming death within my mind or heart, love has returned to re-create hope and to restore life.  It has at its best, made the inherent sadness of life bearable, and its beauty manifest.  It has, inexplicably and savingly, provided not only cloak, but lantern for the darker seasons and grimmer weather.

I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons.  Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is.  And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces.  There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist.  It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one’s life, change the nature and direction of one’s work, and give final meaning and color to one’s loves and friendships.”   “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness,” by Kay Redfield Jamison

I was brutally and viscously attacked this weekend.  Granted it was only a verbal lashing, but it was by a “supposed” friend while he was a guest in my home.  But it was the intense animosity and the volume at which it was hurled that has left scars far greater and deeper than any he might have tried to inflict physically.

I share this with you because of what it means to me as someone who suffers with a mental disorder.  Because, while his outburst about my mental state failed to make me feel stigmatized, his behavior did (does) make me feel marginalized.  And that is unacceptable.  Bordering on unconscionable.

No one has the right to stand in judgment of you or your mental capabilities.  Least of all someone who acts self-righteous, who professes moral superiority, who thinks they have the right to determine what is and what is not acceptable behavior.  Especially when they themselves act hypocritically, because, for the record, accosting someone while a guest in their home and then sneaking away without leaving a note or saying goodbye to the other members of the household is not acceptable behavior.

The truly sad part of this story for me is that I lost a 15 year-long friendship that I cherished.  Not with him, but with his wife who stood by and said nothing while he repeatedly insulted me. Would his behavior have been tolerated had he attacked someone in a wheelchair?  Someone with mental retardation?  Someone with anorexia?  Is abuse leveled on someone who suffers from a mental disorder any less reprehensible than an attack on someone with a more physically apparent disability?

But, even as I mourn that loss I am left with the feeling of being empowered, renewed, reborn.  It has reminded me of two of my favorite (and empowering) phrases: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and “Consider the source.”

I present this video as a gift to him.  To enlighten him.  Sadly he will never see it because as far as I know he has never read my blog.  If he had, he might have seen my mood swings for what they were, the unfortunate influence (or deficiency) of certain chemicals in my brain.  But the truth is, I make no secret of my disorder and he is well aware of (or at least he should have been) the fact that my mental state is compromised.

Personal Reflections on Manic-Depressive Illness

I can only speak for myself, but I have no doubt that most of us who struggle with a mental handicap (be it bipolar disorder, chronic depression, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc.) struggle with low self-esteem.  The one thing that I feel is my saving grace is the gift of self-respect.  It doesn’t completely compensate for my disorder but it certainly makes it tolerable at times.  While I may not be the most successful or accomplished person, nor the smartest, nor the most humble, nor the bravest, I am a human being who deserves, no DEMANDS to be treated with respect.

And so I declared at the end of his tirade: “You and I are no longer friends.”  I chose the high road and did not stoop to his level of name-calling, etc.  Although I did slam the door rather aggressively on the way out of the room.  I’m bipolar, hear me ROAR.

That is my gift to you today.  Own that for yourself.  RESPECT.  Challenge anyone who dismisses you in any way, shape or form.  Confront anyone who dares suggest that your role or your contribution to life or society is any less valuable than theirs.  Do not take any slight or insult lightly.

Whatever your own personal handicap is, I guarantee you that you have other gifts that more than make up for any shortcomings or challenges you might face.  Stand up for yourself.  Refuse to be stigmatized or marginalized.  Never, ever, under any circumstance, allow someone to disrespect you.  Never let their ignorance and small mindedness affect how you feel about yourself.  I honor you.  Please honor yourself.

A mental disorder is biological.  Ignorance is not.

To all of my good friends and followers who remain loyal, who take the good with the bad, who love unconditionally, I am thankful.  I am humbled by your humanity and forever grateful for your acceptance.  Please feel free to add your comments here.  The support of my family, friends and readers has meant the world to me, and has been another, not so small, saving grace.  Please know that I am here for you as well.

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Night Falls FastThe “wondrous tunneling” into the sun and subsequent falling back into the sea conjure an image of the dangerous relationship between exploration and recklessness.  Mania…is an aggressive and volatile state, but it is generative as well, an influential condition of contagious enthusiasms and energies.  The elements that in part define mania—fearlessness, a fast and broad scattering of thoughts, an expansiveness of moods and ideas, utter certainty, the taking of inadvisable risks—often carry with them the power to both destroy and to create.”   “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide,” by Kay Redfield Jamison

Even though it’s June in Maui, the water is cold and dark, the beach all but deserted.  And while it’s a little late in the day for snorkeling, the sun having made its way west and begun its descent, I put on a pair of fins (but fail to tighten them after the last user) and place the mask over my face (the blue plastic air tube facing the wrong direction) and ease into the wet blackness.

Maui Four Seasons

Even though I’m a capable swimmer, the Darth Vader quality that my breath assumes as I inhale, exhale through the snorkel makes me anxious.  It is one of those rare times that I am completely aware of the connection between life and breath.  Floating there for a moment before heading off towards the reef, it is evident to me that this in-and-out of oxygen is the only thing keeping me alive.  It is as if “life” is something I can see as separate from myself, something borrowed, something on loan.  It is tangible, yet transient.

After swimming for a brief time I find myself levitating above a patch of uninhabited dark coral.  Well, maybe there’s an occasional Long Nose Butterfly or an Achilles Tang wandering past, muted by a lack of sunlight, but that’s all.  The lack of marine life in the area leaves me with only my heavy breathing and an eerie stillness to concentrate on.

In addition to my earlier mistakes in judgment (fins and snorkel,) I remove my mask because it is starting to make me claustrophobic and because it’s taken on some water.  There are two problems with this act.  First, I am in over my head, and second, I am unable to put the mask back on.  My repeated attempts to reinsert the mouthpiece only result in my ingesting large quantities of salt water.

As I struggle to reapply the mask, I take in more and more water.  I am gasping for air and as I do so I mange to inhale what seems like more fluid than oxygen.  It is then that one of my fins comes off.  Foolishly I reach for it, grasping it in my right hand, clutching it like a life preserver.  It occurs to me (rightly or wrongly) that no fin is better than one fin, so I remove the other and hold that one in the same hand with its mate.

By now I am hyperventilating, flailing, taking in more and more gulps of foul tasting seawater, which makes me even more anxious.  And heavier.  I go under once.  Twice.  I look off to the shore and spy my partner, virtually alone on the beach, reading in a deck chair, oblivious to my struggle.  He seems very far away.  And even though he was on the varsity swim team in high school, (if anyone can save me he can) that was years ago, and now he’s miles away, so I don’t hold out much hope for rescue.

I am in trouble.  I know that.  I am at death’s door.  I have never been more certain of anything in my life.   But I am resourceful.  Independent.  I try to float on my back while “swimming” backwards towards shore.  But I am in a riptide and no matter how much I move my arms and legs, I stay in the same spot.  No matter what I do I make no progress.  All my efforts simply result in my getting more and more exhausted and more and more anxious.  One more error in judgment that could prove to be fatal: I hang on to the fins in my right hand, seriously hindering my ability to swim in any direction.  I take in yet more water as my feet flail below me searching for something solid to light on.

At this moment things begin to slow down.  I am panicked, yet I am calm.  Death is near, I can feel it.  I know that I have gotten in over my head, this time quite literally.  Being bipolar, I am always doing that; spending too much, driving too fast, jumping out of planes, skiing faster than I should given my skill level.  But never before have I been so acutely aware of the consequences.

I am conscious that my mind is merely assessing the situation, not judging it.  “Okay, so this is happening.”

Having experienced suicidal thoughts as recently as six months ago, there is a part of me that wants to let go.  It’s quiet.  Peaceful.  The water gently rocks me, back and forth, back and forth.  I am anxious, panicked, but not especially frightened.  I could very easily take in a few more gulps of salty liquid and disappear below the surface.  When my partner looks up from his book and doesn’t see me he will not be surprised.  He will think I’m on other side of the reef, or that my profile, flat on the surface as I observe aquatic life, is just not visible from his spot on the beach.

I can’t say it was a conscious decision.  I can’t take responsibility for saving my own life.  But something, somehow, some force beyond my comprehension, caused me to cry out: HELP!

And again, HELP!  Off in the distance my partner looks in my direction, but makes no effort to get up.

HELP!  I can’t stop saying it now.  And yet it feels like a lost cause.

But there is a cost to crying out for help.  I have conceded.  I have given up.  I will be saved by someone else, or I will drown.  I know this.  At this point I am incapable of saving myself.  Once I committed my efforts to that option, all others came off the table.   There is not enough time for alternatives.

My partner slowly drifts towards the water, unsure if he hears me correctly, unsure if I am joking or not (we manic depressives inherently have a good sense of humor.)

As he dives into the water, my big toe briefly lights on a small outcropping of coral, just long enough for me to take in a breath or two of oxygen instead of saltwater.  I try to hover there but the gentle waves keep rocking me away from any safe footing.

My partner is on his way, but I am too far out and I have taken in too much water.  He’ll never make it.  And yet he does.  “Take my hand,” he says.  And I do.  And with only a few of my fingers curled around a few of his, he is able to swim backwards to shore, taking me with him.

And that was all there was to it.  That night at dinner at the Four Seasons, our table overlooking the very spot this all took place only a few hours earlier, we barely spoke of it.

And a month later I am not a changed person.  I had no epiphany.  No mad desire to live life to the fullest.  And I don’t know what that means.  Lately I’ve been reading a lot of blogs by writers questioning the meaning of life.  And I have never been more certain, because of this experience, that there is no meaning to life.  Any meaning we try to apply to it is merely our own ego trying to rationalize its own existence.  That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, or do good while we’re here.  But searching for a reason for our own existence is as futile as trying to swim against the current.

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My Suicide

My Suicide

For some, suicide is a sudden act.  For others, it is a long-considered decision based on cumulative despair or dire circumstances.  And for many, it is both: a brash moment of action taken during a span of settled and suicidal hopelessness.”  Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide,” by Kay Redfield Jamison. 

A few weeks ago some friends invited me to watch a movie at the San Francisco Film Festival.  These are good friends that I don’t get to see very often, so I took them up on their offer.  I went even though the title of the movie, “My Suicide,” sounded like a rather unappealing way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night.  But it had a good cast and friends of said friends had been involved in the making of the movie.  

Having recently been troubled with (drug induced) suicidal thoughts myself, I was both curious and reticent as I approached the box office.  The day had been cold and rainy, so when I sat down next to my friends in the balcony of the Kabuki Theater I was already damp and gloomy.  But I have to say that the movie engaged me right away, and even though the subject matter was depressing, the film wasn’t.  Perhaps it’s that “misery loves company” thing?  Perhaps it’s that seeing other people’s pain puts our own in perspective? 

The overall premise of the film is that a high school student enrolled in a film/video class has decided that for his major project (60% of his grade) he intends to commit suicide on camera.  Part homage to cult films (Matrix, Deer Hunter,) part MTV video, part Infomercial spoof, part animated comic novel, the movie was (is) interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking.  Even more so now, several weeks later with news of the death (assumed by some to be suicide) of actor David Carradine, who played a small, but important role in the film. 

I can’t speculate on why Mr. Carradine chose to take his own life, if it does in fact turn out to be suicide.  But I can speculate on suicide in general.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, where you are or where you’re going, life sometimes just doesn’t seem worth living.   For those of us who suffer with mood disorders, every day we have to choose NOT to kill ourselves.  For others, it’s situational: the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a major illness.  It really doesn’t seem to take much.  One seemingly insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) incident can push you over the edge. 

For some reason it seems that creative people (David Foster Wallace, Spalding Gray, John Kennedy Toole, Freddie Prinze, Margaux Hemmingway) are particularly at risk.  

It occurs to me that the downside to burning brightly is the risk of burning out. 

My condolences go out to Mr. Carradine’s family and friends.  I hope they take some small comfort in the role that he played in “My Suicide.”  It’s an important film and I encourage everyone to see it, especially if someone you know and love is at risk.  It’s important for anyone who may be suicidal to see it as it might give them a new perspective.  For all the others, it’s a powerful and accurate look into a state of mind you might not otherwise get to see or comprehend.

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"An Unquiet Mind"

Not talking about manic-depressive illness, if only to discuss it once, generally consigns a friendship to a certain inevitable level of superficiality.” “An Unquiet Mind; A Memoir of Moods and Madness” by Kay Redfield Jamison. 

I strongly agree with Ms. Jamison’s comment, even though it might seem to contradict my desire to relinquish even the concepts of bipolar disorder and depression to the darkest recesses of my mind.  But if we try to keep our condition a secret, we give it power. 

Jamison also writes, “I have become fundamentally and deeply skeptical that anyone who does not have this illness can truly understand it.”  I believe that is part of what keeps people quiet (or embarrassed, or ashamed) of their illness.  We fear being misunderstood, or marginalized, or judged.  It is only when we can discuss psychological disorders in the same way that we discuss cancer or heart disease that we will be less prone to stigmatization, by others and ourselves. 

But, I would also like to point out that, while we shouldn’t hide our condition, neither should we make an issue of it.  I believe that it should be acknowledged, on the table, out in the open, but that we do so as a way to negate its importance, not call attention to it.  When we pretend to be something other than we are, we compromise ourselves and our ability to heal. 

This blog is a test to that theory.  Is it possible to shine a light on the subject while at the same time diminishing its impact?

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