The Good Fight

RobinI have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.

Robin Williams was one of us.  Mood disorder, addiction, recovery, relapse—he fought the good fight with his mental illness and demons.  Like all of us he won and lost, won and lost.  How any of us find the strength to get up again is a miracle.  And Robin performed miracles all his life—in his art, in how he used his celebrity to support worthy causes, in his love for a family he couldn’t quite hold together, in the way he kept surprising and delighting us.  But, mostly in his struggle to rise after each defeat.

I understand how hard that is.  I understand how the strength stayed just out of reach this time.  I understand how much he must have wanted the pain to stop and simply to rest.

He feels like a brother to me in so many ways.  He touched me deeply , and I’ll miss him.

Rest well, Robin.

Everything

vincent van gogh

No doubt in Holland,

when van Gogh was a boy,

there were swans drifting

over the green sea

of the meadows, and no doubt

on some warm afternoon

he lay down and watched them,

and almost thought:  this is everything.

What drove him

to get up and look further

is what saves this world,

even as it breaks

the hearts of men.

In the mines where he preached, 

where he studied tenderness,

there were only men, all of them

streaked with dust.

For years he would reach

toward the darkness.

But no doubt, like all of us,

he finally remembered

everything, including the white birds,

weightless and unaccountable,

floating around the towns

of grit and hopelessness—

and this is what would finish him:

not the gloom, which was only terrible,

but those last yellow fields, where clearly

nothing in the world mattered, or ever would,

but the insensible light.

—Mary Oliver

An Uppy-Downy, Mood-Swingy Kind of Guy

I’m stealing this interview with Stephen Fry from my friend, Evelyn’s site, because Mr. Fry is an eloquent, sincere spokesman for bringing mental illness out of the hidey-holes.  If you’ve not seen his documentary, The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive, I highly recommend it.

Withdrawal From Antipsychotics Can Cause Psychosis

This is vital information for anyone on psychotropic medication.

Manic Muses

For those who aren’t regular readers of my blog, I have been struggling to quit Abilify – a powerful antipsychotic medication – without success.  This has been a frightening, long and drawn out process for me, since the withdrawal symptoms I’ve experienced every time I have tried to quit this drug inevitably included a mild psychosis.  What is even more disconcerting is I never had any symptoms of psychosis until I started taking Abilify.

Last night I received a reply from a gentleman named Ed to one of my former posts: Abilify Withdrawal – Round 3: Abilify Wins and Antipsychotic Dependence. It is a very thoughtful piece from a person whose son had a psychotic break after trying to quit antipsychotic medication.  If you read Ed’s comment and follow the links he provided, it seems there is  now evidence  in a just published study that withdrawal from antipsychotics may lead to…

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The Human Side

Collage art

In the aftermath of the Aurora shootings, it will be important for those of us with mental illness to use the teachable moments that are bound to come our way.  News reports and media coverage have debated endlessly over Holmes’ state of mind.  Is he a sociopath?  Was he on a manic spree?  Did he suffer a psychotic break?  Is he faking?  We can help answer those questions.

Those of us who are “in the closet” about out illnesses will want to burrow deeper behind the winter coats.  Do what you need to feel safe and keep your loved ones protected.  Those of us who are public can help the people we encounter understand a little better.  Be willing to engage in the conversation.  Be gentle.  Don’t take their ignorance or anger personally.  Help people see that this type of behavior is uncommon and certainly can’t be faked.

Once again, mental illness will be demonized and feared.  Anything that looks this scary and can become so deadly is terrifying.  All we can do is show folks the human side of mental illness.  No one person stands for all—not in the general public, and certainly not in the insane.

Bless you all for your courage.

Shot-Gun Rider

Madness will push you anywhere it wants.  It never tells you where you’re going, or why.  It tells you it doesn’t matter.  It persuades you.  It dangles something sparkly before you, shimmering like that patch on the road up ahead.  You will drive until you find it, the treasure, the thing you most desire.

You will never find it.  Madness may mock you so long, you will die of the search.  Or it will tire of you, turn its back, oblivious as you go flying.  The car is beside you, smoking, belly-up, still spinning its wheels.

—Marya Hornbacher from Madness: A Bipolar Life

♦ ♦ ♦

I just finished Hornbacher’s account of her life with bipolar disorder.  Part of me is furious.  Part of me identifies so completely with her life that I want to buy copies of her book and give them to everyone I know.  “Here,” I want to tell them.  “This is what the inside of my head looks like.”  Part of me feels sick and crazy and wants to binge or drive really fast until the screaming in my own head stops.  Part of me just wants to punch something.

So, I guess the furious part is winning.  Here’s a woman who survived anorexia so severe she once weighed 55 pounds, raging alcoholism, drug addiction and rapid-cycling, mixed-state bipolar disorder.  She was hospitalized over and over again.  She even received electroshock treatments from the same doctor who gave them to me.  I should be compassionate.  I should be empathetic.  I should get her life.

But all I can think about is that she was diagnosed in her twenties and ignored every recommendation that was ever given to her.  Stop drinking.  Stop working so much.  Pay attention to your moods.  She ignored all of it until her illness was so advanced she had no other choice than to finally take some responsibility for her life.

What I wouldn’t give to have had a diagnosis in my twenties!

Of course, I may have done exactly what Hornbacher did—blow it off and let the madness run riot.  Of course I would have, because that’s part of the illness.  (Professionals call it “lack of insight,” which means the inability to recognize symptoms as symptoms.)  And that’s what pisses me off.

There was never any chance of stopping this freight train, never any chance of catching up to the mirage of sanity.  I knew that when I was eleven, but I keep forgetting.  I fool myself into thinking all this work I do, all the Observing and Monitoring and Substituting, will lock the craziness away and let me be normal. Always, in the back of my mind, I hold out that someday the monster will go up in smoke.  But these memoirs that I’m reading, as research for my own book on bipolar disorder, keep pounding a different stake through my heart.  “Snap out of it!” the Van Helsing-book yells at me.  “Bipolar isn’t the monster—chasing after Normal is the real monster!”

Uhhh.  My chest hurts where I’ve pulled out the latest stake.  Maybe I can figure out how to banish the magical thinking without needing a pointy two-by-four every single time.  Maybe I can teach myself to just enjoy the drive instead of keeping an eye out for the mirage.  Maybe, someday, I’ll finally accept this illness as the shot-gun rider that it is.  Maybe.  Someday.

Theory of Mind

This amazing bit today from Susanne Antonetta’s A Mind Apart:

One persistent theory of autism—I would call it a bias—holds that autistics have no “theory of mind,” defined as the ability to recognize or infer the mental life of another person.  No theory of mind, the thinking goes, leads to a lack of empathy.  Many clinicians still believe this.

Autistics argue they may develop a theory of mind later than neurotypicals, but the compensation for this later development is a theory of mind that’s far more sophisticated, that recognizes the uniqueness of each individual’s mental life.

Neurotypical theory of mind tends to infer the mental state of others by following the rules of one’s own.  As one clinician puts it, the autistic may rely on a not-like-me awareness of the other, rather than a like-me awareness.  A contributor to the Institute for the Neurological Typical addresses theory of mind this way:  the neurotypical theory of mind is that everyone thinks like me, while the neuroatypical theory would be that everyone’s mind is “vastly and mysteriously” different from my own.

“Have you ever noticed that ‘normal’ people cannot think about the possibility that each person might live in a separate world?” he asks.

I have not polled normal people to see whether or not they can think this.  I know it has been clear to me since childhood, when each set of eyes that passed me, including those of my closest family, seemed like windows in a jetliner taking off, never clearly visible and becoming invisible in no time at all.

What this section made me realize is that early in my life I held a neurotypical theory of mind, in that I believed everyone thought and felt the same way I did.  Now my theory of mind is firmly neuroatypical.  I know no one thinks like I do.  Even other folks with bipolar disorder have very different universes swirling in the vastness of their minds.  We do manage to enter each others’ orbits on occasion, but I’ll never again make the mistake of assuming anyone else populates my planets.

‘Mad’ scientists find out why geniuses ‘go mad’ | The Jakarta Post

A lot has been written about mental illness and creativity or mental illness and intelligence.  I found this article to be interesting, if vague.  And of course, it comforts me when other research says our brains will eventually turn to pudding.

‘Mad’ scientists find out why geniuses ‘go mad’ | The Jakarta Post.

Bloggy Birthday

Today is my blog’s first birthday.

When I started out last year, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I wanted to talk about being bipolar and how managing a mental illness became a spiritual practice.  I also discovered it to be the perfect platform for sharing my art and fiction.  More people could see my art.  And I could put my stories in front of readers without going through the soul-breaking horrors of the publishing world.

What I didn’t expect were the revelations and gifts that came from simply showing up.  First, that so many people came to visit.  As of this writing, there are 99 people who read this blog regularly, and in the year that it’s been out in cyber space, folks have crossed the threshold over 15,000 times.  Once I Googled myself (aminddivided.com) and flipped out when several of my postings appeared at the head of the list.  That explains why “If You Meet Carrie Fisher on the Road, Kill Her” continues to be my most popular post.  Who knew so many people sought out Carrie Fisher?

The second revelation came through the process of writing about my illness.  The Bipolar Bad-Ass Training program took shape and was not only entertaining (so some have told me), but gave me a real, nuts-and-bolts method for shucking off the victim mentality that held me captive.  I’m proud to have figured out a way to stand tall and take no prisoners in my daily life.  It enabled me to discontinue psych meds and to pioneer a new form of self-management.  If ever a book ever comes out of all these posts, it will be The Bipolar Bad-Ass.  And you all will be a part of it.

The third revelation is that I’ve become something of a mental illness advocate.  That was not my intention when I started.  But, as I’ve explored my process and offered an ear to others who need to share theirs, I’m finding a population suffering in relative silence.  Stigma still exists for folks with mental illness.  The media image of the homicidal whack-a-doo needs to be countered by those of us who are articulate enough to speak.  I’ve started speaking at groups about mental illness and bipolar disorder, and the response there is the same as on this blog.  Relief.  Finally, people have a place to talk about themselves, their loved ones, their co-workers.  Someone understands.

The fourth revelation is that writing these posts has made me a better fiction writer.  And the more fiction I write, the better my posts are.  Writing of any kind primes the pump, and my well has become self-sustaining over the past year.  When I posted the first chapter of Callinda a few days after I launched this blog, I intended to just “clean it up and put it out there.”  Instead, I’ve completely rewritten a novel that came out of a long period of rapid cycling and deep depression.  It’s a much better story now (and almost done, I promise).  I’m already looking ahead at picking up October Roads again and crafting a compelling bipolar heroine.

This first year in the bloggy world stunned and amazed me.  This site has become an integral part of my spiritual work and a way for me to be in the world again.  I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

Burning Bridges

Some people illuminate their lives with the bridges they burn  —Anonymous

♥ ♥ ♥

People are messy.  Relationships can be both amazing gifts and back-breaking work.  Most of the people in my life provide me with incredible mirrors, endless opportunity to practice my spiritual work and to watch my illness push me toward self-destructive behavior.  I’ve torched a lot of relationships in my life—I’m just beginning to understand how many—and struggle to bring compassion and generosity to the ones I have left.  I try to be careful now.

But I have a friend who makes that hard.  He’s an alcoholic.  A few days ago he called and said shockingly hurtful things to me while drinking.  I knew that he’d talked like this to other friends and members of his family—I’ve watched him demolish the relationships in his life over the last couple of years—but I didn’t think he would ever do that to me.

I’m stunned and confused.  I’ve told him I love him, but that I can’t let anyone treat me that way.  I can’t live with the stress of it.  I told him I needed to talk to my therapist about what happened.  I also want to talk to some folks who are clean and sober for advice.  I’ve never been close to an alcoholic before, and I don’t know what an appropriate response might be.

My initial reaction is to run—never have anything to do with him again.  But, for me, that’s old behavior, and I’m not sure that it’s the best answer.  I don’t want to burn this bridge out of fear and self-righteousness, then regret it later.  I don’t want my illness to control how this goes down.

I don’t have many friends left.  I really don’t want to lose another.

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