Replying to a Mother’s Rueful Response

awrittenletterDear Mrs. Donahue (names are changed),

Thank you very much for your kind words. I wish I could take credit for my writing style but alas, like my blue eyes, my writing was implanted long before I discovered it. And I doubt that beautiful language is lost on you: my job is to inspire the reader to take action or offer empathy. See, you took action! Your comment had a tremendous effect on me; it was your honesty and so, in return, I will attempt to answer your concerns as best I can.

Is your very bright son Bipolar I or Bipolar II? It’s generally thought by those who have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder that life feels better when they’re off medication; which it does at the onset of mania. But (in my case) mania begins to spoil quickly (like peaches), and then the paranoia, insomnia, and hateful accusations begin to fly; if there’s no intervention (hospital, doctor, therapist) my thoughts begin to darken like storms in Nebraska; my withdrawal begins like clouds gathering on the horizon and continues to descend getting ominous and threatening; until the eventual cloudburst of suicidal ideation, developing a plan, and at its worst, scheduling a date. Your impression of his life on and off medications may be accurate, but rather than compartmentalizing your observation, let’s look at it comprehensively: ON MEDS: Ability to function (personally, academically) and a sweet disposition; OFF MEDS: High degree of intelligence and violent. It’s important that your son understands that mania is a false reality often unpredictable and usually misleading. Mania joegordonlevitt-manicprovides “out-of-the-box” thinking, grandiose ideas, risky behavior, and poor judgment. Contrary to what patients who abandon their meds think, their manic behavior is not their true behavior: It’s their mentally ill behavior gratifying their indulgences and oblivious to any consequence. You might want to read my post “Bipolar is not an insanity defense.” Whatever actions he takes while manic and unmedicated will be his responsibility. If he breaks the law he could find himself in a lock-up, brought to trial, and sentenced to the general population of a county jail or state prison to serve his time. And our It’s a risky and poor decision. We all hate our meds: for some, it prevents mania, for others it prevents suicide. His meds keep him safe.

He’s got to come to grips with his “new normal” or he’ll always want to transgress to the embolden and manic life. In the past four years, I have ingested a surprising number of medications (29 pills daily), all of which failed. A friend mentioned Adderall. I now take a tightly monitored volume of Adderall’s generic cousin. It’s the only medication which plucked me from the depths of my depression. Adderall makes you very focused, like an English Pointer zeroing in on a quail; too focused sometimes, almost to obsessive, waving off distractions, even meals. I’ve thought that I’m merely a puppet following Adderall’s direction.  But it’s the only medication that’s made a significant impact on my mood. Every morning I have two choices: 1) Swallow it; or, 2) Don’t swallow it. I swallow it because I’ve weighed the consequence of not swallowing it, and the outcome is, in a word, glum.

When your son turns old enough to be an adult you’ll have to let him go. I strongly suggest that you find some kind of parental support groups, perhaps a therapist to work with you. But remember, it’s impossible to reason with a manic person and it’s impossible to reason with an unreasonably depressed person. When the bipolar patient’s behavior indicates he is manic or depressed and living out-on-a-limb they forfeit rationality and decisiveness; they adamantly oppose responsibility as a clumsy and conspicuous trick by law enforcement or psychiatrists to admit their participation in some wacky activity; they denounce medications as a straightforward blitzkrieg against their mental resistance.  At some point we all return to face, with shock and awe, our manic (or depressed) annihilation of what-was-formerly-known-as-life, understanding that some relationships sustained too much damage and were bulldozed; while others weren’t inhabitable without repair. That’s when you face the costs of abdicating meds to unleash the real you.  And yet you know that the real you would never destroy relationships which you affectionately admired.

He knows precisely what to do because you loved, cared, and taught him.

Now, it’s his life to live complete with failure and success.

Oh yes, and bipolar disorder.

The Absolutely Best Thing I Ever Did While Manic

She leapt into my life in December, 2008 magically empathetic.  If there’s such a thing as the perfect pal, well, Jenni’s the One.

A Story For All Of Us

apartyMania is rich with almost-entertaining stories of bravado, of haphazard action, of disobeying most laws, of discarding sexual partners like “he loves me, he loves me not” petals.  But to a Manic, his/her episode could last years resulting in an incoherent swath of personal wreckage whose repetition finally drained even a mother’s irrevocable devotion (tucked in the coffee can behind the flour); The Manic loves a great party yet never buys a round.  The Manic’s desperate all in bluff with a pair of five’s causes a stumble, then a slip, finally sinking to Mania’s Skid Row: rancid, broke, estranged, lost, and nameless.  Until Sanity emerges from her safe place dragging you past leering, inflated, lobby guards who toss their opinions about each other like outfielders in a softball game.

alowlandSanity does her best to shield Mania from their sickening taunts; too late: liking to the daring distillers in Scotland (less than two %) who cross the authority of majority by bottling their whisky unfiltered and unadulterated, Mania scoops up her life’s residue and bits of character and leaps over the guard stand tackling two and beating the outspoken guard screaming, “However I am, I’m still human!”  It is said three guards and a janitor finally regained control and thus depositing Mania somewhere deep within the bowels of Sanity.

At night, seconds after bedroom lights dim, from somewhere very near or very far, Sanity faintly hears Mania’s outcry, “However I am, I’m still human . . . “ascottishgirl

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. . .

“Seize the day, and put the least possible trust in tomorrow.”  – Horace

When the cease-fire had been successfully negotiated between my bombarded sanity and the merciless encroachment by mania across my poorly fortified borders, I had some time to exit the bunker of my psychiatrists office and assess the destruction caused by my determination to stave off lunacy.  The bipolar assault started with quiet discussions between my moral compass and my livelihood; I deplored my employment and the sanctions forced upon me; I despised their leadership; I spoke out against unfair wage practices.  But surrender wasn’t discussed as I was shouldering the burden of lifestyle and there was a tremendous expectation to avoid austerity measures at all costs.

“No one can confidently say that he will be living tomorrow.”  – Euripides

But as negotiations between sanity and lunacy stalled, my need for stability extinguished every extraneous characteristic strategically in order to sustain a devoted and appeased veneer.  My daily performances of a stable and sanguine employee collapsed the moment I closed my office door.  Obviously, I used to say to myself, you built your house on stilts on a steep slope overlooking a rain forest.  It’s already started to happen, the slipping, the subtle shifting of supports witnessed by numerous cracks, and one day the view will swallow your self-inflated invincibility.  I knew it was on the march, my insight gained by a nightly ritual of alcohol, opiates, and barbiturates; stilts if you will; I tried to shore them up by ingesting higher dosages knowing that an overdose was more likely than a possibility.  But then, at least, the conflict would end, not by a victor, but by a dual annihilation.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”  – Abraham Lincoln

It took less than a month before all negotiations broke down; compromise was impossible; mania demanded that sanity unconditionally surrender immediately.  If sanity stonewalled mania would easily breach the helpless border of sanity and annihilate any vestige of reality.  Mania would speedily dispatch all disenfranchised defiance and finally overthrow sanity’s ruling party.  The occupation by an uncontrolled mania took its toll; defy authority; recent stronghold of relationships humiliated then abandoned in an irreconcilable ruin; mania marched through memory, abducting the defenseless past and drained its meaning as a form of promiscuous entertainment.  Mania’s presence transfigured my identity into a mutation; my anatomy remained intact; it was my mental state which sustained permanent damage.

“The crisis of yesterday is the joke of tomorrow.”  – H.G. Wells

Eventually mania’s corruption, lawlessness, and influential overlords devolved into civil war, fracturing mania’s resistance to the significant bombardment of sanity’s allies.  Continued sorties by way of medications, therapy, and education combined with mania’s faltering infrastructure caused their retreat.  Sanity returned and started the intense clean-up, but some things were destroyed beyond repair; some relationships were so disfigured that it was impossible to identify the missing parties; the financial sector had been sacked, sucked bone dry, leaving sanity buried under a mountain of unsecured debt which was nearly impossible to pay.  But the most significant consequence of mania’s occupation was the destruction of sanity’s history; it’s legends, it’s memories, it’s priceless, irreplaceable moments of time’s memory known as the past.  And tomorrow simply vanished along with hope, their whereabouts unknown, disassociated fragments remain, but I’ve decided that tomorrow and hope were victims of mania’s collateral damage.

“What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.”  – Goethe

It’s been four years since the siege.  I’m hardly the vibrant, entertaining, and social personality I was before the conflict.  I’m anxious at the slightest hint of crowds; I can’t tolerate aggression or hurtful behaviors (from people, dogs, television) and must remove myself immediately; my pharmaceutical therapy is a misnomer and leaves me as focused as a puppy on his first day of obedience training.  And I’ve had to forget that today will become yesterday because for me there is no yesterday; in an abstract sense, yes, I understand that there is yesterday but it and most of what it contained is lost to me.  So I practice forgetting that yesterday holds any value.  And tomorrow?  For me there is no tomorrow.  Again in an abstract sense, yes, I understand, but now I’m driven to finish everything today because I can’t think about tomorrow.

Living in the present is a spiritual lesson and if practiced can lead to enlightenment.  But that only applies to those fortunate enough to enjoy the freedom of choice.

My living in the present is just one more day absent of the bookends of time. Every day is always today.

“Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.”  – Lucy Maud Montgomery


“You Brought This On Yourself,”

My mother’s back: her way of avoiding conflict.

That’s what my mother used to say, her back to me, and her hands wrist deep in dishwater.  I needn’t see her hands to know she was wringing them upon hearing my news; I could tell by the way the muscles in her forearms were flexing.  There were several of these confessions at the kitchen table over the years, and I always found her reaction astonishing.  She was incapable of ever helping me solve whatever dilemma I disclosed.  The scope of my problems were well beyond the dimensions of her upper-flat apartment and any collateral influence her small circle of single-mothers might discover.  No, my mother lived a small, tightly wound existence, and like those gated-communities with elaborate, electronic gates and guard-posts manned by ex-militia, she’d honed the art of deflection, quickly interrupting my admission like a towering volley ball player blocking an opponents spike, by conjuring up the standard retort to unwelcome news, “You brought this on yourself.”

Which in many instances was both honest and obvious.  Most people don’t find themselves in a pickle by being an innocent bystander.  Most pickles are borne of poor planning and even poorer execution.  But not all admissions warrant my mother’s standard suppression.  For instance, the admission that you suffer from a mental illness in which you slide from a manic state to a depressive state as easily as Ferrari’s change lanes on the Autobahn. And that stress is a definite trigger, especially if that stress is a direct response to particular issues, situations, or circumstances.

What I’d like to know is whether other bipolar patients are accused of mania by a friend or relative when attempting to communicate important (and potentially volatile issues), and if so, does your intensity escalate in direct response to their continued defensiveness about the issues you are attempting to discuss?  And if the discussion derails and car after car of well-intentioned-but poorly-stated-examples jump track and pile atop each other deeply burying your initial point, does the person with whom you are now arguing with pull out the trump card, the ace-in-the-hole, the Coup de Grace and draw the conclusion that your passionate (implication: ridiculous) and persevering (implication: absurd) diatribe is characteristically manic, therefore you are literally, ranting like a lunatic, what do you do?  Back off as proof of your sanity (thereby recusing your accusations)?  Or stand firm and mad which guts the rationality of your point-of-view?

I recently cautioned a close friend that, out of desperation, played that card, and immediately quelled my interrogation.  But later, when civility returned, I quietly cautioned him of setting this precedent: “If I’m defenseless or simply tired of fighting, and he is intent at satisfying his blood lust, I’ll shut him up by asserting he’s Manic.”  Because most likely I’m not manic and accusing me of being manic in the context of an argument is cowardly and insensitive.

And lest you’ve forgotten, my mental illness is a disease not a strategy; it’s not my power play.

I’m out of control and therefore, by the very nature of the disease, am incapable of rational thought or reason; and the last thing an irrational person wants to hear is he’s behaving irrationally.  Talk about a dog chasing its tail!

Any thoughts?