December 10, 2012

The Holiday Blues – BPD Style

Once upon a time when I first started this blog, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (BPD), Severe Panic/Anxiety Disorder, and ADHD. I wanted to chronicle what it was like dealing with mental disorders (I hate saying it’s an illness, because that implies it can be cured, but so far, it can’t) but I started to worry that my entries would depress people so I moved them all over to my other blog “The Discovery of the Mental Me”. Looking back I really wish I didn’t because being bipolar is a part of who I am. I still struggle with separating that part of myself when I’m around people but I’ve reached a point where I just can’t anymore. And I shouldn’t feel that I have to. But this is something I will always wrestle with; it’s part of my disorder. Anyway, I’m not longer separating my posts. I’m happy and I’m sad. This blog now represents me, the whole me.

This last year has been hard for me. There was an external catalyst that opened a proverbial can of worms in my head and I’ve kind of spiraled downwards ever since. Also, I’m currently in what is termed a “mixed state” which is a danger zone for someone with BPD. By the way, BPD was originally called Manic-Depressive Disorder and in the 1980’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) (the book that is used to diagnosis mental illnesses) changed it to differentiate unipolar depression. There are many different flavors of BPD but I’m not going to delve into them now. Maybe I will in the future.

Anyway, here’s a scary fact: A recent review of thirty studies found that, on average, one fifth of BPD patients die by suicide. From a slightly different perspective at least two-thirds of people who commit suicide suffer from BPD. (source: Goodwin and Jamison, "Suicide," Manic-Depressive Illness).  Those odds are scary as fuck. BUT, I’ve never been hospitalized for attempting suicide. The closest I got was stepping into traffic. A stranger pulled me back to the curb before a car could have hit me. As twisted as this sounds, I kind of wish that I had been hospitalized because when I tell people that I have BPD they kind of brush it off because I’ve never been in a psych ward and they usually tell me I have a good handle on it and I’ll be fine. That is partly true. I have a very tight reign on my disorder, BUT not all the time. Robert Lowell wrote a poem that I think describes the feeling well:
Do I deserve credit
For not having tried suicide-
Or am I afraid
The exotic act
Would make me blunder,

not knowing error
is remedied by practice,
as our first home-photographs,
headless, half-headed, tilting
extinguished by a flashbulb?
I’m not saying I’m planning on committing suicide or anything. I think about it, but I refuse to act on it. But sometimes I do worry that I’ll crack. I have a therapist, but I still have A LOT of trouble asking for help. Mainly because I don’t know how anyone could help me. I don’t like to be vulnerable in front of people so I don’t want people to see me when my disorder gets the best of me. I also have a strong aversion to being touched when I enter a dark mood and would rather be alone. I also know that unless you’ve been to a dark place, it’s hard to understand what is happening and it’s frustrating because you just want to help and make the person realize that life is worth it and to get happy again. But it doesn’t work like that. I wish it was that easy.

I firmly believe this is a neurological condition, not just “mental” one. Doctors are still struggling to pinpoint just what exactly isn’t firing correctly and causing a living being to go against the only thing they’re born with that isn’t taught – the will to live. Survival is the one thing that is hardwired into us. Love is something that is taught and subjective. Examples are when animals leave their young to die or even kill them. Humans do this too, thus love is not a natural instinct for all. But survival is.

What gives me hope that we will one day be able to prevent and cure mental illness is that Autism is now being diagnosed as a neurological disease rather than a mental illness. Baby steps but at least they’re steps. Neuropsychology is a relatively new but it can be traced all the way back to the Third Dynasty in ancient Egypt. But just like the field of medicine, it may take a long time to evolve.

Ok, so, getting back to WHY I wrote this post; the holidays. They are especially hard on people with mental disorders. I’m currently reading the book Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison (on of my heroes). It’s about manic-depressive illness and the artistic temperament. It’s fascinating and full of so much amazing information and I came across this passage by A. Alvaraz and it struck a heartstring:
"A suicidal depression is a kind of spiritual winter, frozen, sterile, unmoving. The richer, softer and more delectable nature becomes, the deeper that internal winter seems, and the wider and more intolerable the abyss which separates the inner world from the outer. Thus suicide becomes a natural reaction to an unnatural condition. Perhaps this is why, for the depressed, Christmas is so hard to bear. In theory it is an oasis of warmth and light in an unforgiving season, like a lighted window in a storm. For those who have to stay outside, it accentuates, like spring, the disjunction between public warmth and festivity, and cold, private despair."
I hide what I am feeling a lot. But it’s gotten to the point where I can’t anymore. I’m sad and you can tell. This post is my attempt to explain why. I am much better at communicating via writing. Sometimes talking is hard because my brain is all over the place and my filter only works half the time. But I’m open about talking about my disorder because I want people to try and understand it because that is the key to understanding me. When I leave a place abruptly, act irrationally, and get agitated easily, it’s not because of you. My brain is just being a bitch. I’m not using my disorder as an excuse in any way. I have said and done hurtful things because of it but I will ALWAYS take responsibilities for my actions, whether they were intentional or not.

I also understand how hard and stressful it is to interact with someone with a mental disorder, my mother also has BPD but to a much more severe degree.  And while I think I do a pretty damn good job managing mine, the fact is, I still have a disorder and I struggle from time to time. Right now I’m struggling but I will be fine. I am determined to be fine. And if you have a mental disorder, you will be too. But you have to try. You have to want to manage it, to fight it. And you have to understand that the only person that you can truly depend on to be there for you is yourself. And that is enough. Of course friends help but even if they pick you up or carry you, ultimately you have to choose to walk again. So please do. There are people who understand how hard it is, so you’re not alone. But only you can fight through your own winter towards your spring.