As is common my life has had a few events and traumas but I do not want to talk about them individually – events that have affected my life include my father dying and my mother dying forty-one years later, which brought me closure for my father’s death. The birth of my children were lastingly joyful events; as was meeting my step-children and getting to know them.
My breakdowns were on the face of it bad news at the time, but ultimately have led to many opportunities and have influenced my writing.
Friction With Fiction
This is a work of fiction but true nevertheless.
The ringing in my ears, more like a frenzied scream, does not stop. I cannot rest, take that much needed sleep, the loop is in full flight. The more I don’t sleep the more hyper I become/go, the more hyper I am the harder it is to sleep. I don’t hear voices, I see things that are in my mind as if they are there. Well they are there, it is just sometimes I have trouble remembering them. My knees are moving not letting me rest – I must be going otherwise I will not arrive in time.
Now we are going on a van – yes “on a van”, not “in a van”. A white van. It is rocking side to side not just forwards as it gathers speed. One lurch on a corner and I nearly lose my grip – not just on reality either. So surreal the van is white and then an ambulance with a roof rack. Downhill slope, ski, toboggan, the hard-packed snow curling off wheels that are runners now.
On the snow I see lines of equations followed by lines of computer code. The sun is shining and the cow is lowing like a foghorn on the Clyde in a thick mist. I watch the equations – every sort start to parade along the snow ridges. I almost grasp a new sequence – a series of great importance, but no – it escapes. The ambulance is slowing now, snow is receding, we hit the kerb and I somersault and land on my feet. We are at a series of large Victorian buildings – it is a hospital where everyone looks well. And the staff are not in uniforms, so you cannot tell they are nurses and doctors. The buildings are connected to the main building by pathways – small roads with carts; some electrical, some pushed, all making their way to somewhere else. Laundry, food, books, cleaning stuff crisscrossing between the buildings. Most pedestrians walk with quick intention but a few others with inattention.
I explore this alien environment finding dark and grubby corridors and a clean house set in gardens on the edge of the woods. The house has a board outside, it says “Psychology”. I visit them twice to be sure. I am not sure of what, and my Psychiatrist is not very reassuring when he says there is nothing to worry about. I am going for walks and sometimes I feel a great urgency with the internal pressure rising. A pressure to dive through a hoop of spinning light. What will happen if I do – will it feel better or worse? Nothing happens immediately when I dive – except there is a jolt as I hit the ground.
Then it does feel better and worse. They say many contradictory things but they all say no more hoops. That is the nature of this hospital, mostly people feel worse before they get better but sometimes it is the other way around. I remember the pain from five years before, of infected polyps in my ear. The pain was excruciating and explainable – the infection was growing in a place which could not expand. But this new pain that I cannot gauge better or worse, it is inexplicable, tearing away in my head and body – it is more like a life ruined. Scorched earth life.
The real problem is to know if you are getting better – if it is the right time to push or if it is too soon and you might set yourself back. Is there ever a cure or is it a matter of adjusting to your human condition? And although the medicine might help sometimes it becomes the problem too. There are many parallels with physical illness. But the obvious difference is that you cannot see what is wrong. It is enough to make you mad.
One feeling that came to me slowly – I was fortunate that my cure is to harness what is considered to be a chemical imbalance in my brain. Looking back I realised not many people in the hospital were as lucky.
Bi-polar: affliction or fortune
First facet – Looking out
Imagine living half your life in a tunnel – or at least half living your life in a tunnel. Yes true, there are some good and really great parts of your life too – in fact they are at the other end of the tunnel.
The tunnel is like a hole through your world running from North to South Pole. In this case we can think of the North as the high “top of the world” place and the South as not just black but beyond black; the sort of black that absorbs all will-power and energy. It may seem exhilarating to fly out of the top of the world but it is best not to contemplate what happens when you shoot out of the bottom.
Whereabouts you are in the tunnel can change quite quickly and outside events and feelings can trigger a sudden fall or rise. But there is also an inexorable internal force that drives you in one of two directions.
I have to pause and say of course everybody gets good and bad days. External factors and also getting yourself in to a mess can depress anyone. In fact external depressions can be deep and long lasting. Also it is true living in the internal tunnel of highs and lows does not protect you from these more normal ups and downs too. Sometimes these normal ups and downs interact with where you are in the tunnel.
One thing that seems to differentiate external from internal lows is the ability to compare between them. With most external lows it is possible to say how the two external lows compare. However this seems much more difficult with two internal lows; each tends to feel like they are always the only and worst one.
As for the highs, the internal highs are generally scarier than highs that come from outside, if they are not scary at the time, then they are usually more scary afterwards.
Second facet – Looking in
Everybody has ups and downs. One distinguishing factor for a bi-polar person seems to be that usually depressions come from within. There is a scale for bi-polar from mild to full-blown. It could be argued that bi-polar is the nature of the human condition and that most people are at the very low end of a natural scale.
It is a simplification to say that only bi-polar sufferers have internal depressions since non bi-polar people sometimes have mood changes for no discernable reason. It seems that one aspect that differentiates the bi-polar change in mood is also the range of high to low too, which seems more extreme in a bi-polar person. So that is to say a bi-polar sufferer is more extreme at the manic end than say a depressive sufferer is but likely to be similar to the depressive person when it come to depression.
These extremes include debilitating manic phases, which can manifest delusions and hallucinations. At the other extreme, the depressive end, can also be delusional, ranging through a total lack of self-motivation and will power to suicide.
Common is a feeling of isolation, both in the situation and also in the abstract.
So it seems that when trying to define the bi-polar condition it is difficult to differentiate it from a normal condition, except maybe at the extremes.
In writing this facet I have tried to write it looking at the bi-polar condition. In my case I have the feedback that I am not at the highest end of the bi-polar scale but rather a bit below the worst sufferers. In fact I feel my elations are not as significant or frequent as my depressions – although some of my elations have been significantly damaging. With medication I can lead a fairly normal healthy life, a good deal more than half the time anyway.
Third facet – Looking sideways
Bi-polar seems to be the thinking person’s mental illness. Quite a number of creative, artistic and influential people have been bi-polar or manic-depressive. Is it such a burden to be this way? Is it in fact part of a gift? Is it perhaps a cause of creativity? Nearly all sufferers would not willingly change their condition, preferring to live life in the oscillations. Quite a number of those taking medication stop taking it from time to time, in the hope of a high rather than a low of course. The major medication seems to be very effective at preventing the highs – or maybe they are missed more than the lows.
Bi-polar does seem to run in families, more so than some other major mental illnesses. Psychotic illness seems random in the population for example, even though there does seem to be more in common between the two illnesses than it was previously thought.
Like many major illnesses coping rather than cure seems the order of the day. This can include taking suitable medication but it will also certainly require an adjustment of lifestyle and most importantly coming to terms with that adjustment.
Zero facet – The Trigger
Triggers can take many forms but I get the impression that they can range from things you may find in the normal lives of many to extreme events or traumas. It also seems that our ability to deal with these triggers is formed mainly in our developmental stages but also later in life. It may be that what is laid down in the formative years is more significant or more difficult to change. Identifying what your triggers are and adjusting your lifestyle is more important than identifying the underlying cause of the susceptibility to the trigger.
To avoid detrimental reaction to trigger events the aspirations and realisation of the sufferer needs to become congruent. The adjustment is difficult, as it requires a change to deep felt needs, or rather the inner workings of life to date. More difficult still is coming to terms with that adjustment, it might seem like a loss of self. However, there is perhaps a more optimistic view, there is another possibility, finding true congruent self.
A Later View
I looked at several self-help books and have been to psychodynamic counselling. I have also taken a keen interest in Peer Support Networking and Co-counselling (CCI) that is supported by Suffolk MIND. Through this I came across a useful tool – an approach to emotional health and clear thinking, see Human Givens, which uses an Emotional needs and Resource model WiKi Human Givens or Human Givens Institute.
I think this is a very helpful tool for looking at what a “rounded person” is, and it can be used to help with different psychological conditions. However I found that meeting my needs by using my resources did not seem to close the gap completely. What helped significantly was when my self perception was altered by combining talking and writing with prescription drugs that helped at both ends – my ups and my downs. This combination has given me a perception I have brought about a true congruent self. Hopefully I will be able to sustain this until I cease to be.