Daily Archives: March 27, 2015

Diagnosis and Dickinson

The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside —

The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them — Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As Sponges — Buckets — do —

The Brain is just the weight of God —
For — Heft them — Pound for Pound —
And they will differ — if they do —
As Syllable from Sound —
Emily Dickinson

I ran across this poem in a book called Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry (about which more some other time) and it made me think.

Dickinson was, by all accounts a recluse. She seldom went out and, when visitors came, she sometimes sat behind a screen while she talked to them. She never dared to submit her poems for publication. Less than a dozen were published in her lifetime, and those only because someone else submitted them without her knowledge. Her wealthy, loving family sheltered and nurtured her so that she never had to face the outside world.

Emily Dickinson had Social Anxiety Disorder.

And Abraham Lincoln suffered clinical depression. So did Charles Dickens.

Bipolar sufferers include Beethoven, Schumann, and Isaac Newton.

Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, and Nikola Tesla were all obsessive-compulsive.

Autism, dyslexia, and various learning disabilities affected Einstein, Galileo, Mozart, and even General Patton.

And Van Gogh! Let me tell you about Van Gogh. He had epilepsy. Or depression. Or psychotic attacks. Or bipolar disorder. Or possibly some combination thereof.

I call bullshit. I’m not saying none of those people had assorted mental disorders. My point is that we can’t tell from this distance in time.

In none of these cases, as far as I know, did any of the aforementioned people see a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, or even a phrenologist. None were diagnosed with any psychiatric condition, and no record of such a diagnosis has come down to us from any reliable source. Some even lived before psychiatry was invented.

People – mental health workers, but also art and literary critics, biographers, and the general public – have looked at these extraordinary people’s lives and work and decided that their behavior and their art look like those of a person who might be bipolar or obsessive-compulsive or psychotic. (They also like to retro-diagnose physical conditions there is no record of or only vague names for. King Tut, Henry VIII, and Napoleon are particularly good theoretical patients.)

Why the tendency to ascribe mental disorders to famous people? I can see two reasons, beyond the thrill of solving a mystery and feeling clever.

The first is the old saying about there being a thin line between madness and genius. These historical figures were geniuses, so they must have been mad. Or as we say now, suffering from mental disorders.

The other is the need for role models and inspiration. If Van Gogh could become one of the most famous artists ever (though not successful in his own lifetime), you too may rise above – even use – your disorder to accomplish greatness.

It’s possible, I guess, but it’s not likely. Certainly those with mental disorders can aspire to and achieve rich, full lives, satisfying relationships and jobs and artistic pursuits. These are the ordinary accomplishments of ordinary people, both with and without mental illness, and it’s a small miracle that people can achieve any one or more of these. Not everyone does – again with or without mental troubles or psychiatric diagnoses.

And for me, at least, it’s enough.

Can the spark of imaginative genius strike a person with a mental disorder? Of course. Can that person succeed and achieve lasting fame? Maybe, though the odds aren’t good. Is a person saying, “Look, I can be Van Gogh!” likely to fall short? Almost certainly. Can that failure to achieve greatness make a person feel worse about himself or herself instead of better? You tell me.

There’s nothing wrong with aiming high, and nothing that says a person with a psychiatric diagnosis can’t do just that. It’s a good idea for anyone. (As one of Lois McMaster Bujold’s characters says, “Aim high. You may still miss the target but at least you won’t shoot your foot off.”)

But pinning your hopes on a similarity with a non-psychiatric, perhaps non-existent, diagnosis of a genius may not be the best way to get there.

Better to look in these geniuses’ work for insights that can help you understand your own condition or pull you through tough times. Here’s another of Emily Dickinson’s poems that has always spoken to me about the experience of a depressive crisis and its aftermath.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes —
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs —
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round —
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought —
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone —

This is the Hour of Lead —
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow —
First — Chill — then Stupor — then the letting go —

Was Emily herself depressed? We’ll never really know. And as long as we have her poems, I don’t really care.

Filed under: Mental Health Tagged: bipolar disorder, creativity, depression, Emily Dickinson, madness and genius, mental illness, mental illness diagnosis, poetry, public perception, role models, success, writing

German Co Pilot. Cringeworthy. Stigma. Even Though Most People With Mental Illness are NOT Violent.


“Co-Pilot in Germanwings Crash Hid Mental Illness From Employer, Authorities Say” from NYTimes.com see link to article below.


It is possible that the co pilot, Andreas Lubitz, at the controls of the Germanwings jetliner ,that recently crashed into the Alps had undisclosed mental illness. The authorities found notes in his apartment from several doctors that said he was too ill to work, including a note from the day of the crash. He had been seen at a German hospital and they released a statement saying he was there for diagnostic purposes. No one really knows what the nature of his illness was, but now everyone is speculating. If it was mental illness, was it depression? No suicide note was found. I suppose it is logical to assume that he did this because of his illness, and suppose that this illness was mental illness. But nothing has yet been found to completely support these ideas. If he did, indeed, do this because he wanted to commit suicide because he was in a depression, how awful! In so many ways. Of course, it’s tragic for the passengers’ families and the co pilot’s family as well. Then it is also really bad for the German airlines, perhaps all airlines, that they hired this man who apparently hid his medical records from them. After that, it is really bad for us, who have mental illnesses. Yes sadly this is possible, it can happen that a person with mental illness would do this sort of thing. This is the kind of thing that reinforces the stigma against people with mental illnesses. That mentally ill people are dangerous and violent and frightening. Yes, some are. But the vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by people who are NOT mentally ill.

See: http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/facts_violence.php

In fact look at the whole google search I did here: https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=what%20percentage%20of%20mentally%20ill%20are%20dangerous

I understand other people’s fears. I understand that they are afraid of mental illness. But I also am a person with a mental illness, and know others who have it and I can’t think of anyone who has committed a violent crime. yes, I know, it’s only anecdotal evidence, but please look at google search I did to see that it really is true that most mentally ill people are not violent, and also that most violent crimes are NOT committed by mentally ill people.

Aaah, this is cringeworthy indeed. I would be the happiest person on this earth if all mental illness was cured. But until that happens, please wait and see what the facts are before jumping to the conclusion, and it may well be true, that the pilot killed himself due to depression and took a 149 people with him. Heinous no matter why he did it.

‘Shutting People Out Is an Important Part of Being a Shut-In.’


Do you want an Alfred?

Originally posted on Longreads Blog:

With Alfred, you no longer have to open the door for the Instacart delivery: A worker comes into your apartment and stocks food in your fridge. You don’t hand off your dirty undies to a Washio messenger; Alfred puts the laundered undies in the drawer. This all happens by paying your Alfred $99 a month, plus the goods and services at reduced cost through Alfred’s hookups. Alfred won first place in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference last year.

Shutting people out is an important part of being a shut-in: When signing up, customers can choose the option of not seeing their Alfred, who will come in when they’re at work. Alfred’s messaging is aimed at sweeping aside any middle-class shame.

“We’re trying to remove the taboo and the guilt that you should have to do it,” says Alfred’s CEO Marcela Sapone over the phone. “We’re empowering you to let others…

View original 80 more words

March Madness

march madness

I’m having a terrible day today. The kind of day I haven’t had in quite a while. I cried and yelled this morning. I haven’t cried in a while, except the other day when I had that terrible migraine. I yelled at my husband (that was okay, he sort of deserved it.)

It could be this new drug, Fetzima. But it could just also be part of the endless cycle of bipolar.

I am starting to panic. I think I should rename my blog. “lily pups life…bipolar!”. Forget about the recovery part. My legs don’t seem to want to go anywhere. I’m not living in recovery. Recovery isn’t even in my vocabulary right now.

Do you see that basketball up there in that image? That is me. Round and stuck. It would be hard to get me out of that net. Someone could come and push me through at the top I guess. My psychiatrist? Someone could bat me back up through the bottom. Some super tall guy? Someone could cut that net all off of me. But you and I know no one can cut bipolar from you. It’s IN you. That net squishes all around me.

March has been a tough month. I have achieved little in the way of any goals. And I don’t see anything big coming along for April. Just more of my life passing by and me looking in.

I got a heart-wrenching text from my bipolar support group the other day. I have not attended in like 5 weeks. The leader said they are all terribly worried about me. I’m sure they are. I am normally the strong one there and the others are more fragile. And then of course we had the loss of Steve to suicide. So I feel a bit guilty there. I also miss my women’s support group. I’ve been doing what I can at home and listening to a Christian book and doing my devotionals, but I’ve only made it to church once this month. And Palm Sunday and Easter are right here.

Thank God we can do a simple ham dinner here and even use paper plates. We entertained so much over the holidays I don’t feel guilty at all. But I would like to make it to church. And if it was today I would not.

I had a weird experience yesterday. I knew a guy in high school and college and it turns out he has written a new book. I knew he wrote a couple before and was writing for his local paper and I just caught wind of this one. I sent him a note and told him I was ordering his book and would review it online (which always helps when you’re getting rolling). I also gave him the address to our blog.

Now most of you know I blog anonymously, except for my best friend. That has enabled me to do two things 1) have terrible grammar and 2) be ruthlessly honest about myself. So why I passed this address along to an old friend I am not sure. I think it has to do with something in AA…making things right with people you harmed? I might not have harmed this guy, but I sure acted crazy. If by any chance he reads some of this joyous material he may know why.

Speaking of my best friend, we have gone from sort of being in touch to communicating almost every day through e-mail, text, or phone. I don’t even feel guilty about taking up her time because I don’t think it really is. It’s all just pretty fast, but it feels like it used to when we were pretty caught up with each other all of the time. And when we wrote and compared our writing and helped each other. I guess this blog isn’t “writing” but I certainly have an audience out there. So you all are worth mulling over and figuring out what sounds decent and what doesn’t. And you are the best kind of readership…the loving, supportive, non-judgmental kind.

Even though I haven’t been out (and I mean really at all) with my friends, I have been talking with them. We have been texting and calling. I spent an hour on the phone with my best friend from high school the other night. So I am staying in touch. But when I feel bad like I do today, I hate to tell anyone. Because I have absolutely no reason to feel bad. But we all know there is a reason…just lying there in wait for the new med to awaken it.

Can you believe that in March this blog gained 330 new followers? What the hell is that about? If my life was doing as well as this blog…I wouldn’t need to write a blog. (Did that make sense?)

I think that I have started to accept the fact that for the foreseeable future I will not be going anywhere. I will shower when I get desperate and do what I can to handle things from home. I will do yoga and stretch tapes at home. And I’ll walk. My dogs are excited. They know the sound of me typing the word “WALK”.  I have given up on “making” myself do things. I really don’t care anymore. Unless Keith Urban walks by in the nude or something I doubt I’ll be moving too fast.

I feel fragile, both physically and emotionally. And that’s okay. It is what it is.

I have beef stew thawing for dinner. I’ve got a good audiobook to listen to. And my trusty old couch is here. And you guys are here. It could be worse. Hugs.


This is what I was worried about – that I’m supposed to be BETTER when just “better” should be enough. 2 weeks ago I was checking myself into a mental hospital and going through the final stages of hell that usually lead to any kind of awakening from a long drawn out time of general darkness and immobility. I am doing more things for myself – I AM. I took a walk and read a book of poetry under a tree. I wrote poetry while listening to music from a computer I had to put together during a rainstorm. I went to the grocery store to get things for actual recipes (not microwaveable crap) and then I actually cooked – IN THE OVEN. Last night I cut up 2lbs of strawberries after putting away dishes that had been laying out since before I went into the hospital. I’ve gone back and forth with my doctors, the state assistance office, and medicaid because they massively screwed up my insurance and still made it to work on time all week – most of the time showered. I both got AND OPENED my mail. I took my flat-tired bicycle to my mother’s house in search of a tire pump. I’m sitting here blogging. I made plans to go to a beginner’s crochet group AND went and bought the yarn etc.

So here’s the thing. When I get lonely or confused or immobilized still – I don’t think it should be expected that I magically come out of a week in a the hospital with a couple med changes as Wonder Woman, running around my apartment, doing everything an adult is expected to do all of a sudden, being super productive with every moment of my day – because there are just still some times I’m going to end up in my bed staring at the ceiling. But hey, maybe thats better than curling up in bed under the covers blocking out the world every chance I get like I used to.

This isnt to say that I wont end up vacuuming or some such nonsense this evening. But I can’t breathe with all the pressure that seems to come down on me sometimes.

I just need a little understanding that I feel is lacking, is all. If I’m reaching out to someone and telling them how I’m feeling I’m obviously a) already upset or confused b) extremely vulnerable.

Reaching Fanatic

Originally posted on I Dont Want To Talk About It:
Reaching out I beg of you to take my hand I am drifting I am lost The chaos of my mind Antagonizes The words and sentiment I whisper to myself Are nothing but hatred and disgust I am everything wrong There is no space for…


Reteach Loveliness

My grandpa and his horse with a glass eye.


I think I’ve probably said multiple times how I just love to dream. They are always so vivid and realistic. I have such a hard time getting up in the morning because I enjoy them so much. I can continue a dream where it left off so if I have to wake up in the middle of the night I just go back to it. Apparently not everyone can do this, so it makes me glad.

My mood yesterday was down right bitchy. My dog Charlie is being a particularly picky eater right now but the dogs have to be on the food they are on because of Ren’s pancreatis. (not sure how it’s spelt). So anyhow the little bugger will starve himself until he feels sick then throws up. I don’t know what to do about it. I might have to feed them separately. As it is, I have to sit on the floor with them to make sure Charlie does eat when he will. I would have to do it even more to keep Ren out of his food. *sigh*

I didn’t go to my shrinks yesterday because of the bad mood and some tummy issues. I hate having to change it, but what are you supposed to do when you need to stay close to the washroom? Bah.

Dirty Little Confessions Of A Manic Depressive

I got to thinking…What could I possibly write about that would be considered brave and brutally honest? What could I post that might actually paint an accurate picture of manic episodes?
Then it hit me. Prior to all the bipolar shit…It was called manic depression. And it’s a far more accurate term than this broad category of bipolar.
You’re manic. You’re depressed. Doesn’t matter which one is prevalent. The disastrous results are the same.

So…I am going to drop my modesty, humiliation, and shame and just put it out there. I think there are too many people who blame their poor choices on simply being a bad person (and frankly, the professionals seem to encourage this.) I believe in patterns of behavior. If you only behave a certain way during a manic or depressive bout…That is the illness tainting your ability to think logically. Maybe it’s a fine line between blowing off personal responsibility by blaming the illness but for me, it’s no different than someone who has a burst vessel in their brain slamming into another car in traffic. Did they choose to do it and cause the wreck? No.
And I never chose to go off the rails manic or nutsy kookoo with the depression. Compared to my brief but possible stable periods, I behave nothing like that.
Dirty little confessions of manic depression.

I am not talking the good hypomania here. That’s generally productive and you feel good without the impulsiveness.
Full blown manic episodes mimic being drunk and high. And you feel that way even without chemical substances.

I have had sex with people I didn’t even like because I was bored and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Until the manic episode ended and I said, WTF?
I have gone on drinking binges and popped diet pills to the point of “omg,how are you not dead yet”. Yet when depressed, I don’t want to drink at all.
I have said and done things that were absolutely cruel and uncalled for.
I’ve been in one fight in my entire life(got my ass kicked) yet when transitioning from manic episodes into the weepy volatile phase…I have thrown things, hit people, yanked their hair. Given this was all fifteen years ago back before mood stabilizers were introduced, but it still haunts me.
I would quit jobs during a manic episode, not even considering the consequences because I was ten feet tall and bulletproof at the time.
I’d sink into such deep depressions and panic attacks, I’d just not show up for jobs because I was physically ill due to the mental illness and it was just less humiliating to be fired for not showing than admit I couldn’t handle it. Either way, I was gone.
I have let down people I cared about when manic. They reached out and I was flying too high with my own idiocy to be bothered.
When depressed, I have often curled up in bathtubs or closets with blankets and just sobbed for days. (Prior to having my child when I had the luxury.)
There were times the pain of being conscious was so much, I’d deliberately knock myself out on Trazadone and Serquel. If I woke up after ten hours, I’d take more. To the point of sleeping 18 hours a day seven days a week.
By comparison, when manic, I barely want to take my meds (even though I do) and I don’t want food or sleep or alone time. I want to feel alive, live in color, out loud. What I don’t realize is that I am loud, aggressive, I talk too much, too fast, and make no sense, and I am actually irritating. (Though the consensus is, I am way more tolerable manic than depressive, which says much for those around me being shallow.)
I barely consumed alcohol for the bulk of my disorder. My shrink had me on 3mg Xanax daily and it seemed to keep the anxiety demons bay. It wasn’t until the new shrink order and their bad attitude toward Xanax paraded in and plied me with Buspar, Ativan, Klonopin, Seroquel…All as helpful as a tic tac. So I fight until I get my Xanax back and I get it, but at half the dose I am used to.
It was then that the drinking started.
Throw in booze with mania…Yeah, I skipped state with a dude I met on the net, lost a decent job, and it took months for me to come down and realize…What the hell have I done? And then I hit rock bottom. He didn’t want to clean up, I did. Because once you wake up on the carpet surrounded by trash you haven’t taken out in days and spot maggots on the floor…You don’t know rock bottom.
It’s disgusting, I know. But it happened.
I called the local rehab center. They told me I had a coping problem, not an alcohol problem, and they couldn’t help me.
I had no insurance for therapy or meds because I’d lost the job.
I was…a mess.
And all I had going for me was the knowledge that I had to get my shit together and apparently, I only had myself to count on.
It started this seemingly endless cycle of months long depressions, minimal functionality, and epic manic episodes. (Until I got the right diagnosis and meds.)

I have had far few manic episodes since then. They last a week or two and I try to avoid any situation where I could make disastrous choices. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed.

The biggest problem has been the depression bouts. I will go days without bathing. Wear pajamas 24-7. I’ll eat like a pig one week, forget the eat the next. I become paranoid and fearful. I barely leave the house. I am fairly convinced the world is out to psychologically damage me. Well, more than I already am. I miss social outings, school outings for my kid. I am just…out of it.
Which runs off friends and my family just sighs. “Oh, she’s doing it again.”

There is no aspect to this illness that doesn’t mess with my existence. While the proper diagnosis and meds have helped immensely…It never sticks. And it’s frustrating.
More than anything, living with the shame of your actions during both extremes is a very hard pill to swallow.
People assume it’s your personality and you did it all on purpose.
That’s as logical as saying someone who is Roofie’d deserved to be raped.
Mental illness taints everything you see, feel, perceive. Yes, you did the behavior. But not being in your right mind was a crucial factor.
Does the world take one minute to ponder this? No.
So the stigma and shame just continue.

I pick myself up again and again and keep trying.
What else am I gonna do?
I will go until I can’t anymore.
But there is a difference between existing and living.
Mental illness is like living in black and white.
Sanity is living in color.

I have regrets. I have shame. I even cringe and call myself names for some of the lows I’ve hit.
But when all is said and done…
I’ve done the hardest thing.
I’ve faced up to the behavior, owned it, shared it, and moved past it.
That’s courage and self awareness.

One Week

In one week, I will find out if I have an income for April. Next Friday is the day my benefit check would normally be deposited. I think I am experiencing all of my mental “issues” at the same time: depression, check, anxiety on a level unknown to normal people, check, mania, check, fear, check. […]