You Call it Bipolar-I Call it MSD
Yesterday marked two occasions: thirty years up here on the mountain, to the day, and Ross’s birthday. Ross is newly moved into the immediate neighborhood, and I could not be happier. He brings great energy onto the ridge, and it will be fun to have him around. So how could I not traipse down to his place for a little birthday celebration, when Casey was kind enough to provide me with the information, including the gate combo? Bipolar people appreciate having the combo; it makes getting through the locked gate so much more convenient.
I have had several opportunities to reconvene on the social circle, but have not had the courage up until now. Why does it take courage? Rita’s post today on FaceBook says it all: “The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance. What mental health needs is more candor, more unashamed conversation.” Everyone in my circle cannot help but know that I have been diagnosed with a mood spectrum disorder. I have dropped off the face of the planet. Now I am back.
As the poster suggests, mental illness is not a warm and fuzzy topic in our culture. Of course we have to distinguish what constitutes “mental illness.” Does depression fit under the umbrella of mental illness? Of course it does, but it frequently escapes the stigma, because being “sad” is not the same thing as being nuts. People’s level of comfort varies dramatically when you venture into the murky waters of mental issues, which always highlight the extremes, without there being an awareness that extremes represent the outer limits of an illness, such as mood spectrum disorder.
You hear about the bipolar sufferer who spent a lifetime accumulating a fortune, only to lose it all in a scheme to buy up 10,000 acres of swamp land, that proved to be no more useful, than say, 10,000 acres of desert land. You hear about the outrageous mood swings, which leave members of the household reeling in their attempts to keep up with the whirligig of frantic actions on the part of the patient. There is not enough awareness that the majority of mood spectrum disorder patients, fit somewhere in the middle of the range of possibilities, with the depressive symptoms infinitely more apt to create challenges, than the manic side.
The manic side of the picture may prove more disconcerting to family members, but in my case, the depressive side of the illness is the side to fear. This is where the tangible evidence of mental issues announces itself with authority. Whereas mania produces a flurry of activity, and can turn out to be quite productive, lethargy is not something that I can gloss over. The inability to rely on my legs for 100% of what I am accustomed to, not only makes it impossible to work at any kind of normal pace, if I were actually going to try and work, but it makes for treacherous going, because my reflexes are seriously impaired and I can not respond to precarious situations with the same alacrity that I once could. The result? I fall a lot.
Maybe I should arrive at the party, and announce, “Hi everyone. I’m bi. Polar that is, not the other. Annie is still the only person for me.” I did not do that, yesterday, at Ross’s party, choosing to make a gentle entrance, as I am accustomed to doing these days. I decided to momentarily pretend that I am just the same as everyone else. Of course, everyone I observed was having libations which included alcohol. Now I can have a shot of Jameson’s if I want, and no one would say boo or Shinola to me, but still I held off.
I told Dr. Garratt in Mendocino a month or so back, that I was not keeping booze in the house these days; I did not need him to tell me that drinking would not help my illness. Dr. G. occasionally appears as an enigma to Annie and me, because he is not the take-charge, gung-ho kind of guy I might have thought. He puts stuff out there, and he answers questions, but he does very little directing, preferring to allow the immediacy of any issues dictate the pace.
When it comes to measuring progress and growth, however, the evidence is there. I have taken huge strides, despite the issues with my legs, in determining the best course of therapy for me, and so I am not going to question the good doctor’s role in this process. It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that without Annie, I would still be back in the dark ages. I would be mired in patterns of behavior, that defied explanation, and provided a lot of questions, the primary one being, how did I become estranged from most of my family? Just asking.