March 18, 2010

What is going on here?!?

I think this is a question that many people with a mental illness ask themselves. Why am I feeling like this? Why am I acting like this? Why can't I make it stop?!

These were the thoughts that were rapidly firing in my head as I tried to figure out why I just couldn't be happy and go out with my friends, or why I just couldn't slow down and relax. For the longest time I hated myself for not being able to fix "it". In this society where we are told we should "just smile" or "walk in the sunshine" we assume it is our fault for not trying harder. We assume we are weak or bad for not perfectly controlling our mind and our body. We assume that there is something wrong with our personality as opposed to our chemistry. When I was first depressed to the point of suicide I got into a cycle of feeling agonizing pain of depression, exhaustion and defeat from not being able to fix it, and an extreme hatred for my lack of strength and drive to pick myself up. It wasn't until I was in the hospital on a suicide watch that I was given my first tentative diagnosis, Bipolar II.

Now, I grew up with a special ed teacher mom and a vocational rehabilitation counselor dad. I grew up being taught the importance of being sensitive to disabilities, the equality between every person no matter their difference, and the importance of providing access and help to those with specific needs that may be different from my own. I grew up obsessively reading the DSM and diagnosing my guinea pig, Herman, with Tourettes Syndrome because he had certain ticks and would squeak uncontrollably at times. (And although I knew all about Tourettes by the age of seven I knew very little about guinea pig ear mites). Anyway, when it came down to it,  I knew about disabilities. I knew all about "differences" and the normalcy of said differences. I knew all about what the word "label" meant in that community and knew that one should not use a condition to classify the whole of a person. 

Maybe this is why it hurt so much when I was diagnosed. Maybe deep down in my heart I knew just how little the rest of the world knew about disabilities. Maybe I knew the discrimination and misunderstanding that came with a mental illness label, because I found my mind screaming "No. Not me! I am not BIPOLAR. I am not like that. I'm not CRAZY". To me, someone who found every disability as simply another thing that makes us unique and special, this diagnosis made me into something I didn't want to be. It grouped me into a category that was bad. And whether or not the people in this category were "bad" or not, societies view and opinion of them was. I was not going to be one of them. I had spent my entire life trying to be perfect, flawless, and this was the biggest flaw I could ever imagine.

 However, on the other hand,there was the small, scared, childlike voice inside of me saying, "its not my fault". Even writing this today makes me tear up when I remember just how hard I tried to make myself feel normal, be normal. I tried so hard to control my emotions, but the more I tried, and the more I failed, the more I punished myself. I had two competing voices in my head, the blamer, "it's all your fault! If you tried harder we wouldn't be where we are today!" and the blamed, "I try so hard. I'm not good enough. I deserve this pain." It was a dangerous downward spiral that became even worse when it moved from mental to physical hatred. Having a diagnosis validated those "it's not my fault" cries of the blamed. It allowed me to start being a little bit nicer to myself.

It took me a long time to be nicer to myself, and in many ways it is still a very difficult struggle. The diagnosis, for me,  was one of the most life changing parts of my illness. Though it may not have been more life changing than almost losing my life, it changed my view of myself. It forced me to come to terms with the blamer and the blamed. It helped me realize who I really am and whether or not a label (BIPOLAR) defined me. At first I felt that the words were etched into my forehead. I felt that with one word I was someone completely different. Years have taught me that my diagnosis can never define me. It may define some of the traits of my illness, but it will never define my exact reaction to those traits, or even my reaction to my reactions. Through my diagnosis I have been able to take the blame away and realize that this is simply something  unique about me. A blessing and a curse that makes my life slightly different from other peoples' lives. In finding my diagnosis I have found the most important thing of all, the map towards treatment.

Next time...why do we love the diagnosis? We love treatment. Why do we love treatment? Because it allows us to function again!


Gina said...

Great insight Linea! I think our society feeds into the feelings of invincibility that is rampant in our nation. Often times, while we may be very open and aware of these illnesses, we still think they will never happen to us personally. Thank you for your honesty!!

Megan said...

I feel some of your pain, vicariously, through Caroline, who hates her label of "bipolar." You are very brave to share your thoughts with the world. I admire your courage. Right now our Caroline is hypomanic and we are having trouble getting her back to "normal".

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

Really good insight.

Pam said...

Nice post. As you so well stated, because it is a "mental" illness, we and others tend to associate the issues with our "person". However I do believe a large part of it IS how we look at ourself and the world. Health comes from recognizing our worth and how important we are to the world, regardless of the path our life experience is following. Sometimes our path may be to show the world a different meaning.
As you state: " It forced me to come to terms with the blamer and the blamed. It helped me realize who I really am and whether or not a label (BIPOLAR) defined me."
When we stop defining the world through guilt and allow for innocence, a whole new frame of reference and perception opens up.