Diagnosed with Bipolar at 37 years made sense. It fitted perfectly. After a major depression, the experience of mania and psychosis catapulted me into hospital. Good advice from the nurse to focus on my own recovery and not anybody elses and my belief that creativity was the key to wellness was vital on that long road to recovery.
Post-trauma I adapted to a life of medication blends and doses, intrinsically optimistic with faith in the process . Art and Science is my shield. I function well enough, though not enough to fit into the mainstream of society, but then, I never have.
I learned about being a ’round peg in a square hole’ reading The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson in Year Eleven.i The chaos of emotions and hormones of the adolescent girl culture remains relevant, not because I haven’t grown up and none the wiser, but because like Laura I have to accept the view of others – of being a misfit, in a positive way.
For Laura and I , whether it is class, personality type or living with Bi-Polar Mood Affective Disorder no matter how one tries to fit in there is something that others perceive as different – something about the self-possessed personality and the confidence to express our authentic selves; Laura with her histrionic and defiant piano playing and I through the keyboard of my laptop, pumping out those words with rhyme, disorder and gentle sonata.
To quell the excesses of moodiness, depression and mania, part of the management plan usually lies with the exploration of our creative selves. Before I knew about mental illness I reveled in writing, painting, performing, and being a ‘show-off’. As Dr. Kay Jamison has shown, the evidence is that many people with mood disorders are engaged in the arts.ii
Unfortunately, it’s hard to make a living with your artistic flair. I related to most sufferers of bipolar disorder in John McManamy’s publications who said for all the creativity, they are unable to hold down a job. iiiMy family called me a ‘job snob’, because I was miserable working in ‘normal’ jobs like everyone else. That hurt, but I had the youthful exuberance to follow my bliss out of the suburbs, to inner-city Melbourne with fuscia colours in a punk hair cut and pixie boots from the op-shop.
Pied Piper like, I called for other young artists to follow me, creating festivals, networking with audacity, and spilling my views naively to predatory media. Networking with other ‘fringe’ fellows, writing, performing poetry, falling for musicians and dragging them back to my lair was only brought to an abrupt halt by an excruciating diagnosis of genital herpes!
Not all impulsive acts of the hypo manic are detrimental! Wisdom comes when one is laid up with self-pity! Acyclovir became my miracle drug and work, rest and play was tempered. The decision to have children and marry within a couple of weeks of meeting Roy at a Winter Solstice feast could be regarded as impulsive, but twenty three years later I can say my brilliant insight about Mr. Right was a winner.
Motherhood meant being a good role-model to enable our children to grow up wise and well, and prevent passing on the psychological damage of my own family tragedies. A screenplay, theatre play, and novel nearly got published, funded, filmed, before their rejection.
Off-campus university workload was reduced, then deferred because I was juggling with too many ideas and ambitions. Identifying with the Olympian who couldn’t row anymore, I couldn’t read or comprehend a word or sentence.
This disease does a good job of defeating the ego. For females it is a double calamity dealing with the uncertainty of how the hormones will throw you every loony cycle. As I grow older the concept of the ‘kindling effect’ has become real and disabling.iv
My skills and enthusiasm were guided towards Diversional Therapy, but even then, the pressure from management, co-workers and obsessive thinking about the clients and the job were too much to cope with. My limits to pursue paid employment are now reduced to four hours a day, three days a week.
No more rushing, planning and organising like the hypo manic white rabbit from Alice In Wonderland. Forgetting to get my Webster Packs is a sure sign to take my Lithium, a few long deep breaths, and some solitude.
When the passion and the politics are gathering too much momentum, I let go of saving the world with letters and petitions, turn off the radio and slow down with a swim. Relaxation with some soothing and gently inspiring music takes one to a simmer. You may think you are selfish and going against your fathers Protestant work ethic, but this is what you need.
Maturity is a safety-catch. I have always been medication compliant. As much as I enjoy teasing myself with shamanic delusions I like to know what is real and be in control. Having a good relationship with the doctor can be a double-edged sword however. Working with your psychiatrist to keep from a state of chaos and confusion requires the patience of a saint as my irreligious mother would say, and also the chastity of one as far as I am concerned!
Being hypo manic and at your peak sexually, it doesn’t take much to fall madly in love with your caring, intelligent, knowledgeable doctor; “Insight “, as they keep reminding us Bi polars is a necessity to keep us on the straight and virtuous…..I’m cringing with embarrassment but the evidence suggests that being a “biological time machine” is a common calamity to deal with.
Transference is very real and sadly, must be kept in the realm of fantasy as much as God must be kept to heel in the politics of our country. Michael Conner, Psy.D states, “Transference reactions are caused by unmet emotional needs, neglect, seductions and other abuses that transpired when you were a child. Recognising this pattern when it occurs and searching for the knowledge and counsel to prevent harm is a necessity.”v
Diverting futile fantasies, maintaining control and equilibrium is no easy feat. Recognising the symptoms of hypo mania and the likelihood of developing into mania and/or psychosis requires expert and intuitive skill. Honesty with your medical and significant others takes courage so continually building self-esteem is necessary for when a crack shows or a brick falls out.
Those little pills, especially the sedatives needed to slow those racing thoughts and brilliant metaphors can be taken to get some deep sleep therapy. It is so wonderful to be able to have the energy and seeming perceptiveness of a manic spectrum but sleep is a blessing for clarity of the mind. Getting the pills right to allow a decent descent in to the land of Nod is my favourite last thing on the plate. Without it, wisdom can’t break through.
To aid sleep and prevent from losing your mind in an exuberant excess, release the valve regularly with a swim, sexual activity, and dancing around the lounge room – whatever gives you pleasure so you’ll do it often! Having a dog to be responsible for if you’re not playing soccer with the kids is good motivation. My dog is very good at dragging me up the hill to work a multitude of muscles!
We can avoid the extremes of Bipolar by loving who we are, keeping free from toxic relationships and environments, drugs, and fundamentalist ideologies. At a volunteer course for Youth Outreach work I discovered that my comrades were devout Christians who revealed they heard the voice of God. “It is a mystery that I also have experienced,” I said, “but for me it is a signal to go to the mental health unit as I have a tenuous grip on reality!.”
I am strongly spiritual, yet the gospel truth is related again to brain chemistry. It helps to keep a broad perspective, with enough wisdom to forgive yourself when you know not what you do.
For people like me ecstasy comes cheap(and apparently if you rub behind the ears that will induce a religious experience for those so disposed). It should be taught in re-hab!vi
At this stage in my life I believe it is wiser to be a good secular citizen than a saint. The urge to jump on my broomstick and provoke the patriarchal doctrines may cause a stir and fly the flag of Germaine Greer, but the idea of being a round peg in a square hole is the discovery there may be a round one…somewhere out there.
Always mindful that the energy and wit of hypo mania won’t last forever one enjoys the moment and productivity of it, focusing on the discipline required to tap out these paragraphs in an orderly, sane manner.
i The Getting of Wisdom 1910, Henry Handel Richardson, Minerva Press 1993
iiTouched with Fire-Manic Depressive Illness & the Artistic Temperament, Paperback 1996
ivThe ‘kindling’ model in Bipolar disorder, www.bipolar.about.com/cs/brainchemistry/a/0009/_kindling1.htm
vTransference: Are you a biological time machine? Michael G. Conner, Psy.D 2006 www.crisiscounselling.com/Articles/Transference.htm
Let Me Into the Asylum! http://julie-mcneill.blogspot.com
(c)copyright Julie McNeill, April 2007
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