I suffer from Bi-Polar II disorder.

Like most sufferers, I spent a huge amount of time and energy trying to hide it, at least until the last few years.  “Coming-out” about it wasn’t really a matter of reasoned choice, and it certainly wasn’t from any reduction in the stigma our society attaches to it;  mostly, it just became too much effort.  It’s true, as well, that the lies and deceptions required to maintain the facade of “normality” just ate at my soul.

People with mental disorders are treated with fear scarcely less than that displayed back when they were believed to be demon-possessed. When they aren’t seen with fear, they’re seen as objects of pity, rather than sympathy:  weaklings who just didn’t have what it takes to deal with life, or who don’t have the back-bone to “Get it together” and “Make something of themselves”.

The truth is that most mental disorders are caused by trauma – and the ones that are not trauma-induced are physical problems in the way the brain produces and balances certain chemicals.

Would you be afraid of someone who had bad burns, or limped from a car-crash, or had gunshot wounds?  Would you be inclined to think such people weak? Would you believe that, had they only been made of sterner stuff they’d never have been injured?  Do you fear and regard as weaklings people with diabetes? Why should a disorder of insulin production in the pancreas be acceptable, but a disorder of serotonin production in the brain be stigmatized?

And yet, those are exactly the attitudes people with Mental and Emotional Disorders encounter.

This is perhaps as good a place as any to deal with another big problem faced by People with Mental or Emotional Illness:  ignorance.  Most people don’t know what constitutes a Mental Disorder, how that differs from a Mood Disorder, what causes either, or what, exactly, such people suffer.

Terminology first, then.  I’m not a Psychiatrist, or Psychologist, or any other variety of mental health professional, and any such person would probably object to some of what I’m about to say – not that there’s no value to what follows, but it isn’t going to be rigorously correct in the way a textbook would be expected to be. I’m fine with that, and readily admit that they’re right – but it’s not my intent to train anyone reading this to be a Mental Health expert!  The idea is to give you, gentle reader, a clue … to help you understand.

If you want to, that is;  if not, perhaps you should be on your way:  what follows will be a waste of your time, and your comments, and criticisms would be a waste of mine.

That said, from a practical stand-point, Mental-Health issues can be broken down into those that have a mostly psychological origin, and those that have a mostly physical origin.  The difference?  Psychologically-induced disorders, like phobias, anxiety and panic disorders, PTSD, Multiple Personality Disorder, and a host of others are essentially caused by trauma, as I mentioned above.  Psychological trauma, like bullying, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or constant exposure to stress and fear; in many cases, purely physical trauma, like gunshot wounds can carry a strong psychological component. Children tortured by psychotic parents, soldiers wounded in battle, people caught up in natural disasters, all may develop anxiety or stress disorders, not because they were weak, or inherently unstable, but because fear and trauma can cause persistent or even permanent changes in the way their brains work!

Ok, ok, I hear some saying,  We knew most of that!  I’m sure you did:  we’ve been at war for a decade, and before that there were a bunch of school shootings, and some spectacular hurricanes, so there’s been a lot written about PTSD, and it’s not too hard to see that other disorders can arise from people hurting other people, or nature getting ferocious…

That’s not how all Mental Health problems work, however:  there are a bunch that have an entirely different set of causes, though trauma will certainly make all of them worse.  The disorders I refer to are almost entirely physical in origin:  Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, are the big ones.  The exact causes of any of these conditions are not really known, and the various theories are hotly debated – but what is pretty generally accepted is that all of these conditions share a physical component that is pretty much independent of whatever psychological conditions a person has been exposed to … Schizophrenia, for instance, is characterized by abnormal chemistry and pathways in the brain that directly alter the way thought and perception and memory work;  the others I mentioned are mostly about imbalances of various chemicals created in the brain and used to conduct messages between nerve cells.

I’m not going to go into detail about neurotransmitter imbalances, or the manner in which information is processed in a healthy brain:  the point is that some disorders are every bit as physical as diabetes, or Parkinson’s, or High Blood-pressure!

If I called-in to work saying I was having chest-pains, or extreme dizziness, or any of a host of other physical ailments, there’d be no problem:  if the boss thought I was gold-bricking, it would take only a quick visit to a physician to prove him wrong.  Ever try calling-in with severe depression?  Go ahead. Give it a shot;  you might be believed if a family member had recently died, or there was some overt reason to be having a hard time functioning – but in the absence of some such excuse, the chances are virtually 100% that your dedication or work ethic would be questioned, or you’d be designated lazy, idle, or a slacker

The kicker is that depression is the single most common and easily understandable psychiatric symptom there is! Everyone has been depressed at some point or other in their lives, whether from a death in the family, loss of a job, money troubles, whatever; we’ve all been there.

Severe depression, though, or what is sometimes called clinical depression, bears about the same relationship to typical depression that a cobra bears to a garter snake.  Ever been in shock?  Time seems to slow down, your body can feel leaden, every movement is an enormous effort, and simple tasks that you do every day with your mind on other things, like making coffee, or tying your shoelaces, now require careful thought and full attention, the effort of which is exhausting… worse, there is this sensation of ‘fogginess’ like a literal cloud of fog has enveloped you:  sounds can be deadened or distorted, colors may fade to gray, you may feel or hear a low-level buzzing. For some people, it may become hard to understand what other people are saying… you hear the words but have to struggle to attach meaning to them, as if they were speaking a foreign language you hadn’t heard since high school – and when you answer, it’s hard to find the words to match what you want to say. Decisions become impossible:  you may know that you’re hungry, and that there’s food in the kitchen, but be utterly unable to choose to get up and do anything about it! You may realize that you need help, but be utterly unable to pick up the phone and call someone … and over all there is a desperate wish to just lay down and sleep …

As I hinted, a bad shock, like maybe from a car wreck, can cause these same symptoms, but time and rest will ease them… the very worst such episodes produced by shock are treated with a mild sedative, and sleep.  For people suffering severe depressive episodes it doesn’t go away.  People can sleep 18 hours then wake up to a world as foggy and dead as before they closed their eyes …

For people with Major Depressive Disorder, or Bi-Polar II disorder, such episodes can last for days, or weeks.


~ by dourscot on January 4, 2012.

6 Responses to “Polarity”

  1. Very informative. You are not the first person I’ve known with this disorder, but you are the most open, honest and aware. I have two cousins who are Schizophrenic, a best friend who has been diagnosed with MPD, another old friend who also has BiPolar II…none of them can discuss their life situations with as much honesty and clarity as you. I so appreciate the information and glimpse into you world.

    • I appreciate the encouragement! This post was actually cut short, and will be continued in the next, wherein will be discussed problems with meds, disability rules, and other such things…

  2. I am absolutely positive that this post will help many. Both those suffering with any number of disorders and those who know (or may not know) those suffering. What lacks in not only the medical community, but society at large, is compassion. Bringing understanding, in honest and clear ways, is what is needed. Beautiful.

  3. Hey I just want to say that you are better than all ”normal” people.
    You understand life and you understand trauma.
    You understand that more than any other person.
    You are honest and brave.
    Actually, you’re the best.
    And your mind is just perfect !

  4. I am only writing to make you understand of the helpful encounter my friend’s daughter had reading through your web site. She came to understand lots of issues, most notably what it’s like to have an amazing helping heart to make the mediocre ones just know precisely some complex subject matter. You undoubtedly exceeded our desires. Thanks for providing those beneficial, safe, educational and unique guidance on your topic.

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