Category Archives: psychology

The ‘Poster Patient’ of Bipolar Disorder.

When you’re considered the ‘poster patient’ of Bipolar disorder…

I see all my doctors at regular intervals and I take medication daily. That’s the simple side of things, the easy routine and foundations that you are required to build. Depression and hypomania have accompanied me at different interludes, always waiting backstage for the next show to begin. I see myself as so dysfunctional. So haphazard and incapable of maintaining all the demons in check. I’m writing this post because I see myself as all those things, maintaining complete control of my emotions and rhythm is beyond my control, yet my psychologist insists that I’m a ‘poster patient’ for Bipolar Disorder, my ability to be functional when everything has turned on its head. I was so confused when she originally said this. I know my dysfunction, mismanagement and self-sabotage run deep, hence my confusion to the compliment. She referred to how she used me as an example to other patients about what can be achieved. The facts that she presented were right: I have completed a university degree and I am half way through another, I do have a full time job (I work full time as a secondary teacher), exercise, eat regularly and maintain some semblance of social interactions with friends. It hadn’t hit me that this is what is considered to make me less dysfunctional. My moods don’t generally have repercussions on my life, they are damn high mountains to climb over in order to find solace again, but the hike and lightheadedness of the ‘mood mountain’ doesn’t necessarily interfere with my outer world.

I don’t see these facts as things which make me more managed. I am dysfunctional. My ability to manage my life doesn’t make me any less so. As my depression deepened a few weeks ago, I started to have regular suicidal ideations again. Obviously the recognition that the severity of my depression was getting worse, I acted. I wanted to flip the switch. Anything had to be better than those tendencies, those ideations. I have done a lot of research into the vitamin 5-HTP, simply put it can potentially alter the levels of serotonin in your brain which can result in a hypomanic episode. High is much better than being low. Until you’re high….

Then it’s hell, again.

Without going into specific details of my episode, 5-HTP worked by flipping the switch. The worst part about flipping the switch is when you remember how horrible it is to actually be hypomanic at times. My memory had conveniently let myself forget. My mind has the useful ability to allow me to forget how bad things have been at both ends of my imaginary scale, the thermostat of my mind. It’s a protection mechanism, allowing me to move on and forget the consequences of all my subsequent moods. I took 5-HTP for three days before stopping when my head started to *whoosh*. I find everyone’s interpretation of ‘racing thoughts’ to be different, but then again, each episode I have had resulted in ‘racing thoughts’ which were different from previous occurrences. I see these in the following categories: Actual racing thoughts, when you have too many ideas at once – excitement usually accompanies this variation. Then there is the static or *white noise* head background pressure ‘racing thoughts’ which is usually accompanied by irritation and finally there is *whooshing*, when there isn’t an exact thought but your mind is just doing the simple cycle of the washing machine with your ears blocked, accompanied by a bit of depersonalization. It sounds absolutely nuts. Which it is.

I was never meant to be this broken, popping pills, waiting for the next mountain to climb.

At least I know that I can climb and conquer.

The Morning After I Killed Myself, I Woke Up.

*Thought this was a pretty epic story by Meggie Royer – for anyone who has thought about the day after it’s all over. 

I made myself breakfast in bed. I added salt and pepper to my eggs and used my toast for a cheese and bacon sandwich. I squeezed a grapefruit into a juice glass. I scraped the ashes from the frying pan and rinsed the butter off the counter. I washed the dishes and folded the towels.

The morning after I killed myself, I fell in love. Not with the boy down the street or the middle school principal. Not with the everyday jogger or the grocer who always left the avocados out of the bag. I fell in love with my mother and the way she sat on the floor of my room holding each rock from my collection in her palms until they grew dark with sweat. I fell in love with my father down at the river as he placed my note into a bottle and sent it into the current. With my brother who once believed in unicorns but who now sat in his desk at school trying desperately to believe I still existed.

The morning after I killed myself, I walked the dog. I watched the way her tail twitched when a bird flew by or how her pace quickened at the sight of a cat. I saw the empty space in her eyes when she reached a stick and turned around to greet me so we could play catch but saw nothing but sky in my place. I stood by as strangers stroked her muzzle and she wilted beneath their touch like she did once for mine.

The morning after I killed myself, I went back to the neighbors’ yard where I left my footprints in concrete as a two year old and examined how they were already fading. I picked a few daylilies and pulled a few weeds and watched the elderly woman through her window as she read the paper with the news of my death. I saw her husband spit tobacco into the kitchen sink and bring her her daily medication.

The morning after I killed myself, I watched the sun come up. Each orange tree opened like a hand and the kid down the street pointed out a single red cloud to his mother.

The morning after I killed myself, I went back to that body in the morgue and tried to talk some sense into her. I told her about the avocados and the stepping stones, the river and her parents. I told her about the sunsets and the dog and the beach.

The morning after I killed myself, I tried to unkill myself, but couldn’t finish what I started.
By Meggie Royer

“We Were Born Sick, You Heard Them Say It”.

Looking at the cultural sociology of mental illness.  

Mental illness can be interpreted as the most solitary of afflictions to the people who experience it, but it’s the most social to those who experience its effects. It becomes difficult to draw and define specific boundaries around mental illness and distinguish it from eccentricity or mere idiosyncrasy. It’s nearly impossible to clearly differentiate  an obvious line of difference between madness and malingering, mental disturbance and religious inspiration. Erving Goffman sought to dismiss mental illness as a purely socially constructed category, limited as a mere matter of labels. By exploring the quintessentially individual act of suicide an expansion from Gothman’s mere labels can be  expounded upon. Suicide is directly linked with mental illness, by examining this relationship the most florid manifestations of mental disturbance can be observed.

Mental illness has been interpreted as a product of sociological factors, an ‘anomie’ or the failure of sociological order to adequately regulate the beliefs and behaviors of its members. It has often been questioned whether people should take the Thomas Scheff approach, whereby the medical model of mental illness is dismissed and replaced with the societal reaction model, wherein patients were the victims of psychiatry. Advances within the cultural sociology of mental illness encompasses the progressive abandonment of the prior commitment to the segregative responses to serious mental illness and the run-down of the state hospital sector, the collapse of psychoanalysis – replaced by biological basis, the psychopharmacological revolution, the so-called neo-kraepelinian revolution, and the rise of the DSM to the position of overwhelming importance  – worldwide.

Sociology demotes psychiatry to a belief in vague predispositions to nervousness or madness, with no proven bodily cause, promoting their lack of clear-cut laws pertaining to their biological research, dealing with symptoms, not signs.  Diagnosing a person’s mental illness becomes based on the judgments generated through their communications, their treatments based off their diagnosis lacking widespread specificity. Psychiatry relying on psychoanalysis also called depth or psychodynamic psychology, proposes that the mind is divided in conscious and unconscious parts and that the dynamic relationship between these gives rise to psychopathology (the study of the manifestation of behaviors and experiences which may be indicative of mental illness or psychological impairment).

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Psychoanalysis becoming paradoxical because it’s concerned with the notion that we are all ill – psychopathology is ubiquitous, varying between individuals only in degree and type. These norms discerned within psychoanalysis mediated by the intrapsychic mechanisms. Norms within society imply that an ideal notion of mental illness exists, although it would be limited by its susceptibility to be meaningful to those only in a culture who subscribe to their theoretical premises, emphasizing its lack of unity and ineffectual distribution on a wider scale. Cultural notions of mental illness also initially linked  early biological psychiatry immediately with the mad, the bad and the dim. Sociology further attacks the definitions given to mental illness, arguing that the inter-dependent constituents are not defined or explained in relation to their classification of impairment, disturbance, disability, disorder etc.

We were born sick, you heard them say it”. To reiterate the heading and these fantastic lyrics – I think that they reinforce the schema that is associated with mental illness and to an extant the relationship/pattern between cultural/environmental influences on the etiology of mental illness.

Lately I’ve been living in the daydream just behind reality’s veiled curtain. The unsuspecting whore of mental illness, my ability to be both a victim and a rational opportunist. The victim to the triggers that my mind shudders against, the twisted opportunist that seeks the deep dark insights pertaining to the inner turmoil and joy. It’s a pretty twisted sick cycle, but its ok at the moment. It’s more of an ongoing ‘normal in training’ session. I keep wondering if my psychiatrist will ever give me a ‘gold star’ or tick of approval or whether we are all merely the embodiment of an epic psychoanalysis that perceives all as ill. Relying on my psychiatrist as my state-licensed drug dealer who specializes in ‘mood-altering’ drugs, hoping to create a balance which has to be practiced every day. Do we take the early sociological stance that no one is mentally ill or abide by the strict categorizations of mental illness that are created and regulated by so few. Life is to constantly challenge all that confounds you, rejecting the notions of those who remain unsubstantiated and to remain skeptical of those wishing you to blindly follow their ideologies.

Humanity’s Icarus Complex.

Firstly a brief tale of Icarus:

Icarus needed to escape from Crete, constructing wings to fly to safety, the wings were made of feathers and wax. He was warned not to fly to low lest his wings get wet and not too high lest the sun melts the wax. The young Icarus was thrilled by the flight, but did not heed the warnings; he flew too close to the sun, at which point the wax melted and he fell into the sea.

Psychology has termed a concept the ‘Icarus complex’ which centers on a person’s insatiable ambition and the need to achieve excess in all things. To the Greeks the Icarus complex was known as hubris, the excessive pride and ambition usually leading to the downfall of the hero in a classical tragedy. The Icarus complex psychologically becomes a pattern that humanity exhibits through burning ambition and exhibitionism, often understood through the subjective lens that depicts a precipitous fall whilst craving immortality. The psychological characterisation of Icarus before his fall becomes an inevitable connection between the ascensionist and the narcissist cynosure.  Finally when Icarus has attained an excessive height he falls as his waxen wings have been melted by the sun. Stanley Kubrick taking the Apollonian stance towards Icarus’ flight: “I’ve never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, ‘don’t try to fly too high,’ or whether it might also be thought of as ‘forget the wax and feathers, and do a better job on the wings”. Contrasting to Kubrick is Oscar Wilde and his stance that one should:

“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all 
Is never to feel the burning light.”

The fall of Icarus becomes a cautionary tale to understand the value of moderation. Henry Murray first coined the term ‘Icarus complex’, later the complex has been associated to mania, whereby a person exhibits grandiosity or narcissistic inclinations and a fascination for heights. The tale of Icarus is to take the middle way, cautioning against the heedless pursuit of instant gratification. The concept of the Icarus complex reveals that when the gap between the idealised goal and reality is great, there is a greater chance that the endeavour will end in failure. Icarus represents the sin of hubris, which can be interpreted through biblical texts which state that pride goes before a fall.

Imagery of Icarus shows him smiling as he descends as his father watches in horror, the painting illustrates that life goes on, the plight of Icarus is irrelevant, the farmer will continue to plough and the ship captain will continue on his voyage without a care as Icarus drowns in the water. The image of Icarus conveys the joy in flight, the value in his triumph, no matter how short-lived. The complex associated with Icarus conveys the pendulous emotional polarities, mania is exhibited by flying too high, whereby he got “burned”, followed closely by his inevitable emotional crash that followed his flight of mania into depression – drowning in the ‘sea’ of depression.

It can be argued that mania can therefore be interpreted as a form of ambition, an excessive ambition that ends in disaster. Another interpretation of Icarus regards his pursuit of enlightenment by transcending the Earth, this suggests grandiosity. The story of Icarus also embodies every humans potential to have differing levels of manic-depressive states, our moods fluctuating. The psychoanalysis of Icarus suggests that he was in a manic state, dominated by hyperactivity and euphoria. Icarus’ state of mind remaining unchecked, progressively losing his sense of reality and oblivious to the potentially fatal risk associated with his flight. His grandiose belief and overestimation of his personal capabilities allow a never ending energy and illusion to drive him onwards.

“It is not a matter of indifference whether one calls something a ‘mania’ or a ‘god’. To serve a mania is detestable and undignified, but to serve a god is full of meaning.” C. G. Jung.

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Two Introverts Sitting In A Tree.

Don’t underestimate the ineloquent man. He had been quiet all night; slowly his bottles of beer started to empty, he turns to me, knowing full well that we are very much the same. The alcohol making his shyness dissipate. He opens his mouth, brash yet philosophical words spill out, the words making perfect sense. Our repartee goes on; the party doesn’t notice our quiet isolation within the circle, keeping to ourselves. We don’t feel recharged by participating in the social gathering, preferring the company of one person like ourselves or on our own. The silence is nearly always welcomed. Everyone else is exchanging the niceties and frivolous conversations about the drama that seems to rule their lives, sometimes it’s nice to just forget about the drama. Our conversation is on the analysis of why society is slowly trying to force people to become extroverts in order to succeed in life.

Introvert_by_MeSHa3eLThe discussion becomes more heated, no one notices, everyone keeps downing their drinks, mine remains untouched as I sit on the edge of my chair exchanging worldviews with the most unassuming and unobtrusive yet knowledgeable person I’ve met in a long while, the surprise is most welcome. At the end of the night before the party proceeds to head to the clubs I ask him why he chose me to talk to. He responded by saying that he had watched me, noticing how I waited in the group watching and hearing everyone, yet contributing nothing, knowing full well that their conversations and accepted social niceties held absolutely no appeal to me and himself, our shared mutual interests made us feel sociable that night, yet we hadn’t been.

For all the noise that the other people were making, we had become unaware; we had mutually forsaken everyone’s company for our own. Our facade of participating in the group conversations lasted the night, our pretence of caring about the conversations of the group came to an end. My night was exactly what I needed. I was pleasantly surprised that I had underestimated the seemingly unremarkable man that I hadn’t given a second glance. He had used words with great meaning, yet I had originally rejected this potential as a conversationalist due to his inarticulate speech, I’m happy to say I was very wrong and won’t be making the same mistake in the future.

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The Abnormality of Normalcy.

Who decides what is classified as normality? It’s a self-perceived judgement that we assign to people which has been based on what we pigeon-hole as ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’. As a person with bipolar disorder I find is especially difficult to differentiate between the supposed abnormal and normal behaviour that I’m meant to exhibit. Abnormality is defined as a deviation from the accepted thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Normalcy is described as the absence of illness, associated as well-being, the line between the two is difficult to pinpoint with various shades of grey in-between. Normalcy is to abnormality what opportunity is to opposition.

The creation of normalcy can be a strategy of physical as well as mental survival.  Potentially the non- or abnormal (or anomalous), the excluded and marginal, may create their own world of normality.  It can therefore be questioned: how normal are the people who create it? The concept of “normal” has a long history that has been defined and redefined to accommodate that changing perspectives. The Greeks originally linked the concept of “normal” with “natural’, consequently denoting an ideal state in which the regular and average also converges with “healthy” and “good.”

Maybe hypomania and depression is my form of normality, in my mind that is how I perceive myself. That is my normal, anything different is for me abnormal. It is also ‘normal’ for our minds to change what we believe is abnormal, predominately determined by the milieu at the time. Abnormal and normal is completely reliant on context, I think the whole concept of the two is flawed and interchangeable. They are both used to define the other, does that mean that abnormality is a myth merely used to differentiate between people, reliant on perceptions and judgments that aim to reject those who deviate away from common standards? There isn’t a ‘normal’, no one is completely normal, its an invented idea related to conformity, conformity allowing a more functional state within society.

Normal is a measure used to understand realities, society’s problems stemming from the misunderstanding of what we really are versus the social myths that have been adopted to label and separate varying groups of people.

“The real picture consists of nothing but exceptions to the rule.” C.G. Jung

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I have a very child-minded perspective of the world that allows little to no room for the areas of grey. The mood swings that people with Bipolar suffer are perceived by them as normal; they are their initial standard, making it difficult to perceive the different moods as ‘wrong’ or abnormal. The negative stigma or ‘untouchable’ topic of Bipolar has to be changed, everyone is abnormal, and normal is merely an unachievable standard that we base our own actions off. Normality is self-perceived and regulated by each individual, the individuality of normalcy makes everyone abnormal.

Making ‘Sense’ Of Hypomania?!

Each person’s hypomanic episode can vary substantially. I believe I’ve had numerous hypomanic episodes that had gone unrecognized for the past 2 years. People with bipolar disorder mostly seek help only during depressive states. Each episode has also been slightly different, but always featuring insomnia, high productivity, motivational happiness, sexual drive and irritability. I think that they need to expand on hypomania; the DSM-IV Criteria doesn’t recognize that hypomania seems to have a variety of stages within the actual episode.

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I’m currently hypomanic at the moment, its 2am and I’m at my laptop, I’ve taken mood stabilizers today and insomnia tablets, yet I’m still awake. I feel productive when I write at the moment; the night-time has definitely become my time of focus. Not all of my hypomanic episodes have been like this, some were beyond awful, with bouts of crying/laughing simultaneously, tension headaches, head chatter/static/white noise (whichever you prefer) and the inability to focus on a task without getting agitated and eventually irritated, this isn’t including the racing thoughts that leave me sitting in the one position without recognizing the time passing, the worst hypomanic episode I experienced was co-morbid with dissociation caused by antidepressants. My thoughts seemed like they weren’t my own, that I was looking at all these social instances from a macro level instead of my perceived micro level perception. The dissociation caused me extreme anxiety whereby I couldn’t function properly for two days and was taken off the medication.