Epiphanies from the 2010 DBSA Conference

square657Except for that space of time late Saturday when the constant crush of people wore me down, I found a few answers at the DBSA National Conference. The conversations that went on between people put me in a curious place: was I really like these people who called themselves bipolar? I didn’t remember losing it so profoundly as they had. There was no episode where I thought myself God, though I could point to excessive spending and launchings into anger. For the most part, I restrained myself. And in the moments that transpired as I sat in cushioned, straight-back chairs, I wondered if I suffered from bipolar disorder at all, so well had my meds been working lately. The wash of mania seemed a dream fixed to an offshore rock.

Here and there, I found answers. A conversation with [[Marya Hornbacher]] tied my retreating to the cold vaults of my personal torture chamber to my post-traumatic stress disorder. She had a friend who did the same, she told me. I didn’t fire off into spectacular manias for the most part because I was terrified of the shakings-up that the fictions in my head wreaked. I am trying to understand these. PTSD stemming from abuse as a child — in my case by my parents and my brother who is older than me by six years (a massive difference when you are a child) — cracks joy just as it is beginning to rise. So no happy manias for me, only anger and desperate over-spendings followed by self-imprisonment where my symptoms were only seen by my wife and the people who dueled with me on the Internet.

Paula Kamen’s Sunday morning eulogy of journalist [[Iris Chang]] affirmed this. Chang’s illness had gone unnoticed — so much so that her 2004 suicide took everyone but her husband by surprise. Asians, Kamen reasoned, do not express the symptoms of bipolar disorder as radically as Europeans and African Americans. For Chang, her loquaciousness and brazen1 championing of human rights were the symptoms: she flouted the decorum that Asian families expected of their daughters. The whites who knew her had overlooked this because she did not conform to the danger signals to which they were accustomed and so Chang was allowed to go mad, energized in increasing delusion by their applause.

I, too, was pressured to hold back. My family — especially my brother who I now realize was threatened by me — told me to watch my “ego”. So I crushed it so that I would not do harm by upsetting them. Though some were annoyed by me, I do not believe that people saw me as crazy until that time when I ended up in the South Coast Medical Center behavioral science unit. My depressions they knew of: only Lynn suspected my manias.

Don’t do this at home if you live with bipolar disorder.

I met a few people who chose to be off meds for various reasons, but these were all depressives. A few said they found success in a simple course of diet and exercise coupled with vitamin therapy. Others had not found any medication which helped them, so they did not see the point of being on drugs that did not work for them. I didn’t worry about any of these people because they didn’t represent a danger to self or others. They knew what they were doing and they continued to regard better and appropriate medications as a possible answer to their future problems. Right now, they could do without. I think that is a valid, well-informed individual choice.

I was disappointed by the apparent lack of understanding when I mentioned the ground-breaking agreement by British politicians to avoid using psychiatric diagnoses to attack their opposition. Many anti-stigma fighters can see the problem with labels when they appear in television programs or when law enforcement shoots one of our number, but they don’t seem to get the importance of the language used in debate as well as the British advocates who engineered what I felt what probably the most important coup against prejudice so far this year. The words we use to desecrate the good names of our enemies have this way of turning back to harm us. It’s considered keen by youth, for example, to label those they don’t like as “bipolar”. Don’t forget how common it is to call Sarah Palin “psychotic” — a term which the public taints with blood dripping off a chainsaw and other emblems of violence rather than hallucinations and paranoia which are the true hallmarks of the symptom. It is this kind of language that I believe needs to be shouted down whenever we hear it.

I suffer from psychosis. I take meds for it. And I have no desires to harm others.

Though my thoughts were private to me and though I did apologize to him in person anyway, I want to express my appreciation for the talk given by George Nostrand. I have to say that I judged George by his ebullient shovel of a beard and the fact that he used the words “alternative” in his opening remarks. Having heard these used so many times by Scientologists and New Agers as a way of leading those who truly need to be on meds off the course, I very nearly walked out without hearing him.

His use of the term was quite different. For one thing, Nostrand does take meds and views them as critical to his continued health. What concerned him was the cycle that the mental health system thrust its clients, whereby they were only managed in the event of crisis and until they were just self-sufficient. Once stabilized on the needle’s point of what bureaucrats fobbed off as recovery, the state abandoned these people when they were still fragile. When the client faltered, agencies blamed lack of resolve on the part of the health consumers and/or the care providers for the failures. Nostrand contended that agencies should not merely aim to have their clients mere self-sufficient but thriving in the face of the challenge of the illness. I feel that his and Hornbacher’s contributions were the best to the overall conference.

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  1. I use this word not to undercut Chang’s moral validity but to speak to the strident character of her advocacy []

The Twisted Sense in Life

Why do you think people (including me) find sites such as this droll (which means “oddly funny” for those who have never drolled)?

P.S. The veterinarian whose arm was snapped off by the croc in Taiwan got it reattached.


From Scientific American:

Another summer of record-breaking temperatures brought power failures, heat waves, droughts and tropical storms throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. Only one place seemed to remain cool: the air-conditioned offices of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. As New York City wilted beneath them, they sat insouciant and comfortable, hurling editorials of stunning misdirection at their readers, continuing their irresponsible drumbeat that global warming is junk science.

Just wait until Schistomiasis shows up in Connecticut ponds….