Slate Magazine published an article by Psychiatrist Anne Skomorowsky criticizing the press’s assumption that depression led Andreas Lubitz to dive into a German mountainside. She writes:
Was Andreas Lubitz depressed? We don’t know; a torn-up doctor’s note and bottles of pills don’t tell us much. Most people who commit suicide suffer from a mental illness, most commonly depression. But calling his actions suicidal is misleading. Lubitz did not die quietly at home. He maliciously engineered a spectacular plane crash and killed 150 people. Suicidal thoughts can be a hallmark of depression, but mass murder is another beast entirely.
I’ve given this passage a lot of thought. Was Lubitz an evil genius? I take exception to the conclusion that his actions were in any way “malicious”. Looking back at my own personal experience of suicide and others’ recollections of their suicide attempts, I don’t think that he was even thinking about the other people. Mass murder was not his motive: it was simple self-annihilation and the airplane was the handy tool by which he engineered it. I find it no different from the bottle of pills, the knife, or the gun that others use to bring about their own demise. For Lubitz to do what he did, I aver, the passengers in the plane had to become invisible to his mind. He locked the door. He set the controls downward. He breathed deep so as to calm and steel himself for the resolution of the act. He felt his body hurtling towards the mountain. He was alone.
The fact is we are painters in real life, and the important thing is to breathe as hard as ever we can breathe. — Vincent Van Gogh
A few months ago, a writer (a psychologist wouldn’t you know) in Skeptical Inquirer dissed the idea that Vincent Van Gogh had bipolar disorder. She invoked new evidence that suggested that he had not committed suicide, but had been shot by a local boy. Now this writer left out a lot of facts about Van Gogh’s life such as the deep depressions that afflicted him, the ear he cut off to send to a woman who jilted him, and the euphorias that took him to his own heaven. All these are documented in his letters to his brother Theo. These didn’t matter: the psychologist couldn’t stand the thought that Vincent could be capable enough to render his masterpieces and live with bipolar disorder.
This stigmatization through denial gives us a yet another reason to stand up and show our faces in the world. We are capable, we create beautiful things, we hold down jobs, we engage the world. I had a psychologist once very much like this woman. She was controlling, overbearing, and made me feel that I was a dangerous, abusive person based on some personal confessions about some things that I did long ago. She kept pushing me to get a job and told me that my wife was too kind towards me. She didn’t want me talking about my having been emotionally and physically abused as a child, demanding instead that I completely forgive, trust, and love my parents. She didn’t like that I pointed to famous people who lived with the illness either, marking it as a sign of grandiosity. In the end, because I would not become the person she wanted me to be, she dropped me. I did not trust another psychologist for nearly two years. The one I finally turned to, fortunately, did not put me through this hell even though she knew the same facts. She has helped me to move on and appreciate who I am.
I must tell the truth here: I do not understand what Andreas Lubitz did. In my suicidal fugues, I thought of many ways that I might kill myself that involved others such as throwing myself in front of a truck or crashing my car into a tree or driving it off a cliff, but the idea of taking others with me — that wasn’t the self-annihilation that I planned. When I came close,I found a secluded place where someone would eventually find me. That was the maximum involvement of another that I planned. Though I thought capital punishment might work for me — and send a message to those who loved me — I did not want to assassinate others.
Rumor has it that Lubitz was going through some catastrophic issues with his girlfriend. He knew that he was ill and he was seeking treatment for it. The day of the crash, his psychiatrist issued a sick leave note. Andreas did not use it, however, and his doctor could not call the airline to tell them that he was at risk. But Lubitz did not stop at ending his own life:
Andreas Lubitz was breathing, steady and calm, in the final moments of Germanwings Flight 9525. It was the only sound from within the cockpit that the voice recorder detected as Mr. Lubitz, the co-pilot, sent the plane into its descent.
The sounds coming from outside the cockpit door on Tuesday were something else altogether: knocking and pleading from the commanding pilot that he be let in, then violent pounding on the door and finally passengers’ screams moments before the plane, carrying 150 people, slammed into a mountainside in the French Alps.
I don’t do nudes — at least so far — largely because I am shy about working with nude models. When I say “Let’s do some ahhrt” (reference to the movie “Gia”), I see my models with their clothes on.
Recently some shouted out that a favorite model site (http://www.modelmayhem.com) of mine is a place where “pornographers stalk”. Many models do pose in the nude there, but I think the person who made this statement makes a fundamental misunderstanding, namely that nudes are the same as pornography.
Any inclination of mine to become a famous bipolar author — the kind that writes a best-selling book, gets invited to national conventions, gets coverage in the national magazines, etc. –is curbed by one reality: that I live with bipolar disorder and one of my symptoms is grandiosity. Grandiosity — for you outsiders — is different from narcissism in that the latter is strictly an extreme self-love while the former is a beyond-passionate-conviction in a crusade and the belief that one is ordained to be the leader of that crusade. It is a thing that easily falls into a shambles as people are scared away by our hyper-exuberance. As we ramp up into psychosis, we may style ourselves as prophets or even God him/herself. I have been there — once I talked a Quaker Meeting into sponsoring me for a trip to former Yugoslavia in the middle of the 1992 war when I had no clue why it was important for me to be there, other than it being important for me to be there.
Oh, I developed a rationale for my spiritual mission, and I did interesting things such as become one of the first non-journalists to report first-hand on a crisis using the Net. The governments over there didn’t like me much but that is to be expected when you know the Truth and report it through that warped, half-melted lens. The incident leaves me with several doubts about myself — where was this belief that the Spirit was calling me to do this really coming from? and Should I repay those who financed me now that I am disabused myself of the sacredness of my mission? I believe some people — quite a few — tell you that I did good and maybe I did. Others grew to hate me. Since my diagnosis, I am wary of any motivation which suggests that I alone possess a message that should be heard.
I’ve had the site for years and I’ve parceled out pieces to friends for their own blogs, but I have finally given it over to the purpose for which I intended it — as a blog for my own photos. You can check it out at http://gallery.pathsoflight.us. Please come by and leave compliments and other comments!
My father had PTSD from being only one of three men in his company to survive the battle of San Pietro. My maternal grandmother suffered from depression so badly that she spent most of her life in bed. My mother, it seemed to me, was just mean. For this reason, I kept my diagnosis a secret from her but someone told her. One Thanksgiving she made a disparaging comment about people who “thought they were bipolar” and looked right down the table at me. The faces of the other family members turned to see how I would answer. In the days before I went on mood stabilizers, I would have risen with a fury and blasted her with a confused twirl of invective. But I sat calmly and mentioned how hard it was for psychiatrists to make a diagnosis, perhaps harder than for other medical specialties. Someone changed the subject. I got up to get more turkey.
This confrontation pretty much ended our relationship. Even though she lived only 50 miles away, I only visited her on Thanksgiving after that. We seldom if ever talked on the phone. When she was dying of a brain tumor — she had moved to Portland, Oregon to be closer to my brother — I waited to hear that she wanted to see me. The call never came.
Glenn Close is a woman who I admire for her dedication to her sister and her resolve to upend stigma. When Jessie Close was 51 years old, Glenn drove her to McLean Hospital in Boston where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Their commercials questioning the labels applied to mentally ill family members and their relatives are known to millions. We have every reason to admire and respect her for her work. But recent research suggests that maybe family members aren’t the best ones to be talking about stigma.
The research has nothing to do with the political issues surrounding mental illness. A pair of researchers looking into the rise of a culture willing to accept same sex marriage outline a successful strategy that we who live with bipolar disorder and other organic brain dysfunctions can employ:
Michael LaCour, a UCLA doctoral candidate in political science, and Donald Green, a Columbia University political science professor, have demonstrated that a single conversation can go a long way toward building lasting support for a controversial social issue. In addition — nearly as surprisingly — the effect tends to spill over to friends and family members.
The key is putting voters in direct contact with individuals who are directly affected by the issue.
To look at me, you wouldn’t think I was much of a bipolar success story. I can’t claim an impressive degree. I dress casually. You wouldn’t call me professional-looking which is the watch cry of our time. Bp Magazine won’t put me on its front page any time soon; I won’t be featured as a model of recovery. Many people will rush to judgement based on my sometimes slow demeanor that I am not very smart and in my low moods I am inclined to agree. I am a different face of bipolar disorder. My “fame” comes from industriously providing information and linking people living with the illness to one another. I do not seek to brand myself or put head shots out there as if I were an important personality who had beat the disease because I still live with it every day of my life. I have no secrets to impart, just my life experiences in which you might or might not recognize yourself.
Most people don’t. I am a bit of a freak.
This obscurity does bother me at times. When I read articles by bipolar pundits, they sound a lot like all the other bipolar pundits and I don’t want to be like that. Why don’t they look for people like me who bring a different perspective? I don’t know. I have trouble just getting people to read my blog because it isn’t like all the other bipolar blogs out there. And I am not one of the faces of recovery that the national organizations like you to see. I am not a self promoter. I don’t shave. Among some people in my region, I have a bad reputation due to a manic episode that I had a few years ago. The bad mouthing of certain people hectors me still. Those that know me intimately don’t believe the rumors, so I have few but good friends. I think it is more important to be there for individuals than to be famous, more important to work on creating something insightful than in presenting myself in the manner that we have come to expect of our spokespeople.
Mine is a face that disappears from the memory. People who have met me in person and known me online, forget what I look like. They see me in my casual dress and my hulking figure someone who shouldn’t be remembered at all, who doesn’t have a message that deserves to be shared. But I, too, live with bipolar disorder. I, too, have my stories. May I have the courage just to tell them without preaching at you.
It’s the damn wind again, a Santa Ana blowing off the mountain and against my door. Combined with the heat, it gives me a headache and a stiff feeling all over my body. Plus I have been sneezing.
At first I mistook this for a depression. Friends counseled me to seek out some sunlight. As soon as I went out the door, though, pollen blew up my nose. This disabused me of my theory and I went inside to take some Tylenol for my headache.
Daylight Savings Time certainly doesn’t help.
Bipolar brings on the worry that I am seeing the signs of an imminent mood swing. A cold, the flu, or allergy attacks in their early stages cause me to worry that I am sinking. Then I get a clue as the symptoms worsen and I let go of my dread.
The dog feels the effects, too. He has been pacing nervously up and down the hall, his claws clicking on the wood laminate flooring. I get up from time to time to join him and he follows me. This is the madness of the foehn, the agitation that the drop in air pressure here in the valley brings from the mountains. I hate this part of March and wait impatiently for it to just go away.
I was in the middle of an interesting if not entirely pleasant dream when the the alarm went off. I struggled into consciousness like one struggles to get to the surface when one has plunged too deep into a lake or the ocean, found the alarm, and turned it off. Sleepiness wrapped my head.
I was in this sorry state because the clocks had been set ahead. Eleven o’clock was actually ten o’clock. During the night, a thief mandated by Congress had stolen that hour. I felt terrible and cursed Benjamin Franklin because he was the one who invented Daylight Savings Time.
“It’s a good thing because we gain an hour of sunlight,” someone said to me. No, I pointed out, you have just as much sunlight in each day as you would have had if the clocks hadn’t been set ahead. The same number of hours and minutes were given to us regardless of where the sun was when it was noon. The only thing that had changed was when it would be noon.
Posted on in Dreams
My mother has invited me for dinner. I know the purpose is to marry me off to one of the daughters of friends who have come. I’m late, so everyone has eaten and my dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes without gravy have been set aside in a glass bowl in the kitchen. One of the women has been in a car accident recently and so she is swollen and unable to walk. She keeps her forearms hidden beneath the table so I suspect she has severe bruising and perhaps a compound fracture. I get up to fetch my dinner and go into the kitchen where I run into another young woman. This one tells me about the problems she has with her English major. I suggest that she look up a criticism technique called close reading. I have been separated from Lynn for some days, so when I sit down again, I pull out my cell phone and call her. When she doesn’t answer, we all go looking for her. We find her walking on the slope of a large drainage channel. She doesn’t talk to me but to one of the women and she starts talking about how important her work with the homeless is and how I need to realize just how poor they are. I am telling someone that she is turning into a girlfriend I had in the past when the alarm rings and I wake up.