In a few days, we will leave our home and our pets in the hands of a housesitter; then, board a plane for Paris by way of Salt Lake City. The next day, we will take the Chunnel to London where we will spend a week before going to Africa. On our way back, we will stop again in Paris, then return via the same route to our home in Orange County.
I have been feeling the strain of this trip for several weeks. I’ve trained the house sitter in the management of our pets, introduced her to the housekeeper, made sure she was authorized to call for repairmen and get the animals treated if they get sick. We’ve gotten the proper shots and picked up prescriptions for antimalarials and antibiotics. I felt slight fevers after the vaccinations. This means I am done with typhoid, influenza, and yellow fever. We have mosquito repellent and netting to cover our faces. Loc at my pharmacy negotiated with the insurance companies so that I would not run out of medication. My psychiatrist wrote a prescription with an extra dose of mood stabilizers to get me through the disruption of my inner clock. I am bringing Benadryl to help knock me out. Now I am shifting my sleeping and waking times by a few hours each day until I arrive in the same time zone as Paris.
I have developed this perspective over the course of many years. Denial was part of my life for many years. I made my wife’s life hell and I was a thrall to those who knew how to trigger me. It has not been easy. Now that I am on medication, I feel much better and in control of my emotions. Nevertheless, I respect the decision not to take medication by some, but often find that they do not respect mine. This article stakes out my position and makes a stand for what I believe.
I wrote this in June and set it aside to season.
Lynn grows a third eye, not on the forehead where they emerge by tradition, but to the left of her other eyes. It is smaller than the other two. She makes arrangements to have it removed, but something goes wrong with her right eye and she has to have it excised. I suggest that they replace the right eye with the third eye but she tells me that this is impossible. They are going to cut the extra eye in four pieces before they remove it a week later.
The opposition to Murphy’s Law has made some strange bedfellows, but I am not willing to get into bed with just any of them. An old logical fallacy is in operation — “the enemy of my enemy is my enemy” and its application here is just wrong.
I cannot break bread with anti-psychiatrists, as much for for the fact that they are often wrong as for their abuse of people like me.
There are many varieties of anti-psychiatrists. Prominent among them is, of course, the Church of Scientology whose fallacies I will leave to you to explore on your own. New Agers and vitamin addicts also raise their voices — I have had my arguments with types who rail on about Big Pharm but are ignorant about the $4 billion a year alternative medicine and supplements industry; who claim that vitamins and herbal medications have no side effects and do no harm; who insist that their nostrums are more effective than psychotropics and that clinical trials to the contrary are rigged by Big Pharm. But the god of all of these is Thomas Szasz.
Blaming the victim is an aspect of stigma that should hardly be new to those who experience stigma. “If the mentally ill did not act so odd, they wouldn’t be harassed.” “If they took their meds, nobody would pick on them.” (I have heard it said of people who do take their meds!) You can sum this up as “it is all their fault, not those who harass them or bully them.” You can class this as nothing more than an attempt to evade responsibility. You hear it in rape trials a lot. You hear it when people beat up gays and lesbians. You hear it when they talk about people like us.
I’ve often heard that the homeless are homeless because they won’t get a job or take their meds. This dismisses realities such as the lack of community mental health clinics, the fact that you need a stable address before you can get many jobs, and medications are just too damned expensive for many people. What happens when someone doesn’t respond well to lithium but needs a more expensive medication such as Abilify? There are all kinds of excuses for not feeling compassion for this person, but that is all they are — excuses.
Stigma is often masked as reasonable, but a closer examination shows that the arguments supporting it are flawed. We who live with mental illness have good reason to object to it: Prejudice costs us jobs, friendships, and self-dignity. The isolation which we live in worsens our state of mind. Stigma is not only evoked by people who do not suffer as we do, but also by anti-psychiatrists who oppose treatment and who deny mental illness. Both are often clever in hiding tactics, but I have written this article so that you might recognize and confront them successfully.
Herein I shall describe many logical fallacies that are used by people who invest in stigma either to promote an agenda or directly attack those of us with mental illness, giving examples for each. Remember these the next time someone uses them, identify them for what they are and let them know that they are standing on shaky ground.
Dear Mr. President:
I live with bipolar disorder.
Recently, you called the Republicans in the Senate “crazies”. While I will admit that they are out of control, you put me — a Democrat — in an awkward position.
Every day of my life I live with an illness that affects my mind and draws prejudice to me. I hear that I am violent even though statistics show otherwise; I hear that I am unable to think and reason; I am left out of society by unemployment and ostracization. People fear me because I am mentally ill.
You have been a great supporter of people like me. Your health care plan made it possible for the dysfunctions of our brain to receive the same right of treatment as the dysfunctions of our liver, our colons, our pancreas, our kidneys, our thyroid — to name a few. Our privacy is protected under HIPAA. These are all great things.
But when you call your political opponents “crazy”, you use my diagnosis as an insult. You add to the stigma that I must deal with from many quarters. And you put me in the same pen as the most destructive political movement since the decade before the Civil War.
I am crazy. The Republican Congress is willful, destructive, and evil. Please make the separation. Do not paint them with the brush that I already must wear.
My latest video in the series called My Life with Bipolar Disorder.
You’ve heard this on the news a lot every time there is a mass shooting perpetrated by a person who is mentally ill. Given that people died in the incident and that the person who committed them was sick, the promulgator of this argument wants us to draw the conclusion that the mentally ill are dangerous despite the fact that study after study show that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Furthermore, it ignores other, more substantial causes of mass shootings that have nothing to do with mental illness. But because there is blood shed, the association of the incidents with mental illness is strong and a powerful if illogical premise for severe solutions.
There is a name for this type of logical fallacy and it is called “misleading vividness”. Because few of the shootings involve people who are mentally ill, Jaffe goes for tabloid reasoning (note how he loves The NY Daily News). It happened! It is going to happen again! Therefore forcing treatment and locking up the mentally ill is the answer!
I joined The Experience Project recently, which I describe as Facebook without links. One of the groups is called 50 Things About Me, so I created this list as a response to the implied question. It would be interesting to hear other people describe themselves in this fashion.
The current controversy over Sandra Bland has me bothered on several fronts. First, of course, is the police video and the inane pretext for the traffic stop. Sandra Bland was well within her rights. I do not doubt that she was beaten.
Second, though, is the willingness of some activists to grab on the assassination theory. Not that I don’t think this is possible — police being police sometimes pull this kind of stunt — but I am disturbed about the implications beyond this — namely that Sandra Bland just couldn’t have been mentally ill.
Sandra Bland did suffer from Post Partum Depression after losing a baby. Her family denies that it affected her much, but outsiders often fail to gauge the depth of suffering that those of us struggling with mental illness endure. The autopsy showed that she had been cutting herself — a not uncommon self-medication for those living with depression. Friends may be right that she had been happy after getting that job, but I know from personal experience with depression that you can swing catastrophically out of a good mood into a sour one in a matter of days, hours, or even minutes. She got hit with some crushing news: she had been charged with assault and she was in the belly of the beast, a system that routinely chews up those unfortunate enough to be caught inside of it. Her life was effectively ruined. Goodbye job.
Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind deserves to be a classic in the literature of bipolar memoir. But to tell the truth, when I read it, I couldn’t identify. Parts of Andy Berhman’s wild and crazy Electroboy seemed a little like me, but once again, I didn’t find my story there. I admired Marya Hornbacher’s Madness — what a literary gem! — but her life was very different from my own. Patty Duke’s Call Me Anna — “ah fuck,” I said when I found this book. “This is me.”
I tell people to read everything they can get their hands on about bipolar disorder because sooner or later they will find a story that resonates with echoes of their own. Bipolar disorder has many masks, each one fitting just one person. There is common ground with others, to be sure, but bipolar is not a cookie cutter disease. Each of us has our own patterns, each our own set of connections, and each manic episode can be different. Some episodes are euphoric and some are dysphoric. I know my signs and symptoms, but sometimes new ones inexplicably creep in.
Like attending support groups, reading bipolar memoirs reduces my feeling of isolation. When I saw myself in Call Me Anna, I realized that I had something in common with other people. The rages whose origins I never understood — this wasn’t me, the pacifist and the kindly friend — became explicable. I suffered from manic-depression and so did the neurotypicals who had the misfortune of knowing me. This realization made me diligent about taking my meds, going to therapy, and reading all that I could find. Perhaps this was driven, at first, by mania. Good. I had found something productive to do with that energy.