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Notes on the DBSA National Conference Part 2

Posted on May 31, 2011 in Bipolar Disorder DBSA Support Groups and Conferences Suicide

square734People at the conference tended to know that they were sick for the most part. There may have been one or two exceptions — such as the young woman who broke off from the Meet and Greet to have a drink in the hotel bar (Such compliance!) and maybe some of the family members. Most tracked themselves well and recognized if they were stable or in episode.

Psychiatrists call the ability to understand that we are in a state of mental disturbance “insight” and its lack [[anosognosia]] ((Which is also the term used to describe people who have suffered brain damage and do not recognize the extent to which their use of their limbs or their senses have been compromised.)) The point at which we realize things are messed up and we can’t go on living like this was epitomized by Susan Blauner’s talk. Blauner, who her therapist described as an “angry young woman using herself as a pawn”, spoke of waking up in the hospital with a tube running down her gut and her arms tied so she couldn’t remove it. A moment of terror ensued in which she realized that the pills she had choked down were coming perilously close to exterminating her. “I don’t want to die,” she thought. “But if you don’t want to die,” that still small voice of her conscience asked her, “why did you try to commit suicide?” ((I had a similar moment. No sooner had I been admitted to the hospital after considering slashing my wrists, I went up to the nurse’s station and began demanding my diabetes medications. Why, if I wanted to die, did I do this? asked one of the nurses. It was the next day that Dr. Speare diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I hadn’t a clue, though I knew my mind was turbulent and out of control.))

Though most therapists would disagree with her model, Blauner sees her [[suicide]] attempts as something other than a mere call for help. She sees them as an addiction . The desire to put herself in a place of mortal peril was akin to what she heard in addiction groups where the pressure of the desire to do it would grow until it was overwhelming and she would have no choice but to break down and do it.

She has since risen beyond this.

The next morning, actress Laura Burke identified herself as one of the 45% who knew they were mentally ill and often dismissed because they weren’t like the people who didn’t know they were sick. Her [[schizophrenia]] pushed her to the point where she had lost her abilities to think and be expressive. She spoke of “losing the emotional wiring to feel sorrow or to feel joy” — a different sort of place from the bipolar disorder I suffer. Yet I felt kinship when she spoke of the numbing that was a response to our vulnerability.

Her perspective had its political themes. She acknowledged the Left perspective that there is a culture of fear out there that “pollutes our minds so that we fear everything except fear itself.” The common panacea of the day for this — Hope — has its own pitfalls, however. Desire for results can be destructive in its own right. When we replace the numbing — the loss of empathy for others — with the expectation that things will change right now, we kill ourselves with shame when we don’t meet them. The hope that we will meet the approval of others, of being enough is what I would call a kind of edgemanship. If we do not successfully walk the line as our illness pushes us, we fall into a state of shame.

There’s a past, there’s a future, and there’s a present. We thrive when there is a validation of the suffering that we feel, when we are not forced to deny it, to try to change it, or push it away. Life is workable. There is always “the brilliance of possibility in the present moment” which is the only place where true change can happen. Relief is to reframe your illness, she concluded, to celebrate life as it is.

Which is different from what many mental health professionals shove us towards.

I note that our pain is often invalidated. There lurks the view that we should not call ourselves by our illness because this is to lead us to failure which is marked by lack of conformity. I take my meds because I am bipolar. I will not sacrifice that self-label because it “reduces me to my diagnosis.” I call the shots here. From moment to moment, I can change this to suit my purposes and my comfort. When you tell me how I should label myself, you make me surrender control to you.

From Laura’s drama therapy workshop:

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth. — Oscar Wilde

And now simply some thoughts from Clarence Jordan who believes in the resiliency of the human species:

“Two things people like to talk about when they have never experienced it: being mentally ill and being in the military.”

“Without resilience, how would you have been able to get past the trauma in your life?”

“We are seduced by our illness into doing the things we should not do — there is more incentive to be sick in our system than there is to be well.”

“Life is not a dress rehearsal. There are no go-rounds. This is it. Please engage with life.”

Click here to view my photos from the conference.

View Chato Stewart’s award-winning self-confessional video.

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