Monday, February 20, 2012

Nobody's Perfect

And how are you today?  I don't know, what day of the month is it?  What day of the week?  What hour of the day? 

I have, in my life, been diagnosed with recurrent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and ADHD.  Labels, all and I have no use for labels.   All I know is that on any given day, week, month, I deal with symptoms associated with all of them.

Major depressive disorder - also known as clinical depression, major depression, unipolar depression, or unipolar disorder - is a mental disorder characterized by low mood, low self-esteem and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. 

Recurrent is the active ingredient.  It comes, it goes.  One day I'm a reasonably cheerful, productive man, the next I'm awake but comatose at my desk, good for nothing but sighing.  In third grade, I remember going up to the teacher in tears and telling her I was unable "to push my pencil."  I spent any number of times in my teens and early adulthood unable to do anything but lie on the couch.   Around the age of thirty, there were two months when the only reason I came out of my New York apartment was to wander aimlessly.   Twice in my forties I quit lucrative writing jobs because I was brain dead and couldn't write a word.  Not quite true.  I was writing the same word over and over again.  ("All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy".  If you don't know the reference, you don't know the films of Jack Nicholson.  Shame on you.)  At age fifty, after a particularly horrendous experience directing a movie, I couldn't write at all and pretty much quit pursuing jobs.
And then one day, after a particular nasty, long lasting bout of the blues, I woke up and I felt... fine.  Happy, even.   It was a "what the fuck!?" moment.  Nothing had changed in 24 hours, not circumstances, not responsibilities, not life.   And yet everything had changed.  Clearly this was not, well... normal.
It took the psychiatrist about fifteen minutes to tell me I suffered from recurrent depressive disorder.  What do I take to cure it, I said.  You can't, she said, all we do is help temper the symptoms.  

I now take Lexapro.   Lexapro is a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.  Apparently changing the balance of serotonin in the brain seems to help brain cells send and receive chemical messages, which in turn boosts mood.   Okayyyy....   The best way I can describe what it does is to tell you that when you fall, you only go half way down the mountain but you're still aware of the bottom down below.    About a year later, after some extensive testing which involved, yes, no joke, Rorschach tests, it was determined I was bipolar.   I’d always known I was a little bit different but insane?  Uh, no, I rejected this.   And it was disconcerting to finally go to a BP website on the internet, to read down the list of symptoms and go - that’s me, by gum!

Bipolar disorder is a condition in which people go back and forth between periods of a very good moods and then irritable mood/depression.   People with bipolar disorder type II  --  me -- have never had full mania.  Instead they experience periods of high energy levels that are not as extreme as mania. These periods alternate with the episodes of depression.    Occasionally you can stop for a breath of fresh air somewhere in the middle. 
Many men with bipolar have problems with anger.  Anger is a coping mechanism.  Depression is setting in and irrational anger is how you fight it off. 

Duh!  To say that I am an anger idiot is an understatement.  Irritable is my middle name and I can go off in to blind rage at the drop of a hat.  I don't like what's for dinner.  Someone has said something innocuous and I've taken it the wrong way.  I'm being disagreed with.  I'm being bothered in the middle of writing a sentence, of reading a book, of  going out he door.  I'm being asked to discuss something I don't wish to discuss, being asked to do something I don't want to do.  And I don't just get angry, I  am the anger.   It takes over my whole body.  It turns my mind to boiling soup.   I work with words for a living and suddenly the only thing come out of my mouth is profanity.  And the worst part is, as you might have guessed, I only do this with those  I love and trust the most.   Other than the occasional mad dragon moments of self loathing on the tennis court or golf course, my friends don't see it (I hope).   I bring it home with me.  I'm full of remorse when I calm down.  I can't apologize enough.   And guess what?  It sucks to apologize all the time, especially for who and what you are.   It makes me irritable and angry all over again.   Which makes me depressed.

During a manic episode, experts say, mood changes can swing from irritability to euphoria back to depression, all within a 25-minute period of time.  (A side note. I have never experienced the euphoria that supposedly comes with mania - what they call a fine madness.   Sort of like being denied the apples but still given the pits.)  To temper the mood swings I take Lamactil.   It was developed as a drug for epileptics to control their seizures.   Who had the bright idea of trying seizure medication to treat bipolar is beyond me.   Obviously they were from the throw shit against the wall and see if it sticks school of medicine.   

By the way, prescribing drugs for mental illness is tricky at best.   In fact, pyschiatrists often make their diagnoses based on what meds work.  You try this, You try that.  Finally - ah, this plane has taken you to London!  Congratulations!  We now know it's Friday!

Marriages and families break up over bipolar disorder.   Who cares if they can't help it.  Enough is finally enough.  Who wants to live on a shooting range?  The lovely wife is amazing because not only has she has always deflected my anger away from our children onto herself, she forgives me for it.  Sort of.  Kinda.  Usually. 

I live in the hope I give decent dollar value.   I'm a BMW that breaks down easily, yes, but I'm still a luxury car.   As were some of my heroes such as Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and William Styron.   For you youngsters think Kurt Cobain, Axyl Rose and Sinead O'Connor.  

Yes!  Creativity and mental disorders have been linked.    Personally I would rather have been a successful venture capitalist.

Last but not least.

ADD!   Attention Deficits Disorder!   Going walk-about in the middle of  a boring conversation!   Easily distracted!   Short attention span!   Can’t remember the name of the person you were introduced to 25 seconds ago!    Can’t sit still in a movie theatre.   Barely makes it to the intermission of play - even your own!    Patience?  Like a burning house!

Me, me, me.    What’s one to do?  

I hit balls.  A lot of them.  Tennis balls.  Golf balls.  Squash balls.   I don’t necessarily like the playing of these games, I like the hitting.   That is my drug of choice, my therapy.   How do I manage to work you ask?  I’m glad you did.  There is a thing associated with AD knows as - cue music -


A coping mechanism for ADD!   The tendency to become absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding!   A way of tuning out the chaos!   An asset when channeled into productive activities but of questionable use when you’re engrossed in something  and the lovely wife asks you to take out the garbage.    This being interrupted is really annoying.  You were content a moment ago and now you’re not.  You’re frustrated now and you don’t deal well with frustration. 


The prospect of the garbage, which is symbolic of life,  is getting you stressed out.  And you don’t like stress. 


The lovely wife advises you to take a chill pill.  This is criticism.   You hate criticism, no matter how much it’s warranted.   It makes you lose your temper.


When you come back to earth after losing your temper, you feel guilty.

I am not fit to livvvee!!

Guilt spurs depression.

Groan.  Sigh.

Which leads to mood swings.

Good - bad - happy - sad - pretty good - horrible - top of the world - don’t ask -- leave me alone! - hug me!!

All in a day’s work for a desperate man.

But hey.  Nobody’s perfect.

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