I should be working on a final term paper for my marketing class, but I feel like procrastinating. As I was “taking a little look at the internet” I got sucked into this weekend’s edition of The New York Times Magazine and read this amazing article called The Problem With How We Treat Bipolar Disorder. Linda Logan, wrote in a literary style that I wish was more prevalent on blogs and articles and she elevated the conversation with her very painful and courageous story. The notion that we treat mental illnesses as a list of symptoms only to be controlled through medication and therapy, without any connection to a person’s psyche can cause a lot of confusion and may even stunt recovery.
Based on my own experience, psychiatrists and sometimes even therapists are only trying to get at the root cause of the illness, asking about symptoms and only working to alleviate these issues–which is just not the whole picture. Its true, as the article pointed out that little to no conversation is centered on the erosion of the patient’s self. There is usually no work done to identify the changes to a patient’s personality, or talk about important aspects of a patient’s self, or how to cope with the harsh reality that their self identity may be changed forever. There is a very apparent connection between mental illness and the loss of self and anyone that is suffering can attest to this idea. I have struggled with losing touch with my inner self, as I wrote in a previous post, I felt like an out of focus lens. This is a frightening place, the wavering vision of your own reflection only fuels more anxiety and isolation.
Raising a child reminds me of how the self is formed and how strongly we identify with our self from almost the start of our lives. This is the reason kids can seem selfish and self-centered. The age we call “terrible twos” is really the first outcropping of our self identity. I always thought that it must be overwhelming for our young minds to realize for the first time there is a “me” and that the world is not just outward stimuli. Between the frustrated moments of tantrums, I remember feeling empathetic toward my daughter watching her struggle with a the idea that she has a name, that there is a “me” and that this growing idea of self wants and needs attention and of course her own way. In fact, my favorite aspect of raising a little human is watching a personality form into a unique combination that is all her own.
I realized as I was reading Logan’s article that being lost in the fog of anxiety and depression is an attack on our own identity. We self-loathe, berate, beat down and hate our own “self”. That little self, the very one we protected as children on the playground, that talked back to our parents and threw fits over bedtimes rules–somehow becomes our sworn enemy. How did we let this happen? And as we realize what has been lost in the battle, we begin to grieve, mope around, lay prostrate and lose interest in the world. Reading Logan’s article, brought on the same questions she was pondering, why not focus on getting to understand our new self? She is so right on when she states;
For many people with mental disorders, the transformation of the self is one of the most disturbing things about being ill. And their despair is heightened when doctors don’t engage with the issue, don’t ask about what parts of the self have vanished and don’t help figure out strategies to deal with that loss.
In a way, this journey that I am venturing through in this current phase of my life is simply my way of getting back to my self, or more accurately embracing the hodge-podge of my new self. I guess I must have figured out that I did need to understand the transformation of my self. It makes sense that a person struggling with any kind of mental illness would feel disconnected from themselves. The past can feel like an out-of-body experience, except its someone else’s life played by an actor that happens to look exactly like yourself. I often think back and feel uncomfortable pangs of regret, but at the same time don’t truly identify with that person. Logan explains that, “the sick self has no accountability; the improved self has a lot of explaining, and often apologizing, to do.” I have done my fair share of apologizing and have tried to explain my condition many times–sometimes people get it other times I am met with blank stares or courteous nods.
For now, I am focused on changing patterns, doing things in a new way and molding together a better image of my newly crafted self–with parts of the old and new. I could probably do with a bit of healthy grieving for the bits of my self that have been lost. I can think of a vibrant 17 year old, a kind of naive and overly exuberant young girl, a part of my self that has been chipped away. She may not be the same, but what is left standing is a stronger and wiser self, with moments of that same youthful energy. This is why I found Logan’s article so important, because she is still searching for new ways to reach out and understand how to make the process less painful, perhaps even more rewarding. As she began to share her story she learned that “the more often I spoke, the less traumatic my experience seemed, the less sad, the less painful and, somehow, the less personal”. This is key, if we all could open up and relinquish the hold that this very common illness has on ourselves, friends and family, perhaps we can reduce some pain. There is no need to go on suffering alone. I have talked about the process of writing releasing me from so much pain, giving me new levels self-worth. My other intention is to pass along some inspiration to just talk more openly and plainly about any type of mental illness, without stigma and shame, so that more selves can be set free. There is no point to life if we just keep things inside and pretend things are okay. I have been trained to always tell people that I am “fine”. Its no wonder that when I talk more openly about my suffering that I am met with surprise from some (my close confidants know my story all to well).
Obviously, I still enjoy a bit of self-loathing, procrastination probably falls in this realm and I still feel the monolith of work towering over me. I could use a good night’s rest without twisting around in worry over a paper I should have started last week. So I better get off the soap box for today, it did feel better to get this off my chest.
What do you all think we could better to help with any kind of mental illness? Not just dragged to the hospital and put on lithium type of illness, but also for those of us who are functioning as the walking wounded.