This appeared as a feature in the “Modern Love” series in the New York Times. It could be the story of my marriage, a marriage of two mentally ill people, though my husband is way higher functioning than I am.
Out of the Darkness — Modern Love http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/fashion/out-of-the-darkness-modern-love.html
A fragmentation of reality
A major psychotic break
The other day I wrote a poem, Point of View, about having a psychotic break recently. Well, the break was a very slight one. Perhaps many people thought I was just being poetic. It reminded me of a time when I was being prepped for a surgery and the surgeon asking me about the medications I take. When asked why I took Thiothixene, an anti-psychotic, I told him that I was Bipolar. He said, “I think we are all Bipolar.” Maybe it was an effort to relate to me but it hit me in a “sore spot.” Everyone has moods, it is true, but being Bipolar is not just being “moody.” If we who are Bipolar have to endure the stigma of mental illness, at least allow that it is different from being “normal,” and not just some self-indulgent form of self-pity. So braving the stigma of it all, for I am sure many will stop reading here if they have not already, it seems incumbent on me to educate people. Bipolar Disorder is a major axis 1 mental illness characterized by extreme highs and lows. It is one of the most risky mental illness diagnoses because people can die from it. They suicide during a low. In Bipolar 1 the sufferer can become manic and while manic, and even while despressed, can become psychotic. Normal people do not become psychotic except perhaps in their dreams. Being psychotic means a major break with reality. It means entering another world that most don’t even know exists. So, no, we are not all Bipolar.
And, yes, people have fractured views of reality. But some views are more fractured than others. There is another “reality” in psychosis. This other reality exists when one is psychotic. What interests me is that different people who are psychotic have similar experiences, making me think there really IS another reality that is floating around out there. In this other reality the TV and radio can give you messages directly relevant to your life– so relevant that one begins to think there is some mind-monitoring device in your TV or radio. And the AC has a microphone that allows you to talk to the world outside one’s window, to the people in the street, and they respond to your commands. When one has the nerve to venture outside of one’s apartment, a cacaphony of voices tells you positive or negative things. People (I thought of them as teachers and/or psychics) do not come up to you and speak to you directly for they know you could not handle that. Rather they speak loudly to one another about your behavior so you can’t help but overhear. If they are pleased with your behavior at the time, the comments are your reward for getting well. If they are displeased, criticism comes from everywhere. There is nowhere to hide the shame you feel because negative feedback is coming at you from every direction. Then life becomes a hell that does not disappear when you go back home, because you can still hear the voices next door or in the street. That is just one down side of this other “reality.” Everything has self-referential meaning. You are either hearing voices that don’t exist, or you are one step away from that because the voices you hear are actually real, saying real things, but those things all have meaning for you and you alone. There is no safe place. No escape. No privacy. I was living in an apartment at the time. How much worse is it to be living in a shelter, hospital, prison or, worse on the street where one is overwhelmed with every kind of stimuli possible!
Synchronicity is everywhere. This is, I suppose, a lower from of altered consciousness. Life alternates between heaven and hell. That is what I meant by a fragmented view of reality in my poem, Point of View. One wonders if there is some divine intervention in these states because of the ubiquitousness of synchronicity. Is this another take on discerning Maya? I often lament to my husband that I cannot see the world as a dream or Maya and I feel so utterly unenlightened. And yet, how foolish I am, for many years ago I lived in another reality. Only now can I see that “reality” IS a consensual dream or “Maya.”
(For a narrative non-fiction account of being Bipolar and Aspie, the quest for sanity and the search for love, please see: http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html to purchase my book.)
every now and again
a psychotic break
unable to open the door
to walk in the sun
or talk to someone
at least for this time
and I emerge
out of the dark
blinded by light
laden with guilt
over is it
and justified hurts
or justified anger
and unjustified hurts
or no justification
just endless conflation
of swirls of emotion
that feed the
desire to die
of any cohesion
into the world
one’s point of view.
“It won’t happen again. Never. Never. Never. It’ll never happen again. No. No. No.”
The words to a song by Yusuf, better known as Cat Stevens, about a love affair gone awry. The words reverberate in my head repeatedly in true Bipolar style, as in true Aspie style, I listen to the song over and over and over and over again. My perseveration on the song fashions the words into a mantra, sending me full throttle into another state of consciousness, like the whirling dervishes of Istanbul who spin until they enter a mystical state. Since I no longer alter my consciousness with alcohol, cigarettes or recreational drugs (was too crazy to go that route), and since I am on anti-psychotic medications which keep me in reality, I have to use music, meditate and take refuge in nature to venture into my much-missed mystical states of being. The states today are washed out versions of the vibrant intensity I was accustomed to earlier in my life. But then, at age 28, my mind, never too strong to begin with, broke down and reality shattered into so many smithereens of glass. “It’s always a trade-off,” the experts say. But (and a “but” with a capital “B”) the psych meds hold me together and, most importantly of all, they allow me to love.
“It will never happen again. No. No. No.”
I can’t say that. My first major manic episode was ignited by a flaming crush at work that catapulted me into the fractionated world of psychosis for a very long time. Some thirty years later I am unsure just how far away that world is. It is not unusual for love to trigger the first manic episode in Bipolars, and I had another when I met the man who was to become my husband. This time the psychosis lost the war– because the love was reciprocated and nurturing– the most stable thing I had ever experienced. And (big “and”) because I was medicated. Though it felt like another break with reality was encroaching on my psyche, it never materialized and has not since.
But there have been close calls now and then. Writing my memoir of madness while working part-time, I would go to my job with all the raw feelings I was writing about whirling around inside me and, seemingly, outside me as well, as though stamped on my forehead. The memories and flashbacks bubbled up from deep inside like a lava flow of feelings. But no breakdown.
Mania is not the only state that flirts with psychosis. So, too, does the underbelly of the beast, depression. Loss of loved ones and caring for my dying mother brought me perilously close to the precipice again but extra medication kept me on the sane side of psychosis.
Even now any highly emotional experience (and being bipolar there are many) can shake the foundations of the self. Beholding great beauty in ecstatic encounters with nature, profound connections between thoughts and ideas, connecting deeply to another person—all these can send me reeling into space wondering if I can make it back to earth. These are all dangers I engage in somewhat recklessly for they make up the majestic magic and mystery of life. Friends and family I have helped keep my feet on the ground, but my husband is my real anchor to reality. Should something happen to Tom, well…
No. Unlike a dead love affair, I can’t say the descent into madness “will never happen again.” As I drift in and out of tantalizing trips into mania and try to flee the inevitable free fall into depression, I hang on for dear life and will not let go.
Enjoy the song sung soulfully by Cat Stevens, “MaybeYou’re Right…”
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)