Thursday, November 18, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
You're only given a little spark of madness. You musn't lose it. --Robin Williams

Insanity is the Best Defense
Today I am forgoing my usual fiber-related posts to talk about mental illness, specifically manic depression. Feel free to skip this entry. It’s going to be somewhat on the long side.

I am a diagnosed bi-polar II. Or, to use a term I prefer, manic-depressive. It is believed to be a chemical imbalance of the brain, although not conclusively proven. It is also most likely hereditary.

Sounds scary, eh? Believe me, it can be.

The reason that I'm bringing this topic up is because during the course of the past few weeks, my mood swings have become increasingly more troublesome. Not to worry, though. I know well the signs of my illness and I no longer ignore those signs. It's time to go back on medication.

Some of you have family or friends who are bi-polar. Some of you may be bi-polar yourselves. If so, you understand how unbelievably difficult it is to obtain decent, affordable treatment and medication. I had to leave my psychiatrist more than four years ago because she did not accept insurance and I could no longer afford the $180/45 minutes. At least I was lucky to have help for a while. After that, I was dependent upon a primary care physician who knew little about psychiatric illnesses and even less about psychotropic drugs. Not good.

Today I made an appointment with a psychiatrist who takes my insurance. One of the few. Despite my needing to see someone quickly, because bi-polars can go south fast (sorry, couldn’t resist), I was lucky to get an appointment for December 7th. And this doctor is located about 50 miles away from my house.

I will need, at the very least, an antidepressant, which takes 2-3 weeks to kick in, definitely lithium, and probably an anti-convulsant too. So maybe I will feel better by Christmas.

My point? If I had pneumonia, I would be able to see a doctor immediately. If I had broken my leg, the emergency room would take me in an hour or two (or three). Ten years ago, during an acute episode, I was taken to the ER and forced to wait ten hours because mental illness just doesn’t command any medical reaction unless you threaten to kill yourself or harm others. Sadly, people who do reach that point are often ignored by the medical community early on, when they perhaps could have been helped.

The state of mental illness care is a national tragedy. There isn’t anyone in this country who has not been affected by it, whether directly or indirectly. And yet, ten years after my initial diagnosis, I find that nothing has improved. I have little hope that it will, especially under the current administration, which probably views psychiatric care as a tool of the Devil.

However, I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. Manic-depressives are usually creative, bright people who have given much to our culture. The list of talented manic-depressives is huge. So I do like my special club.

Someone once asked me if there were a “cure” for manic-depression, would I get the cure? Never. Manic-depression has made me, for better or worse, the person I am. If there were a possibility of losing my creativity, of losing my ability to soar mentally, I’d never risk it.

Nonetheless, manic-depression kills. In fact, it kills all too frequently. Suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse all contribute to the manic-depression death statistics. I’ve been very lucky, insofar as I have a mild version. Many others have not been so fortunate. And many, many people will not discuss their illness because of the stigma that is still attached. Perhaps that is why I also fight against homophobia and discrimination of all types—boy, do I understand.

But ya gotta keep fighting. There’s always another day. I love what Bruce Cockburn says about manic-depression: "Keep kicking against the darkness until it bleeds daylight."

Yeah, what he say.

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