Friday, March 6, 2009

An Unquiet Mind - Part One (Originally published on 11.10.2008)

There are very few books I could not finish or had to put down because the content disturbed me. Today I began reading a book that my therapist recommended and after less than one chapter I had to put it down because I could feel tears welling in my eyes. It was a passage about the author visiting a mental hospital for the first time that got me. She had always had a fascination with medicine and sought to become a doctor one day so she volunteered at her local hospital and immersed herself in her curiosity. While visiting the wards common room, a certain woman caught her attention. She seemed stable enough to be aware of her surroundings and was braiding and unbraiding her hair. The author (whose name is Kay), approached the woman and asked her why she was there. The woman’s answer was that when she was five, her parents put a pinball machine in her head. The red balls told her when to laugh, the blue ones told her when to be silent and keep away from other people; the green ones told her she should start multiplying by three. Every few days a silver ball would make its way through the pins of the machine. When Kay asked her what the silver ball meant the woman suddenly went blank and reverted back to staring off into space. The author was intrigued and terrified by the sadness and insanity that was captured in that woman’s eyes. She never thought that one day she’d look in the mirror and see the same thing.

The author also talked about her older sister and how she had terrible black moods and never seemed to be comfortable in her own skin. She was hyper aware of everything around her and though she could be quite charming her highs and lows affected everyone around her. Right away a part of me tightened. When I was a child, I was always living in extremes. When my friend Donald caught hit by a car, I ran to his house and calmly explained to his mother that she needed to call 911. I was so calm that she didn’t believe me at first. I had no reaction to watching my best friend get hit by a car. On the other extreme, I was at my grandmother’s house when I decide to hook myself to the long chain that they used for the dogs. I promptly began to panic and started screaming and crying. All I had to do was unhook myself. My father eventually came out and bewildered he unhooked me and walked back to the house.

That was my first panic attack. I believe I was about 8.

I always thought that what I felt was something I could control it. That I was just being dramatic or letting my imagination get to me. I thought that I wasn’t strong enough to control my own emotions. Reading this book is unraveling everything I know. I still struggle with the idea that I am bipolar. I still think that it’s a weakness in my make up. I thought that my extremes when I was a teenager were just hormones. That’s what my parents taught me so that’s what I believed. But it never stopped. When I was 19 I was still living in extremes and I was surrounded by people that didn’t understand that there was something wrong with me. They constantly told me to stop freaking out, or accused me of doing irrational things on purpose. I’m just beginning to understand that I truly couldn’t control myself. I thought that when I was rocking back and forth in my room, crying hysterically and wanting to die, it was due to hormones and I was just too weak to control them. So I began to hide everything. I let it stew in me for years until it finally boiled over and I could no longer control anything.

I am just now accepting that I am not weak. I am just wired differently than most people.

I tried to turn to religion for answers. My mother is a “born again Christian” and would claim that when I lashed out, demons were controlling me and I needed to be stronger and ask Jesus for help. I tried praying for God to “fix me” and nothing ever happened. When I moved to San Francisco I attended a church with my friend. Well… it wasn’t really a church, they called it a “spiritual center” but there was still a giant cross hanging above a casually dressed man who was talking about God. He was an inspiring speaker and I became giddy with the idea that I could be fixed, that I just had to pray and genuinely believe that Jesus Christ was my savior. I called my mother, ecstatically explaining that I had found God and I was going to be ok. She claimed that I was so happy because the “holy spirit” was in me. It was actually a bout of hypomania.

When the feeling didn’t last and I sunk into another depressive episode, I prayed and prayed and prayed. Nothing. I’d convince myself I wasn’t trying hard enough and began donating to the church and a man who claimed he talked to God - a prophet. But I started to question. How could a religion that bases itself on love being all powerful segregate certain groups and claim that they were “going to hell” or judge their beliefs? Wouldn’t a being that was all powerful base his/her decision on the person’s heart and intentions? Why should how much a person donated to the church matter? Couldn’t you just do a good act because you wanted to and not for some future reward? If it was based on love why did you have to believe in a man being your savior? Couldn’t you just believe that love is the ultimate savior because that’s why the man died - for our sins. He took it upon himself because he loved everyone so much that he was willing to die in order for us to “go to a better place”. What about the people that died before him?

The reason the passage about the woman disturbed me so much is because there is no way to help someone that is that far gone. You can’t blame them for not living in this reality because they just can’t. Something in their brain isn’t firing right. It’s not that they’re not trying because who in the hell would want that? Who would choose that life? They can’t suddenly “find God” and be cured. I am absolutely terrified by losing reality because I have been to the very edge of it. I’ve seen the look of insanity in my own eyes and was absolutely powerless to stop it. Whenever I walk down the street and see a homeless person mumbling to themselves my stomach drops. I can identify with them. I know that they don’t have the option of helping themselves because they can’t even grasp the concept that something is wrong.

I am just learning that something is wrong. That I’m not copping out and claiming to be mentally ill to justify my actions, because why would anyone choose this? Why? Why would you want to have absolutely no control over your own fucking brain? I over-react or under-react because that is how I genuinely feel. I’m not pretending to be crazy. Why the fuck would I want to do that? I am so hyper aware of other’s opinions of me. Why would I want them to see that? I thought maybe I'm just trying to seek pity, but who wants pity? Who wants someone to think they're pathetic?

I’m going to chronicle my realizations while reading this book, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, because I hope that someone, like me, reads this blog and realizes “Holy shit, I’m not alone”. I hope they understand how they are isn’t their fault. I hope that I can realize that one day too.
Justify Full

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